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Full text of "Reading I've liked: a personal selection drawn from two decades of reading and reviewing, presented with an informal prologue ad various commentaries"

UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://www.archive.org/details/readingivelikedpfadi 






Reading 
I've Liked 

A PERSONAL SELECTION 

DRAWN FROM TWO DECADES 

OF READING AND REVIEWING 

PRESENTED WITH AN 

INFORMAL PROLOGUE AND 

VARIOUS COMMENTARIES 

BY 

Clifton Fadiman 



SIMON AND SCHUSTER 

NEW YORK 

I 94 I 



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

INCLUDING THE RIGHT OF REPRODUCTION 

IN WHOLE OR IN PART IN ANY FORM 

COPYRIGHT, I94I, BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC. 

PUBLISHED BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC. 

ROCKEFELLER CENTER, I23O SIXTH AVENUE, 

NEW YORK, N. Y. 



(Is * 4Z. 



MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 
AMERICAN BOOK-STRATFORD PRESS, INC., NEW YORK 



C - 3 



PRESENTING 



MY LIFE IS AN OPEN BOOK: CONFESSIONS AND 

DIGRESSIONS OF AN INCURABLE xm 

Clifton Fadiman 

l^OUR YEARS IN A SHED [from "madame curie"] 1 

Eve Curie 

^/ENTRANCE FEE V 18 

Alexander Woollcott 

VPUTZI 22 

Ludwig Bemelmans A 

MARIO AND THE MAGICIAN 30 

Thomas Mann 

SNOW [from "the magic mountain"] 77 

Thomas Mann 

; ARMINIA EVANS AVERY [from "America's growing pains"] 116 
George R. Leighton 

METROPOLIS AND HER CHILDREN 122 

Vincent McHugh 

^TIN LIZZIE [from "u.s.a."] 143 

John Dos Passos 

THE CAMPERS AT KITTY HAWK [from "u.s.a."] 155 

John Dos Passos 

v MEESTER VEELSON [from "u.s.a."] 161 

John Dos Passos 

V THE TREASURE I 169 

W. Somerset Maugham 

THE FACTS OF LIFE y 191 

W. Somerset Maugham 

THE UNKNOWABLE I 210 

George Santayana 



1329-56 



VI READING I'VE LIKED 

EXCERPTS FROM "A DICTIONARY OF MODERN 

ENGLISH USAGE" 2^3 

H. W. Fowler 

THE NEW BRITANNICA 247 

C. K. Ogden 

TRIALS OF AN ENCYCLOPEDIST 272 

Frank Moore Colby 

CONFESSIONS OF A GALLOMANIAC V 287 

Frank Moore Colby 

MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES 292 

James Thurber 

SUCCESS 352 

R. B. Cunninghame Graham 

MR. BENNETT AND MRS. BROWN 359 

Virginia Woolf 

A DECISION OF THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT 

COURT 380 

Hon. John M. Woolsey 

MY OWN CENTENARY 389 

E. M. Forster 

THE CONSOLATIONS OF HISTORY 394 

E. M. Forster 

A WHITE HERON 398 

Sarah Orne Jewett 

THE LOVE NEST 410 

Ring Lardner 

THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO 426 

Ernest Hemingway 

THE RED PONY 459 

John Steinbeck 

DUST [from "the grapes of wrath"] 518 

John Steinbeck 



PRESENTING VII 

THE TURTLE [from "the grapes of wrath"] V 522 

John Steinbeck 

THE STANDING AND THE WAITING 525 

M. F. K. Fisher 

CfiSAR 539 

M. F. K. Fisher 

THE SALZBURG TALES [the prologue and the 
personages] 
Christina Stead 545 

A LITTLE BOY'S LONG JOURNEY [from "men of 

good will"] 582 

Jules Romains 

PORTRAIT OF FRANCE IN JULY 'i 4 [from "men of 

good will"] 609 

Jules Romains 

HOW VERDUN MANAGED TO HOLD OUT [from 

"men of good will"] 623 

Jules Romains 

AN EXCERPT FROM "THE WORLD OF THE 

THIBAULTS" 636 

Roger Martin du Gard 

FELIX TINCLER 654 

A. E. Coppard 

ARABESQUE: THE MOUSE 666 

A. E. Coppard 

DUSKY RUTH 673 

A. E. Coppard 

AUGUST HEAT 682 

W. F. Harvey 

JAMES PETHEL 690 

Max Beerbohm 

LORD MOUNTDRAGO 709 

W. Somerset Maugham 



VIII READING I'VE LIKED 

SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW 734 

Conrad Aiken 

THE DOOR 754 

E. B. White 

U^ 9 yS THERE AN OSTEOSYNCHRONDROITRICIAN V 

IN THE HOUSE? 760 

S. J. Perelman 

A FREE MAN'S WORSHIP 764 

Bertrand Russell 

NOON WINE 775 

Katherine Anne Porter 

THE SAYINGS OF ABE MARTIN 825 

Kin Hubbard 

AN ALMANAC FOR MODERNS [selections] 831 

Donald Culross Peattie 

A LETTER TO THE DEAN OF THE PHILO- 
SOPHICAL FACULTY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF BONN 896 

Thomas Mann 

AN EXCERPT FROM A SPEECH 905 

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 



My thanks are due to: 

D. Appleton-Century Co., Inc., for their permission to quote horn 
The Salzburg Tales by Christina Stead, copyright, 1934, by D. Apple- 
ton-Century Co., Inc. The Bohhs-Merrill Company for their per- 
mission to quote horn Abe Martin's Pump hy Kin Hubbard, copy- 
right, 1929. Mrs. Kin Hubbard for selection of excerpts from her 
husband's writings. Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., for permission 
to reprint Noon Wine by Katherine Anne Porter, copyright, 1939, by 
Katherine Anne Porter; and to reprint two essays from Abinger Har- 
vest by E. M. Forster, copyright, 1936, by E. M. Forster. Brandt & 
Braridt for the selection from Seven Men by Max Beerbohm, copy- 
right, 1920, by Max Beerbohm and published by Alfred A. Knopf, 
Inc.; and for selections from Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by A. E. 
Coppard, copyright, 1922, by A. E. Coppard and published by Alfred 
A. Knopf, Inc. The Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, for permission 
to quote from Fowler's Modern English Usage. /. M. Dent & Sons, 
Ltd., London, for permission to include W. F. Harvey s "August Heat" 
from The Midnight House. John Dos Passos and his publishers, 
Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., for permission to reprint excerpts 
from U.S. A. by John Dos Passos, copyright, 1937, by John Dos Passos. 
Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., for permission to reprint three 
stories from The Mixture as Before by W. Somerset Maugham, copy- 
right, 1940, by W. Somerset Maugham; to reprint one chapter from 
Madame Curie by Eve Curie, copyright, 1937, by Doubleday, Doran 
& Co., Inc.; to reprint an essay from Rodeo by R. B. Cunninghame 
Graham, copyright, 1936, by Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.; to reprint 
an essay from The Hogarth Essays, copyright, 1928, by Doubleday, 
Doran & Co., Inc. Harper & Brothers for permission to reprint in its 
entirety My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber, copyright, 1933, 
by James Thurber; to reprint a selection from America's Growing 
Pains by George R. Leighton, copyright, 1939, by Harper & Brothers; 
to reprint two chapters from Serve It Forth by M. F. K. Fisher, copy- 



X READING I'VE LIKED 

right, 193J, by Harper & Brothers; to reprint two essays from The 
Colby Essays hy Frank Moore Colby, copyright, 1926, by Harper & 
Brothers. G. P. Putnam's Sons for permission to reprint horn An 
Almanac for Moderns by Donald Culross Peattie, copyright, 1935, 
by Donald Culross Peattie. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., authorized pub- 
lishers, by permission and special arrangement to make selections 
horn Jules Romains' Men of Good Will, copyright, 1933, Death of a 
World, copyright, 1938, Verdun, copyright, 1939; from Thomas 
Manns Stories of Three Decades, copyright, 1936, The Magic Moun- 
tain, copyright, 1927, Letter to the Chancellor of Bonn, copyright, 
1937. Little, Brown & Company for permission to quote from 
Speeches by Oliver Wendell Holmes, copyright, 1891, by Oliver Wen- 
dell Holmes, Jr. Houghton Mifflin Company for permission to use 
one of The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, copyright, 1923, by Mary 
R. Jewett. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., for permission to reprint 
an essay from Mysticism and Logic by Bertrand Russell, copyright, 
1939, by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Random House, Inc., for 
permission to use selections from Look Who's Talking by S. /. Perel- 
man, copyright, 1940, by S. /. Perelman; and from The American 
Guide Series, "Metropolis and her Children," copyright, 1939, by 
Random House, Inc. George Santayana for his Oxford address 
entitled The Unknowable, copyright, 1923, by George Santayana. 
The Saturday Review of Literature and C. K. Ogden for permission 
to reprint The New Britannica, copyright, October 23, 1926, by The 
Saturday Review of Literature. Charles Scribner's Sons for permission 
to reprint "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" from The Fifth Column by 
Ernest Hemingway, copyright, 1935, by Charles Scribner's Sons; u The 
Love Nest" from Round Up by Ring W. Lardner, copyright, 1929, 
by Ellis A. Lardner; Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken. 
Simon and Schuster, Inc., for permission to reprint u The Door" by 
E. B. White from their collection of stories entitled Short Stories 
from The New Yorker, copyright, 1940, by F-R Publishing Corporation. 
The Viking Press, Inc., for their permission to reprint excerpts from 
While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott, copyright, 1934, by 
Alexander Woollcott; Small Beer by Ludwig Bemelmans, copyright, 
2939, by Ludwig Bemelmans; The Long Valley by John Steinbeck, 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS XI 

copyright, 1939, by John Steinbeck; The Thibaults by Roger Martin 
du Gard, copyright, 1939, by The Viking Press, Inc.; and The Grapes 
of Wrath by John Steinbeck, copyright, 1939, by John Steinbeck. 

To the editors oi The New Yorker I am indebted tor kind permis- 
sion to reprint, in modified form, many passages from reviews that 
originally appeared in its pages. I am similarly obliged to the editors 
of The Nation for abetting me in one or two petty larcenies from 
myself. 

Franklin P. Adams, Henry Seidel Canby, J. A. Goodman, M. Lin- 
coin Schuster, Judge Sidney St. F. Thaxter of Portland, Maine, and 
Jerome Weidman gave much-appreciated help. 

This compilation, whatever its merits or demerits, could never have 
been completed without the unfailing co-operation, relentless prod- 
ding, and stern good sense of my friend and assistant, Miss Bert 
Hunt, to whom I owe an unrepayable debt of gratitude. 

C.F. 



MY LIFE IS AN OPEN BOOK: 

CONFESSIONS AND DIGRESSIONS 

OF AN INCURABLE 



Is it some constant nervous need for reassurance that makes human 
beings so aleit to point out the capacities that separate them horn 
the lower animals? Thus, we have rationality (I am hastily wiping 
that silly grin off my face), and the heasts do not. We use tools; they 
don't. Man, some solemn ass once pointed out, is an animal that 
laughs; animals do not laugh. We have Jong memories; beasts, save 
{or the proverbial elephants, do not. We maJce war on each other 
and have at last, after much trial and error, learned how to extermi- 
nate our species, whereas the animals have to depend for their own 
destruction largely on the mere accidents of nature. 

These are some of the criteria which man has set up to demon- 
strate his superiority. Criteria being cheap, I should like to add 
another. Man, modern man, is a word-making and word-reading 
animal. Both of us, I who compile this book, you who read it, are 
engaged in specifically human acts. Writing, and more especially 
reading, represent habits that we engage in constantly almost from 
the cradle to the grave. Civilized man is a reader. Irrevocably he 
would appear to be committed to the scanning of small black marks 
on plane surfaces. It is, when you come to think it over, an odd 
gesture, like the movement the camera catches of the heads of a 
tennis audience. But there it is— we are readers, and it's too late to 
change. 

Some are more delivered over to the habit than others. With them 
reading has become as closely interwoven with life in general as, 
let us say, the killing of defenseless animals has become interwoven 
with the life 'of the (former) British hunting aristocracy. In both 
cases a hobby has developed into a passion, and this passion colors 
all others. There is no doubt, for instance, that a fox-slaughtering 
man makes love in a manner subtly different from the way a non- 






XIV READING I'VE LIKED 

fox-slaughtering man does. The same must be true of an omnivorous 
reader and a more desultory one. In some cases the impulse to read 
(and reflect on what one has read) dominates completely. Then you 
\ get queer but interesting specimens like Robert Burton, who wrote 
?^The Anatomy of Melancholy. In such a case reading has become a 
kind of disease, a fascinating, proliferating cancer of the mind. 

Between Robert Burton and the Nazi who said, "When I hear 
the word culture I draw my revolver," stand the great majority of 
us, ranging all the way from the casual reader who can take his book 
or let it alone, to the reading enthusiast who knows that books are 
but a part of life but would feel a serious void if deprived of that 
part. 

This collection is compiled by a reading enthusiast and will prob- 
ably be read by others whose inclinations are somewhat similar. It 
might, then, be mildly appropriate to arrange this casual commentary 
in the form of some confessions— and digressions— of an incurable 
reader. I guarantee this as my first, last, and only venture into auto- 
biography. 

Those to whom reading is fated to become important generally 
shake hands with books early. But this is not always true. Many dis- 
tinguished writers were blockheads at their letters until a compara- 
tively advanced age. I think, however, of an undistinguished one who 
was a busy reader at four: me. My first book was entitled The Overall 
Boys. The Overall Boys was and doubtless still is a rousing tale of 
two devoted brothers, aged Eve and seven, and their monosyllabic 
adventures on a farm. The style was of transparent lucidity. I found 
The Overall Boys a perfect job then, and, looking back, I haven t 
yet been able to detect any flaws in it. I remember it in greater detail 
and certainly with greater pleasure than I do the ^-/6-page novel I 
Enished yesterday. At four I was convinced that The Overall -Boys 
represented the peak of the art of narrative and sternly rejected all 
attempts to make me continue my reading adventures. This resistance 
endured for a lengthy period— about a week, I should say. Then I 
broke down, tried another book, and have been doing the same sort 
of thing ever since. But all devout readers will agree that my first 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XV 

literary judgment was correct. Everything after The Overall Boys has 
been anticlimax. The same new world can never be discovered twice. 
One's first hook, kiss, home run, is always the best. 

Between the ages of four and ten I read hut moderately and with 
absolute catholicity. We had in our household the usual meaningless 
miscellany that accumulates if the parents are not specifically literary. 
Thus I read whatever lay behind the glassed-in shelves of two dreary- 
looking black-walnut bookcases. I devoured the standard "boys' 
books" scornfully discarded by my elder brother. I bored my way 
through at least ten volumes of an unreadable set of historical novels 
by some worthy named Muhlbach, I think, and got absolutely noth- 
ing from them; the same result would be achieved were I to read them 
now. I read an adventure story about the Belgian Congo that made 
an anti-imperialist out of me when I was eight; I have seen no reason 
to change my views since then. Something called Buck Jones at 
Annapolis similarly made me permanently skeptical of the warrior 
virtues. 

I read an odd collection of "daring" books that many families of 
the period kept around the house, often hidden under lock and key: 
Reginald Wright Kaufmans The House of Bondage; something called 
The Yoke, which was on the same order; Maupassant complete, 
though this may not have been until I had reached the mature estate 
of twelve or thirteen; and similar luridnesses. These had no effect of 
any sort on me, as far I can recollect, though I suppose a psycho- 
analyst could, at a price, make me tell a different story. 

The child reader is an automatic selecting mechanism. What he is 
not emotionally ready to absorb, his mental system quietly rejects. 
When in later years I became a teacher of literature I could never see 
the point in censoring my young charges' extracurricular reading. 
Very often the mothers (never the fathers) of my high-school stu- 
dents would ask me to explain my refusal to forbid Mary or John to 
read James Joyce's Ulysses. I never offered any satisfactory explana- 
tion except to say that if John or Mary were ready to understand 
Ulysses then they were ready to understand Ulysses, which was a 
Good Thing. If they were not ready to understand it, which was apt 
to be the case, then Ulysses would at most waste their time, on which 



XVI READING I'VE LIKED 

I was not prepared to set any exaggerated value. Often an anxious 
mother would inquire whether I didn't agree that the last chapter 
(Mrs. Leopold Bloom's uncorseted memories ot an exuberant lite) 
was shocking. My reply may have ^>een frivolous, but it seems to me 
it contained the germ ot the truth: that she found it shocking mainly 
because she had not had the chance to read Ulysses when she was 
seventeen, wherein Mary or John had an advantage over her. This 
generally closed, without settling, the controversy. 

As you can see, part of my four-to-ten reading was unorthodox for 
a small child (I forgot to tell you that I. also toddled through a vol- 
ume of Ihsen, and found him impenetrable) but the unorthodoxies 
had no effect whatsoever. What I really liked was what any small boy 
or girl would like— what I was ready for. This included, of course, a 
moderate amount of what is called trash— the Rover Boys, Horatio 
Alger, Wild West yarns, Jack Harkaway, the whole conventional 
canon of those days. 

I say trash. Actually such hooks are "trash" only by standards which 
should not he applied to children's reading. They have the incal- 
culable value that listening to perfectly inane adult conversation 
holds for children: they increase the child's general awareness. They 
provide admittedly rough paradigms of character, motivation, life 
experiences. That is why it seems to me that the trash of my genera- 
tion was superior to the trash of today. I submit that The Rover Boys 
in the Everglades and Frank on a Gunboat are preferable to Super- 
man and his kind on two counts: they were cleanly and clearly writ- 
ten, and their characters were credible and not entirely unrelated to 
the child' s experience. When J was nine J could learn something 
interesting about life from even such highly colored affairs as the 
Frank Merriwell series, but I know that my son can learn nothing 
whatsoever of genuine interest (that is, which he can check against 
the expanding universe within himself) from the comics. I believe 
firmly that the current juvenile literature of the impossible is mere- 
rjiciousc ompared with the honest hackwork my own generation en- 
joyed. I also think that the kids are about ready to kick over this 
thriller fare in favor of something saner and more natural. 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XVII 

During my younger years, mainly between the ages of eight and 
ten, I, like my contemporaries, read a few "good" hooks, though 
they were not recommended to me as good. Such recommenda- 
tions are hardly necessary. The child, it reasonably intelligent, has 
almost infallible good taste. Probably his good taste reaches its peak 
at that time. We all felt, when we encountered Tom Sawyer or, to 
hit a lower lever, Thomas Bailey Aldrich's Story of a Bad Boy or, on 
a still lower level, that fine New England classic Lem (is it still read?) 
that these books had something not possessed by The Pony Rider 
Boys in the Ozarks. It wasn't that they were more exciting, for 
sometimes they weren't, but that they were more "real." The other 
books were read eagerly and with joy, and then forgotten— indeed, 
they were read to be forgotten, to be "finished." But Tom Sawyer 
was something you caught yourself remembering a week later, and a 
year later. I know now, of course, the reason the child feels these 
books is that the authors felt them. It is as simple as that. That is 
why the so-called "better" juveniles that Eood the bookdealers' 
shelves every year— the skillfully constructed, highly educational, care- 
fully suited-to-age, morally sanitary, psychologically impeccable chil- 
dren's books— don't really make much of a dent on the child's 
consciousness. They are constructed for "the market." I dont mean 
the commercial market, but the market that is supposed to be the 
child's brain, as if that brain were a kind of transaction center in 
which each transaction was expressible in definite educational quanta. 

The trouble with these juveniles is that their authors are greatly 
interested in children and not at all interested in themselves. Now, 
when Mark Twain wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn he 
never stopped to figure out whether his "boy psychology" was correct, 
or whether his story was properly adapted to a given age level. He 
wrote because he was passionately interested in himself, and the 
Mississippi River in himself, and the boy still alive in himself. Chil- 
dren ever since have unconsciously felt this intense reality, and that's 
what they've loved. 

They've loved Huckleberry Finn even though it is over their heads, 
or written in old-fashioned English or dialect, or concerned with 



XVIII READING I'VE LIKED 

events that happened a long time ago. The machine-turned juveniles 
of our own day are "carefully adapted to the child's understanding/' 
and that isn't what the child ieally wants. The child wants to he 
puzzled— not too much, hut just enough. He doesn't want the char- 
acters' motivations to he automatically clear to him. He wants the 
satisfaction oi figuring them out. As a matter of fact, the child de- 
lights as much in ambiguity as he does in clarity. Alice in Wonder- 
land is still an overwhelming favorite, not because it's so funny but 
because it's so strange; it's a wonderful, gorgeous puzzle. 

In this connection I always think of a comment my great and good 
friend Hendrik van Loon made to me one day. Going over, for edi- 
torial purposes, one of his manuscripts intended primarily for chil- 
dren, I pointed out to him the large number of long, difficult words 
which, as I thought, youngsters would never understand. He merely 
said, "I put them in on purpose." I learned later what he meant: that 
long words tickle the fancy of children, that they like the slight 
atmosphere of mystery distilled by a really bang-up polysyllable. 

J think also that children — just ordinary, wholesome children, not 
bookworms— are more sensitive to beautiful writing than is generally 
supposed. They'll read reams of careless prose with great enjoyment, 
but when they come across the real thing, they know it. I don't know 
how they know it, but they do. My own son is not overfond of books. 
Rather than forgo an airplane Eight he would willingly see the Forty- 
second Street library vanish in flames. Two years ago I tried the 
young barbarian — he was about seven— on The Wind in the Willows, 
and he could make nothing of it. I tried him again some few months 
ago. He Enished it with absorbed calm, clapped the book to, and 
said with Enality, "Now, that's what I call well written!" He has 
never said this about any other book he's read, many of which he 
has "enjoyed" more. The fact is that The Wind in the Willows is 
the best-written book he has read so far, and he somehow knew it, 
though he had never been given any hint to affect his judgment. 

The smooth confections the publishers turn out today are not well 
written in the sense that The Wind in the Willows is. They are 
merely correctly written. The authors in most cases have uncon- 
sciously curbed any impulse toward style, because style would express 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XIX 

themselves, whereas they are supposed to be writing for the sake of 
the children. If they would forget all about the children and set down 
freely and lovingly the child in themselves, they might by some 
glorious accident produce masterpieces. Little Women was not writ- 
ten for little women or little men or little anybodies; it was the 
expression of a passionate memory. When Louisa May Alcott set 
herself to produce "juveniles" the result was often unsatisfactory, 
except when her native genius outwitted her conscious resolutions. 

I am a firm believer in the newer methods of understanding and 
handling children. But it is arguable that they have made difficult 
the creation of a twentieth-century Little Women or Alice in Won- 
derland. Such books are the product not of knowledge, or even of 
wisdom, but of a kind of dream life, a dreaming-back to childhood 
on the part of the writer. That dream life and "child psychology" do 
not mix. That perhaps is why the modern child classics are not to 
be found in books at all, but in the cartoons of Walt Disney, master 
of an art newer, nai'ver, less touched by "science" than is the art of 
literature. 

This has been along and prosy digression, and while Vm at it, Vd 
like to make it a trine longer. One of the games bibliomaniacs play 
in their weaker moments is the game of Century-Hencery, or literary 
prophecy. It's a harmless sport, the best part of it being that there 
can never be a loser. Here's how it works. You list the ten books you 
believe will be most widely read and generally admired a hundred or 
five hundred or a thousand years from now. Then you defend your 
choices. Making the unwarrantable assumption that in 2441 our civi- 
lization will still be recognizably related to that of 1941, J will now 
set down the ten works of literary imagination produced by the 
English-speaking race that I believe will be most universally alive (not 
merely admired in the schoolroom) Eve hundred years from now. 
Here they are, in no special order: 

.The Plays of William Shakespeare 
Moby Dick 
Gulliver's Travels 
v Robinson Crusoe 



XX READING I'VE LIKED 

Alice in Wonderland 
Huckleberry Finn 
Little Women 
V Some novel oi Charles Dickens, probably 
David Copperfield or Pickwick Papers 
Treasure Island 
The Mother Goose Rhymes 

It is possible that in constructing this list I have been ingenious 
rather than ingenuous. Whether by accident or design it reflects one 
oi my favorite theories— that the gods tend to grant immortality to 
those books which, in addition to being great, are loved by children. 
For mark well that only two books out of the ten— Shakespeare and 
Moby Dick— cannot, generally speaking, be enjoyed by youngsters. 
Of the remaining eight, seven are usually ranked as children's favor- 
ites. My point is simple: as the generations pass, children's tastes 
change more slowly than do those of grownups. They are not affected 
by the ukas& s of critics or the whims oi literary fashion. Thus Shake- 
speare was not universally admired by the eighteenth century and 
again may not be (though I'd place a small bet against that possi- 
bility) by the twenty-third. But the rhymes of Mother Goose— to my 
mind literature, even if of a simple order — have suffered no diminution 
of popularity and, being unmoved by the winds oi literary doctrine, 
are not likely to suffer any. 

This is what happens. All children who read at all are introduced 
at a iairly early age to, let us say, Robinson Crusoe. Most oi them 
like it. Later on they meet it again in school. They are told it is 
literature, and its hold on their minds is re-enforced. Still later, in 
adult Hie, they may encounter it again, when they are ripe to see 
in it qualities not apparent to them as children. Any possible resist- 
ance to accepting Robinson Crusoe as a great book had been broken 
down years ago during their childhood. Thus Robinson Crusoe's 
prestige remains undimmed. But a classic oi greater artistic weight, 
such as Paradise Lost, does not enjoy the advantage oi having been 
liked by readers as children. It is read by a small, select group oi 
adults (college students) and so never passes into the consciousness 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XXI 

of the generality. I do not mean that Milton will not he read five 
hundred years from now. I mean he will not he a casually accepted, 
generally enjoyed classic as I think Little Women or even Treasure 
Island (the most uncertain item, by the way, on my list) is apt to he. 
But rememher, the hook must he literature to begin with. Defoe's 
Robinson Crusoe will live, hut A. R. Wyss' The Swiss Family Rob- 
inson is already dying. 

We talk a great deal about the Greek classics. Yet what Greek 
classic has really penetrated among us? Not Plato surely, or any oi 
the dramatists, hut Homer and more particularly the simple, beau- 
tiful Greek myths that are read with pleasure by each generation of 
children. Similarly, I think Perrault and The Three Musketeers will 
outlast Proust and Stendhal, and Grimm's fairy tales still he widely 
read when Goethe is forgotten. If you wish to live long in the mem- 
ory of men, perhaps you should not write for them at all. You should 
write what their children will enjoy. Or, to put it in another way and 
use a phrase that I think belongs to Lewis Mumford, a book already 
has one leg on immortality s trophy when u the words are for chil- 
dren and the meanings are for men." 

May I make one or two further random comments on this list? 
Note that three titles— Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure 
Island— have no women characters to speak of, and several of the 
others depend hardly at all on romantic interest. I do not believe that 
love, commonly considered one of the great staples of literature, tends 
as a subject to have any supreme preservative value. It is Dickens' 
sentiment and humor, not his lovers, that attract us. It is hardly the 
most romantic of Shakespeare's plays that stand highest in popular 
esteem. And Melville, in providing his masterpiece with an all-male 
cast, knew what he was doing. 

Finally, if I were asked to make a wild stab at the one book likely 
to outlast the nine others, I would name Alice in Wonderland. This 
does not mean it is the "best" book on the list, for obviously it is not. 
In the end the best survives but the best of the best does not neces- 
sarily survive longest. Mankind will cling to what it admires, but even 
more fiercely will it cling to what it loves. And what we love perhaps 
above all else (as Dr. Freud pointed out in other and more dismaying 



XXII READING I'VE LIKED 

connections) is ourselves as children. That is why I think it quite 
conceivable that Lewis Canoll will he read at some remote future 
time when Shakespeare is no more remembered than, let us say, 
Plautus and Terence are today. Twenty centuries horn now Shake- 
speare may be entirely owned and operated by scholars. But I do not 
see why people should not still be laughing and exclaiming over Alice 
in Wonderland. Among the few things resistant to the tooth of time, 
great fantasy is one, and great fantasy is always the special possession 
of children. 

I seem to have abandoned myself some pages back. I had just 
reached the age of ten. Between ten and seventeen I did the major 
bulk of my reading. I have never read as many books (I don't mean 
manuscripts) per year since, nor do I expect to in the future. Those 
were the splendid years, and it is my notion that they are the splendid 
years of most devoted readers. After seventeen (in some cases a year or 
two later) the books choose you, not you the books. You read within 
limits. Reading becomes a program. You read as part of your col- 
lege curriculum, or to gain knowledge in a specific Held, or to be able 
to bore your neighbor at dinner-table conversation. Adult reading is 
usually purposive. In my own case— I shall speak of this later on— 
it is more than purposive. I make a Jiving by it. 

Even the reading done during one's college years lacks the spon- 
taneity, the high waywardness of one's pre-adolescent and adolescent 
reading. It circles around the classroom. It consists of authors recom- 
mended by authority or who you feel should be "covered." Or it has 
to do with books you know a good deal about in advance, one of 
the most effective ways to spoil one's reading pleasure. Such reading 
may be mentally stimulating or socially useful. It may benefit you in 
a dozen ways. But it is not an adventure in quite the same sense that 
reading in your second decade so often is. 

I am not, in this random biblio-autobiography, proposing to list 
the books I have read. Nothing could be duller or less useful, except 
when he who does the listing owns a mind whose operations are really 
of interest to mankind, as was the case, for example, with John Stuart 
Mill. All I am here endeavoring to do is to outline some of the 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XXIII 

processes whereby an average person became an above-the-average 
reader, which is what I immodestly chim to be. To understand these 
processes a mere catalogue of titles is of no avail. 

Yet I would like to list a few names, mainly to indicate the kind 
of writer that, as I recall, influenced the more bookish boys and 
girls of my generation. Shaw, Galsworthy, Bennett, Conrad, Merrick, 
Barrie, Moore, Dunsany, Yeats, Synge, Swinnerton, Chesterton, Mere- 
dith, Wilde, Hewlett, Gissing, Zangwill, and above all H. G. Wells— 
these, to confine the list to Englishmen only, are a few of the authors 
I remember devouring from my tenth to my eighteenth year, mis- 
comprehending many, overprizing some, but getting from all an 
exultant sense of discovery, a peak-in-Darien thriJI rarely enjoyed 
since. 

The secret of second-decade reading, of course, is that you are not 
really Ending out what Shaw thinks or Conrad feels, but what you 
think and you feel. Shaw and Conrad and the rest are but handy 
compasses to guide you through the fascinating jungle of your young 
self. When I read Wells' Tono-Bungay at fourteen or fifteen, I found 
myself saying in delight, u But that's just the way I feeir When I now 
read Thomas Manns Joseph story I find myself thinking how true 
it is to the experience of men in general. There is a difference in the 
quality of the emotion. The grown-up emotion may be larger and 
wiser (and probably more pompous), but the boyish one is unique 
just because it is so utterly, innocently self -centered. 

During this adolescent period of my reading life I had a lucky 
break. My brother, five years my senior and a student at Columbia 
College, was at the time taking a conventional survey course that 
used a sound standard anthology known, I think, as Century Read- 
ings in English Literature, edited by Cunliffe, Pyre, and Young. For 
some reason, possibly a mild fraternal sadism, he made me take the 
course along with him — he at college, I at home. The whole thing 
was over my head— I was fourteen — but when J had Enished my Cen- 
tury Readings, which took a year, I had at least a hazy notion of the 
course and development, from Beowulf to Stevenson, of the most 
magniEcent, after the Greek, of all literatures. I remember writing 
essays, perhaps no more interminable than my subjects, on Hakluyt 



XXIV READING I'VE LIKED 

and Spenser. I am still unable to dislodge horn my memory— which 
is not a good one— odd lines of verse horn suhminor poets like Dray- 
ton. That is all oi no account The important thing is that I got 
through my head at an early age a few simple truths: that the proper 
reading of a good writer requires energy and application; that reading 
is not mere "diversion"; that it is impossible to admire writing you 
do not understand; that understanding it does not destroy but rather 
enhances its beauty; that unless a writer's mind is superior to, more 
complicated than, your own, it is a bore to read him. (That is why 
I never recommend a book to a person if it is on his own mental 
level.) 

I learned also that daydreaming and intelligent reading do not go 
together. There is a story told by Dr. Sandor Ferenczi, the psycho- 
analyst, about a Hungarian aristocrat who, while devouring a quick 
lunch between trains, was recognized by a boorish acquaintance. 
"My dear Count! How are you?" 
"Umph." 

"And how is the Countess?" 
"Dead." 

"How shocking! It must be terrible for your daughter." 
"She's dead." 
"But your son—" 

"Dead! Everybody's dead when I'm eating!" 

During my all-out period everybody was dead when I was reading. 
Most children and adolescents know this magical secret of concen- 
tration, though it is not till they are older and duller that thev 
realize it was magical. 

I remember that, when I was fourteen, we lived about two miles 
from the nearest library. I had a choice. I could cycle there, borrow 
my books, and cycle back in a very few minutes— but those few- 
minutes were lost to reading. Or, if I wished, I could walk to the 
library, reading the last fifty or seventy-five pages of my calculated!}- 
unfinished book en route, make my borrowings, and walk back, read- 
ing a new volume on the way. I usually preferred the latter procedure. 
It is no trick at all to read while walking, to step off and onto curbs 
with unconscious skill, to avoid other pedestrians while your eyes aw 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XXV 

riveted to the page. There was a special pleasure in it: I had outwitted 
Father Time. I think Providence meant me to he an ambulant 
reader, for I never once even stumbled. But one afternoon when I 
was cycling home horn the library with my wire basket full of books, 
I was hit from behind by a car and sent sprawling. 

This absorption, this ''losing yourself 7 in a book, though clearly 
quite remote from "practical life" (for children "practical life" is 
simply what grownups want them to do), is not daydreaming. The 
child does not interpose a continuous, fuzzy, wavering screen of per- 
sonal desires and wishful visions between himself and the page. 
On the contrary, he and the page are one. The Victorian female, 
with whom novel reading was a disease, was the real daydreamer. 
For her, reading became a drug, a kind of literary marijuana, an 
instrumentality for the production of needed visions. The child's 
hearty relation to his book is devoid of this sick quality. 

Well, the course my brother gave me, via that blessed trinity 
Cunliffe, Pyre, and Young, was calculated to make me understand 
that literature, beyond helping one to discover oneself, has a higher, 
more impersonal function. It is a challenge issued by a higher mind, 
the author s, to a lower mind, the reader's. Even if the challenge is 
not met, much pleasure may still result. But if it is met, or if a sin- 
cere attempt to meet it is made, a finer, rarer pleasure is experienced. 
If you read for pure diversion, well and good, but if you read for any 
other purpose, always read above yourself. One of the reasons for 
the general mental fuzziness of most "cultivated" people we know 
is that publishers have become too shrewd. They have learned, the 
cunning little fellows, just how to temper their books to the lamb- 
like mental innocence of their readers. The result is that every week 
we are deluged with books which, the publishers assure us, we can 
understand. It is quite true. We can understand them, all too easily. 
It would be much better for us if now and then we read a book just 
a few rungs beyond our mental capacities in their most relaxed state. 

My second-decade reading— and I think this is sadly true of most 
of us— was in this sense educationally more valuable than any J have 
done since, with certain notable (and I shall note them later) excep- 
tions. During adolescence our feeling of bewilderment and insecurity 



XXVI READING I'VE LIKED 

tends to be greater than at any other time. Hence the need to know, 
to learn, is greater. Therefore whatever reading is done is intense. 
It is utterly assimilated. We pay absorbed attention to it, as we would 
to the instructions of an expert before venturing into a trackless 
forest. 

It seems to me that in my late teens I did more "heavy" reading 
and digested it more thoroughly than at any succeeding period. In 
this connection I recall two antithetical experiments I made extend- 
ing over an interval of six months. The first was an experiment in 
difficult reading. The other was an experiment in nonreading. 

One summer I decided to spend my evenings reading only "hard" 
books. I went at it with the humorless obstinacy of a sixteen-year- 
old— and I was more humorless and more obstinate than most. I stag- 
gered wildly through stuff like Ueberweg's History of Philosophy, 
Winwood Readers Martyrdom of Man, Saintsbury's History of Eng- 
lish Prosody, Taine's History of English Literature, Gibbons Decline 
and Fall of the Roman Empire. It was enough for a book to seem 
important and forbidding — I read it at once. No novels, no light 
literature of any sort, no magazines for three solid months— hot 
months, too. Now, as I look back on this extravagant experiment, it 
seems like the disagreeable behavior of a young prig. Yet I was not 
really priggish; I didnt read for show-off purposes. I read my Ueber- 
weg as a challenge to myself, as a test, as a deliberate gesture, if you 
will, of self -punishment. The boy of sixteen by overexercise will pun- 
ish his body deliberately just to see how much it can take. That same 
boy may punish his mind in the same way. It is a kind of initiation 
ceremony that he performs upon himself, a queer, grotesque test of 
approaching manhood. Sometimes he will decide to go right through 
The Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

The notable part of the experience is that just because that sum- 
mer's reading came out of a powerful emotional impulse it has stuck 
with me, as more formal reading, particularly that done as part of 
my school work, has not. Also, it left me with a taste for a certain 
kind of "difficult" reading, a taste which, because I am a book 
reviewer, I rarely have an opportunity to indulge. This does not mean 
that I read heavy books with ease. On the contrary, I have to go 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XXVII 

through painful mental struggles to understand them, but the struggle 
still gives me an odd satisfaction, which I know has something to 
do with that lunatic summer I spent perusing nothing hut huge 
volumes several miles above my head. 

Today, for example, the hooks I look forward with most pleasure 
to reading and reviewing are hooks of popular science, of the Hoghen- 
Julian Huxley-Eddington type. I am not really competent to judge 
them, hut I like to read them, perhaps primarily because for me— 
I am a scientific illiterate— they present challenging difficulties. It may 
be an illusion, but I always feel, when I have Enished a book of this 
sort, that I have "got" something out of it. I hardly ever get this feel- 
ing from a novel or a conventional biography. 

^ Well, that was Experiment Number One. The second was its polar 
opposite. I decided to spend three months reading nothing at all, 
not even a daily newspaper. (The three months coincided with a long 
absence from school, so the conditions for the experiment were at 
their optimum.) Novv^wliy did I want to do this? It was again a 
matter of self-testing. I felt I had grown too dependent upon other 
people's ideas. The only way I could perceive to cure myself of this 
dependence was to abjure , other people's ideas completely. The men- 
tal life of the adolescent is frequently characterized by this oscillatory 
quality. He can End out what his real nature is only by leaping from 
one extreme to the other. 

And so for three months I read, as nearly as I can recall, virtu- 
ally nothing. It was by no means a fruitless experiment, and to those 
held too tightly in the grip of the reading habit I heartily recommend 
it. The effect is purgat iyj^-The mind disgorges a good deal of waste 
and clutter, it slows down, for a time it seems vacant. Then gradu- 
ally it Ells again, this time not with the myriad, secondhand impres- 
sions induced by nonstop reading, but with the few clear ideas and 
desires that reflect more accurately your true self. The experience, in 
addition to being cleansing, is humbling; you realize how sparse is the 
net content of your mind. 

I have known men and women who read so voraciously and con- 
tinuously that they never have the time or opportunity to discover 
who they really are. Indeed, I suspect it is precisely because they 



v 



XXVIII READING I'VE LI'KED^ 

prefer not to make that discovery that they cling so l impetlike , to 
hooks. I suppose this is better for them than alcohol or hasheesh, 
hut it is not very different. All of us, J am sure, have noticed peopled 
who suffer from reader s fidgets. If there is a hook, a magazine** 
any piece of print within easy reach, they will at once take it up, 
idly, without real intent to peruse it, hut out of a kind of mechanical 
compulsion. They will do this while they are talking to you, while 
you are talking to them, while engaged in some other activity. They 
are victims of print. Perhaps some dim premonition that unless I 
watched out I too would become afflicted with reader's fidgets made 
me carry through with entire success my three months' literary fast. 

Some years ago I helped to manage a bookstore featuring a circu- 
lating library. The main body of customers consisted of commuters.' i 
Every evening, a few minutes after five, the commuters would dash in. 

"Give me a novel/" 

"Any special title?" 

"No, any novel will do: it's for my wife"— as if that somehow made 
everything clear. 

These commuters' wives— there are tens of thousands of them — 
were not really in any active sense doing any reading at all. They 
were taking their daily novel in a numbed or somnambulistic state. 
They were using books not for purposes of en tertainmentTBuX as an 
anodjne, a time-killer, a life-killer. Many "great readers" are of this 
class. Truth to tell, they have never read a book in their lives. 

Akin to these novel-addicts are the newspaper fiends who read 
three, four, or five papers a day and supplement them with radio 
news reports. There is only one Keeley cure I can recommend for this 
weakness, and that is for these people to save their papers for a week, 
and go back and read the news of seven days before. They will then 
see, even in the short perspective thus provided, how contradictory, 
foolish, ineptly stated most "spot news" is. They will perceive that, 
if taken in overfrequent doses, its main effect is to bewilder or even 
to frighten, rather than to inform. A ration of one newspaper a day 
ought to be enough for anyone who still prefers to retain a little 
mental balance. 



.CLIFTON FADIMAN XXIX 

Serious reading is an art. An art is something you have to learn. 
To learn an art requires ^ teacher. There are too few such teachers 
of reading in the United States, and that is one of the reasons why 
We are still only a semieducated people. I, like my fellow Americans, 
was never taught, in elementary and high school, how to read prop- 
erly. Thus, when I reached college, I was hut ill-equipped to under- 
stand any really original hook that was handed to me, though I found 
no particular difficulty in getting through the required texthooks, 
manuals, and other predigested matter. I do not think I would ever 
have learned how to read had it not been for one man and one 
college course. 

The man was John Erskine and the course was, rather absurdly, 
called Honors. Erskine himself was largely responsible for the con- 
ception underlying Honors, which in turn was the only begetter of 
Robert Hutchins' Chicago P4an 7 of the St. Johns College classics 
curriculum, and in fact of the whole return in modern education to 
the great tradition of Western thought. John Erskine is a man of 
such varied talents that his original contribution to American educa- 
tion is often forgotten. 

It is very hard to explain why Erskine was a great teacher. He was 
not a character as Copeland of Harvard was. Although always genial 
and fair, he never attempted to make the students like him. He did 
not act as if he were a perennial contestant in a popularity contest. 
(I am convinced, by the way, that those teachers who year after year 
are voted Most Popular by the undergraduates are rarely educators 
of great value.) In his literature courses Erskine never swooned over 
beauty or tried to make you "feeY 7 the lines or the paragraph. 

There were two things about Erskine that may help to explain 
the influence he wielded over his students, even over those who didnt 
care greatly about literature. One was his enormous respect (not 
merely liking) for his subject matter. This may seem a common- 
place, but it is not. Many teachers— no more surprisingly than other 
frustrated human beings— have a silent, gnawing contempt for what 
they teach. Unaware of this contempt, they often find it subtly 
translated into a resentment of their students. The result is vitiated 
teaching, teaching of a purely formal sort. 



XXX READING I'VE LIKED 

Erskine not only loved his subject but reverenced it and respected 
himself for teaching it. There was thus a good moral relationship 
between himself and his work. It may seem high-flown to say that 
this moral relationship was a vital aid in the production of good 
teaching. Yet I'm sure this was the case. He could teach his students 
to read because he had a large and lofty attitude toward what we 
were reading. 

At the same time, if Erskine had been able to communicate only 
this attitude, he would not have been the great teacher he was. He 
went beyond this. To put it simply, he challenged us to understand 
what we were reading. He called upon us for a kind of mental exer- 
cise that is ordinarily devoted to mastering such "hard" subjects as 
philosophy and the sciences. (Actuary, there are no "hard" or "easy" 
subjects. Donne is as difficult and as rewarding as Euclid.) Erskine 
made us work and the odd thing about it was that the more we 
understood, the more we liked the particular book we were reading. 

The Honors Course was but a systematic extension of the Erskine 
educational program. For two years, under the guidance of a group 
of selected instructors, we read and talked about one great book a 
week, beginning with Homer and concluding, as I recollect, with 
William James. That was all there was to the course, and it was by 
far the most valuable one I took at college. You will find a good 
account of it and its influence in How to Read a Book. (Mortimer 
Adler was also one of my teachers, and a first-rate one, too.) 

This course in the classics has had a somewhat souring effect on 
my work as a reviewer. Just because I was forced to spend a week 
on Fielding's Tom Jones, J could not possibly, let us say, hail Anthony 
Adverse as a great novel. I have been compulsorily provided with a 
standard of comparison that proves a handicap to me. I may seem 
curmudgeonly and grudging when really my whole trouble is that I 
cannot forget my Honors class. 

Well, Erskine and a few other teachers (particularly the poet Mark 
Van Doren) plus the two years I spent in the excellent company of 
fifty or sixty of the great writers of all time taught me, I hope and 
believe, how to read. Later on, a year or so after I was graduated, 
I myself helped in a fumbling way to teach this same course to 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XXXI 

others. They weren't college students. They were laborers, clerks, 
recently naturalized Americans— just men and women of imperfect 
education hut reasonable intelligence and great willingness to think. 
The group of which I was one taught Plato and Gibbon and Mon- 
taigne and Thomas Aquinas to small classes all over the city, in pub- 
lic libraries, Y.M.C.A. classrooms, and at Cooper Union. We taught 
them to anybody who cared to learn how to read the best. I, of course, 
learned more than my students, but the most valuable part of what I 
learned was that the abundant wealth of great literature lies open to 
anyone with a functioning brain. The great books have no particular 
home. They do not belong only behind college walls. But fifteen years 
ago the notion that they were anybody's property was a novel one. 
Today that is all changing. Today the universal appeal of our Western 
tradition is readily acknowledged. You can turn your radio dial (at the 
moment, at least) and listen to a discussion of these same books by 
three competent readers and talkers, one of whom, Mark Van Doren, 
originally taught this same Honors group in Columbia way back in 
the early twenties, when all the world was young, lad, and all the 
trees were green. 

I had the good luck, as I say, to be a member of this college Honors 
group. But, as it happens, during those same college years, I engaged 
in a number of extracurricular activities, some of which by accident 
re-enforced my interest in reading, writing, and talking about books. 
Two of these jobs I particularly remember. 

For the better part of a year I acted as reader to a charming and 
generous lady who had once been a fairly well-known actress. Her 
eyesight was impaired and it was my job not only to read to her but 
to select the reading matter. I chose whatever book happened to inter- 
est me at the moment, and this high-handed procedure seemed to 
work out quite smoothly. One learns a great deal about literature 
in general from reading even one good book aloud slowly. Our fore- 
fathers, for whom such reading was a usual thing, read fewer books 
than we do, but probably also had a finer feeling for literary values 
than we have. It is regrettable that modern living makes impossible 
the practice of reading aloud. Perhaps the radio can do something 
about it. My hunch is that if it can develop a group of really first- 



XXXII READING I'VE LIKED 

class narrators (not actors, which is a different thing entirely) their 
efforts would in time attract a good-sized audience. Experiments in 
this direction have already been made, hut with insufficient hacking. 

Another odd job I had during my college years resulted in a closer 
acquaintance with the works of William Shakespeare than I would 
ordinarily have secured. One afternoon the college /ob-placement 
bureau (to whom I really owe my college education, for without the 
bureau I would never have been able to pay for it) sent me to see a 
prospective employer. Let us call him Mr. Jones. 

I was informed that Mr. Jones wanted a reader. (It turned out that 
this was not precisely the case.) He was about seventy-Eve. He looked 
like a slightly insane old wolf. In fact, in his more vigorous years, 
he had been a wolf, a wolf of the Wall Street variety, a terrific, ruth- 
less plunger the legend of whose feats was yet green in the memories 
of the Wall Street Hot Stove League. Though he still visited his 
office regularly, Mr^fones^mterest in the market had gradually attenu- 
ated, and: its place, so far as I could judge, was now taken up by a 
miscellaneous assortment of activities, including an extraordinary kind 
of golf (see below), the making and imbibing of Martinis, furious 
running quarrels with his household— and the study of Shakespeare. 
I was the Shakespeare boy. I learned later that I was merely the 
latest of a long line. 

I visited Mr. Jones three afternoons a week, from 3:30 to 6. Our 
routine never varied. I would knock on the door of his study on the 
fourth floor of a decaying but luxurious old house fit only to be 
the setting for a murder mystery. Mr. Jones would scream something 
— he never talked. I would yell out my name (which he never remem- 
bered) and then shout, "It's the young man!" Mr. Jones would admit 
the young man, violently lock the door of his study, and begin to 
pile chairs, a table, any easily movable furniture, against it. This barri- 
cade completed, he would shriek, "Now, you cant come in, you 
prowling apes!" or some similar phrase. Who these prowling apes 
were I never found out, though I got to know Mr. Jones fairly well. 

Then, with his own hands, and very much as if he were an alche- 
mist transmuting a base metal into gold, he would prepare a shakerful 



ULIFTON FADIMAN XXXIII 

}f Martinis (this was during prohibition). They were very good Mar- 
tinis and J always wanted more than the one he allowed me. Mr. 
tones would drink about six during the afternoon, always to the 
iccompaniment of violent, self-accusatory exclamations: 'This will 
be the death of me, I know it will, I'm killing myself, I'm my own 
nurderer." 

Mr. Jones was, as J have indicated, a Shakespeare addict, but of 
i highly specialized sort. He was really familiar, in an unintelligent 
yay, with all of Shakespeare, but his particular interest lay in those 
massages of an inflammatory, lickerish, and erotic nature. He had, for 
example, memorized the whole of Venus and Adonis, a rather long 
loem. It was my duty, book in hand, to listen to him recite. It was 
nildly fantastic: the locked door with its furniture barricade, Mr. 
r ones hopping about, Martini in hand, quoting, in a voice that 
uingled a shriek, a snarl, and a whine, some torrid passage, and 
nyself, crowded into a corner, doing my best to handle the old gentle- 
nan tactfully. Naturally, he would stumble from time to time, but 
voe to me if I prompted him! His emendations of Shakespeare were 
extraordinary but I soon found it expedient to let them stand. 

On Saturdays we would repair to the golf links. I had two duties 
here. One was to keep shouting, as he addressed the ball, "Keep your 
lead down!" The other was to listen to him recite his favorite pas- 
sages of Shakespeare between strokes. The caddy, had he possessed 
iny Elizabethan vocabulary, would surely have been shocked. 

My association with Mr. Jones must have been satisfactory to him, 
)r else his love of the bard gradually deepened, for one day he pro- 
posed to me an additional duty: that I accompany him downtown in 
lis car every morning, attended by good old Shakespeare. As I got 
Ive dollars an hour for these services (ten on Saturdays, for some 
'eason) and as I was receiving a free education in a great classic, I 
nade no objection. 

Now, this part of the story is somewhat indelicate. I must warn 
/ou that Mr. Jones, like many elderly people, was troubled with an 
nconvenient weakness of the bladder. In the morning we would 
>tart out in the car, Shakespeare going full blast. The drive took 



XXXIV READING I'VE LIKED 

about forty minutes. But forty minutes just about represented the 
limit of Mr. Jones' endurance. The last Eve minutes of the drive may 
have sounded something like this: 

"Now quick desire— O God!— hath caught the yielding prey— how 
much longer is it?— and glutton-like she feeds, yet never iilleth— God 
almighty, you're driving like a damned turtle— where was I?— Her lips 
—her lips are conquerors, his lips obey — Lord, how everybody makes 
me suffer! — his lips obey — Ow!— Paying what ransom the insulter 
willeth — hurry, hurry, you confounded slow-coach!— O Lord!" 

Shakespeare was never intoned in stranger circumstances. Some- 
times art won and sometimes nature. 

But Mr. Jones was the means whereby the works of Shakespeare, 
or, at any rate, certain parts of them, became as familiar to me as 
my own name. Mr. Jones died owing me twenty dollars, but I hold 
no rancor. Take him all in all, he was a good boss. I shall not look 
upon his like again. 

In 1927, a couple of years after college had Enished with me, I began 
a new and entirely different course of reading, a course that lasted 
almost a decade. I became an editorial assistant in what was then 
an up-and-coming publishing house and is now a staid, highly respect- 
able establishment. During a period of almost ten years I read miU 
lions upon millions of words, of which only the tiniest fraction were 
the right ones in the right order. I have not read as much good lit- 
erature as thousands of others have, but I think I have read as much 
bad literature as any man or woman of my age. This is a boast that, 
on the whole, I would prefer not to be able to make, for, except as 
a means of making a living, I dont think the experience was particu- 
larly valuable. 

It revealed to me one thing, however— the profound, unconscious 
egotism of the human race. Our universal capacity for self-esteem has, 
I am told, been remarked by other observers. Each of us makes the 
discovery in his own way. My way involved the reading of twenty- 
Eve hundred hopeless manuscripts each year for ten years. 

It is a fact that no man will set out to knock together a bookcase 
or repair a leak in the plumbing unless he knows how to handle the 






CLIFTON FADIMAN XXXV 

tools required and has a fair notion of the problems involved. A 
woman who has never boiled an egg in her life will not volunteer to 
prepare a five-course dinner. Yet this same man, this same woman 
will cheerfully write you a book, though he or she may not have the 
remotest idea of how books are written. 

There are no "born" writers. Writing can be an art. On its lower 
levels it is certainly at least a craft, which means that it must be 
learned. Yet I should say that not fifty out of the twenty-Eve hundred 
would-be authors whose works J annually considered had even a 
remote glimpse of this simple truth. 

Most of the manuscripts were really disguised confessions— novels, 
plays, poems, essays, each in one way or another an outlet for the 
author s sense of his own personal tragedy or dilemma. They were not 
books. They were diaries. They were merely a mechanism whereby the 
author "expressed" himself. They were a circuitous and therapeutically 
valueless substitute for the Catholic confessional, the psychoanalyst's 
couch, or the ear of a friend. Particularly the last, for most of these 
manuscripts supplied pathetic testimony to the spiritual loneliness of 
so many of us Americans. They were voices crying in the dark. 

But the voices— this was the unsettling part of it— had a note of 
strident self-confidence. The authors of these manuscripts had no ink- 
ling that they were not writers but just people in trouble. They acted 
like writers, they demanded criticism, and they were often sore when 
they got it. It was all very odd. 

And each hopeless manuscript represented at least a year or more 
of its author's life. I used to reflect sadly on this enormous wastage, 
on all the man-hours of energy that go annually into the useless pro- 
duction of unpunishable words. There should be some small central 
editorial board (not one in each of sixty publishing houses) which 
would act as a gentle discourager to all these well-meaning amateurs. 
For a very small sum— say fifty cents— it would pass judgment on 
manuscripts. But not on Enished ones. Just the Erst chapter would 
be enough— indeed, I may say in conEdence, just the Erst paragraph. 
No geniuses, I assure you, would be overlooked, no lives ruined, but 
many perfectly amiable people would be saved from wasted effort and 
eventual disillusionment. 



XXXVI READING I'VE LIKED 

My job as a publisher s reader, then, gave me a wholesome respect 
iox the mere emit of writing. This respect I have never since lost. 
It is only after you have read a few million bad sentences that you 
realize what thought goes into the construction of a single good one. 

This realization has probably saved the American public from at 
least one bad book. Had it not been for my editorial labors, had I not 
been driven to understand how the English language must not be 
misused, I would beyond the shadow of a doubt have written a novel. 
With publishing standards as generous, shall we say, as they are, it 
would have achieved publication. It is even possible that some of my 
present audience might have been seduced into reading it. But this did 
not happen and will never happen, a happy circumstance that you 
and J owe to my melancholy experience with twenty-iive thousand 
examples of organized literary mediocrity. 

I suppose, like any nasty old frustrated writer, I have had to secure 
my revenge somehow. Perhaps that accounts for the persistent, 
monotonous reiteration of my belief that most young American nov- 
elists (the ones who do get published) simply do not know their trade. 
I dont care what the richness or depth of their experience may be; 
they do not know the rules of rhetoric. The English language is a mag- 
nificently flexible instrument, but it asks of every writer that he use it 
with a certain regard for its possibilities and its limitations. The sav- 
age, spontaneous young people who rush their novels into print every 
year are superior to these possibilities and these limitations. It is true 
that they get by for a while on a certain childish freshness, a certain 
apparent originality. Then they are forgotten. But in the meantime 
they have cluttered up the book market, wasted the time of readers, 
and certainly contributed nothing to the clarification or development 
of sound literary standards. I hope this does not sound too righteous; 
it's so sore a point with me that I End it hard to be gently humorous. 
Every man, in addition to his formal religion, has a private religion, 
consisting of a set of ideas, or a hobby or perhaps, like Dubedat in The 
Doctor's Dilemma, a group of heroes. I have that feeling about the 
English language. I don't mean its great masters, but the tongue itself. 
I am myself a most indifferent wielder of English, but a sinner is not 
debarred from worship. And I think that, in our own strange, wild, 



:lifton fadiman xxxvii 

leadlong period, reverence for the language is growing rarer and rarer. 
When it is not present in professional writers, in those who owe their 
rery being to it, I get depressed, and so, I think, do all those who 
■eally love the tongue they speak. 

The plain fact of the matter is— every publisher knows it but which 
)ne will dare confess it?— that about twenty per cent of the new books 
ssued are actually worth publishing, from a literary and, I daresay, 
?ven from a commercial point of view. I do not propose to discuss 
he conditions that account for the other eighty per cent. They are 
complex and somewhat technical. But every honest reviewer, when he 
pes back over the books of the preceding year (not at the time he 
■eads each book) admits in his heart that the great majority of them 
vere hardly worth the attention he gave them. It isn't that they are 
leEnitely bad, it's that they just aren't good enough, dont move 
mough people, dont contribute enough to the general sum of things 
:o make their publication, involving the labor of thousands of men 
ind women, worth while. 

Since about 1915 the American publishing business has been over- 
producing beyond reason. Perhaps publishers are unconsciously real- 
zing this, which would explain the emergence of so many excellent 
:heap reprint series, the new emphasis on the classics, and even such 
nodest ventures as this volume itself. 

I referred above to reviewers. Perhaps, in this prologue which so 
:"ar consists almost entirely of digressions, here is as good a place as any 
:o talk for a while about the reviewing business. For more than fif- 
:een years I have been a reviewer of new books. That means that most 
-)f my reading during this period has been confined to ephemera, to 
books certainly better than those I read in manuscript form as a pub- 
lisher's assistant, but not so much better (with the usual exceptions) 
that the world could not have wagged along quite well without them. 
I propose to talk for a few pages about this business of mine, for it 
has certainly played its part in the autobiography of this particular 
reader. 

Note that in using the word "business," I employ it as a wedge 
with which to separate book reviewing from literary criticism. Literary 
criticism is an art, like the writing of tragedies or the making of love, 



XXXVIII READING I'VE LIKED 

and, similarly, does not pay. Book reviewing is a device tor earning 
a living, one of the many weiid results oi Gutenberg's invention. 
Movable type made books too easy to publish. Some sort oi sieve had 
to be interposed between printer and public. The reviewer is that 
sieve, a generally honest, usually uninspired, and mildly useful sieve. 

To use an example conveniently near at hand, the compiler of this 
volume is such a sieve. To the best of my knowledge and belief I have 
never written a sentence of literary criticism in my life. Unless I 
become a vastly different person from what I now am, I never will. 
My colleagues and myself are often called critics, a consequence of 
the amiable national trait that turns Kentuckians into colonels and 
the corner druggist into Doc. But, no matter what my publishers may 
say, I am a mere book reviewer. 

True literary criticism is a subtle and venerable art, going back to 
the ancient Hindoos, who doubtless wrote sanskriticism. Aristotle was 
the Erst great literary Poo-Bah. He had no more charm than an old 
knothole, but the things he said about narrative and drama are so 
sensible that they're still useful today. Aristotle had a first-rate mind, 
which is what most really good literary critics have, or something 
pretty near it. You can number the top-notchers on your fingers and 
toes— that's the way I taught my small son to count: Aristotle, Horace, 
Coleridge, Lessing, Sainte-Beuve, Taine, Goethe, Arnold, Shaw (one 
of the greatest), and a few others. In our own time and nation, lit- 
erary criticism is almost a lost art, partly because no one except a few 
other literary critics cares to read it. 

What follows, then, is not a discussion of literary criticism but 
merely shop talk about my trade. I justify its inclusion on the some- 
what boggy ground that this book is largely a by-product of that trade. 
I offer herein the selections not of a reader but of a particular kind 
of reader, specialized like a retriever or an aphid: in short, a reviewer. 
A literary critic (just this once and then we're through with him) is a 
whole man exercising his wholeness through the accidental medium 
of books and authors. A reviewer is not a whole man. He is that par- 
tial man, an expert. Many of his human qualities are vestigial, others 
hypertrophied. All experts are monsters. I shall now briefly demon- 
strate the reviewer's monstrosity. 



3LIFTON FADIMAN XXXIX 

We must first of all remember that reading maketh not a full man. 
A.ny reviewer who has been in harness for twenty years or so will be 
zager to tell you that Bacon was just dreaming up sentences. I sup- 
pose J have read Eve or ten thousand books— it doesnt matter which 
—in the last couple of decades. Every so often I catch myself wonder- 
ing whether I wouldn't be a sight wiser if I had read only fifteen, and 
"hey the right ones. You see, a reviewer does not read to instruct 
limself. If he remembered even a moderate quantum of what he read, 
ie would soon be unfit for his job. Forced to comment on book Z, he 
vould at once recollect everything that books A to Y, previously 
•eviewed, contained that might throw light on Z. This is not the 
nental attitude that makes for useful book reviewing. As a matter 
)f fact, what the reviewer should have above all things is a kind of 
nental virginity, a continual capacity to react freshly. I said that he 
vas an expert. He is. He is an expert in surprisability. The poor fool 
s always looking forward to the next book. — 

This does not mean the reviewer has the memory of a moron. He 
doubtless remembers something of what he has read, but not enough 
L .o handicap him. His mind is not so much well stocked as well 
ndexed. If challenged, I think I could tell you the authors and titles 
-yf the three or four best books of the last ten years dealing with the 
indent Maya civilization. I can even make a fair Est at grading the 
oooks in the order of their completeness, authority, and readability. 
But what I dont know about the Mayans in the way of real informa- 
tion would Ell several volumes and no doubt has done so. 

The reviewer, then, granting him any mind at all, has a fresh one. 
Prank Moore Colby, whom I greatly admire (you will End some of 
his work starting on pages 2j$ and 287), held a different point of 
view. In 1921 he wrote a little piece from which I quote: 

Beans Again 

[f a man had for one day a puree of beans, and the next day haricots 
/erts, and then in daily succession bean soup, bean salad, butter beans, 
ima, black, navy, Boston baked, and kidney beans, and then back to 
Duree and all over again, he would not be in the relation of the gen- 



XL READING I'VE LIKED 

eral eater to food. Nor would he be in the relation of a general reader 
to books. But he would be in the relation of a reviewer toward novels. 
He would soon perceive that the relation was neither normal nor 
desirable, and he would take measures, violent if need be, to change 
it. He would not say on his navy-bean day that they were as brisk 
and stirring little beans of the sea as he could recall in his recent 
eating. He would say grimly, "Beans again," and he would take prompt 
steps to intermit this abominable procession of bean dishes. 

If change for any reason were impossible he would either conceive 
a personal hatred toward all beans that would make him unjust to any 
bean however meritorious, or he would acquire a mad indiscrimi- 
nateness of acquiescence and any bean might please. And his judg- 
ment would be in either case an unsafe guide for general eaters. 

This, I believe, is what happens to almost all reviewers of fiction 
after a ceriaintime^and it accounts satisfactorily for various phenom- 
ena that are often attributed to a baser cause. It is the custom at 
certain intervals to denounce reviewers for their motives. They are 
called venal and they are called cowardly by turns. They are blamed 
for having low standards or no standards at all. I think their defects 
are due chiefly to the nature of their calling; that they suffer from 
an occupational disease. 

Now, J can understand why Colby felt this way. He could afford 
to be superior. He was an encyclopedia editor, which is several cuts 
above a reviewer. But his beans-again notion, though plausible, is not 
cogent. The truth is, that a competent reviewers stomach does not 
summon up remembrance of beans past. Though there are exceptions 
(I shall mention some of my own weaknesses in a moment), he does 
not hail or damn novels out of a kind of hysteria of surfeit. If he 
makes a stupid judgment it is simply because his judgment is stupid. 
It may be. stupid for a variety of reasons, no one of which will have 
anything to do with the fact that he reads half a dozen novels a week. 
In other words, a jaded reviewer sooner or later realizes that he is not 
a good reviewer, and tries to get another job. A good reviewer is a 
perennially fresh hack. 

But, as I say, this doesnt work out one hundred per cent of the 



:lifton fadiman xli 

ime. For example, I confess that I no longer look forward to next 
veek's American historical novel with any bridegroom eagerness. 
I have read too many such. I am positive that they (not I, you sec) 
lave slipped into a groove, are standardized products, and therefore 
here is nothing helpful I can say about them. (Yet my fatuousness is 
;uch that I do not honestly believe I would muff another Red Badge 
)f Courage if by some miracle one were published tomorrow.) 

Never to be bored is merely an active form of imbecility. Do not 
lust the^marij\^io_is_unterested in everything." He is covering up 
lome fearful abyss of spiritual vacancy. Ennui, felt on the proper 
occasions, is a sign of intelligence^ All this is by way of saying that, of 
:ourse, no reviewer is interested h\ every book he reads. He should 
lave the ability to be bored, even if\his ability is much feebler than 
lis ability not to be bored. A competent reviewer knows his blind 
spots, tries to counteract them, and, if \he can't, never drives himself 
hto phony enthusiasm. Indiscriminate love of books is a disease, like 
satyriasis, and stern measures should be applied to it. 

I, for example, do not react eagerly to books on the delights of 
gardening; to novels about very young men lengthily and discursively 
n love; to amateur anthropologists who hide a pogrom-mania under 
earned demonstrations of the superiority of Nordic man; to books by 
bright children Who Don't Know How Funny They're Being; to 
diplomatic reminiscences by splendid ga&ers with long memories and 
brief understandings; to autobiographies by writers who feel that to 
have reached the age of thirty-Eve is an achievement of pivotal sig- 
nificance; to thorough jobs on Chester A. Arthur; to all tomes that 
lim to make me a better or a more successful man than I would be 
comfortable being; to young, virile novelists who would rather be 
found dead than grammatical; to most anthologies of humor; to books 
ibout Buchmanism, astrology, Yogi, and internal baths, all of which 
seem to me to deal with the same subject matter as does the last of 
the four subjects named; to the prospect of further "country" books, 
such as Country Mortician, Country Dog-Catcher, and Country Old 
Ladies' Home Attendant. 

It is books like these that make a successful appeal to my apathy. 
Every reviewer has his own list. He does his best to keep it a small 



XLII READING I'VE LIKED 

one, for he knows that his responsibility is to his public, not himself. 
He knows that he cannot atloid to any great extent the luxury of 
indulging his own prejudices. A reviewer is not in the self-expression 
business. If he were he would run the risk of becoming an artist. He 
is, by the nature of his trade, uncreative, or, if his creative impulses 
are too strong, he sooner or later finds himself a dud at his job, and 
turns into a writer. But if he is a good reviewer and keeps in the 
groove fifteen or twenty years, he has no more chance of becoming 
a writer than a pig has of flying. There is nothing tragic about this 
and no reviewer who has any respect for his trade wastes any senti- 
mentality over it. One decent hack, to my mind, is worth a stable of 
would-be Pegasuses. 

Reviewers interest the public. I cannot fathom the reason, for we 
are among the mildest and most conventional of citizens, pure Gluyas 
Williams types. A life spent among ephemeral best sellers and pub- 
lishers' announcements is not apt to produce characters of unusual 
contour. But the fact remains that people are curious about us and 
are likely to ask more questions of a reviewer than they would of a 
successful truss manufacturer, though probably the tiussman leads 
the more abundant life. 

To satisfy this curiosity I list herewith a few of the queries most 
commonly directed at my tribe, together with one mans answers: 

Do you really read all those books? This question is generally put 
with an odd inflection, combining cynical disbelief with man-of-the- 
world willingness to overlook any slight dishonesty. There is no need 
for this hard-boiled attitude. A reviewer reads the books he reviews, 
exactly as an accountant examines his cost sheets, with the same 
routine conscientiousness. It's his job, that's all. 

Back of this question, however, lies a peculiar condition* which 
baffles me and I think many others who are forced to read a great 
deal. The reason people think we bluff is that they themselves read 
so slowly they cannot believe we read as "fast" as we actually do. 
Now, I do not believe dogmatically either in fast or slow reading. 
I believe tripe should be read practically with the speed of light and, 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XLIII 

let us say, Toynbee's A Study of History with tortoise deliberation. 
And most books are nearer to tripe than to Toynbee. But the trouble 
with practically all of us is that we sutler from chronic reverence. 
We make the unwarranted assumption that because a man is in print 
he has something to say, and, acting on this assumption, we read his 
every word with scrupulous care. This may be good manners, but it's 
a confounded waste of time. 

If I am at all partial, it is to the man who reads rapidly. One of the 
silliest couplets ever composed is to be found in The Art of Reading, 
by one William Walker, a seventeenth-century hollow-head who 
wrote: 

Learn to read slow; all other graces 
Will follow in their proper places. 

This is unmitigated balderdash and if taken seriously can easily result 
in the wasting of ten or fifteen per cent of the few waking hours God 
has put at our disposal. 

For example, I am simply unable to understand those— and there 
must be millions of them — who spend hours over the daily paper. 
Why, if you add up those hours, you will End that some people pass 
more time with the Herald Tribune than they do with their wives or 
husbands. I do not draw from this any conclusions about the state 
of either American journalism or American matrimony. J merely infer 
that such paper-maniacs simply do not know how to skip, to take in 
a paragraph at a time, to use the headlines, one of mankinds most 
blessed inventions. 

No, reviewers do their job, but they know how to read quickly, 
in large units, to seize a point and be off to the next one while the 
author is still worrying the first one to death. Anybody can learn to 
do this; the reviewer simply is forced to learn it. I happen to be an 
exceptionally rapid reader, which is no more to my credit than would 
be the possession of exceptionally bushy eyebrows. Of the average 
novel (a description that covers virtually all novels) I can read one 
hundred pages an hour. Of the average historical novel I can read 
two hundred pages an hour, but that is because I am so familiar with 



XLIV READING I'VE LIKED 

the plot and characters. It took me two weeks, about five hours a day, 
to read Thomas Manns Joseph in Egypt. J submit that in all three 
cases I did my leading with the proper speed and with conscientious 
attention to the value of what was being said. 

How do you select books for review? Well, each reviewer has his 
own system. Here's mine. I try to juggle five factors, whose relative 
importance varies with each book. 

First, I ask myself whether the book is apt to interest me. This is 
only fair. I am apt to write better, more usefully, about something 
that naturally engages my attention. I don't have to like the book, 
necessarily. It may interest me because its author happens to repre- 
sent a great many things I dislike, as is the case with Gertrude Stein, 
Mabel Dodge Luhan, Charles Morgan, and William Faulkner. 

Second, does the book have news value? A book reviewer is partly 
a purveyor ^or" Hews. Any book by Ernest Hemingway would have to 
be reviewed whether it be a good one, like For Whom the Bell Tolls, 
or a poor one, like Green Hills of Africa, for Hemingway is news. 
This does not make him a better or a worse writer, of course. It has 
nothing to do with his literary value, but it has a great deal to do 
with whether or not the public expects information about his new 
book. 

Let me give you another example. A few years ago everybody was 
all worked up over the Edward-Simpson affair (remember?). I said 
then and I say now (nobody listened then and nobody s listening now) 
that the whole mess was of very little political importance and that 
the persons involved were not sufficiently interesting even for the 
thing to have much scandal value. I was in a chilly minority of one. 
One week, with public interest at fever heat, three or four books bear- 
ing on the case appeared. Not one of them would have been worth 
a line of comment had it not possessed at the moment an inflated 
news value. To my mind they weren't worth a line of comment any- 
way, but I would have been an incompetent reviewer had I not given 
them considerable space. A reviewer is a journalist. 

The third factor is allied to the second: Is the book apt to be of 
interest to the reviewer's particular audience? At the present time I 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XLV 

have a job with The New Yorker, a humorous and satirical family 
magazine. There is no such animal as a typical New Yorker reader, 
but we know that most of this magazines readers do not enjoy 
Temple Bailey, and no doubt vice versa. Miss Bailey has her virtues 
(indeed she is all virtue), but they are not the virtues that happen to 
interest the people who read my small screeds. Hence Miss Bailey 
does not get a look-in in my column. I cannot notice that her sales 
suffer in consequence. 

The fourth factor is the only one that might not occur to a non- 
professional. A reviewer, in selecting books, takes into careful account 
the opinion of the publisher with respect to his own publications. 
If a publisher writes me that Hyacinthe Doakes y novel is terrific, that 
it is his fall leader, that he is going to lay $10,000 worth of advertising 
money on the line— why, I make a note to read Hyacinthe' s book with 
zare. I may not like it, and in that case will say so. (I have not once, 
in more than fifteen years in the trade, received a letter of protest 
from any publisher whose offering I had panned, except in a few cases 
when I had made misstatements of fact.) But the truth is that I am 
more apt to like it than I am to like some little yarn that this same 
oublisher is so ashamed of he hides it away in the back of his cata- 
logue. Publishers have their faults (a profound remark that I have 
iften heard them apply to reviewers), but they know a good deal 
ibout books and their judgment of the relative values of their pro- 
ductions is hearkened to by any sensible reviewer. 

Finally, a book may not be of great personal interest, it may pos- 
sess no news value, my audience may not care deeply about it, and 
the publisher will not be in a position to give it any special publiciz- 
ing. Nevertheless, I will review it in some detail. Why? Because I feel 
It to be important. That is to say, it is a book of literary or instructive 
value by a criterion (a cloudy one, I admit) that has nothing to do 
with the four factors already mentioned. A short time ago, as these 
words were written, there appeared a long, scholarly, rather solemn 
\work of literary criticism, American Renaissance, by F. O. Matthies- 
>en. Factor 1 applied moderately; factors 2, 3, 4 hardly applied at 
ill. But I gave it a column and a half. I did so because the book is 
dearly an important work of creative scholarship and in years to come 



XLVI READING I'VE LIKED 

is bound to take a considerable place in its restricted field. It is my 
duty (to whom I don't know; I suppose to Literature itself) to com- 
ment on such a hook to the best oi my ability. Every reviewer ieels 
the same way and does the same thing. 

How reliable are reviewers' estimates? There's no exact answer to 
that one. If his estimates weren't appreciably more reliable than those 
oi your dinner-table companion, he wouldn't hold his job long. But 
he is several light-years distant horn infallibility. He works under pres- 
sure, he's human, he's been out too late the night before, his eyes 
bother him— for one reason or another, the result may be a stupid 
verdict. I've rendered many. At the end of each year I give myself 
something life itself, less generous than I am, doesn't allow us: a sec- 
ond chance. I go over the books I've reviewed and correct my Erst 
estimates. I try to be honest, but it's not easy. 

This annual donning of sackcloth and ashes, by the way, began 
some years back. At the end of the book season, one cold December, 
the lull was terrific. I had no books to review and a column to deliver. 
To fill the gap I decided to assume the winter garment of repentance. 
A column resulted. Readers liked it, I have kept it up ever since, and 
at present enjoy a somewhat unmerited reputation for extreme con- 
scientiousness. 

As to this question of reliability, I would say that on the whole we 
reviewers err in the direction of overamiability, though not so notice- 
ably as was the case fifteen years ago, when the Great American Novel 
was being hailed about as regularly as a Fifth Avenue bus. What has 
happened, roughly, is that the old type of book reviewer, to whom the 
job was a game, has gradually been replaced by a new type, to whom 
the job is a job. In the days of Laurence Stallings and Heywood 
Broun you would on occasion get superb pieces of enthusiastic jour- 
nalism, but more frequently sickening examples of hullabalunacy . 
Today book reviewing is staider, duller, but unquestionably juster 
and more serious. It has a professional touch. It is growing up. 

Nevertheless, I should hazard a guess that its standards of judgment 
are still too relaxed. Just what my tribe has to be mellow about I 
can't figure out, but we are mellow, and the result is a certain lack of 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XLVII 

acerbity. There's too much good-nature-faking among us, a continu- 
ous observance of Be-Kind-To-Dumb-Novelists Week. Literature does 
not grow only on praise. It needs the savage and tartarly note, even 
the astiingence of insult. 

In order to keep his sword sharp, the reviewer should see to it that 
he does not make too many close friends among writers. A decade 
or so ago , during the heyday of the literary tea and the publisher's 
cocktail party, this was a difficult assignment. Today, now that book 
publishers have finally put on long pants, the problem is easier. 
A reviewer may go from one end of the year to the other without 
flushing a single novelist, and I have known some reviewers, now quite 
?rown men, who have never met a literary agent in the flesh. This 
riienation from what used to be known laughingly as the Literary 
Life is a good thing for us. It makes possible a cool inhumanity toward 
authors, which in turn results in more detached comment. The road 
to a reviewer's disintegration is marked by many milestones, each 
one a statue erected to commemorate a beautiful friendship. I am 
sure of this even though I would not go so far as to agree with the 
man who thought the proper relationship between reviewer and 
mthor should be that between a knife and a throat. 

What, then, is a reviewer to do when unavoidably confronted with 
a book written by a close friend? I have had to face this situation per- 
haps a dozen times in the course of my daily work, and it is not an 
easy one to handle if one wishes to be scrupulously honest. In my 
:ase the difficulty was never disastrous, for it is my policy, when choos- 
ing friends who write, to choose of course only those who write well, 
thus making it a matter of inexorable duty for me to praise their 
work. So far this policy has worked pretty successfully. I do not know 
what would happen in the event that I should get to conceive a warm 
oersonal affection for, let us say, Miss Gertrude Stein. However, care- 
ful planning should enable me to head off this possibility. 

The fact is that no reviewer is really objective when dealing with a 
Mend's book, for if the book has anything to it at all, he is really 
dealing with the friend himself. He does the best he can, trying not 
to crack his spine in an attempt to lean over backward. But I doubt 
he final accuracy of his judgment. For example, I have praised rather 



XLVIII READING I'VE LIKED 

heatedly two hooks by close friends of mine: Mortimer Adler's How 
to Read a Book and Oscar Levant's A Smattering of Ignorance. I still 
do not know whether these hooks are as good as J made them out to 
be. On rereading my admittedly amiable pieces, I detect no conscious 
dishonesty. Of course, as one of my most sympathetic readers, I may 
be giving myself the benefit of the doubt. There are some Alexanders 
among us who cut the Gordian knot, such as the famous literary com- 
mentator who is reported to have said with dulcet candor, "Any 
reviewer who won't praise a friend's book is a louse." 

How influential are reviewers? This is a hard one to answer. All the 
publishers' questionnaires, scientifically designed to discover just why 
a given book is bought, throw but a dim light on the subject, though 
they provide any desired quantity of statistics. Reader A buys a book 
because his friend B has mentioned it; that is apparently the strongest 
single definable factor. But this means nothing unless you know why 
B happened to mention it. You ask B. B replies, let us suppose, that 
he himself bought, read and recommended the hook as the result of 
reading an advertisement. Now you have to &nd out what in that 
particular advertisement caused the positive reaction to the hook. 
Was it the publisher s statement of the hook's merits? Was it a quo- 
tation from a reviewer? If the latter, B bought the book because the 
reviewer liked it— and therefore A indirectly did the same. The whole 
matter is very complex. 

With a great best seller, a large number of factors operate simul- 
taneously or follow rapidly on each other, causing an irresistible, con- 
stantly mounting wave of popularity. If we take the case of For Whom 
the Bell Tolls, we might list these factors somewhat as follows, in the 
order of their conceivable importance: 

(1) Author's reputation (but that didn't make a best seller of his 
previous book). 

(2) Timeliness and importance of the subject matter. 

(3) Literary excellence. 

(4) It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, which auto- 
matically set in motion a wave of bookish conversation, for the club 
members form a mighty army of talkers. 



CLIFTON FADIMAN XLIX 

{5) Almost unanimously favorable reviews. 

(6) Erotic and "shocking" passages. 

(7) Book-store recommendation. (A factor very difficult to judge- 
perhaps it should be placed much higher in the list.) 

(8) Publisher's advertising and general promotion— in this case, I 
should say, a minor factor. 

( ) Talkability. I don't give this a number because any of the fac- 
tors (1) to (8) might have contributed to the book's talkability, and 
no one can determine the relative importance of any of them. 

Now, this casual analysis (whose arrangement would probably be 
sharply questioned by my colleagues, the publisher, and Mr. Hem- 
ingway) would not apply identically to any other great best seller. 
In some cases (8) might be very near the head of the list. Anthony 
Adverse, for example, benefited by one of the most skillful advertis- 
ing campaigns in recent publishing history; Jurgen was made mainly 
by (6), or rather by a Vice Society's alert appreciation of (6); and so 
it goes. Mrs. Lindbergh's sublime example of the prophetic fallacy, 
The Wave of the Future, succeeded through a combination of (1) 
and (2) plus certain other less savory factors. 

The reviewer alone cannot make a book popular. A superb novel 
such as Elizabeth Bowen's Death of the Heart may be praised by 
every reviewer who knows his job and still sell but a few thousand 
copies. Only factors (3) and (5) applied to this book; other factors 
would have been necessary to push it over into solid popularity. 

Occasionally a book may be "made" or set in motion by one man's 
recommendation. William Lyon Phelps did a great deal for The 
Bridge of San Luis Rey. Will Rogers' admiration for The Good 
Earth helped that book. A book of some years back called Recovery, 
by Sir Arthur Salter, owed its success almost entirely to Walter Lipp- 
mann. More recently Alexander Woollcott tickled the lachrymatory 
glands of all America to the considerable advantage of Mr. James 
Hilton. It's interesting to observe that none of these four commen- 
tators is or was a regular day-in-day-out book reviewer. They're Gentle- 
men rather than Players. We professionals do not in the nature of 
things wield any such power. I have never heard of Lewis Gannett or 
Harry Hansen or Sterling North or Joseph Henry Jackson or Donald 



L READING I'VE LIKED 

Adams or Clifton Fadiman "making" a book singlehanded. As a 
matter of fact, a few of the authors included in this volume are 
present because all my tumult and shouting, when theii hooks first 
appeared, resulted in nothing but a nation-wide lack of demand. 

A minor trait in the American character makes us pay less atten- 
tion to the literary judgments of professionals than to those of dis- 
tinguished nonprofessionals. A striking instance, to go hack almost a 
generation, is the instant popularity into which J. S. Fletcher, the 
English detective-story writer, sprang when Woodrow Wilson, then 
President, happened to praise his work, which was no better or worse 
than that of fifty other thriller manufacturers. A parallel instance in 
England was Stanley Baldwins endorsement some years ago of the 
novels of Mary Webb. They were at once gobbled up by the thou- 
sand, unfortunately a little too late to do the author any good, for 
she had died some time before in utter poverty. 

If Franklin D. Roosevelt should happen to go all out for some 
novel tomorrow it would at once become a best seller, irrespective of 
its real merits, but if he should issue a weekly verdict on new books, 
his opinion within a few months would cease to have any great 
influence. 

Columnists, radio commentators, editorial writers, lecturers, even 
big businessmen will on occasion influence the sale of books more 
sharply than reviewers can. On the other hand, preachers, whose lit- 
erary influence a generation or so ago was marked, have now sunk to 
a minor role as book recom menders. 

One of the paradoxes of bookselling, observable only during the 
last few years, is that a book may be helped by one or more of the 
so-called competitive media. A book's sale will be increased by its 
translation into a moving picture. Alice Duer Miller's The White 
Cliffs became a best seller largely because it was so successfully broad- 
cast. And, to take a more striking example, the condensations^ of 
popular books to be found in the Reader's Digest frequently tend to 
accelerate the sale of these publications in their original form. There 
is no such thing as bad publicity for books. 

I am inclined to think that one thing that does not sell them is the 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LI 

publisher's jacket blurb. This is generally written after much brow 
furrowing and is almost completely ineffective. Sometimes blurbs help 
the reviewer, but not much; more often they aid the harried book- 
seller. Yet I have never seen a potential book buyer influenced by 
them. My own practice is to be wary of them. Their extravagance is 
often so absurd that the reviewer loses his detachment and is unduly 
severe with the innocent book. "One of the outstanding biographers 
of our time/' said the blurbist a year or two ago— about whom? About 
a journalist named Hector Bolitho, who has devoted himself to the 
extremely dull task of composing official slop about the English royal 
family. "The greatest of living historians" is the blurb characteriza- 
tion of Philip Guedalla, a writer of quality, but no more the greatest 
of living historians than I am. A tedious Scandinavian named Trygve 
Gulbranssen was tagged by his publishers as "One of the great writers 
of the day," which may have been literally true, the day being un- 
specified. This jacket racket alienates reviewers. 

One comment I must add about my life as a reviewer. It is directly 
responsible for the making of this book. This is a book of rereadings. 
In fact, I had originally intended to call it A Reviewer's Rereader. 
It is the result of a re-examination or reconsideration of a great many 
of the thousands of books I have read and reviewed or just read. 1 
wanted for my own satisfaction to discover how much of what I had 
read (or characteristic excerpts from it) would stand the entirely per- 
sonal acid test of at least three reperusals. 

In this business of reperusal I spent many interesting months. I 
got a great deal of fun out of it, and many disappointments, too. As 
I read I thought of some of my friends who never reread and of 
others who don't like any book unless, like game, it is just a trifle 
moldy. I must admit that I could never exercise any Christian charity 
on that old gander who said with lardy self-satisfaction that whenever 
a new book appeared he reread an old one. What did he do in 1849 
when David Copperfield was a new book? I don't suppose he paid 
any attention in 1605 when a grizzled Spanish veteran came out with 
a tale called Don Quixote de la Mancha. And the Erst time Homer 



LII READING I'VE LIKED 

smote 'is bloomiri lyre I imagine our friend was busy scrutinizing 
the cave diawings of Altamira. 

That most of the best hooks were written some time ago we may 
freely admit. But when you consider how much more Was than Now 
there has always been (with every passing moment busily increasing 
the odds in Was' favor) the circumstance is not surprising. But what 
of it? Can we May-fly mortals afford to spend all our brief allotment 
reading only the best? So much is missed that way. Transients and 
second-raters ourselves, why should we deny ourselves the warm and 
homely feeling of kinship that comes of reading the pages of other 
transients and second-raters? 

"Old wine, old friends, old books are best," said Hug-the-Hearth, 
wrapping the mantle of conservatism about the trembling bones of 
his timidity. This may be so, in a measure, but that is no reason for 
not testing our palate against new wine, our personality against new 
friends, our mental pliancy against new books. How many males in 
full possession of their faculties have been put off the quest of novelty 
by the reflection that to know one woman is to know all? The rut of 
u the best that has been thought and said in the world" is nonetheless 
a rut, if a noble one. 

How often have you not fled the biblio-hobbyists who sport a 
favorite author as they would a favorite flower? The whimsical bores 
who "Jcnow their Alice"— and little else. The Jane-ites, so proud and 
prejudiced, for whom nothing has happened to the English novel 
since Miss Austen turned up her genteel toes. The Thackerayans, for 
whom rereading The Newcomes semiannually is a religious rite. The 
W. S. Gilbert-quoters, the Moby Dickensians—but why go on? Som- 
erset Maugham puts it mildly but well: "I know people who read the 
same book over and over again. It can only be that they read with 
their eyes and not with their sensibility. It is a mechanical exercise 
like the Tibetan turning of a prayer wheel. It is doubtless a harmless 
occupation but they are wrong if they think it is an intelligent one." 

On the other hand— these matters are always conveniently ambi- 
dextrous—he is no less tiresome who "keeps up with the new books" 
as though current literature were a motor-paced bicycle race. I should 
say they are well worth shunning, those earnest souls to whom read- 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LIII 

ing is a form of competition, who, on finishing a new publication, 
feel they have beaten someone or something. Such worship of the 
book-of-the-day is infantile. 

My venerated Columbia professor, Raymond Weaver, whose knowl- 
edge and personality are alike classical, is credited with an apposite 
legend. At a dinner party one evening a bright young thing queried, 
in her most buffed and polished finishing-school voice, "Mr. Weaver, 
have you read So-and-so's book?" (naming a modish best seller of the 
moment). 

Mr. Weaver confessed he had not. 

"Oh, you'd better hurry up— it's been out over three months!" 

Mr. Weaver, an impressive gentleman with a voice like a Greek 
herald, turned to her, and said, "My dear young lady, have you read 
Dante's Divine Comedy?" 

"No." 

"Then youd better hurry up— it's been out over six hundred years." 

To the average male there is something a little ridiculous in the 
aspect of a woman wearing a hat which he has just seen advertised as 
the very latest thing. More, to him she is provincial. Lacking the in- 
dependence that would permit her to choose a hat of yesterday, of 
tomorrow, or even a timeless hat, if timeless hats there be, she is, in 
his eyes, the prisoner of the moment, her hat-horizon bounded by the 
confines of a split second. The stylish (repulsive word) hat has no 
true style. 

As with millinery, so with literature. There is no reader so parochial 
as the one who reads none but this mornings books. Books are not 
rolls, to be devoured only when they are hot and fresh. A good 
book retains its interior heat and will warm a generation yet un- 
born. He who conEnes himself only to today s books is more nar- 
rowly circumscribed by time than he who reads only yesteryear's. You 
can be inexorably old-fashioned or perennially up to the minute. In 
either case you are dated. 

We are driven, then, to the dull, sane conclusion that the proper 
diet is a mixed one. No special magic virtue inheres in either old or 
new books. 



LIV READING I'VE LIKED 

But let us return to our muttonhead who, whenever a new book 
appeared, reread an old one. He must have owned one of Mr. Lind- 
bergh's mechanical hearts, incapable oi mutation, for rereading is 
one of the barometers by which we note the changes in our mental 
and emotional climate. Rarely do we reread a book once greatly loved 
and receive from it exactly our original pleasure. Note that I say 
receive; this is not to assert that we cannot recall our original pleas- 
ure, but that is not the same thing. 

Of this recall value William Hazlitt says: "In reading a book which 
is an old favourite with me (say the Erst novel I ever read) I not only 
have the pleasure of imagination and of a critical relish of the work, 
but the pleasures of memory added to it. It recalls the same feelings 
and associations which I had in Erst reading it, and which I can never 
have again in any other way. Standard productions of this kind are 
links in the chain of out conscious being. They bind together the dif- 
ferent scattered divisions of our personal identity. They are landmarks 
and guides in our journey through life. They are pegs and loops on 
which we can hang up, or from which we can take down, at pleasure, 
the wardrobe of a moral imagination, the relics of our best affections, 
the tokens and records of our happiest hours. They are 'for thoughts 
and for remembrance!' They are like Fortunatus's Wishing-Cap—they 
give us the best riches— those of Fancy; and transport us, not over 
half the globe, but (which is better) over half our lives, at a word's 
notice!" 

There you have the sunny side of rereading. In the course of pre- 
paring this collection, however, I have constantly been confronted 
with a shady side also. For the "pleasures of memory" are not all 
Hazlitt cracked them up to be. Most of the time rereading is a melan- 
choly experience. Turning pages out of which a decade or two ago 
surprise and excitement fairly leaped at us, we End surprise and excite- 
ment no longer summonable. A breath of autumn invades the heart- 
vacancy, almost a kind of paralysis. Surely this is not the book we 
once read, but a faded photograph of it, with all its original lights 
and shadows smoked over into a dim, pathetic grayness. We close 
the book ruefully. It is, we say, dated. 

Dated? But perhaps it is we who are dated. The book may have 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LV 

died, but just as frequently we have died ourselves, or changed our 
temperament just as the physiologists tell us we replace our bodies 
completely every seven years or so. The other day, for example, I 
reread Knut Hamsun s Pan. A score of years ago it moved me greatly; 
today I cannot stomach it. Who has changed, Hamsun or I? Like the 
unfortunate little old woman in the rhyme, the one whose petticoats 
were half shot from under her, I found myself wondering if this 
could be I. 

And it was not I, or not the same I. 1 tried to figure it out. Perhaps 
my taste had decayed. Oi perhaps the book had been bad all along, 
and my original judgment was faulty. My pride (one of the elements 
of the human personality which apparently remains constant) pre- 
vented me from accepting either solution with pleasure. I introspected 
busily for a half-hour or so, and came up with an odd tangle of 
theoretical explanations. 

Pan deals in part with romantic love, a subject in which I had a 
more burning interest at seventeen than I now have at thirty-seven. 
There is a kind of emotional mistiness about Pan which corre- 
sponded, it may be, to the Schwarmerei of youth. Today, quite pos- 
sibly overvaluing it, I look for clarity above all in what I read. 
Finally, today I dislike Hamsun because he is a Nazi. Who am J to 
say that my subconscious (never a sound literary critic) does not rise 
up to prevent me from enjoying anything at all by a man whose po- 
litical opinions I now detest? 

What I am struggling to indicate is that a book may be a "good" 
book at one stage of your life and a "bad" book at another— and to 
tell absolutely how "bad" or "good" it is is impossible. The factors 
that make it good or bad may be nonliterary, matters of accident. 

There is the whole question of "mood" — a question so involved 
that neither psychologists nor literary critics can say anything about it 
at all convincing. You just "happen" to pick up a book on Wednesday 
evening, and it reads well. On Tuesday evening it might have seemed 
a bore. What factors enter here? Who knows— metabolic rate, what 
you did at the office during the day, the presence or absence of fatigue, 
worry. . . . The fact is that a book, if it has blood in it and is not 
merely some standard confection, is a vital thing. To read a book is 



LVI READING I'VE LIKED 

to enter into contact with something alive. It is more like talking to 
a friend than like driving a car. Reading is not an operation per- 
formed on something inert hut a relationship entered into with an- 
other heing. 

At certain times you just "can't stand" anybody— your hest friend? 
your wife or husband; it makes no difference. You dont really know 
why your mind refuses to touch that of another person, but you know 
that it does refuse. So is it with hooks— and that is one reason re- 
reading even the hest of hooks is often a disillusioning procedure. 

Are there any hooks that the "intelligent reader" (a phrase invented 
by critics to circumvent immodesty) can always profitably reread? 
People like Mortimer Adler are certain that there are. He calls 
them classics, and would base education on them. To a degree he is 
right. There is a quality of inexhaustibility about some of the great 
Greeks, for example, that makes them always rereadable in that 
there are always new insights to be drawn from them. They have also 
the quality of difficulty (not to be confused with obscurity)— a qual- 
ity which often helps to keep alive a book that would perish were 
it simpler. But even these great classics can on occasion be unreread- 
able. I do not contest the greatness of Plato, and yet there are certain 
moods in which I cannot read him, moods in which he (or his mouth- 
piece Socrates) seems to me to be a clever, self-satisEed, quibbling? 
hair-splitting, intellectual snob. And when I feel this way, the page 
of Plato turns to dust and ashes, and even the Phaedo (which I 
know to be one of the greatest things ever written) seems contrived. 
No matter how superior the author may be to the reader, there must 
be a certain harmony between them, or they cannot mate. This 
harmony is elusive, unattainable by mere wishing, a function of 
mood, whim, perhaps even temperature. I should not be surprised 
if our reading reactions were in part influenced by the sunspots. 

There are certain books that you attempt again and again, "and 
which continue to resist you because you are not ripe for them. Dur- 
ing the last twenty years, for instance, I have tried perhaps ten times 
to read The Brothers Karamazov and each time given up in a rage 
directed equally at Dostoevsky and myself. Only recently I tried it 
once more and found its reputation thoroughly deserved. Reading it 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LVII 

now with the greatest absorption, I am convinced it is the sort oi 
hook that requires the reader (that is, most readers) to he oi a certain 
age. Until now I was simply too young for it, and that's why it 
seemed to me dull and farfetched. It is a hook you (I mean myself) 
have to grow up to. One of these days I am going to reread Turgenev's 
Fathers and Sons, which I raced through at fifteen, getting, I am 
sure, precisely nothing from it. I have the feeling that I am now about 
ready for it. But I may be mistaken; I may still be too young for it. 

I often think of that quiet story of the Franciscan monk who was 
found reading Willa Cathefs Death Comes for the Archbishop. 
Aslced his opinion of it, he replied, "Well, J have read it five times, 
but, you see, I have not finished it yet." All of us have read books 
that we have not finished yet, books perhaps unfinishable, books so 
subtle and multileveled as to reveal themselves newly with each re- 
reading. I have, for example, reread Thomas Mann's The Magic 
Mountain five times (there is an extract from it in this book) and I 
know I have still to give it a final reading. Such books do not sur- 
render themselves at once but are like the most desirable of women, 
difficult in the beginning but, once won, durable in their appeal. 

What makes a book rereadable? The answer depends on the reader 
as well as on the book. To Mr. Adler a rereadable book is an "origi- 
nal communication," one marking a milestone in the history of West- 
ern thought and imagination. To the sentimentalist (that takes in a 
lot of us) it may be a book read in childhood; he rereads and reloves 
not only the book, but himself as a child. (This explains why so many 
people to whom their childhood is an obsession cannot bear to throw 
away their nursery classics.) To another a book may be rereadable if 
it echoes his own unalterable prejudices. It is a gauge by which he 
may complacently measure his lack of mental progress. People who 
believe in The Truth often read one book or group of books all their 
lives. For them the last word has been uttered by, say, Thomas 
Aquinas or Adolf Hitler or Friedrich Nietzsche. Hence they stick to 
their particular Bible and wear it to shreds. Such readers are almost 
always psychopaths. A one-book man is a dangerous man and should 
be taken in hand and taught how to diversify his literary investments. 



LVIII READING I'VE LIKED 

J have been trying for some time to determine what kind of book 
I myself reread with pleasure. This is an exercise of no particular 
importance to anyone. Still, inasmuch as this entire volume consists of 
material that I have enjoyed, its purchaser is perhaps entitled to some 
explanation of my choices. 

All of us are familiar with the dismaying fact that an attractive 
personality often has little to do with a persons moral qualities or 
even his physical appearance. It is quite possible to be extremely fond 
of a man who neglects his mother. Even his mother is often fond of 
him. Similarly, what I call the "magical" quality of a book— the 
quality which for me makes it rereadable—is not necessarily de- 
pendent on the book's importance, its intellectual weight, its position 
in the critics 7 hierarchy of values. 

For example, serious students of literature would doubtless rank 
Madame Bovary as a more significant work of fiction than Great 
Expectations. Probably it is. There is no question but that it has 
influenced the course of literature, whereas Great Expectations hap- 
pens to be merely a Dickens novel that millions of plain readers have 
enjoyed. But for me Madame Bovary has no virtues except those of 
perfection. It is without magic, without personality, it is not reread- 
able. It is about as interesting as Sir Galahad. Great Expectations, on 
the other hand, is magical, and its magic works every time. For me the 
scene on the deserted moor in which Pip meets the convict beats any- 
thing in Madame Bovary. I dont quite understand why this should 
be so, but so it is. A lycee-trained Frenchman might have the opposite 
reaction and be equally unable to defend it. 

Now this magic is a very elusive thing. It may have any of a 
hundred shapes and forms. It may be a comic magic, as in the 
"swarry" scene from Pickwick. It may be a fearsome magic, as in 
the cave episode from Tom Sawyer. It may be deeply tragical- 
Lear on the heath. In all these cases the writing has a penumbra, a 
"thickness" which the most intellectually precise notation of a Flau- 
bert does not have. This penumbra does not necessarily have any- 
thing to do with remoteness from reality, with "romanticism." Noth- 
ing could be more "romantic" than the talcs of Poe. Yet, to my taste, 
admirable as they are, they lack magic. They are mathematical, their 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LIX 

romance is calculated. Indeed, most tales of the supernatural have 
this planned quality and that is why so few of them are great litera- 
ture. It is when the supernatural is accepted by the author as related 
to the human that literature results. There is nothing artificial about 
the Iliad or the Odyssey, though they are full of miracles and 
divinities. 

Penumbral literature, to use a horrible phrase, is not necessarily 
fanciful, then. Cabell is full of fancy but he has no magic. His words 
cast no shadow. Huck Finn and Jim on the river are about as unfanci- 
ful as you can imagine. But what they say has nonterminating rever- 
berations. 

Magic is not confined to "imaginative" literature. For me there is 
magic in Russell's "A Free Mans Worship," which you will End in 
this book. There is magic in Gibbons explanation of how he came to 
write the Decline and Fall. There is magic in the scientific populariza- 
tions of Sir Arthur Eddington. All of these works set a bell ringing in 
the brain. They do not become merely additions to your mental store 
but inhabitants of your mind. There are certain clear and precise 
ideas that are as haunting as Heathcliff. Descartes 7 system of ana- 
lytical geometry can be as stimulating to the imagination as the 
soliloquies of Ahab, though on a different level. 

A few pages back I said that everything in this book has been 
read by the compiler at least three times with pleasure. By this I do 
not mean that everything in this book is forever rereadable or that 
all of it is great literature. Some of it I am sure is, but many things 
are included that are not of permanent value. For example, the in- 
cluded stories of Somerset Maugham have no immortal qualities. 
They set no bells ringing in the mind. But they are so admirably 
composed, they do so perfectly the minor thing the author set out 
to do, they are so exact an expression of a particular attitude toward 
life, that they give me a rare and special pleasure. I have found this 
pleasure, I say, repeatable three times. Three times should be enough 
for any man. 

In making up the contents of this book I worked within no limi- 
tations except my own taste, a certain size, in excess of which the 



LX READING I'VE LIKED 

volume would not have been commercially feasible, and the usual 
restrictions of copyright. With respect to the last, however, I may 
say that everything I originally wanted to include is here, with one 
exception— Lee Strout Whites ineEably touching "Farewell to Model 
T," which was gently denied me for reasons I found perfectly satis- 
factory. Please manage to read it anyway. 

I have made no attempt to "balance" the reading ration, to have 
equal proportions of "light" and "heavy' material, or of English and 
American productions. I included what I liked of the work I had 
read and reviewed, or in some cases only read, during the last two 
decades or so. 

It happens that you will End in this hook biographies, anecdotes, 
brief Ection, semilong Ection, excerpts from novels, sketches, essays 
(both familiar and formal), a book review, humorous pieces (includ- 
ing one complete book of humor), excerpts from a dictionary, a 
judicial decision, reflections on nature, a long letter, an excerpt from 
a speech, and a collection of epigrams. You will End work by 
Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, a Spanish-American, 
and an Australian. You will End lengthy pieces and brief pieces, trivial 
work and weighty work, work that I believe permanent and work 
that I know is transient, work by established writers and by new- 
comers, by the radical and the reactionary, the traditionalist and the 
experimentalist, the old and the young, the living and the dead. 
Variety is not a major virtue, but this book has it. 

It may be objected that the taste which governed the selection is 
so catholic as to be in eEect no taste at all. How can a man be so* 
barren of the salt of preference that he can at the same time like a 
gentle old lady such as Sarah Orne Jewett and a tough mug such as 
Ernest Hemingway? How can he at once admire the elegant frippery 7 
of Alexander Woollcott and the profound seriousness of Thomas 
Mann? What is there in common between the homely Indiana 
cracker-box philosophy of Kin Flubbard and the jeweled suavity of 
Santayana's sinuous thought? 

I must unmask and declare myself at once. My friends, I am that 
most despised of literary animals, an eclectic. I am so disuniEed, such 
a miserable polymorph of a man, that my nature responds to other 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LXI 

natures that are wildly disparate. I suppose the humanists of a decade 
ago would say that I have no standards. Moralists of any decade 
would say that I have no convictions. Logicians will point out that my 
taste is contradictory. And my colleagues will simply say that I could 
have made better choices, which is quite possible. 

I plead guilty to the charge of being able to enjoy more than one 
kind of writing, which is far from equivalent to enjoying all kinds. 
(Someday I should like to compile an anthology of work that I detest, 
with reasons.) My personality, like that of most people I meet, is 
full of splits; and the variations in temper and mood that you will 
End in this book correspond, I dimly feel, to those lines of cleavage. 
Something in me is satisfied by the lunacies of S. J. Perelman 
and something else by the lucidities of Bertrand Russell. Yet I feel it 
is somehow the same fellow that is satisfied, that I am not a ragbag 
but a man. 

A keen critic— perhaps it was Edmund Wilson— once pointed out 
that the major characters in a great novel were often unconscious 
projections of unreconciled factors in the author's own character. I 
believe this to be profoundly true. I suppose that on an inconceivably 
lower level this book is a projection of unreconciled factors in the 
character of the compiler. No doubt a good analyst (he must also be 
a man of literary perception) could, by a careful examination of the 
contents, make a shrewd guess at the personality of the compiler. 
For just as all actions imply a choice, so all choices are actions, and 
actions are the man. 

But these are refinements that have little to do with whether or 
not you will enjoy this book. I can only say that I have not con- 
sciously included anything insincere or false, or anything careless in 
craftsmanship. I believe everything you will read here, if the product 
of hands other than my own, is of its kind extremely well written. 
I believe nothing here is dead, inert, but that these words, whether 
major or minor, are vascular. 

As to the commentaries that accompany them, I would say only 
that they are intended not to be criticism but rather the most infor- 
mal kind of personal annotation. Most of them are examples of what 
Swinburne called u the noble pleasure of praising," for this is a book 



LXII READING I'VE LIKED 

of enthusiasms. The commentaries need not be read at all, if the 
reader so wishes, for each selection is perfectly comprehensible with- 
out their aid. I guess I just enjoyed writing them. 

One last word. It is in a way a fatuous gesture, some might think, 
to produce a hook of this character at a time when mankind is 
engaged in a life-and-death struggle with itself. Why should we con- 
cern ourselves with these stories and essays, however pleasing they 
may be, when in another decade the very conditions that produced 
them may have vanished from the tormented face of the earth? I 
say, for that very reason. 

I have lately been reading a disturbing hook called The Managerial 
Revolution, by a professor of philosophy named James Burnham. 
(One should never underestimate professors of philosophy; Socrates 
was one.) Mr. Burnhanis thesis is at the moment being widely dis- 
cussed, I am told, by businessmen, a circumstance I happen to find 
almost humorous, for among the groups who will have no place in 
Mr. Burnham's projected society of the future will assuredly be those 
accustomed to thinking in terms of buying and selling, profit and 
loss. 

Briefly, here is what Mr. Burnham expounds, with a chilly logic 
that is perhaps too symmetrical to be completely convincing. The 
whole world is now in the grip of an irreversible revolutionary proc- 
ess. This revolution has nothing to do with traditional socialist or 
communist conceptions. On the contrary, socialism has already failed 
irretrievably, and capitalism has either abdicated or is abdicating. The 
world of the immediate future (we are already partially living in that 
future) is a world of superstates, probably three in number, in which 
the master class will be a group of "managers" and their bureaucratic, 
technical, and military assistants. This class will dominate completely 
a servile mass of workers and common fodder. The objective of the 
superstate, within its own confines, will be not profit but order. This 
order is largely definable in terms of efficient production. The final 
objective of each of the three superstates (the European, dominated 
by Germany; the Asiatic, dominated by Japan; the American, domi- 
nated by the United States) is world mastery, obtainable by war. 



CLIFTON FADIMAN LXIII 

This war has already begun. We are in its first phase. This is the 
Erst managerial war. It will be won (temporarily) by that state which 
most efficiently substitutes managerial techniques for the outmoded 
democratic-capitalist ones. 

Mr. Burnham, by the way, does not like the world whose blue- 
prints he so firmly draws. But he is quite convinced of its imminence. 
Any fair-minded reader will have to admit that much of what he 
says seems at the moment to make sense of a horrible kind. 

It may be that he is right. It may be that mankind's next stage 
is the managerial state— possibly, as Mr. Burnham hopes, a managerial 
state in which will be incorporated some of the humane and demo- 
cratic values in which you and I believe. But these values, if Mr. 
Burnham is right, will be subordinated, at least in the near future, 
to the military and economic necessities of the state, and to high 
conceptions of efficiency and order. 

That means the death of the individual, for the masters, if they 
are to remain masters, will have to abandon their unique personalities 
just as surely as will the serfs. They, too, will become the slaves of 
the state they head, even if all the emoluments— mainly power- 
revert to them. 

And with the death of the individual comes the death of the arts, 
literature among them. After all, what is art? It is the mode by which 
the solitary heart of any one man bridges the gap which separates 
him from all of his brothers, mankind in general . All literature is 
but a message, strong or feeble, sent out by an individual and 
addressed to the human race. "Only connect," says E. M. Forster; 
literature is such a means of connection. 

But if the future is to abolish the individual, it must also abolish 
the notion of humanity in general, in favor of the state. When the 
individual and humanity have both vanished, who shall send a 
message to whom? Thus literature perishes, and art and architecture 
and music, and all the great and little outcries of man. 

I do not admit that there is no alternative to this Spenglerian 
world view, but I am not so naive as not to see that already the 
system of the superstate obtains over large portions of our planet. 
The new Dark Age has begun. Already the man of words, the man 



LXIV READING I'VE LIKED 

of sounds, the man of patterns, the man of symbols, is losing face, 
ior he does not seem necessary if wars are to he won, trade routes 
guarded, homhs dropped, and bodies smashed. He is not at all the 
bringer of order but rather of that divine disorder which expresses 
mans painful desire to communicate without coalescing. He is, it 
may be, already out of date. 

But, as it seems to me, if he is out of date, it is because he is date- 
less. He may, perhaps he will, disappear for a time, a long time. But 
disappear forever he cannot, for he is man himself, just as truly as 
the bomb dropper and the sword wielder are man himself. This is a 
great civil war in which we are engaged, greater, I think, than even 
Mr. Burnham conceives. Man is struggling with himself. A certain 
part of him is now paramount— the blind impulse to mass unity, 
the blind impulse to obedience, and the blind impulse, most pow- 
erful of all, to death. Yet these impulses war with others, now sub- 
merged and overcast— the impulse to communicate, the impulse to 
free one's self and one's neighbor, the impulse to live. Sooner or 
later, and it may be very much later, that part of man which sings 
and writes, paints and prays, laughs and cries will rise like Excalibur 
from the deep lake into which it has been thrown. 

In the meantime we can and must, by a crazy paradox, shed blood 
in order that the shedding of blood may once again become a de- 
testable rather than an habitual thing. And in the meantime, whether 
we enter a Dark Age or overcome it, it is our duty to keep alive in 
our own memories, confused and shaken as they be, the tones of men 
who believe in each other, who talk to each other, using words, simple 
or profound, but words, living speech, the signature of civilization. 

Clifton Fadiman 
New York City 
July 10, 1941 







r^KHTX: 



rwf r i 



Reading 
I've Liked 




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.X 



EVE CURIE 



COMMENTARY 



It is hard to think of many first-rate scientists in whom some 
major flaw of character does not show itself, confounding our natural 
desire for wholehearted hero worship. Descartes was ignoble, Leib- 
nitz a fawning courtier, Willard Gibbs a recluse, Gauss cold and se- 
cretive. For all his nobility, Pasteur was stained with chauvinism and 
race hatred. An infantile religiosity clouded to the end the magnifi- 
cent minds of Newton and Pascal. But the lives of Marie and Pierre 
Curie, two of the most beautiful lives, I suppose, that have ever been 
lived, provide exceptions. It was theatrically apt that these characters 
of shining purity should have built their careers around a physical 
element recognizable by its inner radiance. 

Eve Curies life of her mother, published in English in 1937, al- 
ready has the ling of a classic. The chapter following, one of the 
Bnest, describes the climax of a life that might have been conceived 
by the patterning brain of a tragic dramatist. Before you read it, I 
suggest that you look at a photograph of Madame Curie. I have one 
before me now, taken when she was sixty-two. The face is lined. From 
underneath the white and casually arranged hair arcs an abnormally 
spacious brow. She is dressed in a simple black dress that looks like 
a laboratory smock. The face is that of a truly beautiful woman, the 
beauty lying in the bones and in the brain that sends its clear signals 
through the deep, penetrating eyes. 

The story of Marie Curie is not merely that of a poor Polish gov- 
erness who struggled triumphantly against adversity. The story of 
Marie Curie lies in the fact that she was happiest during her struggles 
and least happy when a vulgar world acclaimed her. Hers is a success 
story a rebours. Einstein has said, "Marie Curie is, of all celebrated 
beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted." "She did not 
know how to be famous" says Eve Curie. In one deliberate sentence 
she strikes to the heart of the secret: "I hope that the reader may 
constantly feel, across the ephemeral movement of one existence, 

1 



2 READING I'VE LIKED 

what in Marie Curie was even more rare than her work or her life: 
the immovable structure of a character; the stubborn effort of an in- 
telligence; the free immolation of a human being that could give all 
and take nothing, could even receive nothing; and above all the qual- 
ity of a soul in which neither fame nor adversity could change the 
exceptional purity!' 

Recall that unbelievable dramatic life. She is born Marya Sklodov- 
ska, youngest child of a Warsaw physicist and a sensitive, tubercular 
mother. The childhood is unhappy, torn by the death of mother and 
eldest sister, grayed by poverty, given a certain tenseness by the fact 
that she is a member of a subject race, the Poles. She grows up, be- 
comes the conventional intellectual rebel of her time, like "all the 
little Polish girls who had gone mad for culture. 7 ' She is intelligent, 
but nothing yet reveals that "immovable structure" of which her 
daughter speaks. She becomes a governess, a bit of a bluestocking 
touched with Tolstoyan sentimentality. Now "the eternal student" 
begins to rise in her. The little child who at Eve stood in rapt awe 
before her father's case containing the "phys-ics ap-pa-ra-tus" re- 
awakens in the girl of eighteen. Her duties as a governess do not pre- 
vent her from studying. She has no money, not even for stamps so 
that she may write to her brother. But "I am learning chemistry from 
a book." Back in Warsaw, she is allowed to perform elementary chem- 
ical experiments in a real laboratory, and, at last, after inconceivable 
setbacks and economies, after years of weary waiting, she goes to 
Paris to study at the Sorbonne. 

In 1894 s ^ e mee k> Pierre Curie, already a physicist of note, a mind 
"both powerful and noble." In an atmosphere of garrets and labora- 
tories, these two, very grave and serious, conduct their love affair. 
They marry. On her wedding day, to the generous friend who wishes 
to give her a bridal dress, she writes, "I have no dress except the one 
I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, 
please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards 
to go to the laboratory." 

It is a perfect marriage, the marriage not merely of two people who 
love each other but, what is incomparably more important, of two 
great physicists who can help each other. It is Marie, attracted by the 



EVE CURIE 3 

uranium researches of Becquerel, who starts herself and her husband 
on the long, tedious, glorious path at the end of which glows radium. 
They know that radium and polonium (named hy Marie to com- 
memorate her beloved native land) exist, but they must prove it. 
From 1898 to 1902, in a dilapidated, leaking, freezing shed, with 
primitive apparatus, with little or no help, unaided by the scientific 
bureaucracy or by the State, these two gentle fanatics work in an 
absorption that is like a dream. The government is too busy spending 
money on armament to buy them the few tons of pitchblende they 
need. Somehow they get their pitchblende, paying for its transporta- 
tion themselves out of their insufficient salaries. With "her terrible 
patience," Marie, doing the work of four strong men, pounds away 
at her chemical masses, boils, separates, reEnes, stirs, strains. Some- 
where in this inert brown stuff lies radium. During these five years 
Marie loses fifteen pounds. At last they isolate the element. 

All this time they have been bringing up a family. They have had 
sorrows, family illnesses. Pierre's mother has died of the very disease 
against which radium is soon to prove a beneficent weapon. All this 
time no provision is made for these selfless geniuses. The State, as 
always, cares nothing. Recognition comes Erst from other countries, 
from Switzerland, England. "With great merit and even greater 
modesty," says Montaigne, "one can remain unknown for a long 
time." 

Now the full implications of their work begin to appear. The im- 
movable atom moves; matter is touched with a mysterious life; physics 
revises its nineteenth-century conceptions of the indestructibility of 
matter and the conservation of energy. The Curies are triumphant; 
and their Erst major decision is to refrain from patenting their radium- 
extraction process. Says Pierre: "Radium is not to enrich anyone. It 
is an element; it is for all the people. 77 They offer it freely to the 
world. This gesture alone, the inevitable expression of their charac- 
ters, is enough to give their lives a depth that can never attach to a 
commercial career like that of Edison. The difference between a 
Curie and an Edison is not merely one of scientiEc genius, it is a 
difference of order. The Curies are one kind of human being, Edison 
was another. 



4 READING I'VE LIKED 

In 1903 the Curies, with Becquerel, receive the Nohel Prize for 
Physics. The world pursues them. They must flee the world. "In 
science we must he interested in things, not in persons/' says Marie, 
who was never to he interested in herself. One evening, at the height 
of their fame, as they are about to leave for a banquet, Pierre looks at 
his wife, with her ash-gray eyes, her ash-blond hair, her exquisite 
wrists and ankles, and he murmurs, "It's a pity. Evening dress he- 
comes you." Then, with a sigh, he adds, "But there it is, we haven't 
got time" 

They are offered the slimy vulgarity of decorations, rihhons, ro- 
settes. But no laboratory. (Pierre eventually died without getting his 
laboratory, without being allowed to work properly.) The Hie of the 
Curies will remain, forever terrible, as a somber reminder of the 
stupidity, the greed, even the sadism of the French ruling class of the 
period, the class which, biding its time, was at last to betray its coun- 
try thoroughly and forever. 

Then on April 19, 1906, Aeschylean tragedy, cutting Marie's life 
in two, giving it at the same time a new emotional dimension. Pierre's 
head is crushed by a van in a street accident, and Marie becomes "a 
pitiful and incurably lonely woman." She refuses a pension (always 
the State makes its generous offers too late); she proceeds with the 
education of her daughters; she takes over Pierre's teaching post and, 
in a dry, monotonous voice, without making any reference to her 
predecessor, resumes the lectures at the exact point at which Pierre 
had left off. 

The rest of her life is the story of her marriage with radium. For 
her laboratory, for science, she will do anything, even try to be "fa- 
mous." In 1911 she receives the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. During 
the war she equips, with superhuman energy, a fleet of radiological 
cars so that the wounded may be helped by X rays. She is no roto- 
gravure ministering angel, no Queen Marie of Rumania. She actually 
works — works for the State which had done its best in those dark 
years to prevent her from working. Later, again for the sake of 
science, she comes to America to receive a gram of radium from the 
hand of an amiable poker player who could not possibly have under- 
stood even the most trivial of the thoughts in Marie Curie's mind. 



EVE CURIE 5 

Then, applauded by all America, she goes back to France, and all 
America turns to the next celebrity, Carpentier, to lavish an identical 
adulation upon him. Almost blind, her hands and arms scarred, pitted, 
and burned by thirty years of radium emanations, she continues her 
work almost to the day of her death, caused in part by that very 
element which she had released for the use of mankind. 



Four Years in a Shed 

FROM "MADAME CURIE" BY 

EVE CURIE 



A man chosen at random from a crowd to read an account of the 
discovery of radium would not have doubted for one moment that 
radium existed: beings whose critical sense has not been sharpened 
and simultaneously deformed by specialized culture keep their imagina- 
tions fresh. They are ready to accept an unexpected fact, however 
extraordinary it may appear, and to wonder at it. 

The physicist colleagues of the Curies received the news in slightly 
different fashion. The special properties of polonium and radium upset 
fundamental theories in which scientists had believed for centuries. 
How was one to explain the spontaneous radiation of the radioactive 
bodies? The discovery upset a world of acquired knowledge and 
contradicted the most firmly established ideas on the composition of 
matter. Thus the physicist kept on the reserve. He was violently 
interested in Pierre and Marie's work, he could perceive its infinite 
developments, but before being convinced he awaited the acquisition 
of decisive results. 

The attitude of the chemist was even more downright. By definition, 
a chemist only believes in the existence of a new substance when he 
has seen the substance, touched it, weighed and examined it, con- 
fronted it with acids, bottled it, and when he has determined its 
"atomic weight." 

Now, up to the present, nobody had "seen" radium. Nobody knew 
the atomic weight of radium. And the chemists, faithful to their 
principles, concluded: "No atomic weight, no radium. Show us some 
radium and we will believe you." 

To show polonium and radium to the incredulous, to prove to the 



EVE CURIE 7 

world the existence of their "children," and to complete their own con- 
viction, M. and Mme Curie were now to labor for four years. 

The aim was to obtain pure radium and polonium. In the most 
strongly radioactive products the scientists had prepared, these sub- 
stances figured only in imperceptible traces. Pierre and Marie already 
knew the method by which they could hope to isolate the new metals, 
but the separation could not be made except by treating very large 
quantities of crude material. 

Here arose three agonizing questions: 

How were they to get a sufficient quantity of ore? What premises 
could they use to effect their treatment? What money was there to 
pay the inevitable cost of the work? 

Pitchblende, in which polonium and radium were hidden, was a 
costly ore, treated at the St Joachimsthal mines in Bohemia for the 
extraction of uranium salts used in the manufacture of glass. Tons of 
pitchblende would cost a great deal: a great deal too much for the 
Curie household. 

Ingenuity was to make up for wealth. According to the expectation 
of the two scientists, the extraction of uranium should leave, intact 
in the ore, such traces of polonium and radium as the ore contains. 
There was no reason why these traces should not be found in the 
residue. And, whereas crude pitchblende was costly, its residue after 
treatment had very slight value. By asking an Austrian colleague for 
a recommendation to the directors of the mine of St Joachimsthal 
would it not be possible to obtain a considerable quantity of such 
residue for a reasonable price? 

It was simple enough: but somebody had to think of it. 

It was necessary, of course, to buy this crude material and pay for 
its transportation to Paris. Pierre and Marie appropriated the required 
sum from their very slight savings. They were not so foolish as to 
ask for official credits. ... If two physicists on the scent of an im- 
mense discovery had asked the University of Paris or the French gov- 
ernment for a grant to buy pitchblende residue they would have been 
laughed at. In any case their letter would have been lost in the files 
of some office, and they would have had to wait months for a reply, 



8 READING I'VE LIKED 

probably unfavorable in the end. Out of the traditions and principles 
of the French Revolution, which had created the metric system, 
founded the Normal School, and encouraged science in many circum- 
stances, the State seemed to have retained, after more than a century, 
only the deplorable words pronounced by Fouquier-Tinville at the 
trial in which Lavoisier was condemned to the guillotine: "The Re- 
public has no need for scientists." 

But at least could there not be found, in the numerous buildings 
attached to the Sorbonne, some kind of suitable workroom to lend 
to the Curie couple? Apparently not. After vain attempts, Pierre and 
Marie staggered back to their point of departure, which is to say 
to the School of Physics where Pierre taught, to the little room where 
Marie had done her first experiments. The room gave on a courtyard, 
and on the other side of the yard there was a wooden shack, an 
abandoned shed, with a skylight roof in such bad condition that it 
admitted the rain. The Faculty of Medicine had formerly used the 
place as a dissecting room, but for a long time now it had not even 
been considered fit to house the cadavers. No floor: an uncertain 
layer of bitumen covered the earth. It was furnished with some worn 
kitchen tables, a blackboard which had landed there for no known 
reason, and an old cast-iron stove with a rusty pipe. 

A workman would not willingly have worked in such a place: Marie 
and Pierre, nevertheless, resigned themselves to it. The shed had one 
advantage: it was so untempting, so miserable, that nobody thought 
of refusing them the use of it. Schutzenberger, the director of the 
school, had always been very kind to Pierre Curie and no doubt 
regretted that he had nothing better to offer. However that may be, 
he offered nothing else; and the couple, very pleased at not being put 
out into the street with their material, thanked him, saying that "this 
would do" and that they would "make the best of it." 

As they were taking possession of the shed, a reply arrived from 
Austria. Good news! By extraordinary luck, the residue of recent 
extractions of uranium had not been scattered. The useless material 
had been piled up in a no-man's-land planted with pine trees, near 
the mine of St Joachimsthal. Thanks to the intercession of Professor 



EVE CURIE 9 

Suess and the Academy of Science of Vienna, the Austrian govern- 
ment, which was the proprietor of the State factory there, decided to 
present a ton of residue to the two French lunatics who thought they 
needed it. If, later on, they wished to be sent a greater quantity of 
the material, they could obtain it at the mine on the best terms. For 
the moment the Curies had to pay only the transportation charges 
on a ton of ore. 

One morning a heavy wagon, like those which deliver coal, drew 
up in the Rue Lhomond before the School of Physics. Pierre and 
Marie were notified. They hurried bareheaded into the street in their 
laboratory gowns. Pierre, who was never agitated, kept his calm; but 
the more exuberant Marie could not contain her joy at the sight of the 
sacks that were being unloaded. It was pitchblende, her pitchblende, 
for which she had received a notice some days before from the freight 
station. Full of curiosity and impatience, she wanted to open one of 
the sacks and contemplate her treasure without further waiting. She 
cut the strings, undid the coarse sackcloth and plunged her two hands 
into the dull brown ore, still mixed with pine needles from Bohemia. 

There was where radium was hidden. It was from there that Marie 
must extract it, even if she had to treat a mountain of this inert stuff 
like dust on the road. 

Marya Sklodovska had lived through the most intoxicating moments 
of her student life in a garret; Marie Curie was to know wonderful 
joys again in a dilapidated shed. It was a strange sort of beginning 
over again, in which a sharp subtle happiness (which probably no 
woman before Marie had ever experienced) twice elected the most 
miserable setting. 

The shed in the Rue Lhomond surpassed the most pessimistic ex- 
pectations of discomfort. In summer, because of its skylights, it was 
as stifling as a hothouse. In winter one did not know whether to 
wish for rain or frost; if it rained, the water fell drop by drop, with 
a soft, nerve-racking noise, on the ground or on the worktables, in 
places which the physicists had to mark in order to avoid putting 
apparatus there. If it froze, one froze. There was no recourse. The 



10 READING I'VE LIKED 

stove, even when it was stoked white, was a complete disappointment. 
If one went near enough to touch it one received a little heat, but 
two steps away and one was back in the zone of ice. 

It was almost better for Marie and Pierre to get used to the cruelty 
of the outside temperature, since their technical installation — hardly 
existent — possessed no chimneys to carry off noxious gases, and the 
greater part of their treatment had to be made in the open air, in the 
courtyard. When a shower came the physicists hastily moved their 
apparatus inside: to keep on working without being suffocated they 
set up draughts between the opened door and windows. 

Marie probably did not boast to Dr Vauthier of this very peculiar 
cure for attacks of tuberculosis. 

We had no money, no laboratory and no help in the conduct of this im- 
portant and difficult task [she was to write later]. It was like creating 
something out of nothing, and if Casimir Dluski once called my student 
years "the heroic years of my sister-in-law's life," I may say without exag- 
geration that this period was, for my husband and myself, the heroic period 
of our common existence. 

. . . And yet it was in this miserable old shed that the best and happiest 
years of our life were spent, entirely consecrated to work. I sometimes 
passed the whole day stirring a mass in ebullition, with an iron rod nearly 
as big as myself. In the evening I was broken with fatigue. 

In such conditions M. and Mme Curie worked for four years from 
1898 to 1902. 

During the first year they busied themselves with the chemical 
separation of radium and polonium and they studied the radiation of 
the products (more and more active) thus obtained. Before long they 
considered it more practical to separate their efforts. Pierre Curie tried 
to determine the properties of radium, and to know the new metal 
better. Marie continued those chemical treatments which would per- 
mit her to obtain salts of pure radium. 

In this division of labor Marie had chosen the "man's job." She 
accomplished the toil of a day laborer. Inside the shed her husband 
was absorbed by delicate experiments. In the courtyard, dressed in her 
old dust-covered and acid-stained smock, her hair blown by the wind, 



EVE CURIE 11 

surrounded by smoke which stung her eyes and throat, Marie was 
a sort of factory all by herself. 

I came to treat as many as twenty kilograms of matter at a time [she 
writes], which had the effect of filling the shed with great jars full of pre- 
cipitates and liquids. It was killing work to carry the receivers, to pour off 
the liquids and to stir, for hours at a stretch, the boiling matter in a smelt- 
ing basin. 

Radium showed no intention of allowing itself to be known by 
human creatures. Where were the days when Marie naively expected 
the radium content of pitchblende to be one per cent? The radiation 
of the new substance was so powerful that a tiny quantity of radium, 
disseminated through the ore, was the source of striking phenomena 
which could be easily observed and measured. The difficult, the 
impossible thing, was to isolate this minute quantity, to separate it 
from the gangue in which it was so intimately mixed. 

The days of work became months and years : Pierre and Marie were 
not discouraged. This material which resisted them, which defended 
its secrets, fascinated them. United by their tenderness, united by 
their intellectual passions, they had, in a wooden shack, the "anti- 
natural" existence for which they had both been made, she as well 
as he. 

At this period we were entirely absorbed by the new realm that was, 
thanks to an unhoped-for discovery, opening before us [Marie was to 
write]. In spite of the difficulties of our working conditions, we felt very 
happy. Our days were spent at the laboratory. In our poor shed there 
reigned a great tranquillity: sometimes, as we watched over some opera- 
tion, we would walk up and down, talking about work in the present and 
in the future; when we were cold a cup of hot tea taken near the stove 
comforted us. We lived in our single preoccupation as if in a dream. 

. . . We saw only very few persons at the laboratory; among the physicists 
and chemists there were a few who came from time to time, either to see 
our experiments or to ask for advice from Pierre Curie, whose competence 
in several branches of physics was well-known. Then took place some con- 
versations before the blackboard — the sort of conversation one remembers 
well because it acts as a stimulant for scientific interest and the ardor for 



12 READING I'VE LIKED 

work without interrupting the course o£ reflection and without troubling 
that atmosphere of peace and meditation which is the true atmosphere of 
a laboratory. 

Whenever Pierre and Marie, alone in this poor place, left their 
apparatus for a moment and quietly let their tongues run on, their 
talk about their beloved radium passed from the transcendent to the 
childish. 

"I wonder what It will be like, what It will look like," Marie said 
one day with the feverish curiosity of a child who has been promised 
a toy. "Pierre, what form do you imagine It will take?" 

"I don't know," the physicist answered gently. "I should like it to 
have a very beautiful color. . . ." 

It is odd to observe that in Marie Curie's correspondence we find, 
upon this prodigious effort, none of the sensitive comments, decked 
out with imagery, which used to flash suddenly amid the familiarity 
of her letters. Was it because the years of exile had somewhat relaxed 
the young woman's intimacy with her people? Was she too pressed 
by work to find time? 

The essential reason for this reserve is perhaps to be sought else- 
where. It was not by chance that Mme Curie's letters ceased to be 
original at the exact moment when the story of her life became excep- 
tional. As student, teacher or young wife, Marie could tell her story. . . . 
But now she was isolated by all that was secret and inexpressible in 
her scientific vocation. Among those she loved there was no longer 
anybody able to understand, to realize her worries and her difficult 
design. She could share her obsessions with only one person, Pierre 
Curie, companion. To him alone could she confide rare thoughts and 
dreams. Marie, from now on, was to present to all others, however 
near they might be to her heart, an almost commonplace picture of 
herself. She was to paint for them only the bourgeois side of her life. 
She was to find sometimes accents full of contained emotion to express 
her happiness as a woman. But of her work she was to speak only 
in laconic, inexpressive little phrases: news in three lines, without even 
attempting to suggest the wonders that work meant to her. 



EVE CURIE 13 

Here we feel an absolute determination not to illustrate the singular 
profession she had chosen by literature. Through subtle modesty, and 
also through horror of vain talk and everything superfluous, Marie 
concealed herself, dug herself in; or rather, she offered only one of 
her profiles. Shyness, boredom, or reason, whatever it may have been, 
the scientist of genius effaced and dissimulated herself behind "a 
woman like all others." 

Marie to Bronya, 1899: 

Our life is always the same. We work a lot but we sleep well, so our 
health does not suffer. The evenings are taken up by caring for the child. 
In the morning I dress her and give her her food, then I can generally go 
out at about nine. During the whole of this year we have not been either 
to the theater or a concert, and we have not paid one visit. For that matter, 
we feel very well. ... I miss my family enormously, above all you, my 
dears, and Father. I often think of my isolation with grief. I cannot com- 
plain of anything else, for our health is not bad, the child is growing well, 
and I have the best husband one could dream of; I could never have 
imagined finding one like him. He is a true gift of heaven, and the more 
we live together the more we love each other. 

Our work is progressing. I shall soon have a lecture to deliver on the 
subject. It should have been last Saturday but I was prevented from giving 
it, so it will no doubt be this Saturday, or else in a fortnight. 

This work, which is so dryly mentioned in passing, was in fact pro- 
gressing magnificently. In the course of the years 1899 and 1900 Pierre 
and Marie Curie published a report on the discovery of "induced 
radioactivity" due to radium, another on the effects of radioactivity, 
and another on the electric charge carried by the rays. And at last they 
drew up, for the Congress of Physics of 1900, a general report on the 
radioactive substances, which aroused immense interest among the 
scientists of Europe. 

The development of the new science of radioactivity was rapid, over- 
whelming — the Curies needed fellow workers. Up to now they had 
had only the intermittent help of a laboratory assistant named Petit, 
an honest man who came to work for them outside his hours of 
service — working out of personal enthusiasm, almost in secret. But 
they now required technicians of the first order. Their discovery had 



14 READING I'VE LIKED 

important extensions in the domain of chemistry, which demanded 
attentive study. They wished to associate competent research workers 
with them. 

Our work on radioactivity began in solitude [Marie was to write]. But 
before the -breadth of the task it became more and more evident that col- 
laboration would be useful. Already in 1898 one of the laboratory chiefs 
of the school, G. Bemont, had given us some passing help. Toward 1900 
Pierre Curie entered into relations with a young chemist, Andre Debierne, 
assistant in the laboratory of Professor Friedel, who esteemed him highly. 
Andre Debierne willingly accepted work on radioactivity. He undertook 
especially the research of a new radio element, the existence of which was 
suspected in the group of iron and rare clays. He discovered this element, 
named "actinium." Even though he worked in the physico-chemical labora- 
tory at the Sorbonne directed by Jean Perrin, he frequendy came to see us 
in our shed and soon* became a very close friend to us, to Dr Curie and 
later on to our children. 

Thus, even before radium and polonium were isolated, a French 
scientist, Andre Debierne, had discovered a "brother," actinium. 

At about the same period [Marie tells us], a young physicist, Georges 
Sagnac, engaged in studying X rays, came frequently to talk to Pierre 
Curie about the analogies that might exist between these rays, their sec- 
ondary rays, and the radiation of radioactive bodies. Together they per- 
formed a work on the electric charge carried by these secondary rays. 

Marie continued to treat, kilogram by kilogram, the tons of pitch- 
blende residue which were sent her on several occasions from St 
Joachimsthal. With her terrible patience, she was able to be, every day 
for four years, a physicist, a chemist, a specialized worker, an engineer 
and a laboring man all at once. Thanks to her brain and muscle, the 
old tables in the shed held more and more concentrated products — 
products more and more rich in radium. Mme Curie was approaching 
the end: she no longer stood in the courtyard, enveloped in bitter 
smoke, to watch the heavy basins of material in fusion. She was now 
at the stage of purification and of the "fractional crystallization" of 
strongly radioactive solutions. But the poverty of her haphazard equip- 



EVE CURIE 15 

ment hindered her work more than ever. It was now that she needed 
a spotlessly clean workroom and apparatus perfectly protected against 
cold, heat and dirt. In this shed, open to every wind, iron and coal 
dust was afloat which, to Marie's despair, mixed itself into the products 
purified with so much care. Her heart sometimes constricted before 
these little daily accidents, which took so much of her time and her 
strength. 

Pierre was so tired of the interminable struggle that he would have 
been quite ready to abandon it. Of course, he did not dream of drop- 
ping the study of radium and of radioactivity. But he would willingly 
have renounced, for the time being, the special operation of preparing 
pure radium. The obstacles seemed insurmountable. Could they not 
resume this work later on, under better conditions? More attached to 
the meaning of natural phenomena than to their material reality, Pierre 
Curie was exasperated to see the paltry results to which Marie's ex- 
hausting effort had led. He advised an armistice. 

He counted without his wife's character. Marie wanted to isolate 
radium and she would isolate it. She scorned fatigue and difficulties, 
and even the gaps in her own knowledge which complicated her task. 
After all, she was only a very young scientist: she still had not the 
certainty and great culture Pierre had acquired by twenty years' work, 
and sometimes she stumbled across phenomena or methods of calcula- 
tion which she knew very little, and for which she had to make hasty 
studies. 

So much the worse! With stubborn eyes under her great brow, she 
clung to her apparatus and her test tubes. 

In 1902, forty-five months after the day on which the Curies an- 
nounced the probable existence of radium, Marie finally carried of! the 
victory in this war of attrition: she succeeded in preparing a decigram 
of pure radium, and made a first determination of the atomic weight 
of the new substance, which was 225. 

The incredulous chemists — of whom there were still a few — could 
only bow before the facts, before the superhuman obstinacy of a 
woman. 

Radium officially existed. 

It was nine o'clock at night. Pierre and Marie Curie were in their 



16 READING I'VE LIKED 

little house at 108 Boulevard Kellermann, where they had been living 
since 1900. The house suited them well. From the boulevard, where 
three rows of trees half hid the fortifications, could be seen only a 
dull wall and a tiny door. But behind the one-story house, hidden from 
all eyes, there was a narrow provincial garden, rather pretty and very 
quiet. And from the "barrier" of Gentilly they could escape on their 
bicycles toward the suburbs and the woods. . . . 

Old Dr Curie, who lived with the couple, had retired to his room. 
Marie had bathed her child and put it to bed, and had stayed for a 
long time beside the cot. This was a rite. When Irene did not feel her 
mother near her at night she would call out for her incessantly, with 
that "Me!" which was to be our substitute for "Mamma" always. And 
Marie, yielding to the implacability of the four-year-old baby, climbed 
the stairs, seated herself beside the child and stayed there in the dark- 
ness until the young voice gave way to light, regular breathing. Only 
then would she go down again to Pierre, who was growing impatient. 
In spite of his kindness, he was the most possessive and jealous of 
husbands. He was so used to the constant presence of his wife that her 
least eclipse kept him from thinking freely. If Marie delayed too long 
near her daughter, he received her on her return with a reproach so 
unjust as to be comic: 

"You never think of anything but that child!" 

Pierre walked slowly about the room. Marie sat down and made 
some stitches on the hem of Irene's new apron. One of her principles 
was never to buy ready-made clothes for the child: she thought them 
too fancy and impractical. In the days when Bronya was in Paris the 
two sisters cut out their children's dresses together, according to pat- 
terns of their own invention. These patterns still served for Marie. 

But this evening she could not fix her attention. Nervous, she got 
up; then, suddenly: 

"Suppose we go down there for a moment?" 

There was a note of supplication in her voice — altogether superfluous, 
for Pierre, like herself, longed to go back to the shed they had left 
two hours before. Radium, fanciful as a living creature, endearing as 
a love, called them back to its dwelling, to the wretched laboratory. 

The day's work had been hard, and it would have been more reason- 



EVE CURIE 17 

able for the couple to rest. But Pierre and Marie were not always 
reasonable. As soon as they had put on their coats and told Dr Curie 
of their flight, they were in the street. They went on foot, arm in arm, 
exchanging few words. After the crowded streets of this queer district, 
with its factory buildings, wastelands and poor tenements, they arrived 
in the Rue Lhomond and crossed the little courtyard. Pierre put the 
key in the lock. The door squeaked, as it had squeaked thousands of 
times, and admitted them to their realm, to their dream. 

"Don't light the lamps!" Marie said in the darkness. Then she added 
with a little laugh: 

"Do you remember the day when you said to me 'I should like 
radium to have a beautiful color'?" 

The reality was more entrancing than the simple wish of long ago. 
Radium had something better than "a beautiful color": it was spon- 
taneously luminous. And in the somber shed where, in the absence of 
cupboards, the precious particles in their tiny glass receivers were 
placed on tables or on shelves nailed to the walls, their phosphorescent 
bluish outlines gleamed, suspended in the night. 

"Look . . . Look!" the young woman murmured. 

She went forward cautiously, looked for and found a straw-bottomed 
chair. She sat down in the darkness and silence. Their two faces 
turned toward the pale glimmering, the mysterious sources of radia- 
tion, toward radium — their radium. Her body leaning forward, her 
head eager, Marie took up again the attitude which had been hers an 
hour earlier at the bedside of her sleeping child. 



ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT 



COMMENTARY 



The story which follows shows us how a first-rate raconteur can make 
literature, if of puff-paste lightness, out of a simple anecdote. Mr. 
Woollcott did not invent "Entrance Fee." It had been Boating 
about the world like thistledown for many years, no doubt often in 
ruder forms, and no one had had the wit to reduce it, or inflate it, to 
writing. Mr. Woollcott has worked out the perfect tone: elegant, 
wistful, and, of course, aseptic. 

"Entrance Fee ,f persuades one to reflect sadly on the taboos which 
make impossible in our as-yet-primitive moral era the publication in 
artistic form of a thousand other contes drolatiques, many of them, 
it may be, slightly more earthy. It is an open secret that some of the 
wisest, some of the funniest, some of the most searching tales the 
fancy of man (and woman, if the truth were known) has devised 
must be circulated orally. Many such stories would be offensive only 
to a minority, but so far this minority has established a successful 
censorship. Occasionally it has suffered a setback (see Judge Wool- 
seys decision on page 382 of this book). 

Do not put this comment down as a plea for erotica, an inferior 
form of literature suitable only to very young men and women and 
very old men and women. It is merely a melancholy rumination on 
the curious herd morality that prevents the artistic development of 
one of the forms of narration most natural to the human animal: the 
gallant tale revolving around the incredible grotesqueness and high 
splendor of the fact that the world is permanently divided into two 
main sexes. 



IS 



Entrance Fee 



BY 

ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT 



This, then, is the story of Cosette and the Saint-Cyrien, much as they 
tell it (and these many years have been telling it) in the smoky 
gopotes of the French army. 

In the nineties, when one heard less ugly babel of alien tongues in 
the sidewalk cafes, the talk at the aperitif hour was sure to turn sooner 
or later on Cosette — Mile. Cosette of the Varietes, who was regarded 
by common consent as the most desirable woman in France. She was 
no hedged-in royal courtesan, as her possessive fellow-citizens would 
point out with satisfaction, but a distributed du Barry, the chere amie 
of a republic. 

Her origins were misty. Some said she had been born of fisher 
folk at Plonbazlanec on the Brittany coast. Others preferred the tale 
that she was the love-child of a famous actress by a very well-known 
king. In any case, she was now a national legend, and in her pre- 
eminence the still-bruised French people found in some curious way 
a balm for their wounded self-esteem. Her photographs, which usually 
showed her sitting piquantly on a cafe table, were cut from h'iliustra- 
-tion and pinned up in every barracks. Every French lad dreamed of 
her, and every right-minded French girl quite understood that her 
sweetheart was saying in effect, "Since I cannot hope to have Cosette, 
will you come to the river's edge at sundown?" Quite understood, 
and did not blame him. 

Everyone had seen the pictures of Cosette's tiny, vine-hung villa 
at Saint-Cloud, with its high garden wall and its twittering aviary. 
And even those for whom that wall was hopelessly high took morbid 
pride in a persistent detail of the legend which said that no man was 

19 



20 READING I'VE LIKED 

ever a guest there for the night who could not bring five thousand 
francs with him. This was in the nineties, mind you, when francs 
were francs, and men — by a coincidence then more dependable — were 
men. 

The peasant blend of charm and thrift in Cosette filled the cadets 
at Saint-Cyr with a gentle melancholy. In their twilight hours of 
relaxation they talked it over, and all thought it a sorrowful thing 
that, so wretched is the soldier's pittance, not one of those who must 
some day direct the great Revanche would ever carry into battle a 
memory of the fairest woman in France. For what cadet could hope 
to raise five thousand francs? It was very sad. But, cried one of their 
number, his voice shaking, his eyes alight, there were a thousand 
students at Saint-Cyr, and not one among them so lacking in resource 
that he could not, if given time, manage to raise at least five francs. // 

That was how the Cosette Sweepstakes were started. There followed 
then all the anxious distraction of ways and means, with such Spartan 
exploits in self-denial, such Damon-and-Pythias borrowings, such 
flagrant letters of perjured appeal to unsuspecting aunts and god- 
mothers, as Saint-Cyr had never known. But by the appointed time 
the last man had his, or somebody's, five francs. 

The drawing of numbers was well under way when a perplexed 
instructor stumbled on the proceedings and reported his discovery 
to the Commandant. When the old General heard the story he was 
so profoundly moved that it was some time before he spoke. 

"The lad who wins the lottery," he said at last, "will be the envy 
of his generation. But the lad who conceived the idea — ah, he, my 
friend, will some day be a Marshal of France!" 

Then he fell to laughing at the .thought of the starry-eyed youngster 
arriving at the stage door of the Varietes with nothing but his youth 
and his entrance fee. The innocent budget had made no provision for 
the trip to Paris, none for a carriage, a bouquet, perhaps a -supper 
party. The Commandant said that he would wish to meet this margin 
of contingency from his own fatherly pocket. 

"There will be extras," he said. "Let the young rascal who wins 
be sent to me before he leaves for Paris." 

It was a cadet from the Vendee who reported to the Commandant 



ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT 21 

next afternoon — very trim in his red breeches and blue tunic, his 
white gloves spotless, his white cockade jaunty, his heart in his mouth. 
The Commandant said no word to him, but put a little purse of gold 
iouis in his hand, kissed him on both cheeks in benediction, and stood 
at his window, moist-eyed and chuckling, to watch until the white 
cockade disappeared down the avenue of trees. 

The sunlight, latticed by the jalousies, was making a gay pattern 
on Cosette's carpet the next morning when she sat up and meditated 
on the day which stretched ahead of her. Her little cadet was cradled 
in a sweet, dreamless sleep, and it touched her rather to see how 
preposterously young he was. Indeed, it quite set her thinking of herr 
early days, and how she had come up in the world. Then she began 
speculating on his early days, realized with a pang that he was still in 
the midst of them, and suddenly grew puzzled. Being a woman of 
action, she prodded him. 

"Listen, my old one," she said, "how did a cadet at Saint-Cyr ever 
get hold of five thousand francs?" 

Thus abruptly questioned, he lost his head and blurted out the tale 
of the sweepstakes. Perhaps he felt it could do no harm now, and 
anyway she listened so avidly, with such flattering little gasps of sur- 
prise and such sunny ripples of laughter, that he quite warmed to 
his story. When he came to the part about the Commandant, she rose 
and strode up and down, the lace of her peignoir fluttering behind her, 
tears in her violet eyes. 

"Saint-Cyr has paid me the prettiest compliment I have ever known/' 
she said, "and I am the proudest woman in France this day. But 
surely I must do my part. You shall go back and tell them all that 
Cosette is a woman of sentiment. When you are an old, old man in the 
Vendee you shall tell your grandchildren that once in your youth 
you knew the dearest favors in France, and they cost you not a sou. 
Not a sou." 

At that she hauled open the little drawer where he had seen her 
lock up the lottery receipts the night before. 

"Here," she said, with a lovely gesture. "I give you back your 
money." 

And she handed him his five francs. 



LUDWIG BEMELMANS 



COMMENTARY 



"Putzi" is, I wager, the only successful story ever written about an 
embryo. Certainly it is the only humorous one. And /ust as certainly 
it could have been devised hy none hut Ludwig Bemelmans. His 
sympathies are so catholic, his fancy is so flexible, that he sees noth- 
ing impossible or even incongruous in combining an anecdote about 
the weather with an account of a miscarriage. Across the years this 
South German ex-waiter receives a smile of understanding from an- 
other poetical prankster, the one who put an ass' head in fairyland. 

I wish we could reproduce in this book some of the absurd pen- 
and-inks and colored drawings of Bemelmans. They will never influ- 
ence the course of the history of art, but on the other hand the 
course of the history of art will never influence Bemelmans, a com- 
forting reflection. His vision is his own. It is inaccurate to say that 
his simple hues, droll perspectives, and gnomelike figures have the 
charm of children's drawings. They may remind you of kindergarten 
art, but no child could command the gemiitlich irony informing 
them. No child, I say, could draw them, but the child hidden in the 
chuckling man could, and does. The singularity of Bemelmans, 
whether he draws or writes, is his double capacity to see freshly like 
a child and comment shrewdly like a grownup. The product is an 
awry wisdom, the wisdom of a reflective innocent who is surprised at 
nothing and delighted with everything. 

I am not a pro-whimsey man, because the whimsey masters seem 
to me generally such fools about everything else. But the Bemelmans 
whimsey is of a different order; it is the wisdom of a volatile but not 
irresponsible mind. For proof I refer you to his books, notably My 
War with the United States, Life Class, and The Donkey Inside. 

Bemclmans , humor is national; that is, it is South German. Its 
drollery is (or was, for I suppose drollery too can be glcichschaltet) 
the kind you find in the people of Austria and Bavaria and the Tirol. 
It can be at once slightly delicate and slightly gross; it is always eccen- 

22 



LUDWIG BEMELMANS 23 

trie, yet firmly founded in its own folk wisdom; it is gently philo- 
sophical; it is leisurely; above all, it is harmless. As a good brief 
example of it I repeat here the classic Bemelmans story of the ele- 
phant cutlet. The story is probably not his 7 but the manner is pure 
Bemelmans. I give you 

THE ELEPHANT CUTLET 

Once upon a time there were two men in Vienna who wanted to 
open a restaurant. One was a Dentist who was tired of fixing teeth 
and always wanted to own a restaurant, and the other a famous cook 
by the same of Souphans. 

The Dentist was, however, a little afraid. "There are/' he said, 
"already too many restaurants in Vienna, restaurants of every kind, 
Viennese, French, Italian, Chinese, American, American-Chinese, 
Portuguese, Armenian, Dietary, Vegetarian, Jewish, Wine and Beer 
Restaurants, in short all sorts of restaurants." 

But the Chef had an Idea. "There is one kind of restaurant that 
Vienna has not/' he said. 

"What kind?" said the Dentist. 

"A restaurant such as has never existed before, a restaurant for cut- 
lets from every animal in the world." 

The Dentist was afraid, but finally he agreed, and the famous Chef 
went out to buy a house, tables, and chairs, and engaged help, pots 
and pans and had a sign painted with big red letters ten feet high 
saying: 

"Cutlets from Every Animal in the World." 

The first customer that entered the door was a distinguished lady, 
a Countess. She sat down and asked for an Elephant Cutlet. 

"How would Madame like this Elephant Cutlet cooked?" said 
the waiter. 

"Oh, Milanaise, saute in butter, with a little spaghetti over it, on 
that a filet of anchovy, and an olive on top," she said. 

"That is very nice," said the waiter and went out to order it. 

"Jessas Maria and Joseph!" said the Dentist when he heard the 



24 READING I'VE LIKED 

order, and he turned to the Chef and cried: "What did I tell you? 
Now what are we going to do?" 

The Chef said nothing, he put on a clean apron and walked into 
the dining room to the table of the Lady. There he bowed, bent 
down to her and said: "Madame has ordered an Elephant Cutlet?" 

"Yes," said the Countess. 

"With spaghetti and a filet of anchovy and an olive?" 

"Yes." 

"Madame is all alone?" 

"Yes, yes." 

"Madame expects no one else?" 

"No." 

"And Madame wants only one cutlet?" 

"Yes," said the Lady, "but why all these questions?" 

"Because," said the Chef, "because, Madame, I am very sorry, but 
for one Cutlet we cannot cut up our Elephant." 



Putzi 

BY 

LUDWIG BEMELMANS 



They thought he had asked for more volume, but Nekisch, the 
conductor, had caught a raindrop on the end of his baton and another 
in the palm of his hand. 

He stopped the orchestra, glared up into the sky and then at 
Ferdinand Loeffler, the Konzertmeister. 

Loeffler reached out for a flying-away page of Finlandia, and the 
audience opened umbrellas and left. The musicians ran into the shelter 
of the concert hall carrying their instruments, and Herr Loeffler walked 
sadly to the back of the wide stage and took off his long black coat 
and shook the rain out of it. 

There Nekisch arrested him with his baton. He stuck it into Herr 
Loeffler, between the two upper buttons of his waistcoat, and held 
him there against the tall platform. Ganghofer, the percussionist, could 
hear him say, "You're an ass, Herr Loeffler, not a Konzertmeister, an 
ass; it's the last time, Herr Loeffler; you can't do the simplest things 
right; we have a deficit, Herr Loeffler, these are not the good old days, 
Herr Loeffler — I am telling you for the last and last time: Inside! 
Here in this hall we play when it rains, and outside when the sun 
shines." 

Herr Loeffler silently took his blue plush hat and his first violin 
and went out and waited for a street car to take him to that part 
of the city where his wife's brother Rudolf had a small cafe, The 
Three Ravens. 

Frau Loeffler sat in a corner of the little cafe reading the Neue Freie 
Presse out of a bamboo holder. She stirred her coffee. 

"Ah, Ferderl," she said, and squeezed his hand, "but you are early 

25,,* ' ., 



26 READING I'VE LIKED 

today." She could read his face . . . and she looked with him through 
the plate glass windows into the dripping street. 

"Outside again," she said, and turned to the front page of the Freie 
Presse, and, pointing to the weather report, read, "Slight disturbances 
over Vienna but lovely and bright in the Safe jammer gut. 

"Inside, outside," she said, over and over again. These two words 
had taken on the terror that the words death, fire, police, and bank- 
ruptcy have for other people. 

Behind a counter, next to the cash register, sat Frau Loeffler 's sister 
Frieda. Frau Loeffler pointed at her with the thumb of her right hand. 
"Look, Ferderl. Look at Frieda. Since I am waiting for you she has 
eaten three ice creams, four slices of nut tart, two cream pufTs, and two 
portions of chocolate, and now she's looking at the petits fours." 

"Yes," said Herr Loeffler. 

"Ah, why, Ferderl, haven't we a little restaurant like this, with 
guests and magazines and newspapers, instead of worrying about that 
conductor Nekisch and inside and outside?" 

"He called me an ass, Nekisch did," said Herr Loeffler. " 'It's the 
last time,' he said." 

"Who does he think you are? The Pope? Why doesn't he decide 
himself, if he's so smart! I go mad, Ferderl — I can't sleep for two 
days when you play, reading about the weather, calling up, looking at 
the mountains, even watching if dogs eat grass. I tried to ask farmers — 
they don't know either. You can never be sure, they come from 
nowhere — these clouds — when you don't want them, and when you 
play inside and hope that it rains outside, the sun shines, just like in 
spite, and they blame you!" 

They put their four hands together in silent communion, one on 
top of another, as high as a waterglass. Frau Loeffler looked into her 
coffee cup and she mumbled tenderly, "Ferderl, I have to tell you 
something." With this she looked shy, like a small girl, then she told 
him into his ear. . . . 

"No!" said LoefTler, with unbelieving eyes. 

"Yes! Yes, Ferderl!" she said. 

"When?" asked Herr Loeffler. 

"In January. About the middle of January . . . Dr. Grausbirn 
said. . . ." 



LUDWIG BEMELMANS 27 

Loeffler guessed right about the weather for the next two concerts. 
[The sun shone. Outside, it was. Nekisch was talking to him again 
and Loeffler walked to the concerts with light steps, whistling. 

One day at a rehearsal of Till Eulenspiegel, he could hold it in no 
longer; he had to tell them. They patted his shoulder and shook his 
hand. Even Nekisch stepped down from his stand and put both hands 
on Loeffler's arms. "Herr Loeffler," he said, just "Herr Loeffler." 

And then one day, after the "Liebestod," Loeffler coming home, 
found in front of his house the horse and carriage of Dr. Grausbirn. 

Loeffler ran upstairs and into the living-room, just as Dr. Grausbirn 
came out of the other door, from his wife's room. 

"My wife?" asked Herr Loeffler. 

"No," said Dr. Grausbirn. "No, Herr Loeffler, not your wife." Dr. 
Grausbirn washed his hands. Herr Loeffler went to kiss his poor wife 
and came back again. 

"Herr Doktor," he said, "we won't — I am not going to " 

Dr. Grausbirn closed his bag and slipped on his cuffs. 

"Pull yourself together, Loeffler. Be a man," he said, "but you won't 
be a father " 

"Never?" asked Herr Loeffler. 

"Never," said Dr. Grausbirn. 

Herr Loeffler sat down on the edge of his chair. "We are simple 
people," he addressed the table in front of him. "We ask so little of 
life. We have always wanted him. We have even named him — Putzi, 
we call him — why, Annie has burned candles to St. Joseph, the patron 
saint of fathers." He sighed again. 

"Why does this happen to me?" he said. "And how could it happen? 
We ask so little." 

Dr. Grausbirn pointed out of the window. "There, Herr Loeffler," 
he said. "It's like this. Do you see that lovely little late-blooming apple 
tree? It has many blossoms. . . . 

"Then comes the wind." Dr. Grausbirn reached into the air and 
swept down. "Schramm — like this — and some of the blossoms fall — 
and the rain — takes more" — with his short fat fingers the doctor imi- 
tated the rain — "and brr r r, the frosts — more blossoms fall — they are 
not strong enough. Do you understand, Herr Loeffler, what I mean?" 



28 READING I'VE LIKED 

They looked out at the little tree: it was rich with blossoms, so rich 
that the earth below it was white. 

"That blossom, our little Putzi — " said Herr Loeffler. 

"Yes," said the doctor. "Where is my hat?" 

The doctor looked for his hat and Herr Loeffler walked down the 
stairs with him. 

"If you are going into town — " said Dr. Grausbirn, opening the 
door of his landau. Loeffler nodded and stepped in. 

At the end of the street a lamp post was being painted. The carriage 
turned into the tree-lined avenue; a column of young soldiers passed 
them. After the lamp post, Herr Loeffler talked earnestly to Dr. Graus- 
birn, but the doctor shook his head — "No no no, no no, Herr Loeffler. 
Impossible — cannot be done." Herr Loeffler mumbled on, "We ask so 
little." He underlined his words, "the only one — never again — my 
poor wife — love — family" — and all this time he tried to tie a knot in 
the thick leather strap that hung down the door of the wagon. 

"No," said Dr. Grausbirn. 

The driver pulled in his reins and the horse stopped to let a street 
car and two motor cars pass. Herr Loeffler was red in the face. Under 
the protection of the noises of starting motors, horns, and the bell of 
the trolley, he shouted, "Putzi belongs to us!" and he banged with his 
umbrella three times on the extra seat that was folded up in front 
of him. The driver looked around. 

"Putzi?" asked Dr. Grausbirn. 

"Our little blossom," said Herr Loeffler, pointing to the doctor's bag. 

Dr. Grausbirn followed the flight of a pigeon with his eyes. The 
pigeon flew to a fountain and drank. Under the fountain was a dog; 
he ate grass and then ran to the curb. From there the doctor's eyesj 
turned to the back of the driver and across to Herr Loeffler — a tear 
ran down the Konzertmeister's face. The doctor put his hand on 
Loeffler's knee. 

"Loeffler, I'll do it. There's no law — every museum has one. Properly 
prepared, of course ... in a bottle . . . next Monday . . . Servus, Herr 
Loeffler." 

"Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Doctor." 

And so Putzi was delivered to Herr Loeffler. Herr Loeffler, whoj 



LUDWIG BEMELMANS 29 

wrote a fine hand, designed a lovely label for the bottle. "Our dear 
Putzi," he wrote, and under the name he printed the date. 

The next week Herr Loeffler guessed wrong again — rain for Beetho- 
ven outside — and sunshine for Brahms inside — and conductor Nekisch 
broke his baton. 

"Go away, Herr Loeffler," he said. "I am a man of patience, but 
you've done this once too often. Get out of my sight, far away — where 
I never see you again, ass of a Konzertmeister!" 

Herr Loeffler walked home. . . . 

For a year Putzi had stood on the mantelpiece. He was presented 
widi flowers on his birthday, and on Christmas he had a little tree 
with one candle on it. Now Herr Loeffler sat for hours in his chair, 
looking out the window and at little Putzi in his bottle, and thought 
about the weather, about the orchestra — about inside and outside. 

The Neue Freie Presse was mostly wrong; the government reports 
were seldom right. Nekisch was always wrong — more often than when 
Loeffler had given the word — but Putzi in his little bottle, Putzi was 
always right, well in advance. . . . 

It was not until months had passed, though, that Herr Loeffler 
noticed it. He watched closely for a few more days and then he told 
his wife. He took a pad and a pencil and he drew a line across the 
middle of the pad. On the lower half he wrote "Inside," on the upper 
half "Outside" — then he rubbed his hands and waited. . . . 

Long, long ere the tiniest blue cloud showed over the rim of any of 
the tall mountains that surrounded the beautiful valley of Salzburg, 
Putzi could tell: he sank to the bottom of his bottle, a trace of two 
wrinkles appeared on his little forehead, and the few tiny hairs which 
were growing over his left ear curled into tight spirals. 

On the other hand, when tomorrow's sun promised to rise into the 
clear mountain air to shine all day, Putzi swam on top of his bottle 
with a Lilliputian smile and rosy cheeks. 

"Come, Putzi," said Herr Loeffler, when the pad was filled — and 
he took him and the chart to Nekisch. . . . 

Herr Loeffler now is back again — Inside when it rains — Outside 
when the sun shines. 



THOMAS MANN 



COMMENTARY 



Where live Thomas Mann and those oi his temper, however scat- 
tered 01 broken they he, there lives Germany. 

The career of Thomas Mann offers the rare spectacle of a youthful 
prodigy who has never stopped developing. It is a career which opens 
in the flush of genius and continues to progress with almost sym- 
phonic logic, harmony, and beauty. At twenty-five he had written 
Buddenbrooks, a novel of the first order. In his late forties he had 
gone far beyond Buddenbrooks to the heights of The Magic Moun- 
tain, a long selection from which I include in this book. Now, in his 
full maturity, he is completing his profoundest work, his great Biblical 
tetralogy of Joseph and his brothers. 

It is appalling to reflect that in his mid-twenties he had completed 
not merely Buddenbrooks but two long short stories of genius- 
"Tonio Kroger" and "Tristan" One already feels here something far 
more imposing than the lushly lauded prodigies of a youthful Keats or 
Shelley. But Mann, calmly, surely, with the unremitting serenity of 
a Goethe, was to go on to "Death in Venice," written in his thirty- 
sixth year. I say "written," but in fact "Death in Venice" seems 
rather to be played on a cello. The tone, in its mingling of melan- 
choly, gravity, and controlled power, is equivalent to that of Casals. 
"Death in Venice" is a sort of culmination, for in it Mann gathered 
up all the themes upon which he had touched during the first fifteen 
years of his writing career— the anomalous position of the artist in 
bourgeois society, the sinister attraction of decadence and disease, the 
fusion of Northern and pagan modes of feeling, the troubling and 
even evil effects of beauty upon those well past their youth. 

Thomas Mann, though he has never since written anything as 
purely beautiful as "Death in Venice," was to go beyond it in other 
ways. In 1925 came "Disorder and Early Sorrow," in which the terrible 
pulse of the German inflation beats through a narrative that is on the 
surface a tender, muted story about a child's ephemeral grief. The 

30 



THOMAS MANN 31 

finest of all his short stories, however, is "Mario and the Magician" 
(1929), which I have chosen because it seems to me to dig even 
deeper than does "Death in Venice/' 

Here is the tale of a stage hypnotist and the fate he meets at the 
hands of one of his puppets. But to call this the story of Mario and 
the magician is to say that Moby Dick is about a mad sea captain 
who revengefully pursues a white whale and is at last destroyed by 
his quarry. "Mario" is brief, simple, a small fragment of life, and 
Moby Dick is vast as the Pacific. Yet they are written on the same 
emotional level. Mann and Melville are identically obsessed. Both 
are tortured by the metaphysical problem of evil, though Mann, 
writing in a psychoanalytic age, sees evil as illness, as a multiform 
malady. Confronted by a riotously rotting society, he has sought the 
cancerous spots, particularly in their subtler manifestations. From 
the diseases of its parts he deduces the nature of the whole. The 
ground theme of Buddenbrooks — what is it but the sickness of an 
acquisitive society, considered as a sickness? To the same problem, 
more grandly treated, the pages of The Magic Mountain are de- 
voted. And this little tale of Mario and the magician emerges from 
the identical preoccupation. It is a study of malevolence, of the power 
the will attains when it is distorted and willing to crucify itself that 
it may dominate other, healthier wills. "Shall we go away," muses the 
author, "whenever life looks like turning the slightest uncanny, or 
not quite normal, or even rather painful and mortifying?" As ever, his 
answer is "No, surely not." 

Had Mann been content merely to pose and examine the prob- 
lem of the will to evil in terms of the magician Cipolla and the youth 
Mario, his story would have been interesting, but possibly rather thin, 
as this sort of symbolism is apt to be. With weird skill, however, he 
thickens his narrative, carefully blurs its implications, so that the idea 
skeleton does not affright us with its bare and pallid bones. By insen- 
sible degrees we are led along a pathway of conflict and unwhole- 
someness, beginning with the petty irritations offered by an over- 
bearing hotel management and closing with a horrible psychic struggle 
mded only by death. When we reach the last page we realize that 
it is the honor of the human race which has been resisting the evil 



32 READING I'VE LIKED 

Cipolla. Thus the tone of the story preserves a deepening unity of 
atmosphere which mesmerizes us apart from the incidents. Again, 
the macabre qualify of these incidents is touched with its own special 
irony in that we are hidden to view them through the gleefully 
uncomprehending eyes of little children. To the children, of course, 
Cipolla's entire performance is a sort of glorified romp. Who, indeed, 
can tell how far Manns irony extends? Cipolla, with his strident and 
theatrical patriotism, seems a deep thrust at the domination ideal 
of the Fascisti, a prophecy of the pit they are digging for themselves. 
Also, and perhaps more obviously, this Cipolla is a type figure out of 
Freud: his hump is a symbol of his organ inferiority, he is destroyed 
by the very Eros he thinks to mock. 

Finally, the chiaroscuro attains an added density and terror through 
the circumstance that the chief character is both trickster and miracle 
worker. To that misty mid-region of phenomena which seems to par- 
take both of charlatanry and the supernatural, Thomas Mann has 
always been attracted— witness the manifestation scene in The 
Magic Mountain and his interest in Schrenck-Notzing. What attracts 
the psychologist in him is the ambiguity of the human will, which, I 
even when it seeks merely to exercise itself playfully or out of the 
mere pride of technique, Ends itself involved in the darkest of human j 
relationships and at times with powers we cannot or dare not name, i 
Cipolla becomes more than a super-Svengali. The theatrical atmos-j 
phere with which he surrounds himself is more than theatrical. It is\ 
agonized and broken and disturbing. It haunts us, not like the elegiac 
strains of "Death in Venice" but like a nightmare which is also a 
parable. 



Mario and the Magician 

BY 

THOMAS MANN 



The atmosphere of Torre di Venere remains unpleasant in the mem- 
ory. From the first moment the air o£ the place made us uneasy, we 
felt irritable, on edge; then at the end came the shocking business of 
Cipolla, that dreadful being who seemed to incorporate, in so fateful 
and so humanly impressive a way, all the peculiar evilness of the skua- 
tion as a whole. Looking back, we had the feeling that the horrible 
end of the affair had been preordained and lay in the nature of things; 
that the children had to be present at it was an added impropriety, 
due to the false colours in which the weird creature presented himself. 
Luckily for them, they did not know where the comedy left off and 
the tragedy began; and we let them remain in their happy belief that 
the whole thing had been a play up till the end. 

Torre di Venere lies some fifteen kilometres from Portoclemente, 
one of the most popular summer resorts on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Porto- 
clemente is urban and elegant and full to overflowing for months on 
end. Its gay and busy main street of shops and hotels runs down to 
a wide sandy beach covered with tents and pennanted sand-castles and 
sunburnt humanity, where at all times a lively social bustle reigns, and 
much noise. But this same spacious and inviting fine-sanded beach, 
this same border of pine grove and near, presiding mountains, con- 
tinues all the way along the coast. No wonder then that some compe- 
tition of a quiet kind should have sprung up further on. Torre di 
Venere — the tower that gave the town its name is gone long since, one 
looks for it in vain — is an offshoot of the larger resort, and for some 
years remained an idyll for the few, a refuge for more unworldly 
spirits. But the usual history of such places repeated itself: peace has 

33 



34 READING I'VE LIKED 

had to retire further along the coast, to Marina Petriera and dear 
knows where else. We all know how the world at once seeks peace and 
puts her to flight — rushing upon her in the fond idea that they two 
will wed, and where she is, there it can be at home. It will even set 
up its Vanity Fair in a spot and be capable of thinking that peace is 
still by its side. Thus Torre — though its atmosphere so far is more 
modest and contemplative than that of Portoclemente — has been quite 
taken up, by both Italians and foreigners. It is no longer the thing to 
go to Portoclemente — though still so much the thing that it is as noisy 
and crowded as ever. One goes next door, so to speak: to Torre. So 
much more refined, even, and cheaper to boot. And the attractiveness 
of these qualities persists, though the qualities themselves long ago 
ceased to be evident. Torre has got a Grand Hotel. Numerous pensions 
have sprung up, some modest, some pretentious. The people who own 
or rent the villas and pinetas overlooking the sea no longer have it ali 
their own way on the beach. In July and August it looks just like the 
beach at Portoclemente: it swarms with a screaming, squabbling, 
merrymaking crowd, and the sun, blazing down like mad, peels the 
skin off their necks. Garish little flat-bottomed boats rock on the glit- 
tering blue, manned by children, whose mothers hover afar and fill the 
air with anxious cries of Nino! and Sandro! and Bice! and Maria! ; 
Pedlars step across the legs of recumbent sun-bathers, selling flowers 
and corals, oysters, lemonade, and cornetti al burro, and crying their 
wares in the breathy, full-throated southern voice. 

Such was the scene that greeted our arrival in Torre: pleasant 
enough, but after all, we thought, we had come too soon. It was the 
middle of August, the Italian season was still at its height, scarcely 
the moment for strangers to learn to love the special charms of the 
place. What an afternoon crowd in the cafes on the front! For instance, 
in the Esquisito, where we sometimes sat and were served by Mario, 
that very Mario of whom I shall have presently to tell. It is well-nigh 
impossible to find a table; and the various orchestras contend together 
in the midst of one's conversation with bewildering effect. Of course, 
it is in the afternoon that people come over from Portoclemente. Thej 
excursion is a favourite one for the restless denizens of that pleasure 
resort, and a Fiat motor-bus plies to and fro, coating inch-thick with 






THOMAS MANN 35 

dust the oleander and laurel hedges along the highroad — a notable if 
repulsive sight. 

Yes, decidedly one should go to Torre in September, when the 
great public has left. Or else in May, before the water is warm enough 
to tempt the Southerner to bathe. Even in the before and after seasons 
i Torre is not empty, but life is less national and more subdued. English, 
French, and German prevail under the tent-awnings and in the pension 
dining-rooms; whereas in August — in the Grand Hotel, at least, where, 
in default of private addresses, we had engaged rooms — the stranger 
finds the field so occupied by Florentine and Roman society that he 
feels quite isolated and even temporarily declasse. 

We had, rather to our annoyance, this experience on the evening 
we arrived, when we went in to dinner and were shown to our table 
by the waiter in charge. As a table, it had nothing against it, save 
that we had already fixed our eyes upon those on the veranda beyond, 
built out over the water, where little red-shaded lamps glowed — and 
there were still some tables empty, though it was as full as the dining- 
room within. The children went into raptures at the festive sight, and 
without more ado we announced our intention to take our meals 
by preference in the veranda. Our words, it appeared, were prompted 
by ignorance; for we were informed, with somewhat embarrassed 
politeness, that the cosy nook outside was reserved for the clients of 
the hotel: at nostri clienti. Their clients? But we were their clients. 
We were not tourists or trippers, but boarders for a stay of some 
three or four weeks. However, we forbore to press for an explanation 
of the difference between the likes of us and that clientele to whom it 
was vouchsafed to eat out there in the glow of the red lamps, and 
took our dinner by the prosaic common light of the dining-room 
chandelier — a thoroughly ordinary and monotonous hotel bill of fare, 
be it said. In Pensione Eleonora, a few steps landward, the table, as 
we were to discover, was much better. 

And thither it was that we moved, three or four days later, before 
we had had time to settle in properly at the Grand Hotel. Not on 
account of the veranda and the lamps. The children, straightway 
on the best of terms with waiters and pages, absorbed in the joys of 
life on the beach, promptly forgot those colourful seductions. But now 



36 READING I'VE LIKED 

there arose, between ourselves and the veranda clientele — or perhaps 
more correctly with the compliant management — one of those little 
unpleasantnesses which can quite spoil the pleasure of a holiday. 
Among the guests were some high Roman aristocracy, a Principe X 
and his family. These grand folk occupied rooms close to our own, 
and the Principessa, a great and a passionately maternal lady, was 
thrown into a panic by the vestiges of a whooping-cough which our 
little ones had lately got over, but which now and then still faintly 
troubled the unshatterable slumbers of our youngest-born. The nature 
of this illness is not clear, leaving some play for the imagination. 
So we took no oflence at our elegant neighbour for clinging to the 
widely held view that whooping-cough is acoustically contagious and 
quite simply fearing lest her children yield to the bad example set by 
ours. In the fullness of her feminine self-confidence she protested to 
the management, which then, in the person of the proverbial frock- 
coated manager, hastened to represent to us, with many expressions of 
regret, that under the circumstances they were obliged to transfer us 
to the annexe. We did our best to assure him that the disease was in 
its very last stages, that it was actually over, and presented no danger 
of infection to anybody. All that we gained was permission to bring 
the case before the hotel physician — not one chosen by us — by whose 
verdict we must then abide. We agreed, convinced that thus we should 
at once pacify the Princess and escape the trouble of moving. The 
doctor appeared, and behaved like a faithful and honest servant of 
science. He examined the child and gave his opinion: the disease was 
quite over, no danger of contagion was present. We drew a long breath 
and considered the incident closed — until the manager announced that 
despite the doctor's verdict it would still be necessary for us to give up 
our rooms and retire to the dependance. Byzantinism like this out- 
raged us. It is not likely that the Principessa was responsible for the 
wilful breach of faith. Very likely the fawning management had not 
even dared to tell her what the physician said. Anvhow, we made it 
clear to his understanding that we preferred to leave the hotel alto- 
gether and at once — and packed our trunks. We could do so with a 
light heart, having already set up casual friendly relations with Casa 
Eleonora. We had noticed its pleasant exterior and formed the ac- 



THOMAS MANN 37 

quaintance of its proprietor, Signora Angiolieri, and her husband: she 
slender and black-haired, Tuscan in type, probably at the beginning 
of the thirties, with the dead ivory complexion of the southern woman, 
he quiet and bald and carefully dressed. They owned a larger estab- 
lishment in Florence and presided only in summer and early autumn 
over the branch in Torre di Venere. But earlier, before her marriage, 
our new landlady had been companion, fellow-traveller, wardrobe 
mistress, yes, friend, of Eleonora Duse and manifestly regarded that 
period as the crown of her career. Even at our first visit she spoke of 
it with animation. Numerous photographs of the great actress, with 
affectionate inscriptions, were displayed about the drawing-room, and 
other souvenirs of their life together adorned the little tables and 
etageres. This cult of a so interesting past was calculated, of course, 
to heighten the advantages of the signora's present business. Neverthe- 
less our pleasure and interest were quite genuine as we were conducted 
through the house by its owner and listened to her sonorous and 
staccato Tuscan voice relating anecdotes of that immortal mistress, 
depicting her suffering saintliness, her genius, her profound delicacy 
of feeling. 

Thither, then, we moved our effects, to the dismay of the staff of 
the Grand Hotel, who, like all Italians, were very good to children. 
Our new quarters were retired and pleasant, we were within easy reach 
of the sea through the avenue of young plane trees that ran down to 
the esplanade. In the clean, cool dining-room Signora Angiolieri daily 
served the soup with her own hands, the service was attentive and 
good, the table capital. We even discovered some Viennese acquaint- 
ances, and enjoyed chatting with them after luncheon, in front of 
the house. They, in their turn, were the means of our finding others 
— in short, all seemed for the best, and we were heartily glad of the 
change we had made. Nothing was now wanting to a holiday of the 
most gratifying kind. 

And yet no proper gratification ensued. Perhaps the stupid occa- 
sion of our change of quarters pursued us to the new ones we had 
found. Personally, I admit that I do not easily forget these collisions 
with ordinary humanity, the naive misuse of power, the injustice, the 
sycophantic corruption. I dwelt upon the incident too much, it irri- 



38 READING I'VE LIKED 

tated me in retrospect — quite futilely, of course, since such phenomena 
are only all too natural and all too much the rule. And we had not 
broken off relations with the Grand Hotel. The children were as 
friendly as ever there, the porter mended their toys, and we sometimes 
took tea in the garden. We even saw the Principessa. She would come 
out, with her firm and delicate tread, her lips emphatically corallined, 
to look after her children, playing under the supervision of their 
English governess. She did not dream that we were anywhere near, for 
so soon as she appeared in the offing we sternly forbade our little one 
even to clear his throat. 

The heat — if I may bring it in evidence — was extreme. It was Afri- 
can. The power of the sun, directly one left the border of the indigo- 
blue wave, was so frightful, so relentless, that the mere thought of 
the few steps between the beach and luncheon was a burden, clad 
though one might be only in pyjamas. Do you care for that sort of 
thing? Weeks on end? Yes, of course, it is proper to the south, it is 
classic weather, the sun of Homer, the climate wherein human culture 
came to flower — and all the rest of it. But after a while it is too much 
for me, I reach a point where I begin to find it dull. The burning void 
of the sky, day after day, weighs one down; the high coloration, the 
enormous naivete of the unrefracted light — they do, I dare say, in- 
duce light-heartedness, a carefree mood born of immunity from down- 
pours and other meteorological caprices. But slowly, slowly, there makes 
itself felt a lack: the deeper, more complex needs of the northern soul 
remain unsatisfied. You are left barren — even, it may be, in time, a little 
contemptuous. True, without that stupid business of the whooping- 
cough I might not have been feeling these things. I was annoyed, 
very likely I wanted to feel them and so half-unconsciously seized 
upon an idea lying ready to hand to induce, or if not to induce, at 
least to justify and strengthen, my attitude. Up to this point, then, if 
you like, let us grant some ill will on our part. But the sea; and the 
mornings spent extended upon the fine sand in face of its eternal 
splendours — no, the sea could not conceivably induce such feelings. 
Yet it was none the less true that, despite all previous experience, we 
were not at home on the beach, we were not happy. 

It was too soon, too soon. The beach, as I have said, was still in the 



THOMAS MANN 39 

hands of the middle-class native. It is a pleasing breed to look at, and 
among the young we saw much shapeliness and charm. Still, we were 
necessarily surrounded by a great deal of very average humanity — 
a middle-class mob, which, you will admit, is not more charming 
under this sun than under one's own native sky. The voices these 
women have! It was sometimes hard to believe that we were in the 
land which is the western cradle of the art of song. "Fuggiero!" I can 
still hear that cry, as for twenty mornings long I heard it close behind 
me, breathy, full-throated, hideously stressed, with a harsh open e, 
uttered in accents of mechanical despair. "Fuggiero! Rispondi almenol" 
Answer when I call you! The sp in rispondi was pronounced like shp, 
as Germans pronounce it; and this, on top of what I felt already, 
vexed my sensitive soul. The cry was addressed to a repulsive youngster 
whose sunburn had made disgusting raw sores on his shoulders. He 
outdid anything I have ever seen for ill-breeding, refractoriness^ and 
temper and was a great coward to boot, putting the whole beach in 
an uproar, one day, because of his outrageous sensitiveness to the 
slightest pain. A sand-crab had pinched his toe in the water, and the 
minute injury made him set up a cry of heroic proportions — the shout 
of an antique hero in his agony — that pierced one to the marrow and 
called up visions of some frightful tragedy. Evidently he considered 
himself not only wounded, but poisoned as well; he crawled out on 
the sand and lay in apparently intolerable anguish, groaning "Ohil" 
and "Ohimel" and threshing about with arms and legs to ward off 
his mother's tragic appeals and the questions of the bystanders. An 
audience gathered round. A doctor was fetched — the same who had 
pronounced objective judgment on our whooping-cough — and here 
again acquitted himself like a man of science. Good-naturedly he 
reassured the boy, telling him that he was not hurt at all, he should 
simply go into the water again to relieve the smart. Instead of which, 
Fuggiero was borne off the beach, followed by a concourse of people. 
But he did not fail to appear next morning, nor did he leave off spoil- 
ng our children's sand-castles. Of course, always by accident. In short, 
i perfect terror. 

And this twelve-year-old lad was prominent among the influences 
hat, imperceptibly at first, combined to spoil our holiday and render 



40 READING I'VE LIKED 

it unwholesome. Somehow or other, there was a stiffness, a lack of 
innocent enjoyment. These people stood on their dignity — just wh 
and in what spirit, it was not easy at first to tell. They displayed muc, 
self-respectingness; towards each other and towards the foreigner the 
bearing was that of a person newly conscious of a sense of honou 
And wherefore? Gradually we realized the political implications and 
understood that we were in the presence of a national ideal. Th 
beach, in fact, was alive with patriotic children— a phenomenon as 
unnatural as it was depressing. Children are a human species and i. 
society apart, a nation of their own, so to speak. On the basis of their 
common form of life, they find each other out with the greatest ease, 
no matter how different their small vocabularies. Ours soon played 
with natives and foreigners alike. Yet they were plainly both puzzled 
and disappointed at times. There were wounded sensibilities, displays 
of assertiveness— or rather hardly assertiveness, for it was too self- 
conscious and too didactic to deserve the name. There were quarrels 
over flags, disputes about authority and precedence. Grown-ups 
joined in, not so much to pacify as to render judgment and enunciate 
principles. Phrases were dropped about the greatness and dignity of 
Italy, solemn phrases that spoilt the fun. We saw our two little ones 
retreat, puzzled and hurt, and were put to it to explain the situation. 
These people, we told them, were just passing through a certain stage, 
something rather like an illness, perhaps; not very pleasant, but 
probably unavoidable. 

We had only our own carelessness to thank that we came to blows 
in the end with this "stage"— which, after all, we had seen and sized 
up long before now. Yes, it came to another "cross-purposes," so 
evidently the earlier ones had not been sheer accident. In a word, we 
became an offence to the public morals. Our small daughter— eight 
years old, but in physical development a good year younger and thin 
as a chicken— had had a good long bathe and gone playing, in the 
warm sun in her wet costume. We told her that she might take off 
her bathing-suit, which was stiff with sand, rinse it in the sea, and put 
it on again, after which she must take care to keep it cleaner. Off 
goes the costume and she runs down naked to the sea, rinses her little 
jersey, and comes back. Ought we to have foreseen the outburst of 






THOMAS MANN 41 

pnger and resentment which her conduct, and thus our conduct, called 

-3rth? Without delivering a homily on the subject, I may say that in 
line last decade our attitude towards the nude body and our feelings 

jgarding it have undergone, all over the world, a fundamental change. 

Jhere are things we "never think about" any more, and among them 
is the freedom we had permitted to this by no means provocative little 
childish body. But in these parts it was taken as a challenge. The 
.patriotic children hooted. Fuggiero whistled on his fingers. The sud- 
den buzz of conversation among the grown people in our neighbour- 
hood boded no good. A gentleman in city togs, with a not very apropos 
bowler hat on the back of his head, was assuring his outraged women- 
folk that he proposed to take punitive measures; he stepped up to us, 
and a philippic descended on our unworthy heads, in which all the 
emotionalism of the sense-loving south spoke in the service of morality 
•and discipline. The offence against decency of which we had been 
guilty was, he said, the more to be condemned because it was also a 
gross ingratitude and an insulting breach of his country's hospitality. 
We had criminally injured not only the letter and spirit of the public 
bathing regulations, but also the honour of Italy; he, the gentleman 
in the city togs, knew how to defend that honour and proposed to 
see to it that our offence against the national dignity should not go 
unpunished. 

We did our best, bowing respectfully, to give ear to this eloquence. 
To contradict the man, overheated as he was, would probably be to 
fall from one error into another. On the tips of our tongues we had 
various answers: as, that the word "hospitality," in its strictest sense, 
was not quite the right one, taking all the circumstances into considera- 
tion. We were not literally the guests of Italy, but of Signora Angio- 
lieri, who had assumed the role of dispenser of hospitality some years 
ago on laying down that of familiar friend to Eleonora Duse. We 
longed to say that surely this beautiful country had not sunk so low 
as to be reduced to a state of hypersensitive prudishness. But we con- 
fined ourselves to assuring the gentleman that any lack of respect, any 
provocation on our parts, had been the furthest from our thoughts. 
And as a mitigating circumstance we pointed out the tender age 
and physical slightness of the little culprit. In vain. Our protests were 



42 READING I'VE LIKED 

waved away, he did not believe in them; our defence would not hold 
water. We must be made an example of. The authorities were notified, 
by telephone, I believe, and their representative appeared on the beach. 
He said the case was "molto grave." We had to go with him to the 
Municipio up in the Piazza, where a higher official confirmed the 
previous verdict of "molto grave!' launched into a stream of the usual 
didactic phrases— the selfsame tune and words as the man in the 
bowler hat-and levied a fine and ransom of fifty lire. We felt that 
the adventure must willy-nilly be worth to us this much of a contribu- 
tion to the economy of the Italian government; paid, and left. Ought 
we not at this point to have left Torre as well? 

If we only had! We should thus have escaped that fatal Cipolla. 
But circumstances combined to prevent us from making up our minds 
to a change. A certain poet says that it is indolence that makes us 
endure uncomfortable situations. The apereu may serve as an explana- 
tion for our inaction. Anyhow, one dislikes voiding the field immedi- 
ately upon such an event. Especially if sympathy from other quarters 
encourages one to defy it. And in the Villa Eleonora they pronounced 
as with one voice upon the injustice of our punishment. Some Italian 
after-dinner acquaintances found that the episode put their country 
in a very bad light, and proposed taking the man in the bowler hat 
to task, as one fellow-citizen to another. But the next day he and his 
party had vanished from the beach. Not on our account, of course. 
Though it might be that the consciousness of his impending departure 
had added energy to his rebuke; in any case his going was a relief. 
And, furthermore, we stayed because our stay had by now become 
remarkable in our own eyes, which is worth something in itself, quite 
apart from the comfort or discomfort involved. Shall we strike sail, 
avoid a certain experience so soon as it seems not expressly calculated 
to increase our enjoyment or our self-esteem? Shall we go away when- 
ever life looks like turning in the slightest uncanny, or not quite 
normal, or even rather painful and mortifying? No, surely not. Rather 
stay and look matters in the face, brave them out; perhaps precisely in 
so doing lies a lesson for us to learn. We stayed on and reaped as 
the awful reward of our constancy the unholy and staggering ex 
perience with Cipolla. 



THOMAS MANN 43 

I have not mentioned that the after season had begun, almost on 
the very day we were disciplined by the city authorities. The worship- 
ful gentleman in the bowler hat, our denouncer, was not the only 
person to leave the resort. There was a regular exodus, on every hand 
you saw luggage-carts on their way to the station. The beach de- 
nationalized itself. Life in Torre, in the cafes and the pinetas, became 
more homelike and more European. Very likely we might even have 
eaten at a table in the glass veranda, but we refrained, being content 
at Signora Angiolieri's — as content, that is, as our evil star would let 
us be. But at the same time with this turn for the better came a change 
in the weather: almost to an hour it showed itself in harmony with 
the holiday calendar of the general public. The sky was overcast; not 
that it grew any cooler, but the unclouded heat of the entire eighteen 
days since our arrival, and probably long before that, gave place to a 
stifling sirocco air, while from time to time a little ineffectual rain 
sprinkled the velvety surface of the beach. Add to which, that two- 
thirds of our intended stay at Torre had passed. The colourless, lazy 
sea, with sluggish jellyfish floating in its shallows, was at least a 
change. And it would have been silly to feel retrospective longings 
after a sun that had caused us so many sighs when it burned down in 
all its arrogant power. 

At this juncture, then, it was that Cipolla announced himself. 
Cavaliere Cipolla he was called on the posters that appeared one day 
stuck up everywhere, even in the dining-room of Pensione Eleonora. 
A travelling virtuoso, an entertainer, "forzatore, illusionista, prestidiga- 
tore" as he called himself, who proposed to wait upon the highly re- 
spectable population of Torre di Venere with a display of extraordinary 
phenomena of a mysterious and staggering kind. A conjuror! The 
bare announcement was enough to turn our children's heads. They had 
never seen anything of the sort, and now our present holiday was to 
afford them this new excitement. From that moment on they besieged 
us with prayers to take tickets for the performance. We had doubts, 
from the first, on the score of the lateness of the hour, nine o'clock; 
but gave way, in the idea that we might see a little of what Cipolla 
had to offer, probably no great matter, and then go home. Besides, 
of course, the children could sleep late next day. We bought four 



44 READING I'VE LIKED 

tickets of Signora Angiolieri herself, she having taken a number of 
the stalls on commission to sell them to her guests. She could not 
vouch for the man's performance, and we had no great expectations. 
But we were conscious of a need for diversion, and the children's 
violent curiosity proved catching. 

The Cavaliere's performance was to take place in a hall where during 
the season there had been a cinema with a weekly programme. We had 
never been there. You reached it by following the main street under 
the wall of the "palazzo" a ruin with a "For sale" sign, that sug- 
gested a castle and had obviously been built in lordlier days. In the 
same street were the chemist, the hairdresser, and all the better shops; 
it led, so to speak, from the feudal past the bourgeois into the prole- 
tarian, for it ended off between two rows of poor fishing-huts, where 
old women sat mending nets before the doors. And here, among the 
proletariat, was the hall, not much more, actually, than a wooden 
shed, though a large one, with a turreted entrance, plastered on either 
side with layers of gay placards. Some while after dinner, then, on 
the appointed evening, we wended our way thither in the dark, the 
children dressed in their best and blissful with the sense of so much 
irregularity. It was sultry, as it had been for days; there was heat 
lightning now and then, and a little rain; we proceeded under um- 
brellas. It took us a quarter of an hour. 

Our tickets were collected at the entrance, our places we had to find 
ourselves. They were in the third row left, and as we sat down we saw 
that, late though the hour was for the performance, it was to be inter- 
preted with even more laxity. Only very slowly did an audience— 
who seemed to be relied upon to come late — begin to fill the stalls. 
These comprised the whole auditorium; there were no boxes. This 
tardiness gave us some concern. The children's cheeks were already 
flushed as much with fatigue as with excitement. But even when we 
entered, the standing-room at the back and in the side aisles was 
already well occupied. There stood the manhood of Torre di Venere, 
all and sundry, fisherfolk, rough-and-ready youths with bare forearms 
crossed over their striped jerseys. We were well pleased with the 
presence of this native assemblage, which always adds colour and 
animation to occasions like the present; and the children were frankly 



THOMAS MANN 45 

delighted. For they had friends among these people — acquaintances 
picked up on afternoon strolls to the further ends of the beach. We 
would be turning homeward, at the hour when the sun dropped into 
the sea, spent with the huge effort it had made and gilding with 
reddish gold the oncoming surf; and we would come upon bare- 
legged fisherfolk standing in rows, bracing and hauling with long- 
drawn cries as they drew in the nets and harvested in dripping baskets 
their catch, often so scanty, of jrutta di mare. The children looked on, 
helped to pull, brought out their little stock of Italian words, made 
friends. So now they exchanged nods with the "standing-room" clien- 
tele; there was Guiscardo, there Antonio, they knew them by name 
and waved and called across in half-whispers, getting answering nods 
and smiles that displayed rows of healthy white teeth. Look, there is 
even Mario, Mario from the Esquisito, who brings us the chocolate. 
He wants to see the conjuror, too, and he must have come early, for 
he is almost in front; but he does not see us, he is not paying attention; 
that is a way he has, even though he is a waiter. So we wave instead 
to the man who lets out the little boats on the beach; he is there too, 
standing at the back. 

It had got to a quarter past nine, it got to almost half past. It was 
natural that we should be nervous. When would the children get to 
bed? It had been a mistake to bring them, for now it would be very 
hard to suggest breaking oif their enjoyment before it had got well 
under way. The stalls had filled in time; all Torre, apparently, was 
there: the guests of the Grand Hotel, the guests of Villa Eleonora, 
familiar faces from the beach. We heard English and German and 
the sort of French that Rumanians speak with Italians. Madame 
Angiolieri herself sat two rows behind us, with her quiet, bald-headed 
spouse, who kept stroking his moustache with the two middle fingers 
of his right hand. Everybody had come late, but nobody too late. 
Cipolla made us wait for him. 

He made us wait. That is probably the way to put it. He heightened 
the suspense by his delay in appearing. And we could see the point of 
this, too — only not when it was carried to extremes. Towards half past 
nine the audience began to clap — an amiable way of expressing justi- 
fiable impatience, evincing as it does an eagerness to applaud. For the 



46 READING I'VE LIKED 

little ones, this was a joy in itself — all children love to clap. From the 
popular sphere came loud cries of "Prontil" ' 'Cominciamo!" And lo, 
it seemed now as easy to begin as before it had been hard. A gong 
sounded, greeted by the standing rows with a many-voiced "Ah-h!" 
and the curtains parted. They revealed a platform furnished more 
like a schoolroom than like the theatre of a conjuring performance — 
largely because of the blackboard in the left foreground. There was a 
common yellow hat-stand, a few ordinary straw-bottomed chairs, and 
further back a little round table holding a water carafe and glass, also 
a tray with a liqueur glass and a flask of pale yellow liquid. We had 
still a few seconds of time to let these things sink in. Then, with no 
darkening of the house, Cavaliere Cipolla made his entry. 

He came forward with a rapid step that expressed his eagerness 
to appear before his public and gave rise to the illusion that he had 
already come a long way to put himself at their service — whereas, of 
course, he had only been standing in the wings. His costume supported 
the fiction. A man of an age hard to determine, but by no means 
young; with a sharp, ravaged face, piercing eyes, compressed lips, 
small black waxed moustache, and a so-called imperial in the curve 
between mouth and chin. He was dressed for the street with a sort of 
complicated evening elegance, in a wide black pelerine with velvet 
collar and satin lining; which, in the hampered state of his arms, he 
held together in front with his white-gloved hands. He had a white 
scarf round his neck; a top hat with a curving brim sat far back on 
his head. Perhaps more than anywhere else the eighteenth century 
is still alive in Italy, and with it the charlatan and mountebank type 
so characteristic of the period. Only there, at any rate, does one still 
encounter really well-preserved specimens. Cipolla had in his whole 
appearance much of the historic type; his very clothes helped to con- 
jure up the traditional figure with its blatantly, fantastically foppish 
air. His pretentious costume sat upon him, or rather hung upon him, 
most curiously, being in one place drawn too tight, in another a mass 
of awkward folds. There was something not quite in order about his 
figure, both front and back — that was plain later on. But I must 
emphasize the fact that there was not a trace of personal jocularity or 
clownishness in his pose, manner, or behaviour. On the contrary, there 



THOMAS MANN 17 

was complete seriousness, an absence of any humorous appeal; occa- 
sionally even a cross-grained pride, along with that curious, self- 
satisfied air so characteristic of the deformed. None of all this, however, 
prevented his appearance from being greeted with laughter from 
more than one quarter of the hall. 

All the eagerness had left his manner. The swift entry had been 
merely an expression of energy, not of zeal. Standing at the footlights 
he negligently drew off his gloves, to display long yellow hands, one of 
them adorned with a seal ring with a lapis-lazuli in a high setting. As 
he stood there, his small hard eyes, with flabby pouches beneath them, 
roved appraisingly about the hall, not quickly, rather in a considered 
examination, pausing here and there upon a face with his lips clipped 
together, not speaking a word. Then with a display of skill as surpris- 
ing as it was casual, he rolled his gloves into a ball and tossed them 
across a considerable distance into the glass on the table. Next from 
an inner pocket he drew forth a packet of cigarettes; you could see by 
the wrapper that they were the cheapest sort the government sells. 
With his fingertips he pulled out a cigarette and lighted it, without 
looking, from a quick-firing benzine lighter. He drew the smoke deep 
into his lungs and let it out again, tapping his foot, with both lips 
drawn in an arrogant grimace and the grey smoke streaming out be- 
tween broken and saw-edged teeth. 

With a keenness equal to his own his audience eyed him. The youths 
at the rear scowled as they peered at this cocksure creature to search out 
his secret weaknesses. He betrayed none. In fetching out and putting 
back the cigarettes his clothes got in his way. He had to turn back his 
pelerine, and in so doing revealed a riding-whip with a silver claw- 
handle that hung by a leather thong from his left forearm and looked 
decidedly out of place. You could see that he had on not evening 
clothes but a frock-coat, and under this, as he lifted it to get at his 
pocket, could be seen a striped sash worn about the body. Somebody 
behind me whispered that this sash went with his title of Cavaliere. I 
give the information for what it may be worth — personally, I never 
heard that the title carried such insignia with it. Perhaps the sash was 
sheer pose, like the way he stood there, without a word, casually and 
arrogantly puffing smoke into his audience's face. 



48 READING I'VE LIKED 

People laughed, as I said. The merriment had become almost gen- 
eral when somebody in the "standing seats," in a loud, dry voice, re- 
marked: "Buona sera." 

Cipolla cocked his head. "Who was that?" asked he, as though he 
had been dared. "Who was that just spoke? Well? First so bold and 
now so modest? Paura, eh?" He spoke with a rather high, asthmatic 
voice, which yet had a metallic quality. He waited. 

"That was me," a youth at the rear broke into the stillness, seeing 
himself thus challenged. He was not far from us, a handsome fellow 
in a woollen shirt, with his coat hanging over one shoulder. He wore 
his curly, wiry hair in a high, dishevelled mop, the style affected by 
the youth of the awakened Fatherland; it gave him an African appear- 
ance that rather spoiled his looks. "Bel That was me. It was your busi- 
ness to say it first, but I was trying to be friendly." 

More laughter. The chap had a tongue in his head. "Ha sciolto la 
scilingudgnolo," I heard near me. After all, the retort was deserved. 

"Ah, bravo!" answered Cipolla. "I like you, giovanotto. Trust me, 
I've had my eye on you for some time. People like you are just in my 
line. I can use them. And you are the pick of the lot, that's plain to 
see. You do what you like. Or is it possible you have ever not done 
what you liked — or even, maybe, what you didn't like? What some- 
body else liked, in short? Hark ye, my friend, that might be a pleasant 
change for you, to divide up the willing and the doing and stop tack- 
ling both jobs at once. Division of labour, sistema americano , sal For 
instance, suppose you were to show your tongue to this select and hon- 
ourable audience here — your whole tongue, right down to the roots?" 

"No, I won't," said the youth, hostilely. "Sticking out your tongue 
shows a bad bringing-up." 

"Nothing of the sort," retorted Cipolla. "You would only be doing 
it. With all due respect to your bringing-up, I suggest that before I 
count ten, you will perform a right turn and stick out your tongue at 
the company here further than you knew yourself that you could stick 
it out." 

He gazed at the youth, and his piercing eyes seemed to sink deeper 
into their sockets. "Unol" said he. He had let his riding-whip slide 
down his arm and made it whistle once through the air. The boy faced; 



THOMAS MANN 49 

i about and put out his tongue, so long, so extendedly, that you could 
see it was the very uttermost in tongue which he had to offer. Then 
turned back, stony-faced, to his former position. 

"That was me," mocked Cipolla, with a jerk of his head towards 
the youth. "Be! That was me." Leaving the audience to enjoy its sen- 
sations, he turned towards the little round table, lifted the bottle, 
poured out a small glass of what was obviously cognac, and tipped it 
up with a practised hand. 

The children laughed with all their hearts. They had understood 
practically nothing of what had been said, but it pleased them hugely 
that something so funny should happen, straightaway, between that 
queer man up there and somebody out of the audience. They had no 
preconception of what an "evening" would be like and were quite 
ready to find this a priceless beginning. As for us, we exchanged a 
glance and I remember that involuntarily I made with my lips the 
sound that Cipolla's whip had made when it cut the air. For the rest, 
it was plain that people did not know what to make of a preposterous 
beginning like this to a sleight-of-hand performance. They could not 
see why the giovanotto, who after all in a way had been their spokes- 
man, should suddenly have turned on them to vent his incivility. They 
felt that he had behaved like a silly ass and withdrew their counte- 
nances from him in favour of the artist, who now came back from his 
refreshment table and addressed them as follows: 

"Ladies and gentlemen," said he, in his wheezing, metallic voice, 
"you saw just now that I was rather sensitive on the score of the re- 
buke this hopeful young linguist saw fit to give me" — "questo lin- 
guista di belle speranze" was what he said, and we all laughed at the 
pun. "I am a man who sets some store by himself, you may take it 
from me. And I see no point in being wished a good-evening unless it 
is done courteously and in all seriousness. For anything else there is no 
occasion. When a man wishes me a good-evening he wishes himself 
one, for the audience will have one only if I do. So this lady-killer of 
Torre di Venere" (another thrust) "did well to testify that I have one 
tonight and that I can dispense with any wishes of his in the matter. I 
can boast of having good evenings almost without exception. One not 
so good does come my way now and again, but very seldom. My call- 



50 READING I'VE LIKED 

ing is hard and my health not of the best. I have a little physical de- 
fect which prevented me from doing my bit in the war for the greater 
glory of the Fatherland. It is perforce with my mental and spiritual 
parts that I conquer life — which after all only means conquering one- 
self. And I flatter myself that my achievements have aroused interest 
and respect among the educated public. The leading newspapers have 
lauded me, the Corriere della Sera did me the courtesy of calling me a 
phenomenon, and in Rome the brother of the Duce honoured me by 
his presence at one of my evenings. I should not have thought that in a 
relatively less important place" (laughter here, at the expense of poor 
little Torre) "I should have to give up the small personal habits which 
brilliant and elevated audiences had been ready to overlook. Nor did I 
think I had to stand being heckled by a person who seems to have 
been rather spoilt by the favours of the fair sex." All this of course at 
the expense of the youth whom Cipolla never tired of presenting in 
the guise of donnahiolo and rustic Don Juan. His persistent thin- 
skinnedness and animosity were in striking contrast to the self-confi- 
dence and the worldly success he boasted of. One might have assumed 
that the giovanotto was merely the chosen butt of Cipolla's customary 
professional sallies, had not the very pointed witticisms betrayed a gen- 
uine antagonism. No one looking at the physical parts of the two men 
need have been at a loss for the explanation, even if the deformed man 
had not constantly played on the other's supposed success with the fair 
sex. "Well," Cipolla went on, "before beginning our entertainment this 
evening, perhaps you will permit me to make myself comfortable." 

And he went towards the hat-stand to take oft his things. 

"Parla benissimo," asserted somebody in our neighbourhood. So far, 
the man had done nothing; but what he had said was accepted as an 
achievement, by means of that he had made an impression. Among 
southern peoples speech is a constituent part of the pleasure of living, it 
enjoys far livelier social esteem than in the north. That national ce- 
ment, the mother tongue, is paid symbolic honours down here, and 
there is something blithely symbolical in the pleasure people take in 
their respect for its forms and phonetics. They enjoy speaking, they 
enjoy listening; and they listen with discrimination. For the way a 
man speaks serves as a measure of his personal rank; carelessness and 



THOMAS MANN 51 

clumsiness are greeted with scorn, elegance and mastery are rewarded 
with social eclat. Wherefore the small man too, where it is a question 
of getting his effect, chooses his phrase nicely and turns it with care. 
On this count, then, at least, Cipolla had won his audience; though he 
by no means belonged to the class of men which the Italian, in a sin- 
gular mixture of moral and aesthetic judgments, labels "simpatico." 

After removing his hat, scarf, and mantle he came to the front of 
the stage, settling his coat, pulling down his curls with their large cuff- 
buttons, adjusting his absurd sash. He had very ugly hair; the top of 
his head, that is, was almost bald, while a narrow, black-varnished frizz 
of curls ran from front to back as though stuck on; the side hair, like- 
wise blackened, was brushed forward to the corners of the eyes — it 
was,, in short, the hairdressing of an old-fashioned circus-director, fan- 
tastic, but entirely suited to his outmoded personal type and worn with 
so much assurance as to take the edge off" the public's sense of humour. 
The little physical defect of which he had warned us was now all too 
visible, though the nature of it was even now not very clear: the chest 
was too high, as is usual in such cases; but the corresponding malfor- 
mation of the back did not sit between the shoulders, it took the form 
of a sort of hips or buttocks hump, which did not indeed hinder his 
movements but gave him a grotesque and dipping stride at every step 
he took. However, by mentioning his deformity beforehand he had 
broken the shock of it, and a delicate propriety of feeling appeared to 
reign throughout the hall. 

"At your service," said Cipolla. "With your kind permission, we will 
begin the evening with some arithmetical tests." 

Arithmetic? That did not sound much like sleight-of-hand. We 
began to have our suspicions that the man was sailing under a false 
flag, only we did not yet know which was the right one. I felt sorry 
on the children's account; but for the moment they were content 
simply to be there. 

The numerical test which Cipolla now introduced was as simple as it 
was baffling. He began by fastening a piece of paper to the upper 
right-hand corner of the blackboard; then lifting it up, he wrote some- 
thing underneath. He talked all the while, relieving the dryness of his 
offering by a constant flow of words, and showed himself a practised 



52 READING I'VE LIKED 

speaker, never at a loss for conversational turns of phrase. It was in 
keeping with the nature of his performance, and at the same time 
vastly entertained the children, that he went on to eliminate the gap 
between stage and audience, which had already been bridged over by 
the curious skirmish with the fisher lad: he had representatives from 
the audience mount the stage, and himself descended the wooden steps 
to seek personal contact with his public. And again, with individuals, 
he fell into his former taunting tone. I do not know how far that was 
a deliberate feature of his system; he preserved a serious, even a peev- 
ish air, but his audience, at least the more popular section, seemed con- 
vinced that that was all part of the game. So then, after he had written 
something and covered the writing by the paper, he desired that two 
persons should come up on the platform and help to perform the calcu- 
lations. They would not be difficult, even for people not clever at fig- 
ures. As usual, nobody volunteered, and Cipolla took care not to molest 
the more select portion of his audience. He kept to the populace. Turn- 
ing to two sturdy young louts standing behind us, he beckoned them 
to the front, encouraging and scolding by turns. They should not stand 
there gaping, he said, unwilling to oblige the company. Actually, he 
got them in motion; with clumsy tread they came down the middle 
aisle, climbed the steps, and stood in front of the blackboard, grinning 
sheepishly at their comrades' shouts and applause. Cipolla joked with 
them for a few minutes, praised their heroic firmness of limb and the 
size of their hands, so well calculated to do this service for the public. 
Then he handed one of them the chalk and told him to write down 
the numbers as they were called out. But now the creature declared 
that he could not write! "Non so scrivere" said he in his gruff voice, 
and his companion added that neither did he. 

God knows whether they told the truth or whether they wanted to 
make game of Cipolla. Anyhow, the latter was far from sharing the 
general merriment which their confession aroused. He was insulted 
and disgusted. He sat there on a straw-bottomed chair in the centre of 
the stage with his legs crossed, smoking a fresh cigarette out of his 
cheap packet; obviously it tasted the better for the cognac he had in- 
dulged in while the yokels were stumping up the steps. Again he in- 
haled the smoke and let it stream out between curling lips. Swinging 



THOMAS MANN 53 

his leg, with his gaze sternly averted from the two shamelessly chuck- 
ling creatures and from the audience as well, he stared into space as 
one who withdraws himself and his dignity from the contemplation of 
an utterly despicable phenomenon. 

"Scandalous," said he, in a sort of icy snarl. "Go back to your places! 
In Italy everybody can write — in all her greatness there is no room for 
ignorance and unenlightenment. To accuse her of them, in the hear- 
ing of this international company, is a cheap joke, in which you your- 
selves cut a very poor figure and humiliate the government and the 
whole country as well. If it is true that Torre di Venere is indeed the 
last refuge of such ignorance, then I must blush to have visited the 
place — being, as I already was, aware of its inferiority to Rome in more 
than one respect " 

Here Cipolla was interrupted by the youth with the Nubian coiffure 
and his jacket across his shoulder. His fighting spirit, as we now saw, 
had only abdicated temporarily, and he now flung himself into the 
breach in defence of his native heath. "That will do," said he loudly. 
"That's enough jokes about Torre. We all come from the place and we 
won't stand strangers making fun of it. These two chaps are our 
friends. Maybe they are no scholars, but even so they may be straighter 
than some folks in the room who are so free with their boasts about 
Rome, though they did not build it either." 

That was capital. The young man had certainly cut his eye-teeth. 
And this sort of spectacle was good fun, even though it still further 
: delayed the regular performance. It is always fascinating to listen to 
\ an altercation. Some people it simply amuses, they take a sort of kill- 
joy pleasure in not being principals. Others feel upset and uneasy, and 
my sympathies are with these latter, although on the present occasion 
I was under the impression that all this was part of the show — the 
analphabetic yokels no less than the giovanotto with the jacket. The 
children listened well pleased. They understood not at all, but the 
sound of the voices made them hold their breath. So this was a "magic 
evening" — at least it was the kind they have in Italy. They expressly 
found it "lovely." 

Cipolla had stood up and with two of his scooping strides was at 
the footlights. 



54 READING I'VE LIKED 

"Well, well, see who's here!" said he with grim cordiality. "An old 
acquaintance! A young man with his heart at the end of his tongue" 
(he used the word linguaccia, which means a coated tongue, and gave 
rise to much hilarity). "That will do, my friends," he turned to the 
yokels. "I do not need you now, I have business with this deserving 
young man here, con questo torregiano di Venere, this tower of Venus, 
who no doubt expects the gratitude of the fair as a reward for his 
prowess " 

"Ah, non scherziamol We're talking earnest," cried out the youth. 
His eyes flashed, and he actually made as though to pull off his jacket 
and proceed to direct methods of settlement. 

Cipolla did not take him too seriously. We had exchanged appre- 
hensive glances; but he was dealing with a fellow-countryman and had 
his native soil beneath his feet. He kept quite cool and showed com- 
plete mastery of the situation. He looked at his audience, smiled, and 
made a sideways motion of the head towards the young cockerel as 
though calling the public to witness how the man's bumptiousness 
only served to betray the simplicity of his mind. And then, for the 
second time, something strange happened, which set Cipolla's calm su- 
periority in an uncanny light, and in some mysterious and irritating 
way turned all the explosiveness latent in the air into matter for 
laughter. 

Cipolla drew still nearer to the fellow, looking him in the eye with 
a peculiar gaze. He even came half-way down the steps that led into 
the auditorium on our left, so that he stood directly in front of the 
trouble-maker, on slightly higher ground. The riding-whip hung from 
his arm. 

"My son, you do not feel much like joking," he said. "It is only too 
natural, for anyone can see that you are not feeling too well. Even 
your tongue, which leaves something to be desired on the score of 
cleanliness, indicates acute disorder of the gastric system. An evening 
entertainment is no place for people in your state; you yourself, I can 
tell, were of several minds whether you would not do better to put on 
a flannel bandage and go to bed. It was not good judgment to drink 
so much of that very sour white wine this afternoon. Now you have 
such a colic you would like to double up with the pain. Go ahead, 



THOMAS MANN 55 

don't be embarrased. There is a distinct relief that comes from bending 
over, in cases of intestinal cramp." 

He spoke thus, word for word, with quiet impressiveness and a 
kind of stern sympathy, and his eyes, plunged the while deep in the 
young man's, seemed to grow very tired and at the same time burning 
above their enlarged tear-ducts — they were the strangest eyes, you could 
tell that not manly pride alone was preventing the young adversary 
from withdrawing his gaze. And presently, indeed, all trace of its 
former arrogance was gone from the bronzed young face. He looked 
open-mouthed at the Cavaliere and the open mouth was drawn in a 
rueful smile. 

"Double over," repeated Cipolla. "What else can you do? With a 
colic like that you must bend. Surely you will not struggle against the 
performance of a perfectly natural action just because somebody sug- 
gests it to you?" 

Slowly the youth lifted his forearms, folded and squeezed them 
across his body; it turned a little sideways, then bent, lower and 
lower, the feet shifted, the knees turned inward, until he had become 
a picture of writhing pain, until he all but grovelled upon the ground. 
Cipolla let him stand for some seconds thus, then made a short cut 
through the air with his whip and went with his scooping stride back 
to the little table, where he poured himself out a cognac. 

"II boit beaucoup," asserted a lady behind us. Was that the only 
thing that struck her ? We could not tell how far the audience grasped 
the situation. The fellow was standing upright again, with a sheepish 
grin — he looked as though he scarcely knew how it had all happened. 
The scene had been followed with tense interest and applauded at the 
end; there were shouts of "Bravo, Cipolla!" and "Bravo, giovanottol" 
Apparently the issue of the duel was not looked upon as a personal 
defeat for the young man. Rather the audience encouraged him as one 
does an actor who succeeds in an unsympathetic role. Certainly his way 
of screwing himself up with cramp had been highly picturesque, its 
appeal was directly calculated to impress the gallery — in short, a fine 
dramatic performance. But I am not sure how far the audience were 
moved by that natural tactfulness in which the south excels, or how 
far it penetrated into the nature of what was going on. 



56 READING I'VE LIKED 

The Cavaliere, refreshed, had lighted another cigarette. The nu- 
merical tests might now proceed. A young man was easily found in 
the back row who was willing to write down on the blackboard the 
numbers as they were dictated to him. Him too we knew; the whole 
entertainment had taken on an intimate character through our ac- 
quaintance with so many of the actors. This was the man who worked 
at the greengrocer's in the main street; he had served us several times, 
with neatness and dispatch. He wielded the chalk with clerkly confi- 
dence, while Cipolla descended to our level and walked with his de- 
formed gait through the audience, collecting numbers as they were 
given, in two, three, and four places, and calling them out to the 
grocer's assistant, who wrote them down in a column. In all this, 
everything on both sides was calculated to amuse, with its jokes and 
its oratorical asides. The artist could not fail to hit on foreigners, who 
were not ready with their figures, and with them he was elaborately 
patient and chivalrous, to the great amusement of the natives, whom 
he reduced to confusion in their turn, by making them translate num- 
bers that were given in English or French. Some people gave dates 
concerned with great events in Italian history. Cipolla took them up 
at once and made patriotic comments. Somebody shouted "Number 
one!" The Cavaliere, incensed at this as at every attempt to make 
game of him, retorted over his shoulder that he could not take less 
than two-place figures. Whereupon another joker cried out "Number 
two!" and was greeted with the applause and laughter which every 
reference to natural functions is sure to win among southerners. 

When fifteen numbers stood in a long straggling row on the board, 
Cipolla called for a general adding-match. Ready reckoners might add 
in their heads, but pencil and paper were not forbidden. Cipolla, while 
the work went on, sat on his chair near the blackboard, smoked and 
grimaced, with the complacent, pompous air cripples so often have. 
The five-place addition was soon done. Somebody announced xhe an- 
swer, somebody else confirmed it, a third had arrived at a slightly dif- 
ferent result, but the fourth agreed with the first and second. Cipolla 
got up, tapped some ash from his coat, and lifted the paper at the 
upper right-hand corner of the board to display the writing. The cor- 






THOMAS MANN 57 

rect answer, a sum close on a million, stood there; he had written it 
down beforehand. 

Astonishment, and loud applause. The children were overwhelmed. 
How had he done that, they wanted to know. We told them it was a 
trick, not easily explainable offhand. In short, the man was a con- 
juror. This was what a sleight-of-hand evening was like, so now they 
knew. First the fisherman had cramp, and then the right answer was 
written down beforehand — it was all simply glorious, and we saw 
with dismay that despite the hot eyes and the hand of the clock at 
almost half past ten, it would be very hard to get them away. There 
would be tears. And yet it was plain that this magician did not 
"magick" — at least not in the accepted sense, of manual dexterity — 
and that the entertainment was not at all suitable for children. Again, 
I do not know, either, what the audience really thought. Obviously 
there was grave doubt whether its answers had been given of "free 
choice"; here and there an individual might have answered of his own 
motion, but on the whole Cipolla certainly selected his people and 
thus kept the whole procedure in his own hands and directed it to- 
wards the given result. Even so, one had to admire the quickness of 
his calculations, however much one felt disinclined to admire anything 
else about the performance. Then his patriotism, his irritable sense of 
dignity — the Cavaliere's own countrymen might feel in their element 
with all that and continue in a laughing mood; but the combination 

I certainly gave us outsiders food for thought. 

Cipolla himself saw to it — though without giving them a name — 
that the nature of his powers should be clear beyond a doubt to even 

I the least-instructed person. He alluded to them, of course, in his talk — 
and he talked without stopping — but only in vague, boastful, self- 
advertising phrases. He went on awhile with experiments on the same 
lines as the first, merely making them more complicated by introduc- 
ing operations in multiplying, subtracting, and dividing; then he sim- 
plified them to the last degree in order to bring out the method. He 
simply had numbers "guessed" which were previously written under 
the paper; and the guess was nearly always right. One guesser ad- 
mitted that he had had in mind to give a certain number, when Ci- 



58 READING I'VE LIKED 

polla's whip went whistling through the air, and a quite different one 
slipped out, which proved to be the "right" one. Cipolla's shoulders 
shook. He pretended admiration for the powers of the people he ques- 
tioned. But in all his compliments there was something fleering and 
derogatory; the victims could scarcely have relished them much, al- 
though they smiled, and although they might easily have set down 
some part of the applause to their own credit. Moreover, I had not the 
impression that the artist was pop*ular with his public. A certain ill will 
and reluctance were in the air, but courtesy kept such feelings in 
check, as did Cipolla's competency and his stern self-confidence. Even 
the riding-whip, I think, did much to keep rebellion from becoming 
overt. 

From tricks with numbers he passed to tricks with cards. There 
were two packs, which he drew out of his pockets, and so much I still 
remember, that the basis, of the tricks he played with them was as fol- 
lows : from the first pack he drew three cards and thrust them without 
looking at them inside his coat. Another person then drew three out 
of the second pack, and these turned out to be the same as the first 
three — not invariably all the three, for it did happen that only two were 
the same. Bur in the majority of cases Cipolla triumphed, showing his 
three cards with a little bow in acknowledgment of the applause with 
which his audience conceded his possession of strange powers — strange 
whether for good or evil. A young man in the front row, to our right, 
an Italian, with proud, finely chiselled features, rose up and said that 
he intended to assert his own will in his choice and consciously to re- 
sist any influence, of whatever sort. Under these circumstances, what 
did Cipolla think would be the result? "You will," answered the 
Cavaliere, "make my task somewhat more difficult thereby. As for the 
result, your resistance will not alter it in the least. Freedom exists, and 
also the will exists; but freedom of the will does not exist, for a will 
that aims at its own freedom aims at the unknown. You are free to 
draw or not to draw. But if you draw, you will draw the right cards — 
the more certainly, the more wilfully obstinate your behaviour." 

One must admit that he could not have chosen his words better, to 
trouble the waters and confuse the mind. The refractory youth hesi- 
tated before drawing. Then he pulled out a card and at once de- 



THOMAS MANN 59 

manded to see if it was among the chosen three. "But why?" queried 
Cipolla. "Why do things by halves?" Then, as the other defiantly in- 
sisted, "E servito," said the juggler, with a gesture of exaggerated 
servility; and held out the three cards fanwise, without looking at 
them himself. The left-hand card was the one drawn. 

Amid general applause, the apostle of freedom sat down. How far 
Cipolla employed small tricks and manual dexterity to help out his 
natural talents, the deuce only knew. But even without them the result 
would have been the same: the curiosity of the entire audience was 
unbounded and universal, everybody both enjoyed the amazing char- 
acter of the entertainment and unanimously conceded the professional 
skill of the performer. "Lavora bene," we heard, here and there in our 
neighbourhood; it signified the triumph of objective judgment over 
antipathy and repressed resentment. 

After his last, incomplete, yet so much the more telling success, Ci- 
polla had at once fortified himself with another cognac. Truly he did 
"drink a lot," and the fact made a bad impression. But obviously he 
needed the liquor and the cigarettes for the replenishment of his en- 
ergy, upon which, as he himself said, heavy demands were made in all 
directions. Certainly in the intervals he looked very ill, exhausted and 
hollow-eyed. Then the little glassful would redress the balance, and the 
flow of lively, self-confident chatter run on, while the smoke he inhaled 
gushed out grey from his lungs. I clearly recall that he passed from 
the card-tricks to parlour games — the kind based on certain powers 
which in human nature are higher or else lower than human reason: 
on intuition and "magnetic" transmission; in short, upon a low type 
of manifestation. What I do not remember is the precise order things 
came in. And I will not bore you with a description of these experi- 
ments; everybody knows them, everybody has at one time or another 
taken part in this finding of hidden articles, this blind carrying out of 
a series of acts, directed by a force that proceeds from organism to 
organism by unexplored paths. Everybody has had his little glimpse 
into the equivocal, impure, inexplicable nature of the occult, has been 
conscious of both curiosity and contempt, has shaken his head over 
the human tendency of those who deal in it to help themselves out 
with humbuggery, though, after all, the humbuggery is no disproof 



60 READING I'VE LIKED 

whatever of the genuineness of the other elements in the dubious 
amalgam. I can only say here that each single circumstance gains in 
weight and the whole greatly in impressiveness when it is a man like 
Cipolla who is the chief actor and guiding spirit in the sinister busi- 
ness. He sat smoking at the rear of the stage, his back to the audience 
while they conferred. The object passed from hand to hand which it 
was his task to find, with which he was to perform some action agreed 
upon beforehand. Then he would start to move zigzag through the 
hall, with his head thrown back and one hand outstretched, the other 
clasped in that of a guide who was in the secret but enjoined to keep 
himself perfectly passive, with his thoughts directed upon the agreed 
goal. Cipolla moved with the bearing typical in these experiments : now 
groping upon a false start, now with a quick forward thrust, now 
pausing as though to listen and by sudden inspiration correcting his 
course. The roles seemed reversed, the stream of influence was moving 
in the contrary direction, as the artist himself pointed out, in his cease- 
less flow of discourse. The suffering, receptive, performing part was 
now his, the will he had before imposed on others was shut out, he 
acted in obedience to a voiceless common will which was in the air. 
But he made it perfectly clear that it all came to the same thing. The 
capacity for self-surrender, he said, for becoming a tool, for the most 
unconditional and utter self-abnegation, was but the reverse side of that 
other power to will and to command. Commanding and obeying 
formed together one single principle, one indissoluble unity; he who 
knew how to obey knew also how to command, and conversely; the 
one idea was comprehended in the other, as people and leader were 
comprehended in one another. But that which was done, the highly 
exacting and exhausting performance, was in every case his, the lend- 
er's and mover's, in whom the will became obedience, the obedience 
will, whose person was the cradle and womb of both, and who thus 
suffered enormous hardship. Repeatedly he emphasized the fact that 
his lot was a hard one— presumably to account for his need of stimu- 
lant and his frequent recourse to the little glass. 

Thus he groped his way forward, like a blind seer, led and sustained 
by the mysterious common will. He drew a pin set with a stone out 
of its hiding-place in an Englishwoman's shoe, carried it, halting and 



THOMAS MANN 61 

pressing on by turns, to another lady — Signora Angiolieri — and handed 
it to her on bended knee, with the words it had been agreed he was to 
utter. "I present you with this in token of my respect," was the sen- 
tence. Their sense was obvious, but the words themselves not easy to 
hit upon, for the reason that they had been agreed on in French; the 
language complication seemed to us a little malicious, implying as it 
did a conflict between the audience's natural interest in the success of 
the miracle, and their desire to witness the humiliation of this pre- 
sumptuous man. It was a strange sight: Cipolla on his knees before the 
signora, wrestling, amid efforts at speech, after knowledge of the pre- 
ordained words. "I must say something," he said, "and I feel clearly 
what it is I must say. But I also feel that if it passed my lips it would 
be wrong. Be careful not to help me unintentionally!" he cried out, 
though very likely that was precisely what he was hoping for. "Pensez 
tres fort," he cried all at once, in bad French, and then burst out with 
the required words — in Italian, indeed, but with the final substantive 
pronounced in the sister tongue, in which he was probably far from 
fluent: he said veneration instead of venerazione, with an impossible 
nasal. And this partial success, after the complete success before it, the 
finding of the pin, the presentation of it on his knees to the right per- 
son — was almost more impressive than if he had got the sentence ex- 
actly right, and evoked bursts of admiring applause. 

Cipolla got up from his knees and wiped the perspiration from his 
brow. You understand that this experiment with the pin was a single 
case, which I describe because it sticks in my memory. But he changed 
his method several times and improvised a number of variations sug- 
gested by his contact with his audience; a good deal of time thus went 
by. He seemed to get particular inspiration from the person of our 
landlady; she drew him on to the most extraordinary displays of clair- 
voyance. "It does not escape me, madame," he said to her, "that there 
is something unusual about you, some special and honourable distinc- 
tion. He who has eyes to see descries about your lovely brow an aureola 
— if I mistake not, it once was stronger than now — a slowly paling 
radiance . . . hush, not a word! Don't help me. Beside you sits your 
husband — yes?" He turned towards the silent Signor Angiolieri. "You 
are the husband of this lady, and your happiness is complete. But in 



62 READING I'VE LIKED 

the midst of this happiness memories rise . . . the past, signora, so it 
seems to me, plays an important part in your present. You knew a 
king . . . has not a king crossed your path in bygone days?" 

"No," breathed the dispenser of our midday soup, her golden-brown 
eyes gleaming in the noble pallor of her face. 

"No? No, not a king; I meant that generally, I did not mean literally 
a king. Not a king, not a prince, and a prince after all, a king of a 
loftier realm; it was a great artist, at whose side you once — you would 
contradict me, and yet I am not wholly wrong. Well, then! It was a 
woman^ a great, a world-renowned woman artist, whose friendship 
you enjoyed in your tender years, whose sacred memory overshadows 
and transfigures your whole existence. Her name? Need I utter it, 
whose fame has long been bound up with the Fatherland's, immortal 
as its own? Eleonora Duse," he finished, softly and with much solem- 
nity. 

The little woman bowed her head, overcome. The applause was like 
a patriotic demonstration. Nearly everyone there knew about Signora 
Angiolieri's wonderful past; they were all able to confirm the Cava- 
liere's intuition — not least the present guests of Casa Eleonora. But we 
wondered how much of the truth he had learned as the result of pro- 
fessional inquiries made on his arrival. Yet I see no reason at all to 
cast doubt, on rational grounds, upon powers which, before our very 
eyes, became fatal to their possessor. 

At this point there was an intermission. Our lord and master with- 
drew. Now I confess that almost ever since the beginning of my tale 
I have looked forward with dread to this moment in it. The thoughts 
of men are mostly not hard to read; in this case they are very easy. 
You are sure to ask why we did not choose this moment to go away — 
and I must continue to owe you an answer. I do not know why. I can- 
not defend myself. By this time it was certainly eleven, probably later. 
The children were asleep. The last series of tests had been too long, 
nature had had her way. They were sleeping in our laps, the little one 
on mine, the boy on his mother's. That was, in a way, a consolation; 
but at the same time it was also ground for compassion and a clear j 
leading to take them home to bed. And I give you my word that we 
wanted to obey this touching admonition, we seriously wanted to. We 



THOMAS MANN 63 

roused the poor things and told them it was now high time to go. But 
they were no sooner conscious than they began to resist and implore — 
you know how horrified children are at the thought of leaving before 
the end of a thing. No cajoling has any effect, you have to use force. 
It was so lovely, they wailed. How did we know what was coming 
next? Surely we could not leave until after the intermission; they liked 
a little nap now and again — only not go home, only not go to bed, 
while the beautiful evening was still going on! 

We yielded, but only for the moment, of course — so far as we knew 
— only for a little while, just a few minutes longer. I cannot excuse our 
staying, scarcely can I even understand it. Did we think, having once 
said A, we had to say B — having once brought the children hither we 
had to let them stay? No, it is not good enough. Were we ourselves so 
highly entertained? Yes, and no. Our feelings for Cavaliere Cipolla 
were of a very mixed kind, but so were the feelings of the whole audi- 
ence, if I mistake not, and nobody left. Were we under the sway of a 
fascination which emanated from this man who took so strange a way 
to earn his bread; a fascination which he gave out independently of the 
programme and even between the tricks and which paralysed our re- 
solve? Again, sheer curiosity may account for something. One was 
curious to know how such an evening turned out; Cipolla in his re- 
marks having all along hinted that he had tricks in his bag stranger 
than any he had yet produced. 

But all that is not it — or at least it is not all of it. More correct it 
would be to answer the first question with another. Why had we not 
left Torre di Venere itself before now? To me the two questions are 
one and the same, and in order to get out of the impasse I might 
simply say that I had answered it already. For, as things had been in 
Torre in general: queer, uncomfortable, troublesome, tense, oppressive, 
so precisely they were here in this hall tonight. Yes, more than pre- 
cisely. For it seemed to be the fountain-head of all the uncanniness and 
all the strained feelings which had oppressed the atmosphere of our 
holiday. This man whose return to the stage we were awaiting was 
the personification of all that; and, as we had not gone away in gen- 
eral, so to speak, it would have been inconsistent to do it in the par- 
ticular case. You may call this an explanation, you may call it inertia, 



64 READING I'VE LIKED 

as you see fit. Any argument more to the purpose I simply do not 
know how to adduce. 

Well, there was an interval of ten minutes, which grew into nearly 
twenty. The children remained awake. They were enchanted by our 
compliance, and filled the break to their own satisfaction by renewing 
relations with the popular sphere, with Antonio, Guiscardo, and the 
canoe man. They put their hands to their mouths and called messages 
across, appealing to us for the Italian words. "Hope you have a good 
catch tomorrow, a whole netful!" They called to Mario, Esquisito 
Mario: "Mario, una cioccolata e biscottil" And this time he heeded and 
answered with a smile: "Subito, signorinil" Later we had reason to re- 
call this kindly, if rather absent and pensive smile. 

Thus the interval passed, the gong sounded. The audience, which 
had scattered in conversation, took their places again, the children sat 
up straight in their chairs with their hands in their laps. The curtain 
had not been dropped. Cipolla came forward again, with his dipping 
stride, and began to introduce the second half of the programme with 
a lecture. 

Let me state once for all that this self-confident cripple was the most 
powerful hypnotist I have ever seen in my life. It was pretty plain now 
that he threw dust in the public eye and advertised himself as a presti- 
digitator on account of police regulations which would have prevented 
him from making his living by the exercise of his powers. Perhaps this 
eye-wash is the usual thing in Italy; it may be permitted or even con- 
nived at by the authorities. Certainly the man had from the beginning 
made little concealment of the actual nature of his operations; and this 
second half of the programme was quite frankly and exclusively de- 
voted to one sort of experiment. While he still practised some rhetorical 
circumlocutions, the tests themselves were one long series of attacks 
upon the will-power, the loss or compulsion of volition. Comic, excit- 
ing, amazing by turns, by midnight they were still in full swing; we 
ran the gamut of all the phenomena this natural-unnatural field has to 
show, from the unimpressive at one end of the scale to the monstrous) 
at the other. The audience laughed and applauded as they followed 
the grotesque details; shook their heads, clapped their knees, fell very' 
frankly under the spell of this stern, self-assured personality. At the| 



THOMAS MANN 65 

same time I saw signs that they were not quite complacent, not quite 
unconscious of the peculiar ignominy which lay, for the individual 
and for the general, in Cipolla's triumphs. 

Two main features were constant in all the experiments: the liquor 
glass and the claw-handled riding-whip. The first was always invoked 
to add fuel to his demoniac fires; without it, apparently, they might 
have burned out. On this score we might even have felt pity for the 
man; but the whistle of his scourge, the insulting symbol of his domi- 
nation, before which we all cowered, drowned out every sensation save 
a dazed and outbraved submission to his power. Did he then lay claim 
to our sympathy to boot? I was struck by a remark he made — it sug- 
gested no less. At the climax of his experiments, by stroking and 
breathing upon a certain young man who had offered himself as a 
subject and already proved himself a particularly susceptible one, he 
had not only put him into the condition known as deep trance and ex- 
tended his insensible body by neck and feet across the backs of two 
chairs, but had actually sat down on the rigid form as on a bench, 
without making it yield. The sight of this unholy figure in a frock- 
coat squatted on the stiff body was horrible and incredible; the audi- 
ence, convinced that the victim of this scientific diversion must be 
suffering, expressed its sympathy: "Ah, poverettol" Poor soul, poor 
soul! "Poor soul!" Cipolla mocked them, with some bitterness. "Ladies 
and gentlemen, you are barking up the wrong tree. Sono io it pove- 
retto. I am the person who is suffering, I am the one to be pitied." We 
pocketed the information. Very good. Maybe the experiment was at his 
expense, maybe it was he who had suffered the cramp when the gio- 
vanotto over there had made the faces. But appearances were all 
against it; and one does not feel like saying poveretto to a man who 
is suffering to bring about the humiliation of others. 

I have got ahead of my story and lost sight of the sequence of events. 
To this day my mind is full of the Cavaliere's feats of endurance; only 
I do not recall them in their order — which does not matter. So much I 
do know: that the longer and more circumstantial tests, which got the 
most applause, impressed me less than some of the small ones which 
passed quickly over. I remember the young man whose body Cipolla 
converted into a board, only because of the accompanying remarks 



as 



wi 



66 READING I'VE LIKED 

which I have quoted. An elderly lady in a cane-seated chair was lulled 
by Cipolla in the delusion that she was on a voyage to India and gave 
a voluble account of her adventures by land and sea. But I found this 
phenomenon less impressive than one which followed immediately 
after the intermission. A tall, well-built, soldierly man was unable to 
lift his arm, after the hunchback had told him that he could not and 
given a cut through the air with his whip. I can still see the face of that 
stately, mustachioed colonel smiling and clenching his teeth as he 
struggled to regain his lost freedom of action. A staggering perform- 
ance! He seemed to be exerting his will, and in vain; the trouble, 
however, was probably simply that he could not will. There was in- 
volved here that recoil of the will upon itself which paralyses choice— 
our tyrant had previously explained to the Roman gentleman. 
Still less can I forget the touching scene, at once comic and horrible, 
ith Signora Angiolieri. The Cavaliere, probably in his first bold sur- 
vey of the room, had spied out her ethereal lack of resistance to his 
power. For actually he bewitched her, literally drew her out of her 
seat, out of her row, and away with him whither he willed. And in 
order to enhance his effect, he bade Signor Angiolieri call upon his 
wife by her name, to throw, as it were, all the weight of his existence 
and his rights in her into the scale, to rouse by the voice of her husband 
everything in his spouse's soul which could shield her virtue against 
the evil assaults of magic. And how vain it all was! Cipolla was stand- 
ing at some distance from the couple, when he made a single cut with 
his whip through the air. It caused our landlady to shudder violently 
and turn her face towards him. "Sofronia!" cried Signor Angiolieri— 
we had not known that Signora Angiolieri's name was Sofronia. And he 
did well to call, everybody saw that there was no time to lose. His wife 
kept her face turned in the direction of the diabolical Cavaliere, who 
with his ten long yellow fingers was making passes at his victim, mov- 
ing backwards as he did so, step by step. Then Signora Angiolieri, her 
pale face gleaming, rose up from her seat, turned right round, and 
began to glide after him. Fatal and forbidding sight! Her face as 
though moonstruck, stiff-armed, her lovely hands lifted a little at the 
wrists, the feet as it were together, she seemed to float slowly out of 
her row and after the tempter. "Call her, sir, keep on calling," 



THOMAS MANN 67 

prompted the redoubtable man. And Signor Angiolieri, in a weak 
voice, called: "Sofronia!" Ah, again and again he called; as his wife 
went further of! he even curved one hand round his lips and beckoned 
with the other as he called. But the poor voice of love and duty echoed 
unheard, in vain, behind the lost one's back; the signora swayed along, 
moonstruck, deaf, enslaved; she glided into the middle aisle and down 
it towards the fingering hunchback, towards the door. We were con- 
vinced, we were driven to the conviction, that she would have fol- 
lowed her master, had he so willed it, to the ends of the earth. 

" Accidentel" cried out Signor Angiolieri, in genuine affright, spring- 
ing up as the exit was reached. But at the same moment the Cavaliere 
put aside, as it were, the triumphal crown and broke off. "Enough, 
signora, I thank you," he said, and offered his arm to lead her back to 
her husband. "Signor," he greeted the latter, "here is your wife. Un- 
harmed, with my compliments, I give her into your hands. Cherish 
with all the strength of your manhood a treasure which is so wholly 
yours, and let your zeal be quickened by knowing that there are pow- 
ers stronger than reason or virtue, and not always so magnanimously 
ready to relinquish their prey!" 

Poor Signor Angiolieri, so quiet, so bald ! He did not look as though 
he would know how to defend his happiness, even against powers 
much less demoniac than these which were now adding mockery to 
frightfulness. Solemnly and pompously the Cavaliere retired to the 
stage, amid applause to which his eloquence gave double strength. It 
was this particular episode, I feel sure, that set the seal upon his as- 
cendancy. For now he made them dance, yes, literally; and the dancing 
lent a dissolute, abandoned, topsy-turvy air to the scene, a drunken ab- 
dication of the critical spirit which had so long resisted the spell of 
this man. Yes, he had had to fight to get the upper hand — for instance 
against the animosity of the young Roman gentleman, whose rebellious 
spirit threatened to serve others as a rallying-point. But it was precisely 
upon the importance of example that the Cavaliere was so strong. He 
had the wit to make his attack at the weakest point and to choose as 
his first victim that feeble, ecstatic youth whom he had previously 
made into a board. The master had but to look at him, when this 
young man would fling himself back as though struck by lightning, 



68 READING I'VE LIKED 

place his hands rigidly at his sides, and fall into a state of military 
somnambulism, in which it was plain to any eye that he was open to 
the most absurd suggestion that might be made to him. He seemed 
quite content in his abject state, quite pleased to be relieved of the bur- 
den of voluntary choice. Again and again he offered himself as a sub- 
ject and gloried in the model facility he had in losing consciousness. 
So now he mounted the platform, and a single cut of the whip was 
enough to make him dance to the Cavaliere's orders, in a kind of com- 
placent ecstasy, eyes closed, head nodding, lank limbs flying in all 
directions. 

It looked unmistakably like enjoyment, and other recruits were not 
long in coming forward: two other young men, one humbly and one 
well dressed, were soon jigging alongside the first. But now the gen- 
tleman from Rome bobbed up again, asking defiantly if the Cavaliere 
would engage to make him dance too, even against his will. 

"Even against your will," answered Cipolla, in unforgettable accents. 
That frightful "anche se non vuole" still rings in my ears. The strug- 
gle began. After Cipolla had taken another little glass and lighted a 
fresh cigarette he stationed the Roman at a point in the middle aisle 
and himself took up a position some distance behind him, making his 
whip whistle through the air as he gave the order: "Ballal" His oppo- 
nent did not stir. "Ballal" repeated the Cavaliere incisively, and 
snapped his whip. You saw the young man move his neck round in his 
collar; at the same time one hand lifted slightly at the wrist, one ankle 
turned outward. But that was all, for the time at least; merely a tend- 
ency to twitch, now sternly repressed, now seeming about to get the 
upper hand. It escaped nobody that here a heroic obstinacy, a fixed 
resolve to resist, must needs be conquered; we were beholding a gallant 
effort to strike out and save the honour of the human race. He 
twitched but danced not; and the struggle was so prolonged that the 
Cavaliere had to divide his attention between it and the stage, turning 
now and then to make his riding-whip whistle in the direction of the 
dancers, as it were to keep them in leash. At the same time he advised 
the audience that no fatigue was involved in such activities, however 
long they went on, since it was not the automatons up there who 
danced, but himself. Then once more his eye would bore itself into the 



THOMAS MANN 69 

back of the Roman's neck and lay siege to the strength of purpose 
which defied him. 

One saw it waver, that strength of purpose, beneath the repeated 
summons and whip-crackings. Saw with an objective interest which 
yet was not quite free from traces of sympathetic emotion — from pity, 
even from a cruel kind of pleasure. If I understand what was going 
on, it was the negative character of the young man's fighting position 
which was his undoing. It is likely that not willing is not a practicable 
state of mind; not to want to do something may be in the long run a 
mental content impossible to subsist on. Between not willing a certain 
thing and not willing at all — in other words, yielding to another per- 
son's will — there may lie too small a space for the idea of freedom to 
squeeze into. Again, there were the Cavaliere's persuasive words, 
woven in among the whip-crackings and commands, as he mingled 
effects that were his own secret with others of a bewilderingly psycho- 
logical kind. "Ballal" said he. "Who wants to torture himself like that? 
Is forcing yourself your idea of freedom? Una ballatina! Why, your 
arms and legs are aching for it. What a relief to give way to them — 
there, you are dancing already! That is no struggle any more, it is a 
pleasure!" And so it was. The jerking and twitching of the refractory 
youth's limbs had at last got the upper hand; he lifted his arms, then 
his knees, his joints quite suddenly relaxed, he flung his legs and 
danced, and amid bursts of applause the Cavaliere led him to join the 
row of puppets on the stage. Up there we could see his face as he "en- 
joyed" himself; it was clothed in a broad grin and the eyes were half- 
shut. In a way, it was consoling to see that he was having a better time 
than he had had in the hour of his pride. 

His "fall" was, I may say, an epoch. The ice was completely broken, 
Cipolla's triumph had reached its height. The Circe's wand, that whis- 
tling leather whip with the claw handle, held absolute sway. At one time 
— it must have been well after midnight — not only were there eight or 
ten persons dancing on the little stage, but in the hall below a varied 
animation reigned, and a long-toothed Anglo-Saxoness in a pince-nez 
left her seat of her own motion to perform a tarantella in the centre 
aisle. Cipolla was lounging in a cane-seated chair at the left of the 
stage, gulping down the smoke of a cigarette and breathing it impu- 



70 READING I'VE LIKED 

dently out through his bad teeth. He tapped his foot and shrugged his 
shoulders, looking down upon the abandoned scene in the hall; now 
and then he snapped his whip backwards at a laggard upon the stage. 
The children were awake at the moment. With shame I speak of them. 
For it was not good to be here, least of all for them; that we had not 
taken them away can only be explained by saying that we had caught 
the general devil-may-careness of the hour. By that time it was all one. 
Anyhow, thank goodness, they lacked understanding for the disrep- 
utable side of the entertainment, and in their innocence were per- 
petually charmed by the unheard-of indulgence which permitted them 
to be present at such a thing as a magician's "evening." Whole quarter- 
hours at a time they drowsed on our laps, waking refreshed and rosy- 
cheeked, with sleep-drunken eyes, to laugh to bursting at the leaps and 
jumps the magician made those people up there make. They had not 
thought it would be so jolly; they joined with their clumsy little 
hands in every round of applause. And jumped for joy upon their 
chairs, as was their wont, when Cipolla beckoned to their friend Ma- 
rio from the Esquisito, beckoned to him just like a picture in a book, 
holding his hand in front of his nose and bending and straightening 
the forefinger by turns. 

Mario obeyed. I can see him now going up the stairs to Cipolla, who 
continued to beckon him, in that droll, picture-book sort of way. He 
hesitated for a moment at first; that, too, I recall quite clearly. During 
the whole evening he had lounged against a wooden pillar at the side en- 
trance, with his arms folded, or else with his hands thrust into his jacket 
pockets. He was on our left, near the youth with the militant hair, and 
had followed the performance attentively, so far as we had seen, if with 
no particular animation and God knows how much comprehension. 
He could not much relish being summoned thus, at the end of the 
evening. But it was only too easy to see why he obeyed. After all, 
obedience was his calling in life; and then, how should a simple lad 
like him find it within his human capacity to refuse compliance to a 
man so throned and crowned as Cipolla at that hour? Willy-nilly he 
left his column and with a word of thanks to those making way for 
him he mounted the steps with a doubtful smile on his full lips. 

Picture a thickset youth of twenty years, with dipt hair, a low fore- 



THOMAS MANN 7l 

head, and heavy-lidded eyes of an indefinite grey, shot with green and 
yellow. These things I knew from having spoken with him, as we 
often had. There was a saddle of freckles on the flat nose, the whole 
upper half of the face retreated behind the lower, and that again was 
dominated by thick lips that parted to show the salivated teeth. These 
thick lips and the veiled look of the eyes lent the whole face a primitive 
melancholy— it was that which had drawn us to him from the first. In 
it was not the faintest trace of brutality— indeed, his hands would have 
| given the lie to such an idea, being unusually slender and delicate even 
for a southerner. They were hands by which one liked being served. 

We knew him humanly without knowing him personally, if I may 
make that distinction. We saw him nearly every day, and felt a certain 
kindness for his dreamy ways, which might at times be actual inatten- 
tiveness, suddenly transformed into a redeeming zeal to serve. His 
mien was serious, only the children could bring a smile to his face. It 
was not sulky, but uningratiating, without intentional effort to please 
—or, rather, it seemed to give up being pleasant in the conviction that 
it could not succeed. We should have remembered Mario in any case, 
as one of those homely recollections of travel which often stick in the 
mind better than more important ones. But of his circumstances we 
knew no more than that his father was a petty clerk in the Municipio 
and his mother took in washing. 

His white waiter's-coat became him better than the faded striped 
suit he wore, with a gay coloured scarf instead of a collar, the ends 
tucked into his jacket. He neared Cipolla, who however did not leave 
off that motion of his finger before his nose, so that Mario had to come 
still closer, right up to the chair-seat and the master's legs. Whereupon 
the latter spread out his elbows and seized the lad, turning him so that 
we had a view of his face. Then gazed him briskly up and down, with 
a careless, commanding eye. 

"Well, ragazzo mio, how comes it we make acquaintance so late in 
the day? But believe me, I made yours long ago. Yes, yes, I've had you 
in my eye this long while and known what good stuff you were made 
of. How could I go and forget you again? Well, I've had a good deal 

to think about Now tell me, what is your name? The first name, 

that's all I want." 



72 READING I'VE LIKED 

"My name is Mario," the young man answered, in a low voice. 

"Ah, Mario. Very good. Yes, yes, there is such a name, quite a com- 
mon name, a classic name too, one of those which preserve the heroic 
traditions of the Fatherland. Bravo! Salve!" And he flung up his arm 
slantingly above his crooked shoulder, palm outward, in the Roman 
salute. He may have been slightly tipsy by now, and no wonder; but 
he spoke as before, clearly, fluently, and with emphasis. Though about 
this time there had crept into his voice a gross, autocratic note, and a 
kind of arrogance was in his sprawl. 

"Well, now, Mario mio," he went on, "it's a good thing you came 
this evening, and that's a pretty scarf you've got on; it is becoming to 
your style of beauty. It must stand you in good stead with the girls, 
the pretty pretty girls of Torre " 

From the row of youths, close by the place where Mario had been 
standing, sounded a laugh. It came from the youth with the militant 
hair. He stood there, his jacket over his shoulder, and laughed out- 
right, rudely and scornfully. 

Mario gave a start. I think it was a shrug, but he may have started 
and then hastened to cover the movement by shrugging his shoulders, 
as much as to say that the neckerchief and the fair sex were matters of 
equal indifference to him. 

The Cavaliere gave a downward glance. 

"We needn't trouble about him," he said. "He is jealous, because 
your scarf is so popular with the girls, maybe partly because you and 
I are so friendly up here. Perhaps he'd like me to put him in mind of 
his colic — I could do it free of charge. Tell me, Mario. You've come 
here this evening for a bit of fun — and in the daytime you work in an 
ironmonger's shop?" 

"In a cafe," corrected the youth. 

"Oh, in a cafe. That's where Cipolla nearly came a cropper! What you 
are is a cup-bearer, a Ganymede — I like that, it is another classical al- 
lusion — Salvietta!" Again the Cavaliere saluted, to the huge gratifica- 
tion of his audience. 

Mario smiled too. "But before that," he interpolated, in the interest 
of accuracy, "I worked for a while in a shop in Portoclemente." He 



THOMAS MANN 



71 



seemed visited by a natural desire to assist the prophecy by dredging 
out its essential features. 
"There, didn't I say so? In an ironmonger's shop?" 
"They kept combs and brushes," Mario got round it. 
"Didn't I say that you were not always a Ganymede? Not always 
at the sign of the serviette ? Even when Cipolla makes a mistake, it is 
a kind that makes you believe in him. Now tell me: Do you believe in 
me?" 
An indefinite gesture. 

"A half-way answer," commented the Cavaliere. "Probably it is not 
easy to win your confidence. Even for me, I can see, it is not so easy. I 
see in your features a reserve, a sadness, un tratto di malinconia . . . 
tell me" (he seized Mario's hand persuasively) "have you troubles?" 
"Nossignore" answered Mario, promptly and decidedly. 
"You have troubles," insisted the Cavaliere, bearing down the denial 
by the weight of his authority. "Can't I see? Trying to pull the wool 
over Cipolla's eyes, are you? Of course, about the girls — it is a girl, isn't 
it? You have love troubles?" 

Mario gave a vigorous head-shake. And again the giovanotto's brutal 
laugh rang out. The Cavaliere gave heed. His eyes were roving about 
somewhere in the air; but he cocked an ear to the sound, then swung 
his whip backwards, as he had once or twice before in his conversation 
with Mario, that none of his puppets might flag in their zeal. The ges- 
ture had nearly cost him his new prey: Mario gave a sudden start in 
the direction of the steps. But Cipolla had him in his clutch. 

"Not so fast," said he. "That would be fine, wouldn't it? So you 
want to skip, do you, Ganymede, right in the middle of the fun, or, 
rather, when it is just beginning? Stay with me, I'll show you some- 
thing nice. I'll convince you. You have no reason to worry, I promise 
you. This girl— you know her and others know her too— what's her 
name? Wait! I read the name in your eyes, it is on the tip of my 

tongue and yours too " 

"Silvestra!" shouted the giovanotto from below. 

The Cavaliere's face did not change. 

"Aren't there the forward people?" he asked, not looking down, 



74 READING I'VE LIKED 

more as in undisturbed converse with Mario. "Aren't there the young 
fighting-cocks that crow in season and out? Takes the word out of 
your mouth, the conceited fool, and seems to think he has some special 
right to it. Let him be. But Silvestra, your Silvestra — ah, what a girl 
that is! What a prize! Brings your heart into your mouth to see her 
walk or laugh or breathe, she is so lovely. And her round arms when 
she washes, and tosses her head back to get the hair out of her eyes! 
An angel from paradise!" 

Mario stared at him, his head thrust forward. He seemed to have 
forgotten the audience, forgotten where he was. The red rings round 
his eyes had got larger, they looked as though they were painted on. 
His thick lips parted. 

"And she makes you suffer, this angel," went on Cipolla, "or, rather, 
you make yourself suffer for her — there is a difference, my lad, a most 
important difference, let me tell you. There are misunderstandings in 
love, maybe nowhere else in the world are there so many. I know what 
you are thinking: what does this Cipolla, with his little physical defect, 
know about love? Wrong, all wrong, he knows a lot. He has a wide 
and powerful understanding of its workings, and it pays to listen to 
his advice. But let's leave Cipolla out, cut him out altogether and think 
only of Silvestra, your peerless Silvestra! What! Is she to give any young 
gamecock the preference, so that he can laugh while you cry? To pre- 
fer him to a chap like you, so full of feeling and so sympathetic? Not 
very likely, is it ? It is impossible — we know better, Cipolla and she. If 
I were to put myself in her place and choose between the two of you, 
a tarry lout like that — a codfish, a sea-urchin — and a Mario, a knight of 
the serviette, who moves among gentlefolk and hands round refresh- 
ments with an air — my word, but my heart would speak in no uncer- 
tain tones — it knows to whom I gave it long ago. It is time that he 
should see and understand, my chosen one! It is time that you see me 
and recognize me, Mario, my beloved! Tell me, who am I?" 

It was grisly, the way the betrayer made himself irresistible, wreathed 
and coquetted with his crooked shoulder, languished with the puffy 
eyes, and showed his splintered teeth in a sickly smile. And alas, at his 
beguiling words, what was come of our Mario? It is hard for me to 
tell, hard as it was for me to see; for here was nothing less than an 



THOMAS MANN 75 

utter abandonment of the inmost soul, a public exposure of timid and 
deluded passion and rapture. He put his hands across his mouth, his 
shoulders rose and fell with his pantings. He could not, it was plain, 
trust his eyes and ears for joy, and the one thing he forgot was pre- 
cisely that he could not trust them. "Silvestra!" he breathed, from the 
very depths of his vanquished heart. 

"Kiss me!" said the hunchback. "Trust me, I love thee. Kiss me 
here." And with the tip of his index finger, hand, arm, and little fin- 
ger outspread, he pointed to his cheek, near the mouth. And Mario 
bent and kissed him. 

It had grown very still in the room. That was a monstrous moment, 
grotesque and thrilling, the moment of Mario's bliss. In that evil span 
of time, crowded with a sense of the illusiveness of all joy, one sound 
became audible, and that not quite at once, but on the instant of the 
melancholy and ribald meeting between Mario's lips and the repulsive 
flesh which thrust itself forward for his caress. It was the sound of a 
laugh, from the giovanotto on our left. It broke into the dramatic sus- 
pense of the moment, coarse, mocking, and yet — or I must have been 
grossly mistaken — with an undertone of compassion for the poor be- 
wildered, victimized creature. It had a faint ring of that "Poveretto" 
which Cipolla had declared was wasted on the wrong person, when he 
claimed the pity for his own. 

The laugh still rang in the air when the recipient of the caress gave 
his whip a little swish, low down, close to his chair-leg, and Mario 
started up and flung himself back. He stood in that posture staring, 
his hands one over the other on those desecrated lips. Then he beat his 
temples with his clenched fists, over and over; turned and staggered 
down the steps, while the audience applauded, and Cipolla sat there 
with his hands in his lap, his shoulders shaking. Once below, and even 
while in full retreat, Mario hurled himself round with legs flung wide 
apart; one arm flew up, and two flat shattering detonations crashed 
through applause and laughter. 

There was instant silence. Even the dancers came to a full stop and 
stared about, struck dumb. Cipolla bounded from his seat. He stood 
with his arms spread out, slanting as though to ward everybody off, as 
though next moment he would cry out: "Stop! Keep back! Silence! 



76 READING I'VE LIKED 

What was that?" Then, in that instant, he sank back in his seat, his 
head rolling on his chest; in the next he had fallen sideways to the floor, 
where he lay motionless, a huddled heap of clothing, with limbs awry. 

The commotion was indescribable. Ladies hid their faces, shudder- 
ing, on the breasts of their escorts. There were shouts for a doctor, for 
the police. People flung themselves on Mario in a mob, to disarm him, 
to take away the weapon that hung from his fingers — that small, dull- 
metal, scarcely pistol-shaped tool with hardly any barrel — in how 
strange and unexpected a direction had fate levelled it! 

And now — now finally, at last — we took the children and led them 
towards the exit, past the pair of carabinieri just entering. Was that the 
end, they wanted to know, that they might go in peace? Yes, we as- 
sured them, that was the end. An end of horror, a fatal end. And yet a 
liberation — for I could not, and I cannot, but find it so! 



THOMAS MANN 



COMMENTARY 



w 



J have often reflected, as doubtless many have before me, that su- 
preme works oi literary ait generally combine clarity and ambiguity. 
By ambiguity I do not mean obscurity. I mean they can be under- 
stood in more than one sense. A great book is never unclear but it is 
rarely clear in only one way. It is not a reflecting mirror but that far 
more fascinating object, a kaleidoscope, capable oi a variety oi images. 

To take a simple example, Gulliver's Travels may be read by chil- 
dren for its ianciiul story and by men for its satire on themselves., 
Swiit never bothered to point out this plain fact. Dante, a much more 
solemn and portentous iellow, stated explicitly that his Divine Com- 
edy was " poly semous"— comprehensible in any oi four ways: literally, 
allegorically (or mystically), morally, or anagogically. This pronounce- 
ment has been for centuries the cornerstone oi the iortunes oi Dante 
commentators. 

Most great works oi the imagination have this quality oi ambiguity. 
It is a quality oi which the creator may be blandly unaware. Take 
Charles Dickens. When this twenty-four-year-old shorthand reports 
undertook the job oi providing serial letterpress to accompany the 
drawings oi a popular illustrator, he had not the remotest idea that 
he was about to create a story that will probably live as long as men 
know how to laugh. (Right now, that doesnt seem so very long.} 
Dickens sat down to write a rollicking narrative oi comic incident 
He succeeded. But so, to take the first example that comes to mind, 
is Lover s Handy Andy a rollicking narrative oi comic incident 
Handy Andy is a curio, Pickwick a masterpiece. Why? Pickwick is 
better written? Granted. Its characters are better drawn? Agreed. Its 
episodes are funnier? Admitted, though Andy's trouble with the "soda, 
wather" is as iunny as most things in Pickwick. J think we must go 
deeper. 

Here is where our old iriend ambiguity raises his Janus head, or 
even his Hydra head. Pickwick exists on two levels, like Grand Cen- 

77 



78 READING I'VE LIKED 

tral station. Grand Central's lower level is suburban, sewing useful 
but unromantic places like Yonkers and Scarsdale. But from the 
upper level depart the gleaming chariots of the streamliners, bound 
for the remotest names on a broad continent. Similarly, on its lower, 
mundane level, Pickwick is a loose-jointed yarn about readily recog- 
nizable comic personages, careering through a perfectly real and solid 
England. But on its upper level Pickwick is a great comic myth. It is 
nearer to the Odyssey than it is to Handy Andy. Sam Wetter tells 
tales of the street, but they are mythical tales. Sam Weller issues 
moral quips, but they are odds and ends from a gigantic underground 
system of folk wisdom. Sam Weher is a miracle worker, his great 
talent lying in his possession of that most uncommon of qualities, 
the common touch. Because of the Fat Boy, the entire magnificent 
conception of gormandizing will mean something to us a thousand 
years hence, even if we should happen to be living on dark-brown 
vitamin tablets. The medical students, Jack Hopkins and Bob Sawyer, 
cannot be tied down to the time, place, and profession they are sup- 
posed to satirize. They are buoyant with a helium life of their own 
and escape at once to those upper airs where they soar and curvet 
forever with Falstaff and Uncle Toby. Pickwick lasts because it is a 
branch on one of the evergreens of literature, the fairy tale. 

I have spoken of Pickwick at perhaps tedious length precisely be- 
cause at first blush it seems so remote from Thomas Mann's The 
Magic Mountain, a selection from which you may read at once by 
skipping the next thousand words or so. My point is simple: The 
Magic Mountain and Pickwick are alike in that both are works of 
double-entendre. Mann and Dickens are both symbolists, the differ- 
ence being that Mann is a conscious symbolist and Dickens an un- 
conscious one. It is an odd fact that symbols, so vague and evasive, 
last. We are so constituted as to be fascinated forever by the idea of 
a thing that stands for something else. Our greatest works of art have 
about them this atmosphere of indirection. That is what binds all 
great books together. That is why Pickwick and The Magic Mountain 
are brothers under their skin. For all masterful creative stories are 
nourished by the same amniotic Euid circulating in the womb of the 
great mother of myths. 



THOMAS MANN 79 

Pickwick deals with cockneys and comic mishaps. The Magic 
Mountain deals with the profoundest problems of life and death. 
Mann may he more intelligent than Dickens hut I do not believe he 
is one whit the greater artist. Both are myth makers. Both hooks have 
a value beyond that of mere narrative. With both books you find 
yourself interested in something more than u how the story comes 
out!' This something more is what makes both of them works of art. 
One of the ways by which a supreme literary character is identified 
is our lack of interest in his fate. The least important thing about 
Hamlet is his death. Who, save the Baker Street Irregulars, remem- 
bers how Sherlock Holmes perished, locked in the arms of Moriarty? 

Now let me recall for you the simple outlines of The Magic Moun- 
tain. It is a long, leisurely novel. Mae West once remarked, "I like 
a man who takes his time." Thomas Mann has put it in another 
way: "Only the exhaustive is truly interesting." The setting is a Swiss 
tuberculosis sanitarium during the years immediately preceding the 
outbreak of the First (or Rehearsal) World War. The characters com- 
prise the patients, their visitors, and the hospital staff. The hero is 
Hans Castorp, an intelligent, amiable, naive young German. On the 
surface the book concerns itself with the "education" of Hans; his 
education by the disease insidiously inhabiting him, his education by 
other characters — the rationalist Settembrini; the Jesuit-Jew Naphta, 
that terrifying prefiguring of certain Nazi doctrines; the enigmatic 
Clavdia Chauchat, with whom Hans falls so fatally in love; "Rhada- 
manthus" the doctor; and others. The Magic Mountain is about the 
adventures of Hans' mind. It is a picaresque novel of the intellect as 
Pickwick is a picaresque novel of the body. 

But just as there is an underside to Pickwick, so there are many 
undersides to The Magic Mountain. Not incidentally but essentially, 
Manns book is the following: an imaginative discourse on the nature 
of time; a study of the interrelationship of life, disease, and death; 
a Faustian novel about the soul of man (see whether you can sense 
this in the extract here presented); a dramatic illumination of the 
sickness of an acquisitive society (for remember that the Berghof 
Sanitarium is also another name for bourgeois Europe); an interpre- 



80 READING I'VE LIKE 

tation of European history, past, present, and future. We say glib;- 
that The Magic Mountain is a philosophical novel. This does n\ 
mean that the characters sit around and talk "philosophy." Philosoph 
means the love of, wisdom. A philosophical novel therefore is one 
informed with wisdom. Wisdom has to do with unalterable truths; 
hence a philosophical novel is always about something more perma- 
nent than the time and place that make up its setting. 

Novelists and poets have their own way of expressing wisdom. 
Their tool is the symbol, their form the myth. The richer the sym- 
bolism and the more complex the myth, the more enduring is the 
work of art. The myth of Oedipus is a lode— one might even say a 
mother lode— still yielding gold. The sad fact is that an author, if 
he desires immortality, should never say exactly what he means. It 
is even better if, like Dostoevsky, he doesn't even always know what 
he means. For example, The Grapes of Wrath, which I happen to 
admire greatly, will not, I imagine, be read a hundred years from 
now. Its trouble is that Mr. Steinbeck is too clear a writer. He is too 
explicit a writer. He keeps his eye on the object. The object happens 
to interest us a great deal now. But when the object— the plight of 
the Dust Bowl farmers— disappears or changes its form, The Grapes 
of Wrath will no longer be read. Parts of it, which have very little to 
do with the object, will still be moving. I have included two of those 
parts in tin's book. If I've chosen the wrong ones Til feel a perfect 
fool a hundred years from now. 

Let's get back to The Magic Mountain. Perhaps it is foolhardy of 
me to scissor out a chapter from it and offer it to you with any hope 
of having you enjoy it. The Magic Mountain is really a mountain; 
more, it is a monolith. It does not break up well into purple patches 
or set pieces. 

I chose the chapter "Snow" because it may be read, I hope, with- 
out much knowledge or recollection of the plot and characters. Al- 
though devoid of action, conflict, intrigue, it is the nearest thing in 
the book to a self-contained short story. It moves me for a number 
of reasons. 

It moves me first because it bares certain fundamental and perma- 



IOMAS MANN 
,4 



nt sensations of man— the sensation of solitude, for example, the 

nsation of lostness, spiritual as well as physical. 

Second, I have chosen this chapter because it is an excellent pro- 
action of one of the main themes of the book, Hans' thought that 
all interest in death and disease is only another expression of interest 
m lifer 

Finally, Hans' vision of the smiling pagan world, with its heart of 
horror, is an example of that masterful ambiguity we have been dis- 
cussing—for it is at once the sort of delirious fantasy that might 
logically invade such a mind as that of Hans Castorp, and at the 
same time a perfect expression of the Teutonic Sehnsucht after the 
South, the land of beauty, the country of the classic. Here we have 
perfect proof that a great writer always writes better than he knows. 
Hans' phantasmagoria was moving when I first read it, but now that 
Hitler has compelled Germany (perhaps forever) to kill \hat element 
in her which longs for harmony and reason, the phantasmagoria sud- 
denly assumes added significance. That is the way with great works 
of art. The events of history in some mysterious manner enhance 
rather than obscure them. 



Snow 



FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN BY 

THOMAS MANN 



Daily, five times a day, the guests expressed unanimous dissatisfaction 
with the kind of winter they were having. They felt it was not what 
they had a right to expect of these altitudes. It failed to deliver the 
renowned meteorological specific in anything like the quantity indi- 
cated by the prospectus, quoted by old inhabitants, or anticipated by 
new. There was a very great failure in the supply of sunshine, an ele- 
ment so important in the cures achieved up here that without it they 
were distinctly retarded. And whatever Herr Settembrini might think 
of the sincerity of the patients' desire to finish their cure, leave "home" 
and return to the flat-land, at any rate they insisted on their just dues. 
They wanted what they were entitled to, what their parents or hus- 
bands had paid for, and they grumbled unceasingly, at table, in lift, 
and in hall. The management showed a consciousness of what it owed 
them by installing a new apparatus for heliotherapy. They had two 
already, but these did not suffice for the demands of those who wished 
to get sunburnt by electricity — it was so becoming to the ladies, young 
and old, and made all the men, though confirmed horizontallers, look 
irresistibly athletic. And the ladies, even though aware of the mechanico- 
cosmetical origin of this conquering-hero air, were foolish enough to 
be carried away by it. There was Frau Schonfeld, a red-haired, red- 
eyed patient from Berlin. In the salon she looked thirstily at a long- 
legged, sunken-chested gallant, who described himself on his visiting- 
card as " Aviate ur diplome et Enseigne de la Marine allemande." He 
was fitted out with the pneumothorax and wore "smoking" at the mid- 
day meal but not in the evening, saying this was their custom in the 
navy. "My God," breathed Frau Schonfeld at him, "what a tan this 

82 



THOMAS MANN 83 

demon has — he gets it from the helio — it makes him look like a hunter 
of eagles!" "Just wait, nixie!" he whispered in her ear, in the lift, 
"I'll make you pay for looking at me like that!" It made goose-flesh 
and shivers run over her. And along the balconies, past the glass 
partitions, the demon eagle-hunter found his way to the nixie. 

But the artificial sun was far from making up for the lack of the 
real one. Two or three days of full sunshine in the month — it was 
not good enough, gorgeous though these were, with deep, deep vel- 
vety blue sky behind the white mountain summits, a glitter as of 
diamonds and a fine hot glow on the face and the back of the neck, 
when they dawned resplendent from the prevailing thick mantle of 
grey mist. Two or three such days in the course of weeks could not 
satisfy people whose lot might be said to justify extraordinary de- 
mands from the external world. They had made an inward compact, 
by the terms of which they resigned the common joys and sorrows 
proper to flat-land humanity, and in exchange were made free of a 
life that was, to be sure, inactive, but on the other hand very lively 
and diverting, and care-free to the point of making one forget alto- 
gether the flight of time. Thus it was not much good for the Hofrat 
to tell them how favourably the Berghof compared with a Siberian 
mine or a penal settlement, nor to sing the praises of the atmos- 
phere, so thin and light, well-nigh as rare as the empty universal ether, 
free of earthly admixture whether good or bad, and even without ac- 
tual sunshine to be preferred to the rank vapours of the plain. Despite 
all he could say, the gloomy disaffection gained ground, threats of un- 
licensed departure were the order of the day, were even put into execu- 
tion, without regard for the warning afforded by the melancholy re- 
turn of Frau Salomon to the fold, now a "life member," her tedious 
but not serious case having taken that turn by reason of her self-willed 
visit to her wet and windy Amsterdam. 

But if they had no sun, they had snow. Such masses of snow as Hans 
Castorp had never till now in all his life beheld. The previous winter 
had done fairly well in this respect, but it had been as nothing com- 
pared to this. The snow-fall was monstrous and immeasurable, it made 
one realize the extravagant, outlandish nature of the place. It snowed 
day in, day out, and all through the night. The few roads kept open 



84 READING I'VE LIKED 

were like tunnels, with cowering walls of snow on either side, crystal 
and alabaster surfaces that were pleasant to look at, and on which the 
guests scribbled all sorts of messages, jokes and personalities. But even 
this path between walls was above the level of the pavement, and made 
of hard-packed snow, as one could tell by certain places where it gave 
way, and let one suddenly sink in up to the knee. One might, unless 
one were careful, break a leg. The benches had disappeared, except 
for the high back of one emerging here and there. In the town, the 
street level was so raised that the shops had become cellars, into which 
one descended by steps cut in the snow. 

And on all these lying masses more snow fell, day in, day out. It fell 
silently, through air that was moderately cold, perhaps twenty to thirty 
degrees of frost. One did not feel the cold, it might have been much 
less, for the dryness and absence of wind deprived it of sting. The 
mornings were very dark, breakfast was taken by the light of the 
artificial moon that hung from the vaulted ceiling of the dining-room, 
above the gay stencilled border. Outside was the reeking void, the 
world enwrapped in grey-white cotton-wool, packed to the window- 
panes in snow and mist. No sight of the mountains; of the nearest 
evergreens now and again a glimpse through the fog, standing laden, 
and from time to time shaking free a bough of its heavy load, that flew 
into the air, and sent a cloud of white against the grey. At ten o'clock 
the sun, a wan wisp of light, came up behind its mountain, and gave 
the indistinguishable scene some shadowy hint of life, some sallow 
glimmer of reality; yet even so, it retained its delicate ghostliness, its 
lack of any definite line for the eye to follow. The contours of the 
peaks dissolved, disappeared, were dissipated in the mist, while the 
vision, led on from one pallidly gleaming slope of snow to another, 
lost itself in the void. Then a single cloud, like smoke, lighted up by 
the sun, might spread out before a wall of rock and hang there for 
long, motionless. 

At midday the sun would half break through, and show signs of 
banishing the mist. In vain — yet a shred of blue would be visible, and 
suffice to make the scene, in its strangely falsified contours, sparkle 
marvellously far and wide. Usually, at this hour, the snow-fall stopped, 
as though to have a look at what it had done; a like effect was pro- 



THOMAS MANN 85 

duced by the rare days when the storm ceased, and the uninterrupted 
power of the sun sought to thaw away the pure and lovely surface 
from the new-fallen masses. The sight was at once fairylike and 
comic, an infantine fantasy. The thick light cushions plumped up on 
the boughs of trees, the humps and mounds of snow-covered rock- 
cropping or undergrowth, the droll, dwarfish, crouching disguise all 
ordinary objects wore, made of the scene a landscape in gnome-land, 
an illustration for a fairy-tale. Such was the immediate view — weari- 
some to move in, quaintly, roguishly stimulating to the fancy. But 
when one looked across the intervening space, at the towering marble 
statuary of the high Alps in full snow, one felt a quite different emo- 
tion, and that was awe of their majestic sublimity. 

Afternoons between three and four, Hans Castorp lay in his balcony 
box, well wrapped, his head against the cushion, not too high or too 
low, of his excellent chair, and looked out at forest and mountain over 
his thick-upholstered balustrade. The snow-laden firs, dark-green to 
blackness, went marching up the sides of the valley, and beneath them 
the snow lay soft like down pillows. Above the tree line, the mountain 
walls reared themselves into the grey-white air : huge surfaces of snow, 
with softly veiled crests, and here and there a black jut of rock. The 
snow came silently down. The scene blurred more and more, it in- 
clined the eye, gazing thus into woolly vacuity, to slumber. At the 
moment of slipping off one might give a start — yet what sleep could be 
purer than this in the icy air ? It was dreamless. It was as free from the 
burden — even the unconscious burden — of organic life, as little aware 
of an effort to breathe this contentless, weightless, imperceptible air 
as is the breathless sleep of the dead. When Hans Castorp stirred again, 
the mountains would be wholly lost in a cloud of snow; only a pin- 
nacle, a jutting rock, might show one instant, to be rapt away the 
next. It was absorbing to watch these ghostly pranks; one needed to 
keep alert to follow the transmutations, the veiling and unveiling. 
One moment a great space of snow-covered rock would reveal itself, 
standing out bold and free, though of base or peak naught was to be 
seen. But if one ceased to fix one's gaze upon it, it was gone, in a 
breath. 

Then there were storms so violent as to prevent one's sitting on the 



86 READING I'VE LIKED 

balcony for the driven snow which blew in, in such quantity as to 
cover floor and chair with a thick mantle. Yes, even in this sheltered 
valley it knew how to storm. The thin air would be in a hurly-burly, 
so whirling full of snow one could not see a hand's breadth before 
one's face. Gusts strong enough to take one's breath away flung the 
snow about, drew it up cyclone-fashion from the valley floor to the 
upper air, whisked it about in the maddest dance; no longer a snow- 
storm, it was a blinding chaos, a white dark, a monstrous dereliction 
on the part of this inordinate and violent region; no living creature 
save the snow-bunting — which suddenly appeared in troops — could 
flourish in it. 

And yet Hans Castorp loved this snowy world. He found it not un- 
like life at the sea-shore. The monotony of the scene was in both cases 
profound. The snow, so deep, so light, so dry and spotless, was the 
sand of down below. One was as clean as the other: you could shake 
the snow from boots and clothing, just as you could the fine-ground, 
dustless stone and shell, product of the sea's depth — neither left trace 
behind. And walking in the snow was as toilsome as on the dunes; 
unless, indeed, a crust had come upon it, by dint of thawing and freez- 
ing, when the going became easy and pleasant, like marching along 
the smooth, hard, wet, and resilient strip of sand close to the edge of 
the sea. 

But the storms and high-piled drifts of this year gave pedestrians 
small chance. They were favourable only for skiing. The snow-plough, 
labouring its best, barely kept free the main street of the settlement 
and the most indispensable paths. Thus the few short feasible stretches 
were always crowded with other walkers, ill and well: the native, the 
permanent guest, and the hotel population; and these in their turn 
were bumped by the sleds as they swung and swerved down the slopes, 
steered by men and women who leaned far back as they came on, and 
shouted importunately, being obsessed bv the importance of their'occu- 
pation. Once at the bottom they would turn and trundle their toy 
sledges uphill again. 

Hans Castorp was thoroughly sick of all the walks. He had two 
desires: one of them, the stronger, was to be alone with his thoughts 



THOMAS MANN 87 

and his stock-taking projects; and this his balcony assured to him. But 
the other, allied unto it, was a lively craving to come into close and 
freer touch with the mountains, the mountains in their snowy desola- 
tion; toward them he was irresistibly drawn. Yet how could he, all 
unprovided and footbound as he was, hope to gratify such a desire ? He 
had only to step beyond the end of the shovelled paths — an end soon 
reached upon any of them — to plunge breast-high in the snowy ele- 
ment. 

Thus it was Hans Castorp, on a day in his second winter with those 
up here, resolved to buy himself skis and learn to walk on them, 
enough, that is, for his purposes. He was no sportsman, had never been 
physically inclined to sport; and did not behave as though he were, 
as did many guests of the cure, dressing up to suit the mode and the 
spirit of the place. Hermine Kleefeld, for instance, among other fe- 
males, though she was constantly blue in the face from lack of breath, 
loved to appear at luncheon in tweed knickers, and loll about after the 
meal in a basket-chair in the hall, with her legs sprawled out. Hans 
Castorp knew that he would meet with a refusal were he to ask the 
Hofrat to countenance his plan. Sports activities were unconditionally 
forbidden at the Berghof as in all other establishments of the kind. 
This atmosphere, which one seemed to breathe in so effortlessly, was 
a severe strain on the heart, and as for Hans Castorp personally, his 
lively comment on his own state, that "getting used to being up here 
consisted in getting used to not getting used," had continued in force. 
His fever, which Rhadamanthus ascribed to a moist spot, remained 
obstinate. Why else indeed should he be here? His desire, his present 
purpose was then clearly inconsistent and inadmissible. Yet we must 
be at the pains to understand him aright. He had no wish to imitate 
the fresh-air faddists and smart pseudo-sportsmen, who would have 
been equally eager to sit all day and play cards in a stuffy room, if only 
that had been interdicted by authority. He felt himself a member of 
another and closer community than this small tourist world; a new 
and a broader point of view, a dignity and restraint set him apart and 
made him conscious that it would be unfitting for him to emulate their 
rough-and-tumbling in the snow. He had no escapade in view, his 



88 



READING I'VE LIKED 



plans were so moderate that Rhadamanthus himself, had he known, 
might well have approved them. But the rules stood in the way, and 
Hans Castorp resolved to act behind his back. 

He took occasion to speak to Herr Settembrini of his plan— who for 
sheer joy could have embraced him. "Si, si, si! Do so, do so, Engineer, 
do so with the blessing of God! Ask after nobody's leave, but simply 
do it! Ah, your good angel must have whispered you the thought! Do 
it straightway, before the impulse leaves you. Ill go along, I'll go to 
the shop with you, and together we will acquire the instruments of this 
happy inspiration. I would go with you even into the mountains, I 
would be by your side, on winged feet, like Mercury's— but that I may 
not. May not! If that were all, how soon would I do it! That I cannot 
is the truth, I am a broken man.— But you— it will do you no harm, 
none at all, if you are sensible and do nothing rash. Even— even if it 
did you harm— just a little harm— it will still have been your good 
angel roused you to it. I say no more. Ah, what an unsurpassable plan! 
Two years up here, and still capable of such projects— ah, yes, your 
heart is sound, no need to despair of you. Bravo, bravo! By all means 
pull the wool over the eyes of your Prince of Shadows! Buy the snow- 
shoes, have them sent to me or Lukacek, or the chandler below-stairs. 
You fetch them from here to go and practise, you go ofl on them " 

So it befell. Under Herr Settembrini's critical eye— he played the 
connoisseur, though innocent of sports— Hans Castorp acquired a pair 
of oaken skis, finished a light-brown, with tapering, pointed ends and 
the best quality of straps. He bought the iron-shod start with the little 
wheel, as well, and was not content to have his purchases sent, but 
carried them on his shoulder to Settembrini's quarters, where he ar- 
ranged with the grocer to take care of them for him. He had looked 
on enough at the sport to know the use of his tools; and choosing for 
his practice-ground an almost treeless slope not far behind the sana- 
torium, remote from the hubbub of the spot where other beginners 
learned the art, he began daily to make his first blundering attempts, 
watched by Herr Settembrini, who would stand at a little distance, 
leaning on his cane, with legs gracefully crossed, and greet his nurs- 
ling's progress with applause. One day Hans Castorp, steering down 
the cleared drive toward the Dorf, in act to take the skis back to the 



THOMAS MANN 89 

grocer's, ran into the Hofrat. Behrens never recognized him, though it 
was broad day, and our beginner had well-nigh collided with him. 
Shrouded in a haze of tobacco-smoke, he stalked past regardless. 

Hans Castorp found that one quickly gets readiness in an art where 
strong desire comes in play. He was not ambitious for expert skill, and 
all he needed he acquired in a few days, without undue strain on wind 
or muscles. He learned to keep his feet tidily together and make paral- 
lel tracks; to avail himself of his stick in getting off; he learned how 
to take obstacles, such as small elevations of the ground, with a slight 
soaring motion, arms outspread, rising and falling like a ship on a 
billowy sea; learned, after the twentieth trial, not to trip and roll over 
when he braked at full speed, with the right Telemark turn, one leg 
forward, the other bent at the knee. Gradually he widened the sphere 
of his activities. One day it came to pass that Herr Settembrini saw him 
vanish in the far white mist; the Italian shouted a warning through 
cupped hands, and turned homewards, his pedagogic soul well-pleased. 

It was beautiful here in these wintry heights: not mildly and ingra- 
tiatingly beautiful, more as the North Sea is beautiful in a westerly 
gale. There was no thunder of surf, a deathly stillness reigned, but 
roused similar feelings of awe. Hans Castorp's long, pliant soles carried 
him in all directions: along the left slope to Clavadel, on the right to 
Frauenkirch and Glaris, whence he could see the shadowy massif of 
the Amselfluh, ghostlike in the mist; into the Dischma valley, or up 
behind the Berghof in the direction of the wooded Seehorn, only the 
top of which, snow-covered, rose above the tree line, or the Drusatscha 
forest, with the pale outline of the Rhatikon looming behind it, 
smothered in snow. He took his skis and went up on the funicular to 
the Schatzalp; there, rapt six thousand feet above the sea, he revelled 
at will on the gleaming slopes of powdery snow — whence, in good 
weather, there was a view of majestic extent over all the surrounding 
territory. 

He rejoiced in his new resource, before which all difficulties and 
hindrances to movement fell away. It gave him the utter solitude he 
craved, and filled his soul with impressions of the wild inhumanity, 
the precariousness of this region into which he had ventured. On his 
one hand he might have a precipitous, pine-clad declivity, falling away 



90 READING I'VE LIKED 

into tne mists; on the other sheer rock might rise, with masses of 
snow, in monstrous, Cyclopean forms, all domed and vaulted, swelling 
or cavernous. He would halt for a moment, to quench the sound of his 
own movement, when the silence about him would be absolute, com- 
plete, a wadded soundlessness, as it were, elsewhere all unknown. 
There was no stir of air, not so much as might even lightly sway the 
tree-boughs; there was not a rustle, nor the voice of a bird. It was 
primeval silence to which Hans Castorp hearkened, when he leaned 
thus on his staff, his head on one side, his mouth open. And always it 
snowed, snowed without pause, endlessly, gently, soundlessly falling. 
No, this world of limitless silences had nothing hospitable; it re- 
ceived the visitor at his own risk, or rather it scarcely even received 
him, it tolerated his penetration into its fastnesses, in a manner that 
boded no good; it made him aware of the menace of the elemental, 
a menace not even hostile, but impersonally deadly. The child of civili- 
zation, remote from birth from wild nature and all her ways, is more 
susceptible to her grandeur than is her untutored son who has looked 
at her and lived close to her from childhood up, on terms of prosaic 
familiarity. The latter scarcely knows the religious awe with which 
the other regards her, that awe which conditions all his feeling for 
her, and is present, a constant, solemn thrill, in the profoundest depth 
of his soul. Hans Castorp, standing there in his puttees and long- 
sleeved camel's-hair waistcoat, on his skis de luxe, suddenly seemed to 
himself exceedingly presumptuous, to be thus listening to the primeval 
hush, the deathlike silence of these wintry fastnesses. He felt his breast 
lightened when, on his way home, the first chalets, the first abodes of 
human beings, loomed visible through the fog. Only then did he 
become aware that he had been for hours possessed by a secret awe 
and terror. On the island of Sylt he had stood by the edge of the thun- 
dering surf. In his white flannels, elegant, self-assured, but most 
respectful, he had stood there as one stands before a lion's cage and 
looks deep into the yawning maw of the beast, lined with murderous 
fangs. He had bathed in the surf, and heeded the blast of the coast- 
guard's horn, warning all and sundry not to venture rashly beyond 
the first line of billows, not to approach too nearly the oncoming tem- 
pest — the very last impulse of whose cataract, indeed, struck upon him 



I 



THOMAS MANN 91 

like a blow from a lion's paw. From that experience our young man 
had learned the fearful pleasure of toying with forces so great that to 
approach them nearly is destruction. What he had not then felt was 
the temptation to come closer, to carry the thrilling contact with these 
deadly natural forces up to a point where the full embrace was immi- 
nent. Weak human being that he was — though tolerably well equipped 
with the weapons of civilization — what he at this moment knew was 
the fascination of venturing just so far into the monstrous unknown, 
or at least abstaining just so long from flight before it, that the adven- 
ture grazed the perilous, that it was just barely possible to put limits 
to it, before it became no longer a matter of toying with the foam and 
playfully dodging the ruthless paw — but the ultimate adventure, the 
billow, the lion's maw, and the sea. 

In a word, Hans Castorp was valorous up here — if by valor we mean 
not mere dull matter-of-factness in the face of nature, but conscious 
submission to her, the fear of death cast out by irresistible oneness. 
Yes, in his narrow, hypercivilized breast, Hans Castorp cherished a 
feeling of kinship with the elements, connected with the new sense of 
superiority he had lately felt at sight of the silly people on their little 
sleds; it had made him feel that a pro founder, more spacious, less 
luxuriant solitude than that afforded by his balcony chair would be 
beyond all price. He had sat there and looked abroad, at those mist- 
wreathed summits, at the carnival of snow, and blushed to be gaping 
thus from the breastwork of material well-being. This motive, and no 
momentary fad — no, nor yet any native love of bodily exertion — was 
what impelled him to learn the use of skis. If it was uncanny up 
there in the magnificence of the mountains, in the deathly silence of 
the snows — and uncanny it assuredly was, to our son of civilization — 
this was equally true, that in these months and years he had already 
drunk deep of the uncanny, in spirit and in sense. Even a colloquy 
with Naphta and Settembrini was not precisely the canniest thing in 
the world, it too led one on into uncharted and perilous regions. So 
if we can speak of Hans Castorp's feeling of kinship with the wild 
powers of the winter heights, it is in this sense, that despite his pious 
awe he felt these scenes to be a fitting theatre for the issue of his 
involved thoughts, a fitting stage for one to make who, scarcely know- 



92 READING I'VE LIKED 

ing how, found it had devolved upon him to take stock of himself, 
in reference to the rank and status of the Homo Dei. 

No one was here to blow a warning to the rash one — unless, indeed, 
Herr Settembrini, with his farewell shout at Hans Castorp's disap- 
pearing back, had been that man. But possessed by valorous desire, 
our youth had given the call no heed — as little as he had the steps 
behind him on a. certain carnival night. "Eh, Ingegnere, tin po' di 
ragione, sal" "Yes, yes, pedagogic Satana, with your ragione and your 
ribellione," he thought. "But I'm rather fond of you. You are a wind- 
bag and a hand-organ man, to be sure. But you mean well, you mean 
much better, and more to my mind, than that knife-edged little Jesuit 
and Terrorist, apologist of the Inquisition and the knout, with his 
round eye-glasses — though he is nearly always right when you and 
he come to grips over my paltry soul, like God and the Devil in the 
mediaeval legends." 

He struggled, one day, powdered in snow to the waist, up a succes- 
sion of snow-shrouded terraces, up and up, he knew not whither. 
No whither, perhaps; these upper regions blended with a sky no less 
misty-white than they, and where the two came together, it was hard 
to tell. No summit, no ridge was visible, it was a haze and a nothing, 
toward which Hans Castorp strove; while behind him the world, the 
inhabited valley, fell away swiftly from view, and no sound mounted 
to his ears. In a twinkling he was as solitary, he was as lost, as heart 
could wish, his loneliness was profound enough to awake the fear 
which is the first stage of valour. "Prceterit figitra hnius mundi," he 
said to himself, quoting Naphta, in a Latin hardly humanistic in spirit. 
He stopped and looked about. On all sides there was nothing to see, 
beyond small single flakes of snow, which came out of a white sky 
and sank to rest on the white earth. The silence about him refused to 
say aught to his spirit. His gaze was lost in the blind white void, he 
felt his heart pulse from the effort of the climb — that muscular organ 
whose animal-like shape and contracting motion he had watched, 
with a feeling of sacrilege, in the x-ray laboratory. A naive reverence 
filled him for that organ of his, for the pulsating human heart, up 
here alone in the icy void, alone with its question and its riddle. 

On he pressed; higher and higher toward the sky. Walking, he 






THOMAS MANN 93 

thrust the end of his stick in the snow and watched the blue light 
follow it out of the hole it made. That he liked; and stood for long 
at a time to test the little optical phenomenon. It was a strange, a 
subtle colour, this greenish-blue; colour of the heights and deeps, 
ice-clear, yet holding shadow in its depths, mysteriously exquisite. It 
reminded him of the colour of certain eyes, whose shape and glance 
had spelled his destiny; eyes to which Herr Settembrini, from his 
humanistic height, had referred with contempt as "Tartar slits" and 
"wolf's eyes" — eyes seen long ago and then found again, the eyes of 
Pribislav Hippe and Clavdia Chauchat. "With pleasure," he said 
aloud, in the profound stillness. "But don't break it — c'est a visser, 
tu sais." And his spirit heard behind him words of warning in a mel- 
lifluous tongue. 

A wood loomed, misty, far off to the right. He turned that way, to 
the end of having some goal before his eyes, instead of sheer white 
transcendence; and made toward it with a dash, not remarking an 
intervening depression of the ground. He could not have seen it, in 
fact; everything swam before his eyes in the white mist, obliterating 
all contours. When he perceived it, he gave himself to the decline, 
unable to measure its steepness with his eye. 

The grove that had attracted him lay the other side of the gully 
into which he had unintentionally steered. The trough, covered with 
fluffy snow, fell away on the side next the mountains, as he observed 
when he pursued it a little distance. It went downhill, the steep sides 
grew higher, this fold of the earth's surface seemed like a narrow 
passage leading into the mountain. Then the points of his skis turned 
up again, there began an incline, soon there were no more side walls; 
Hans Castorp's trackless course ran once more uphill along the 
mountain-side. 

He saw the pine grove behind and below him, on his right, turned 
again toward it, and with a quick descent reached the laden trees; 
they stood in a wedge-shaped group, a vanguard thrust out from the 
mist-screened forests above. He rested beneath their boughs, and 
smoked a cigarette. The unnatural stillness, the monstrous solitude, 
still oppressed his spirit; yet he felt proud to have conquered them, 



94 READING I'VE LIKED 

brave in the pride of having measured to the height of surroundings 
such as these. 

It was three in the afternoon. He had set out soon after luncheon, 
with the idea of cutting part of the long rest-cure, and tea as well, in 
order to be back before dark. He had brought some chocolate in his 
breeches pocket, and a small flask of wine; and told himself exultantly 
that he had still several hours to revel in all this grandeur. 

The position of the sun was hard to recognize, veiled as it was in 
haze. Behind him, at the mouth of the valley, above that part of the 
mountains that was shut oft from view, the clouds and mist seemed 
to thicken and move forward. They looked like snow— more snow- 
as though there were pressing demand for it! Like a good hard storm. 
Indeed, the little soundless flakes were coming down more quickly as 
he stood. 

Hans Castorp put out his arm and let some of them come to rest 
on his sleeve; he viewed them with the knowing eye of the nature- 
lover. They looked mere shapeless morsels; but he had more than 
once had their like under his good lens, and was aware of the exquisite 
precision of form displayed by these little jewels, insignia, orders, 
agraffes— no jeweller, however skilled, could do finer, more minute 
work. Yes, he thought, here was a difference, after all, between this 
light, soft, white powder he trod with his skis, that weighed down the 
trees, and covered the open spaces, a difference between it and the 
sand on the beaches at home, to which he had likened it. For this 
powder was not made of tiny grains of stone; but of myriads of tiniest 
drops of water, which in freezing had darted together in symmetrical 
variation— parts, then, of the same anorganic substance which was the 
source of protoplasm, of plant life, of the human body. And among 
these myriads of enchanting little stars, in their hidden splendour that 
was too small for man's naked eye to see, there was not one like unto 
another; an endless inventiveness governed the development and 
unthinkable differentiation of one and the same basic scheme, the 
equilateral, equiangled hexagon. Yet each, in itself— this was the 
uncanny, the anti-organic, the life-denying character of them all— each 
of them was absolutely symmetrical, icily regular in form. They were 
too regular, as substance adapted to life never was to this degree— 






THOMAS MANN 95 

the living principle shuddered at this perfect precision, found it 
deathly, the very marrow of death — Hans Castorp felt he understood 
now the reason why the builders of antiquity purposely and secretly 
introduced minute variation from absolute symmetry in their columnar 
structures. 

He pushed off again, shuffling through the deep snow on his flexible 
runners, along the edge of the wood, down the slope, up again, at 
random, to his heart's content, about and into this lifeless land. Its 
empty, rolling spaces, its dried vegetation of single dwarf firs sticking 
up through the snow, bore a striking resemblance to a scene on the 
dunes. Hans Castorp nodded as he stood and fixed the likeness in 
his mind. Even his burning face, his trembling limbs, the peculiar and 
half-intoxicated mingled sensations of excitement and fatigue were 
pleasurable, reminding him as they did of that familiar feeling induced 
by the sea air, which could sting one like whips, and yet was so laden 
with sleepy essences. He rejoiced in his freedom of motion, his feet 
were like wings. He was bound to no path, none lay behind him to 
take him back whence he had come. At first there had been posts, 
staves set up as guides through the snow — but he had soon cut free 
from their tutelage, which recalled the coastguard with his horn, and 
seemed inconsistent with the attitude he had taken up toward the 
wild. 

He pressed on, turning right and left among rocky, snow-clad eleva- 
tions, and came behind them on an incline, then a level spot, then on 
the mountains themselves — how alluring and accessible seemed their 
softly covered gorges and defiles! His blood leaped at the strong allure- 
ment of the distance and the height, the ever profounder solitude. At 
risk of a late return he pressed on, deeper into the wild silence, the^ 
monstrous and the menacing, despite that gathering darkness was 
sinking down over the region like a veil, and heightening his inner 
apprehension until it presently passed into actual fear. It was this fear 
which first made him conscious that he had deliberately set out to 
lose his way and the direction in which valley and settlement lay — 
and had been as successful as heart could wish. Yet he knew that if 
he were to turn in his tracks and go downhill, he would reach the 
valley bottom — even if at some distance from the Berghof — and that 



96 READING I'VE LIKED 

sooner than he had planned. He would come home too early, not 
have made full use of his time. On the other hand, if he were over- 
taken unawares by the storm, he would probably in any case not find 
his way home. But however genuine his fear of the elements, he 
refused to take premature flight; his being scarcely the sportsman's 
attitude, who only meddles with the elements so long as he knows 
himself their master, takes all precautions, and prudently yields when 
he must— whereas what went on in Hans Castorp's soul can only be 
described by the one word challenge. It was perhaps a blameworthy, 
presumptuous attitude, even united to such genuine awe. Yet this much 
is clear, to any human understanding: that when a young man has 
lived years long in the way this one had, something may gather— may 
accumulate, as our engineer might put it— in the depths of his soul, 
until one day it suddenly discharges itself, with a primitive exclama- 
tion of disgust, a mental "Oh, go to the devil!" a repudiation of all 
caution whatsoever, in short with a challenge. So on he went, in his 
seven-league slippers, glided down this slope too and pressed up the 
incline beyond, where stood a wooden hut that might be a hayrick 
or shepherd's shelter, its roof weighted with flat stones. On past this 
to the nearest mountain ridge, bristling with forest, behind whose 
back the giant peaks towered upward in the mist. The wall before 
him, studded with single groups of trees, was steep, but looked as 
though one might wind to the right and get round it by climbing a 
little way up the slope. Once on the other side, he could see what lay 
beyond. Accordingly Hans Castorp set out on this tour of investiga- 
tion, which began by descending from the meadow with the hut into 
another and rather deep gully that dropped off from right to left. 

He had just begun to mount again when the expected happened, 
*and the storm burst, the storm that had threatened so long. Or may 
one say "threatened" of the action of blind, nonscntient forces, which 
have no purpose to destroy us— that would be comforting by compari- 
son—but are merely horribly indifferent to our fate should we become 
involved with them? "Hullo!" Hans Castorp thought, and stood still, 
as the first blast whirled through the densely falling snow and caught 
him. "That's a gentle zephyr— tells you what's coming." And truly 
this wind was savage. The air was in reality frightfully cold, probably 






THOMAS MANN 97 

some degrees below zero; but so long as it remained dry and still one 
almost found it balmy. It was when a wind came up that the cold 
began to cut into the flesh; and in a wind like the one that blew now, 
of which that first gust had been a forerunner, the furs were not 
bought that could protect the limbs from its icy rigours. And Hans 
Castorp wore no fur, only a woollen waistcoat, which he had found 
quite enough, or even, with the faintest gleam of sunshine, a burden. 
But the wind was at his back, a little sidewise; there was small induce- 
ment to turn and receive it in the face; so the mad youth, letting that 
fact reinforce the fundamental challenge of his attitude, pressed on 
among the single tree-trunks, and tried to outflank the mountain he 
had attacked. 

It was no joke. There was almost nothing to be seen for swimming 
snow-flakes, that seemed without falling to fill the air to suffocation 
by their whirling dance. The icy gusts made his ears burn painfully, his 
limbs felt half paralysed, his hands were so numb he hardly knew if 
they held the staff. The snow blew inside his collar and melted down 
his back. It drifted on his shoulders and right side; he thought he 
should freeze as he stood into a snow-man, with his staff stiff in his 
hands. And all this under relatively favouring circumstances; for let 
him turn his face to the storm and his situation would be still worse. 
Getting home would be no easy task — the harder, the longer he put 
it off. 

At last he stopped, gave an angry shrug, and turned his skis the 
other way. Then the wind he faced took his breath on the spot, so 
that he was forced to go through the awkward process of turning 
round again to get it back, and collect his resolution to advance in 
the teeth of his ruthless foe. With bent head and cautious breathing 
he managed to get under way; but even thus forewarned, the slowne#t 
of his progress and the difficulty of seeing and breathing dismayed 
him. Every few minutes he had to stop, first to get his breath in the 
lee of the wind, and then because he saw next to nothing in the blind- 
ing whiteness, and moving as he did with head down, had to take 
care not to run against trees, or be flung headlong by unevenness in 
the ground. Hosts of flakes flew into his face, melted there, and he 
anguished with the cold of them. They flew into his mouth, and died 



98 READING I'VE LIKED 

away with a weak, watery taste; flew against his eyelids so that he 
winked, overflowed his eyes and made seeing as difficult as it was now 
almost impossible for other reasons: namely, the dazzling effect of all 
that whiteness, and the veiling of his field of vision, so that his sense 
of sight was almost put out of action. It was nothingness, white, 
whirling nothingness, into which he looked when he forced himself 
to do so. Only at intervals did ghostly-seeming forms from the world 
of reality loom up before him : a stunted fir, a group of pines, even the 
pale silhouette of the hay-hut he had lately passed. 

He left it behind, and sought his way back over the slope on which 
it stood. But there was no path. To keep direction, relatively speaking, 
into his own valley would be a question far more of luck than man- 
agement; for while he could see his hand before his face, he could 
not see the ends of his skis. And even with better visibility, the host of 
difficulties must have combined to hinder his progress: the snow in 
his face, his adversary the storm, which hampered his breathing, made 
him fight both to take a breath and to exhale it, and constantly forced 
him to turn his head away to gasp. How could anyone — either Hans 
Castorp or another and much stronger than he — make head? He 
stopped, he blinked his lashes free of water drops, knocked off the 
snow that like a coat of mail was sheathing his body in front — and it 
struck him that progress, under the circumstances, was more than 
anyone could expect. 

And yet Hans Castorp did progress. That is to say, he moved on. 
But whether in the right direction, whether it might not have been 
better to stand still, remained to be seen. Theoretically the chances 
were against it; and in practice he soon began to suspect something 
was wrong. This was not familiar ground beneath his feet, not the 
easy slope he had gained on mounting with such difficulty from the 
ravine, which had of course to be retraversed. The level distance was 
too short, he was already mounting again. It was plain that the storm, 
which came from the south-west, from the mouth of the valley, had 
with its violence driven him from his course. He had been exhausting 
himself, all this time, with a false start. Blindly, enveloped in white, 
whirling night, he laboured deeper and deeper into this grim and 
callous sphere. 



THOMAS MANN 99 

"No, you don't," said he, suddenly, between his teeth, and halted. 
The words were not emotional, yet he felt for a second as though his 
heart had been clutched by an icy hand; it winced, and then knocked 
rapidly against his ribs, as it had the time Rhadamanthus found the 
moist cavity. Pathos in the grand manner was not in place, he knew, 
in one who had chosen defiance as his role, and was indebted to him- 
self alone for all his present plight. "Not bad," he said, and discovered 
that his facial muscles were not his to command, that he could not 
express in his face any of his soul's emotions, for that it was stiff with 
cold. "What next? Down this slope; follow your nose home, I sup- 
pose, and keep your face to the wind — though that is a good deal 
easier said than done," he went on, panting with his efforts, yet 
actually speaking half aloud, as he tried to move on again : "but some- 
thing has to happen, I can't sit down and wait, I should simply be 
buried in six-sided crystalline symmetricality, and Settembrini, when 
he came with his little horn to find me, would see me squatting here 
with a snow-cap over one ear." He realized that he was talking to 
himself, and not too sensibly — for which he took himself to task, and 
then continued on purpose, though his lips were so stiff he could not 
shape the labials, and so did without them, as he had on a certain 
other occasion that came to his mind. "Keep quiet, and get along 
with you out of here," he admonished himself, adding: "You seem to 
be wool-gathering, not quite right in your head, and that looks bad 
for you." 

But this he only said with his reason — to some extent detached from 
the rest of him, though after all nearly concerned. As for his natural 
part, it felt only too much inclined to yield to the confusion which 
laid hold upon him with his growing fatigue. He even remarked this 
tendency and took thought to comment upon it. "Here," said he, "we 
have the typical reaction of a man who loses himself in the mountains 
in a snow-storm and never finds his way home." He gasped out other 
fragments of the same thought as he went, though he avoided giving 
it more specific expression. "Whoever hears about it afterwards, imag- 
ines it as horrible; but he forgets that disease — and the state I am in 
is, in a way of speaking, disease — so adjusts its man that it and he 
can come to terms; there are sensory appeasements, short circuits, a 



100 READING I'VE LIKED 

merciful narcosis — yes, oh yes, yes. But one must fight against them, 
after all, for they are two-faced, they are in the highest degree equiv- 
ocal, everything depends upon the point of view. If you are not meant 
to get home, they are a benefaction, they are merciful; but if you mean 
to get home, they become sinister. I believe I still do. Certainly I don't 
intend — in this heart of mine so stormily beating it doesn't appeal to 
me in the least — to let myself be snowed under by this idiotically 
symmetrical crystallometry." 

In truth, he was already affected, and his struggle against oncoming 
sensory confusion was feverish and abnormal. He should have been 
more alarmed on discovering that he had already declined from the 
level course — this time apparently on the other slope. For he had 
pushed off with the wind coming slantwise at him, which was ill- 
advised, though more convenient for the moment. "Never mind," he 
thought, "I'll get my direction again down below." Which he did, or 
thought he did — or, truth to tell, scarcely even thought so; worst of all, 
began to be indifferent whether he had done or no. Such was the 
effect of an insidious double attack, which he but weakly combated. 
Fatigue and excitement combined were a familiar state to our young 
man — whose acclimatization, as we know, still consisted in getting 
used to not getting used; and both fatigue and excitement were now 
present in such strength as to make impossible any thought of assert- 
ing his reason against them. He felt as often after a colloquy with 
Settembrini and Naphta, only to a far greater degree: dazed and 
tipsy, giddy, a-tremble with excitement. This was probably why he 
began to colour his lack of resistance to the stealing narcosis with 
half-maudlin references to the latest-aired complex of theories. Despite 
his scornful repudiation of the idea that he might lie down and be 
covered up with hexagonal symmetrically, something within him 
maundered on, sense or no sense: told him that the feeling of duty 
which bade him fight against insidious sensory appeasements was a 
purely ethical reaction, representing the sordid bourgeois view of life, 
irreligion, Philistinism; while the desire, nay, craving, to lie down and 
rest, whispered him in the guise of a comparison between this storm 
and a sand-storm on the desert, before which the Arab flings himself 
down and draws his burnous over his head. Only his lack of a bur- 



THOMAS MANN 101 

nous, the unfeasibility of drawing his woollen waistcoat over his head, 
prevented him from following suit — this although he was no longer 
a child, and pretty well aware of the conditions under which a man 
freezes to death. 

There had been a rather steep declivity, then level ground, then 
again an ascent, a stiff one. This was not necessarily wrong; one must 
of course, on the way to the valley, traverse rising ground at times. 
The wind had turned capriciously round, for it was now at Hans 
Castorp's back, and that, taken by itself, was a blessing. Owing, per- 
haps, to the storm, or the soft whiteness of the incline before him, 
dim in the whirling air, drawing him toward it, he bent as he walked. 
Only a little further — supposing one were to give way to the tempta- 
tion, and his temptation was great; it was so strong that it quite lived 
up to the many descriptions he had read of the "typical danger-state." 
It asserted itself, it refused to be classified with the general order of 
things, it insisted on being an exception, its very exigence challenged 
comparison — yet at the same time it never disguised its origin or aura, 
never denied that it was, so to speak, garbed in Spanish black, with 
snow-white, fluted ruff, and stood for ideas and fundamental concep- 
tions that were characteristically gloomy, strongly Jesuitical and anti- 
human, for the rack-and-knout discipline which was the particular 
horror of Herr Settembrini, though he never opposed it without mak- 
ing himself ridiculous, like a hand-organ man for ever grinding out 
"ragione" to the same old tune. 

And yet Hans Castorp did hold himself upright and resist his 
craving to lie down. He could see nothing, but he struggled, he came 
forward. Whether to the purpose or not, he could not tell; but he did 
his part, and moved on despite the weight the cold more and more 
laid upon his limbs. The present slope was too steep to ascend directly, 
so he slanted a little, and went on thus awhile without much heed 
whither. Even to lift his stiffened lids to peer before him was so great 
and so nearly useless an effort as to offer him small incentive. He 
merely caught glimpses: here clumps of pines that merged together; 
there a ditch or stream, a black line marked out between overhanging 
banks of snow. Now, for a change, he was going downhill, with the 
wind in his face, when, at some distance before him, and seeming to 



102 READING I'VE LIKED 

hang in the driving wind and mist, he saw the faint outline of a human 
habitation. 

Ah, sweet and blessed sight! Verily he had done well, to march 
stoutly on despite all obstacles, until now human dwellings appeared, 
in sign that the inhabited valley was at hand. Perhaps there were even 
human beings, perhaps he might enter and abide the end of the storm 
under shelter, then get directions, or a guide if the dark should have 
fallen. He held toward this chimerical goal, that often quite vanished 
in mist, and took an exhausting climb against the wind before it was 
reached; finally drew near it — to discover, with what staggering aston- 
ishment and horror may be imagined, that it was only the hay-hut 
with the weighted roof, to which, after all his striving, by all his devi- 
ous paths, he had come back. 

That was the very devil. Hans Castorp gave vent to several heart- 
felt curses — of which his lips were too stiff to pronounce the labials. 
He examined the hut, to get his bearings, and came to the conclu- 
sion that he had approached it from the same direction as before — 
namely, from the rear; and therefore, what he had accomplished for 
the past hour — as he reckoned it — had been sheer waste of time and 
effort. But there it was, just as the books said. You went in a circle, 
gave yourself endless trouble under the delusion that you were accom- 
plishing something, and all the time you were simply describing some 
great silly arc that would turn back to where it had its beginning, 
like the riddling year itself. You wandered about, without getting 
home. Hans Castorp recognized the traditional phenomenon with a 
certain grim satisfaction — and even slapped his thigh in astonishment 
at this punctual general law fulfilling itself in his particular case. 

The lonely hut was barred, the door locked fast, no entrance pos- 
sible. But Hans Castorp decided to stop for the present. The projecting 
roof gave the illusion of shelter, and the hut itself, on the side turned 
toward the mountains, afforded, he found, some little protection 
against the storm. He leaned his shoulder against the rough-hewn 
timber, since his long skis prevented him from leaning his back. And 
so he stood, obliquely to the wall, having thrust his staff in the snow; 
hands in pockets, his collar turned up as high as it would go, bracing 
himself on his outside leg, and leaning his dizzy head against the 



THOMAS MANN 103 

wood, his eyes closed, but opening them every now and then to look 
down his shoulder and across the gully to where the high mountain 
wall palely appeared and disappeared in mist. 

His situation was comparatively comfortable. "I can stick it like 
this all night, if I have to," he thought, "if I change legs from time 
to time, lie on the other side, so to speak, and move about a bit 
between whiles, as of course I must. I'm rather stiff, naturally, but the 
effort I made has accumulated some inner warmth, so after all it was 
not quite in vain, that I have come round all this way. Come round — 
not coming round — that's the regular expression they use, of people 
drowned or frozen to death. — I suppose I used it because I am not 
quite so clear in the head as I might be. But it is a good thing I can 
stick it out here; for this frantic nuisance of a snow-storm can carry 
on until morning without a qualm, and if it only keeps up until dark 
it will be quite bad enough, for in the dark the danger of going 
round and round and not coming round is as great as in a storm. It 
must be toward evening already, about six o'clock, I should say, after 
all the time I wasted on my circular tour. Let's see, how late is it?'* 
He felt for his watch; his numbed fingers could scarcely find and 
draw it from his pocket. Here it was, his gold hunting-watch, with 
his monogram on the lid, ticking faithfully away in this lonely waste, 
like Hans Castorp's own heart, that touching human heart that beat 
in the organic warmth of his interior man. 

It was half past four. But deuce take it, it had been nearly so much 
before the storm burst. Was it possible his whole bewildered circuit 
had lasted scarcely a quarter of an hour ? " 'Coming round' makes 
time seen long," he noted. "And when you don't 'come round'— does 
it seem longer? But the fact remains that at five or half past it will 
be regularly dark. Will the storm hold up in time to keep me from 
running in circles again? Suppose I take a sip of port — it might 
strengthen me." 

He had brought with him a bottle of that amateurish drink, simply 
because it was always kept ready in flat bottles at the Berghof, for 
excursions — though not, of course, excursions like this unlawful esca- 
pade. It was not meant for people who went out in the snow and got 
lost and night-bound in the mountains. Had his senses been less 



104 READING I'VE LIKED 

befogged, he must have said to himself that if he were bent on getting 
home, it was almost the worst thing he could have done. He did say 
so, after he had drunk several swallows, for they took efTect at once, 
and it was an efTect much like that of the Kulmbacher beer on the 
evening of his arrival at the Berghof, when he had angered Settem- 
brini by his ungoverned prattle anent fish-sauces and the like — Herr 
Ludovico, the pedagogue, the same who held madmen to their senses 
when they would give themselves rein. Hans Castorp heard through 
thin air the mellifluous sound of his horn; the orator and schoolmaster 
was nearing by forced marches, to rescue his troublesome nursling, 
life's delicate child, from his present desperate pass and lead him 
home. — All which was of course sheer rubbish, due to the Kulmbacher 
he had so foolishly drunk. For of course Herr Settembrini had no 
horn, how could he have? He had a hand-organ, propped by a sort 
of wooden leg against the pavement, and as he played a sprightly air, 
he flung his humanistic eyes up to the people in the houses. And 
furthermore he knew nothing whatever of what had happened, as he 
no longer lived in House Berghof, but with Lukacek the tailor, in his 
little attic room with the water-bottle, above Naphta's silken cell. 
Moreover, he would have nor right nor reason to interfere — no more 
than upon that carnival night on which Hans Castorp had found him- 
self in a position quite as mad and bad as this one, when he gave the 
ailing Clavdia Chauchat back son crayon — his, Pribislav Hippe's, pencil. 
What position was that ? What position could it be but the horizontal, 
literally and not metaphorically the position of all long-termers up 
here? Was he himself not used to lie long hours out of doors, in snow 
and frost, by night as well as day? And he was making ready to 
sink down when the idea seized him, took him as it were by the collar 
and fetched him up standing, that all this nonsense he was uttering 
was still inspired by the Kulmbacher beer and the impersonal, quite 
typical and traditional longing to lie down and sleep, of which he 
had always heard, and which would by quibbling and sophistry now 
betray him. 

"That was the wrong way to go to work," he acknowledged to 
himself. "The port was not at all the right thing; just the few sips 
of it have made my head so heavy I cannot hold it up, and my thoughts 



THOMAS MANN 105 

are all just confused, stupid quibbling with words. I can't depend on 
them — not only the first thought that comes into my head, but even 
the second one, the correction which my reason tries to make upon 
the first — more's the pity. 'Son crayon!' That means her pencil, not 
his pencil, in this case; you only say son because crayon is masculine. 
The rest is just a pretty feeble play on words. Imagine stopping to 
talk about that when there is a much more important fact; namely, 
that my left leg, which I am using as a support, reminds me of the 
wooden leg on Settembrini's hand-organ, that he keeps jolting over 
the pavement, with his knee, to get up close to the win do w and hold 
out his velvet hat for the girl up there to throw something into. And 
at the same time, I seem to be pulled, as though with hands, to lie 
down in the snow. The only thing to do is to move about. I must 
pay for the Kulmbacher, and limber up my wooden leg." 

He pushed himself away from the wall with his shoulder. But one 
single pace forward, and the wind sliced at him like a scythe, and 
drove him back to the shelter of the wall. It was unquestionably the 
position indicated for the time; he might change it by turning his 
left shoulder to the wall and propping himself on the right leg, with 
sundry shakings of the left, to restore the circulation as much as might 
be. "Who leaves the house in weather like this?" he said. "Moderate 
activity is all right; but not too much craving for adventure, no coying 
with the bride of the storm. Quiet, quiet — if the head be heavy, let 
it droop. The wall is good, a certain warmth seems to come from the 
logs — probably the feeling is entirely subjective. — Ah, the trees, the 
trees! Oh, living climate of the living — how sweet it smells!" 

It was a park. It lay beneath the terrace on which he seemed to 
stand — a spreading park of luxuriant green shade-trees, elms, planes, 
beeches, oaks, birches, all in the dappled light and shade of their 
fresh, full, shimmering foliage, and gently rustling tips. They breathed 
a deliciously moist, balsamic breath into the air. A warm shower 
passed over them, but the rain was sunlit. One could see high up in 
the sky the whole air filled with the bright ripple of raindrops. How 
lovely it was! Oh, breath of the homeland, oh, fragrance and abun- 
dance of the plain, so long foregone! The air was full of bird song — 
dainty, sweet, blithe fluting, piping, twittering, cooing, trilling, war- 



106 READING I'VE LIKED 

bling, though not a single little creature could be seen. Hans Castorp 
smiled, breathing gratitude. But still more beauties were preparing. 
A rainbow flung its arc slanting across the scene, most bright and 
perfect, a sheer delight, all its rich glossy, banded colours moistly 
shimmering down into the thick, lustrous green. It was like music, 
like the sound of harps commingled with flutes and violins. The blue 
and the violet were transcendent. And they descended and magically 
blended, were transmuted and reunfolded more lovely than at first. 
Once, some years before, our young Hans Castorp had been privileged 
to hear a world-famous Italian tenor, from whose throat had gushed 
a glorious stream to witch the world with gracious art. The singer 
took a high note, exquisitely; then held it, while the passionate har- 
mony swelled, unfolded, glowed from moment to moment with new 
radiance. Unsuspected veils dropped from before it one by one; the 
last one sank away, revealing what must surely be the ultimate tonal 
purity — yet no, for still another fell, and then a well-nigh incredible 
third and last, shaking into the air such an extravagance of tear- 
glistening splendour, that confused murmurs of protest rose from the 
audience, as though it could bear no more; and our young friend 
found that he was sobbing. — So now with the scene before him, con- 
stantly transformed and transfigured as it was before his eyes. The 
bright, rainy veil fell away; behind it stretched the sea, a southern sea 
of deep, deepest blue shot with silver lights, and a beautiful bay, on 
one side mistily open, on the other enclosed by mountains whose 
outline paled away into blue space. In the middle distance lay islands, 
where palms rose tall and small white houses gleamed among cypress 
groves. Ah, it was all too much, too blest for sinful mortals, that glory 
of light, that deep purity of the sky, that sunny freshness on the 
water! Such a scene Hans Castorp had never beheld, nor anything 
like it. On his holidays he had barely sipped at the south, the sea for 
him meant the colourless, tempestuous northern tides, to which he 
clung with inarticulate, childish love. Of the Mediterranean, Naples, 
Sicily, he knew nothing. And yet — he remembered. Yes, strangely 
enough, that was recognition which so moved him. "Yes, yes, its very 
image," he was crying out, as though in his heart he had always 
cherished a picture of this spacious, sunny bliss. Always — and that 



THOMAS MANN 107 

always went far, far, unthinkably far back, as far as the open sea there 
on the left where it ran out to the violet sky bent down to meet it. 

The sky-line was high, the distance seemed to mount to Hans 
Castorp's view, looking down as he did from his elevation on the 
spreading gulf beneath. The mountains held it embraced, their tree- 
clad foot-hills running down to the sea; they reached in half -circle 
from the middle distance to the point where he sat, and beyond. This 
was a mountainous littoral, at one point of which he was crouching 
upon a sun-warmed stone terrace, while before him the ground, de- 
scending among undergrowth, by moss-covered rocky steps, ran down 
to a level shore, where the reedy shingle formed little blue-dyed bays, 
minute archipelagoes and harbours. And all the sunny region, these 
open coastal heights and laughing rocky basins, even the sea itself out 
to the islands, where boats plied to and fro, was peopled far and wide. 
On every hand human beings, children of sun and sea, were stirring 
or sitting. Beautiful young human creatures, so blithe, so good and gay, 
so pleasing to see — at sight of them Hans Castorp's whole heart 
opened in a responsive love, keen almost to pain. 

Youths were at work with horses, running hand on halter alongside 
their whinnying, head-tossing charges; pulling the refractory ones on 
a long rein, or else, seated bareback, striking the flanks of their mounts 
with naked heels, to drive them into the sea. The muscles of the riders' 
backs played beneath the sun-bronzed skin, and their voices were en- 
chanting beyond words as they shouted to each other or to their 
animals. A little bay ran deep into the coast line, mirroring the shore 
as does a mountain lake; about it girls were dancing. One of them 
sat with her back toward him, so that her neck, and the hair drawn to 
a knot above it, smote him with loveliness. She sat with her feet in a 
depression of the rock, and played on a shepherd's pipe, her eyes roving 
above the stops to her companions, as in long, wide garments, smiling, 
with outstretched arms, alone, or in pairs swaying gently toward each 
other, they moved in the paces of the dance. Behind the flute-player — 
she too was white-clad, and her back was long and slender, laterally 
rounded by the movement of her arms — other maidens were sitting, 
or standing entwined to watch the dance, and quietly talking. Beyond 
them still, young men were practising archery. Lovely and pleasant 



108 READING I'VE LIKED 

it was to see the older ones show the younger, curly-locked novices, 
how to span the bow and take aim; draw with them, and laughing 
support them staggering back from the push of the arrow as it leaped 
from the bow. Others were fishing, lying prone on a jut of rock, 
waggling one leg in the air, holding the line out over the water, 
approaching their heads in talk. Others sat straining forward to fling 
the bait far out. A ship, with mast and yards, lying high out of the 
tide, was being eased, shoved, and steadied into the sea. Children 
played and exulted among the breaking waves. A young female, lying 
outstretched, drawing with one hand her flowered robe high between 
her breasts, reached with the other in the air after a twig bearing fruit 
and leaves, which a second, a slender-hipped creature, erect at her 
head, was playfully withholding. Young folk were sitting in nooks 
of the rocks, or hesitating at the water's edge, with crossed arms 
clutching either shoulder, as they tested the chill with their toes. 
Pairs strolled along the beach, close and confiding, at the maiden's 
ear the lips of the youth. Shaggy-haired goats leaped from ledge to 
ledge of the rocks, while the young goatherd, wearing perched on his 
brown curls a little hat with the brim turned up behind, stood watch- 
ing them from a height, one hand on his hip, the other holding the 
long start on which he leaned. 

"Oh, lovely, lovely," Hans Castorp breathed. "How joyous and 
winning they are, how fresh and healthy, happy and clever they look! 
It is not alone the outward form, they seem to be wise and gentle 
through and through. That is what makes me in love with them, the 
spirit that speaks out of them, the sense, I might almost say, in which 
they live and play together." By which he meant the friendliness, the 
mutual courteous regard these children of the sun showed to each 
other, a calm, reciprocal reverence veiled in smiles, manifested almost 
imperceptibly, and yet possessing them all by the power of sense asso- 
ciation and ingrained idea. A dignity, even a gravity, was held? as it 
were, in solution in their lightest mood, perceptible only as an inef- 
fable spiritual influence, a high seriousness without austerity, a reasoned 
goodness conditioning every act. All this, indeed, was not without its 
ceremonial side. A young mother, in a brown robe loose at the shoul- 
der, sat on a rounded mossy stone and suckled her child, saluted by 



THOMAS MANN 109 

all who passed with a characteristic gesture which seemed to compre- 
hend all that lay implicit in their general bearing. The young men, as 
they approached, lightly and formally crossed their arms on their 
breasts, and smilingly bowed; the maidens shaped the suggestion of 
a curtsy, as the worshipper does when he passes the high altar, at the 
same time nodding repeatedly, blithely and heartily. This mixture of 
formal homage with lively friendliness, and the slow, mild mien of 
the mother as well, where she sat pressing her breast with her fore- 
finger to ease the flow of milk to her babe, glancing up from it to 
acknowledge with a smile the reverence paid her — this sight thrilled 
Hans Castorp's heart with something very close akin to ecstasy. He 
could not get his fill of looking, yet asked himself in concern whether 
he had a right, whether it was not perhaps punishable, for him, an 
Outsider, to be a party to the sunshine and gracious loveliness of all 
these happy folk. He felt common, clumsy-booted. It seemed unscrupu- 
lous. 

A lovely boy, with full hair drawn sideways across his brow and 
falling on his temples, sat directly beneath him, apart from his com- 
panions, with arms folded on his breast — not sadly, not ill-naturedly, 
quite tranquilly on one side. This lad looked up, turned his gaze 
upward and looked at him, Hans Castorp, and his eyes went between 
the watcher and the scenes upon the strand, watching his watching, 
to and fro. But suddenly he looked past Hans Castorp into space, and 
that smile, common to them all, of polite and brotherly regard, dis- 
appeared in a moment from his lovely, purely cut, half-childish face. 
His brows did not darken, but in his gaze there came a solemnity 
that looked as though carven out of stone, inexpressive, unfathomable, 
a deathlike reserve, which gave the scarcely reassured Hans Castorp a 
thorough fright, not unaccompanied by a vague apprehension of its 
meaning. 

He too looked in the same direction. Behind him rose towering 
columns, built of cylindrical blocks without bases, in the joinings of 
which moss had grown. They formed the facade of a temple gate, on 
whose foundations he was sitting, at the top of a double flight of steps 
with space between. Heavy of heart he rose, and, descending the stair 
on one side, passed through the high gate below, and along a flagged 



110 READING I'VE LIKED 

street, which soon brought him before other propylaea. He passed 
through these as well, and now stood facing the temple that lay before 
him, massy, weathered to a grey-green tone, on a foundation reached 
by a steep flight of steps. The broad brow of the temple rested on the 
capitals of powerful, almost stunted columns, tapering toward the 
top — sometimes a fluted block had been shoved out of line and pro- 
jected a little in profile. Painfully, helping himself on with his hands, 
and sighing for the growing oppression of his heart, Hans Castorp 
mounted the high steps and gained the grove of columns. It was very 
deep, he moved in it as among the trunks in a forest of beeches by the 
pale northern sea. He purposely avoided the centre, yet for all that 
slanted back again, and presently stood before a group of statuary, 
two female figures carved in stone, on a high base: mother and 
daughter, it seemed; one of them sitting, older than the other, more 
dignified, right goddesslike and mild, yet with mourning brows above 
the lightless empty eye-sockets; clad in a flowing tunic and a mantle 
of many folds, her matronly brow with its waves of hair covered with 
a veil. The other figure stood in the protecting embrace of the first, 
with round, youthful face, and arms and hands wound and hidden 
in the folds of the mantle. 

Hans Castorp stood looking at the group, and from some dark 
cause his laden heart grew heavier still, and more oppressed with its 
weight of dread and anguish. Scarcely daring to venture, but follow- 
ing an inner compulsion, he passed behind the statuary, and through 
the double row of columns beyond. The bronze door of the sanctuary 
stood open, and the poor soul's knees all but gave way beneath him at 
the sight within. Two grey old women, witchlike, with hanging 
breasts and dugs of finger-length, were busy there, between flaming 
braziers, most horribly. They were dismembering a child. In dreadful 
silence they tore it apart with their bare hands — Hans Castorp saw 
the bright hair blood-smeared — and cracked the tender bones between 
their jaws, their dreadful lips dripped blood. An icy coldness held 
him. He would have covered his eyes and fled, but could not. Thev 
at their gory business had already seen him, they shook their reeking 
fists and uttered curses — soundlessly, most vilely, with the last obscen- 
ity, and in the dialect of Hans Castorp's native Hamburg. It made 



THOMAS MANN 1 1 1 

him sick, sick as never before. He tried desperately to escape; knocked 
into a column with his shoulder — and found himself, with the sound 
of that dreadful whispered brawling still in his ears, still wrapped 
in the cold horror of it, lying by his hut, in the snow, leaning against 
one arm, with his head upon it, his legs in their skis stretched out 
before him. 

It was no true awakening. He blinked his relief at being free from 
those execrable hags, but was not very clear, nor even greatly con- 
cerned, whether this was a hay-hut, or the column of a temple, against 
which he lay; and after a fashion continued to dream, no longer in 
pictures, but in thoughts hardly less involved and fantastic. 

"I felt it was a dream, all along," he rambled. "A lovely and horrible 
dream. I knew all the time that I was making it myself — the park with 
the trees, the delicious moisture in the air, and all the rest, both dread- 
ful and dear. In a way, I knew it all beforehand. But how is it a man 
can know all that and call it up to bring him bliss and terror both 
at once? Where did I get the beautiful bay with the islands, where 
the temple precincts, whither the eyes of that charming boy pointed 
me, as he stood there alone? Now I know that it is not out of our 
single souls we dream. We dream anonymously and communally, if 
each after his fashion. The great soul of which we are a part may 
dream through us, in our manner of dreaming, its own secret dreams, 
of its youth, its hope, its joy and peace — and its blood-sacrifice. Here 
I lie at my column and still feel in my body the actual remnant of 
my dream — the icy horror of the human sacrifice, but also the joy that 
had filled my heart to its very depths, born of the happiness and brave 
bearing of those human creatures in white. It is meet and proper, 
I hereby declare that I have a prescriptive right to lie here and dream 
these dreams. For in my life up here I have known reason and 
recklessness. I have wandered lost with Settembrini and Naphta in 
high and mortal places. I know all of man. I have known mankind's 
flesh and blood. I gave back to the ailing Clavdia Chauchat Pribislav 
Hippe's lead-pencil. But he who knows the body, life, knows death. 
And that is not all; it is, pedagogically speaking, only the beginning. 
One must have the other half of the story, the other side. For all 
interest in disease and death is only another expression of interest in 



112 READING I'VE LIKED 

life, as is proven by the humanistic faculty of medicine, that addresses 
life and its ails always so politely in Latin, and is only a division of 
the great and pressing concern which, in all sympathy, I now name 
by its name: the human being, the delicate child of life, man, his 
state and standing in the universe. I understand no little about him, I 
have learned much from 'those up here,' I have been driven up from 
the valley, so that the breath almost left my poor body. Yet now from 
the base of my column I have no meagre view. I have dreamed of 
man's state, of his courteous and enlightened social state; behind 
which, in the temple, the horrible blood-sacrifice was consummated. 
Were they, those children of the sun, so sweetly courteous to each 
other, in silent recognition of that horror? It would be a fine and right 
conclusion they drew. I will hold to them, in my soul, I will hold 
with them and not with Naphta, neither with Settembrini. They are 
both talkers; the one luxurious and spiteful, the other for ever blow- 
ing on his penny pipe of reason,, even vainly imagining he can bring 
the mad to their senses. It is all Philistinism and morality, most cer- 
tainly it is irreligious. Nor am I for little Naphta either, or his re- 
ligion, that is only a guazzabitglio of God and the Devil, good and 
evil, to the end that the individual soul shall plump into it head first, 
for the sake of mystic immersion in the universal. Pedagogues both! 
Their quarrels and counter-positions are just a guazzabuglio too, and 
a confused noise of battle, which need trouble nobody who keeps a 
little clear in his head and pious in his heart. Their aristocratic ques- 
tion! Disease, health! Spirit, nature! Are those contradictions? I ask, 
are they problems? No, they are no problems, neither is the problem 
of their aristocracy. The recklessness of death is in life, it would not be 
life without it — and in the centre is the position of the Homo Dei, 
between recklessness and reason, as his state is between mystic com- 
munity and windy individualism. I, from my column, perceive^ all 
this. In this state he must live gallantly, associate in friendly reverence 
with himself, for only he is aristocratic, and the counter-positions are 
not at all. Man is the lord of counter-positions, they can be only 
through him, and thus he is more aristocratic than they. More so than 
death, too aristocratic for death — that is the freedom of his mind. More 
aristocratic than life, too aristocratic for life, and that is the piety in 



THOMAS MANN 113 

his heart. There is both rhyme and reason in what I say, I have made 
a dream poem of humanity. I will cling to it. I will be good. I will 
let death have vQ> mastery over my thoughts. For therein lies goodness 
and love of humankind, and in nothing else. Death is a great power. 
One takes off one's hat before him, and goes weavingly on tiptoe. 
He wears the stately ruff of the departed and we do him honour in 
solemn black. Reason stands simple before him, for reason is only 
virtue, while death is release, immensity, abandon, desire. Desire, says 
my dream. Lust, not love. Death and love — no, I cannot make a poem 
of them, they don't go together. Love stands opposed to death. It is 
love, not reason, that is stronger than death. Only love, not reason, 
gives sweet thoughts. And from love and sweetness alone can form 
come: form and civilization, friendly, enlightened, beautiful human 
intercourse — always in silent recognition of the blood-sacrifice. Ah, 
yes, it is well and truly dreamed. I have taken stock. I will remember. 
I will keep faith with death in my heart, yet well remember that 
faith with death and the dead is evil, is hostile to humankind, so 
soon as we give it power over thought and action. For the sake of 
goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his 
thoughts. — And with this — I awake. For I have dreamed it out to the 
end, I have come to my goal. Long, long have I sought after this 
word, in the place where Hippe appeared to me, in my loggia, every- 
where. Deep into the snow mountains my search has led me. Now I 
have it fast. My dream has given it me, in utter clearness, that I may 
know it for ever. Yes, I am in simple raptures, my body is warm, my 
heart beats high and knows why. It beats not solely on physical 
grounds, as finger-nails grow on a corpse; but humanly, on grounds of 
my joyful spirits. My dream word was a draught, better than port or 
ale, it streams through my veins like love and life, I tear myself from 
my dream and sleep, knowing as I do, perfectly well, that they are 
highly dangerous to my young life. Up, up! Open your eyes! These 
are your limbs, your legs here in the snow!" Pull yourself together, 
and up! Look — fair weather!" 

The bonds held fast that kept his limbs involved. He had a hard 
struggle to free himself — but the inner compulsion proved stronger. 
With a jerk he raised himself on his elbows, briskly drew up his 



114 READING I'VE LIKED 

knees, shoved, rolled, wrestled to his feet; stamped with his skis in 
the snow, flung his arms about his ribs and worked his shoulders 
violently, all the while casting strained, alert glanced about him and 
above, where now a pale blue sky showed itself between grey-bluish 
clouds, and these presently drew away to discover a thin sickle of a 
moon. Early twilight reigned: no snow-fall, no storm. The wall of 
the opposite mountain, with its shaggy, tree-clad ridge, stretched out 
before him, plain and peaceful. Shadow lay on half its height, but the 
upper half was bathed in palest rosy light. How were things in the 
world? Was it morning? Had he, despite what the books said, lain 
all night in the snow and not frozen? Not a member was frost-bitten, 
nothing snapped when he stamped, shook and struck himself, as he 
did vigorously, all the time seeking to establish the facts of his situa- 
tion. Ears, toes, finger-tips, were of course numb, but not more so 
than they had often been at night in his loggia. He could take his watch 
from his pocket — it was still going, it had not stopped, as it did if he 
forgot to wind it. It said not yet five — was in fact considerably earlier, 
twelve, thirteen minutes. Preposterous! Could it be he had lain here 
in the snow only ten minutes or so, while all these scenes of horror 
and delight and those presumptuous thoughts had spun themselves in 
his brain, and the hexagonal hurly vanished as it came? If that were 
true, then he must be grateful for his good fortune; that is, from the 
point of view of a safe home-coming. For twice such a turn had come, 
in his dream and fantasy, as had made him start up — once from 
horror, and again for rapture. It seemed, indeed, that life meant well 
by her lone-wandering delicate child. 

Be all that as it might, and whether it was morning or afternoon — 
there could in fact be no doubt that it was still late afternoon — in any 
case, there was nothing in the circumstances or in his own condition 
to prevent his going home, which he accordingly did: descending in 
a fine sweep, as the crow flies, to the valley, where, as he reached it, 
lights were showing, though his way had been well enough lighted 
by reflection from the snow. He came down the Brehmenbiihl, along 
the edge of the forest, and was in the Dorf by half past five. He left 
his skis at the grocer's, rested a little in Herr Settembrini's attic cell, 
and told him how the storm had overtaken him in the mountains. 



THOMAS MANN 



115 



The horrified humanist scolded him roundly, and straightway lighted 
his spirit-kettle to brew coffee for the exhausted one — the strength of 
which did not prevent Hans Castorp from falling asleep as he sat. 

An hour later the highly civilized atmosphere of the Berghof 
caressed him. He ate enormously at dinner. What he had dreamed 
was already fading from his mind. What he had thought — even that 
selfsame evening it was no longer so clear as it had been at first. 




& 



GEORGE R. LEIGHTON 



COMMENTARY 



Somewhere in Housman's The Name and Nature of Poetry he says 
something to the effect that a line may come to him while shaving, 
and then his heard prickles and his skin contracts, and he knows it 
is a good line. Each oi us has some such physical reaction to what 
he considers a really tine joh oi writing. I find myself catching my 
breath and then uttering, in a tone combining reverence and a kind 
of pain, the ridiculous vocable "Wow!" The lifle sketch that follows 
is a Wow piece. 

George R. Leighton, a talented journalist, wrote a book a few years 
ago called America's Growing Pains. It deals searchingly with the 
birth, youth, maturity, and variant stages of decay oi Eve American 
cities: Shenandoah, Louisville, Birmingham, Omaha, Seattle. To the 
book, factual, reportorial, and perishable in interest, he affixed a few 
prefatory pages that dont seem to have much to do with those that 
follow them. Almost by accident, it seems to me — much rTne writing 
is semiaccidental—he has in this introduction written something ex- 
traordinarily moving, rhythmical, and truly American. 

The point is that though Mr. Leighton is, as I have said, a tal- 
ented journalist, this little piece is far more than talented journalism. 
I may be off my base, but to my ear it has the true Gettysburg ring, 
the same ring you End in Edgar Lee Masters "Lucinda Matlock" 
and ''Ann Rutledge." Try reading it aloud to the family. 



116 



Arminia Evans Avery 

from "America's growing pains" by 
GEORGE R. LEIGHTON 



On an afternoon in March, 1938, Arminia Evans Avery lay asleep 
in Tunkhannock, a little Pennsylvania town on the Susquehanna 
River, not far north of Wilkes-Barre. She was ninety-four years old 
and she was dying a slow, deliberate death of old age. During the 
preceding days her descendants had been coming by ones and twos 
to take their farewell. Now beside her bed were her grandson and her 
one great-grandson awaiting their turn. 

She was intensely old. In maturity she had been a slender woman 
with delicate features. Now her head was barely more than a skull, all 
the bones showing plainly and her closed eyes sunk deep in their 
sockets. Her white hair was cut short, one hand little more than bone 
rested upon the patchwork comfortable. Her breath came in long, 
slow breaths, so slow that sometimes it seemed that breathing had 
stopped altogether. Then it would come, evidence that the machinery 
that had operated so faithfully all those ninety-four years was still 
obedient to the demands made upon it. 

"Is she dead yet?" said the little boy. 

"No," said his father. "She's asleep. She will wake up pretty soon." 

The man and the little boy watched. 

This woman's preacher father had ridden circuit through this Penn- 
sylvania wilderness region where Indians still lived, helping the settlers 
build log churches. This woman's mother had told her of a day when 
money was scarcely seen, when a little silver was hoarded to pay taxes 
and buy tea. This woman's Welsh grandfather, a soldier in the British 
Army sent to subdue the rebellious colonists, was buried over on the 
other side of Miller Mountain. Nothing was known of him except 

117 



118 READING I'VE LIKED 

that he could write his name and was thought to have been a yeoman. 
The bones of another forebear were in the Wyoming monument, 
along with the others killed in the massacre. All were immigrants from 
the old country, settling in a wilderness. 

When this woman at sixteen went to the Seminary, she went down 
the river road to Kingston in a stagecoach. She was at school there 
when the news came of the firing on Sumter and she had said good- 
bye to Southern boys, going home to fight. She had seen the war spirit 
die away and in her own village had heard the cursing against the 
draft. In 1864 she had married a young man who ran a grist mill down 
by the river and had seen him die of a mysterious "consumption." As 
a widow she kept a dame school in the village and so little was known 
of contagion that her own small daughter, ill of scarlet fever, was left 
in bed near the schoolroom. 

Her own brother, a wilderness boy, had gone to New York in the 
sixties and become an iron broker. She had married again and had 
seen the village tannery bought by "the Trust" and closed down; she 
had seen her husband's foundry and machine shop slowly fade out 
and her sons become interested in automobiles. She had seen the old 
stagecoach river road turned into a concrete highway for trucks that 
never stopped in the village but went straight through to Buffalo. 
She had seen the farm families over the river die out one by one and 
the farms go to ruin. She had seen Polish coal miners come up from 
Wilkes-Barre and Pittston and buy the run-down farms and make 
them bloom again. She had seen almost a hundred years of America 
and now she was dying. 

Slowly her eyelids lifted and the old woman lay quiet, looking 
straight up at the ceiling. 

"Has the funeral been arranged?" she said, seeing no one. 

Her daughter heard, looked in the door, and then went away again. 

Then, with deliberation so slow that it was difficult to follow the 
movement, the old woman began to turn her head. Little by little it 
moved until, after a lapse of minutes, her eyes, gray and clear and 
steady, rested upon the man and the little boy. There was no recogni- 
tion. But as the two watched they could see the recognition coming, 



GEORGE R. LEIGHTON 119 

just as deliberately as had been the turning of the head. At last it 
came. She knew. 

"I am glad that you have come," she said. 

She looked at the little boy for a while. 

"A fine boy," she said. 

She looked at the man. 

"How is everything?" 

"All right." 

There was a considerable pause while she thought. 

"Are you finding out a good deal about the country?" 

"A good deal," the man said. 

"You have found out some things about the people in those towns 
but not all. Shenandoah you tell about. They have trouble now but 
they do not have a lot of the trouble you tell about because the people 
who had those troubles are all dead and it was long ago." 

The old woman closed her eyes. 

"Can I go now?" the little boy asked. 

"Yes," his father said. 

After a while the old woman opened her eyes again and, without 
effort, since her head was turned, looked directly at her grandson. 

"I would like to ask you a question," he said. 

"All right." 

"Why was it that you never gave anyone — your children, your 
friends, anyone — your confidence? Did you have some secret?" 

The old woman's eyes were fixed upon her grandson. 

"The secret is that there was never any secret ... I didn't give 
anybody any confidences because there weren't any to give." 

She was silent again and it was almost as though under the skull 
and the transparent skin the machinery of her mind could be seen at 
work — thinking — so slowly that one could all but see each thought 
being put together, every nail and screw in each thought, slowly and 
surely being driven home. Finally: 

"For a long time when I was young it was very difficult for me to 
talk to people. I could not get through. It troubled me a great deal 
because I was fond of people, I could not live without them. I was 



120 READING I'VE LIKED 

uneasy and could not feel at home ... in the world. Then, one day, 
I knew. I knew that in some way I could not understand, people 
knew how I felt and that I did not need to worry or work over it any 
more. That is all there is to the secret and that is why there were no 
confidences. Confidences are made by people who are afraid, but I 
was no longer afraid and so there was nothing to tell." 

She stopped talking in order to think again. 

"The world," she said, "is in dreadful torment now." The clock on 
her dresser could be heard ticking. "I hear a great deal of criticism 
of the President. Do you?" 

Her grandson nodded. 

"Do you know anyone," she said, "who could do any better?" 

"No." 

"Neither do I," she said. 

The old woman's daughter came into the room. 

"Are you tired from talking, Mother?" she asked. 

"If I don't talk now," said the old woman, "I never will." 

She looked at her grandson again. 

"Do you believe— you know, Hitler, Russia, people here without 
food or hope— do you believe that the world is coming to an end?" 

"Almost," the man said, "but not quite." 

A look of confidence, born out of some knowledge that the man 
could not fathom, spread over the old woman's face. Her body was 
almost done, but thought and spirit remained. 

"It isn't coming to an end. It's such a little while since men got up 
off the ground. So many ways are useless now. They shut down the 
tannery. They don't come down the river road to market any more." 

With the slowest of motions she raised her hand, so soon to be just 
a member of a skeleton, and laid it against her face. 

"We get so used to doing things one way . . . and you can only 

change a little at a time. We have got to believe we can find new 

ways because that is what we always do and until we do believe it, 

people are afraid. That's what makes this awful trouble, being afraid." 

She closed her eyes again and then spoke without opening them. 

"All over the world there are people afraid . . . millions of people 



GEORGE R. LEIGHTON 121 

crying in the dark. They are frightened . . . they tear each other to 
pieces." 

When she opened her eyes again her grandson could see in them 
complete repose. 

"It will never work that way," she said. "But when the strain gets 
so people can't stand it any more, somehow light will come and we 
shall see many things that have been here all the time." 

She was very tired now but from somewhere in her she found a 
breath of effort left. 

"You have to work with what you've got and that's all there is to 
work with. You can't start out anywhere except from the place you 
come from. People can't do it any other way here in the United States 
either. It's all plain, but we don't see it yet. The people in all those towns, 
they are frightened and sometimes murderous, just because in one way 
or another they're crying in the dark. And that's all, I guess." 

Just before suppertime she died. 



VINCENT McHUGH 



COMMENTARY 



m 



I advance two reasons for including in this book the piece that fol- 
lows. The first is that Mr. McHugh writes brilliantly. The second is 
connected with the fact that in a sense Mr. McHugh didnt write it 
at all 

In 1938 Random House, a firm of New York publishers, issued New 
York Panorama, subtitled "A Comprehensive View oi the Metropolis, 
Presented in a Series of Articles Prepared by the Federal Writers 
Project of the Works Progress Administration in New York City." 
The book was one of the American Guide Series, which when com- 
plete will for the Erst time introduce all of the United States to all of 
its citizens. 

New York Panorama is a communal project. It issued from the 
labor of a number of New York writers, some good, some bad, for 
whom our competitive system at the time had no place. It is 
assembly-line composition, and in its field highly meritorious. When 
I Erst read it I was struck by the fact that the introductory chapter 
was composed on a level of feeling and insight to which the balance 
of the book did not attain. A bit of minor sleuthing revealed that it 
had been written by a young novelist and poet named Vincent 
McHugh. Thus we, the citizens of the United States, through our 
support of the WPA, have all inadvertently become the sponsors 
of a piece of literature. 

I remarked that in a sense Mr. McHugh didnt write this at all. 
His facts, in some cases, were garnered by coworkers and the whole 
spirit of the enterprise was communal and anonymous. The intro- 
ductory chapter itself, however, bears the stamp of a powerfully indi- 
vidual style. It may have had a group inception but the final product 
is one mans job. 

I do not know anyone who has written more truly about New 
York in as little space. Mr. McHugh develops his discussion of New 
York through two central concepts: the notion (true) of the city as 



VINCENT McHUGH 123 

an accumulation, a mere gigantic exercise in quantification, with all 
the misery, waste, and ugliness that such an exercise always brings 
in its train; and the notion (true) that implicit in the citys develop- 
ment and today becoming more and more explicit is an equally pow- 
erful drive toward unity and order. These concepts he expresses and 
re-expresses in a dozen ways, and particularly through the use of a 
striking vocabulary, poetical on the one hand and twentieth-century- 
technical on the other. 

It has oiten been pointed out that much of the best writing about 
the city is the work of nonnatives. I like to reflect that The New 
Yorker, a magazine which behind its casual airs and mock self-depre- 
ciation conceals a precise feeling for much of the city's life, is largely 
edited by men and women from the outlands, its central genius being 
a Coloradoan. The images that gather in our minds when we think 
of the city are images of approach. Dos Passos called his novel Man- 
hattan Transfer. Thomas Wolfe wrote best about the city when 
telling us how it feels to enter it. New York is a place to which people 
come; it is hard to remember that it is also a place in which people 
are born. It is this which differentiates it in essence from such cities 
as Philadelphia and Boston, and it is this which makes New York 
an apt image, as Whitman felt, of the democratic process. The sense 
of the city as a place to approach, as a goal, as the end of a quest, 
informs Mr. McHugh's essay, and perhaps would not so subtly inform 
it were Mr. McHugh a native New Yorker. He hails from Rhode 
Island. 

A word or two about him. He has written two novels, one of which, 
Sing Before Breakfast, has been highly praised by good authorities. 
To a not sufficiently large public he is also known as the author of 
Caleb Catlum's America, as successful an attempt as has yet been 
made to condense the history of our country into one great, jolly, 
sprawling comic legend. My faith in Mr. McHuglis literary future 
rests in the main on his capacity to feel and record the complex 
pulse of American life and at the same time to make use of the lit- 
erary techniques and insights of Continental writing. Though he feels 
America as his particular province, he feels all literature as one. It 
is a combination not too frequently found in our young writers. I 
hope you will feel its force in the pages that follow. 



Metropolis and Her Children 

BY 

VINCENT McHUGH 



The rumor of a great city goes out beyond its borders, to all the lati- 
tudes of the known earth. The city becomes an emblem in remote 
minds; apart from the tangible export of goods and men, it exerts 
its cultural instrumentality in a thousand phases: as an image of glit- 
tering light, as the forcing ground which creates a new prose style 
or a new agro-biological theory, or as the germinal point for a fresh 
technique in metal sculpture, biometrics or the fixation of nitrogen. 
Its less ponderable influence may be a complex of inextricable ideas, 
economic exchanges, associations, artifacts : the flask of perfume which 
brings Fifth Avenue to a hacienda in the Argentine, the stencil marks 
on a packing case dumped on the wharf at Beira or Reykjavik, a 
flurry of dark-goggled globe-trotters from a cruise ship, a book of verse 

Under the stone I saw them flow 
express Times Square at five o'clock 
eyes set in darkness 

read in a sheepherder's hut in New South Wales, or a Harlem band 
playing Young Woman's Blues from a phonograph as the safari breaks 
camp in Tanganyika under a tile-blue morning sky. 

The orbit of such a world city as New York also intersects the orbits 
of other world cities. New York, London, Tokyo, Rome exchange 
preferred stocks and bullion, ships' manifests and radio programs— 
in rivalry or well-calculated friendship. During the 1920's, for example, | 
a jump spark crackled between New York and Paris. The art of 
Matisse, Derain, Picasso commanded the Fifty-Seventh Street market. 

124 



VINCENT McHUGH 125 

The French developed a taste for le jazz and le sport; in an atmos- 
phere of war debts and the Young Plan, the Americanization of 
Europe was mentioned. Paris, capital of the Valutaschweine, became 
the bourne of good and gay New Yorkers, the implicit heroine of a 
comedy by Philip Barry or a novel by Ernest Hemingway. The French 
replied, though not always in kind. Georges Duhamel pronounced a 
jeremiad against the machine apocalypse in America and Paul Morand, 
an amateur of violence, explored the sensational diversity of New 
York. These were symptomatic. The comments of Jules Romains went 
deeper and established fixed points for contrast with a later period. 

All the rays of force alive in the modern world move inward upon 
the city, and the burning glass of its attraction concentrates them in 
the flame that is New York. Historically, it has been to an exceptional 
degree a city of accumulation: its methods promotion and commerce, 
its principle aggrandizement. About a nucleus of Dutch and English 
— even French Huguenot — settlers it subsequently collected swarm 
after swarm of Irish, German, Italian, Jewish and Russian immigrants, 
a proportion of other nationalities, and Americans of many stocks 
from the seaboard and the interior. For the most part, those immi- 
grants who remained in the city were compacted into districts espe- 
cially suited to their exploitation, districts as verminous and sunless 
as the Cloaca Maxima. Here, in dwellings that reproduced the foetor 
of the slave ship in all but the promise of eventual liberty held out 
to the more intelligent or ruthless, they formed a crawling agglomera- 
tion. This was the frontier of New York and the grim apotheosis of 
the frontier in the United States, preserved almost untouched into the 
third decade of the 20th century. 

The shawled refugees from European want and oppression, most 
of whom crossed the ocean in immigrant ships under conditions of 
the utmost squalor, were also transported by a succession of great 
New York trade vessels: the Black Ball and other Western Ocean 
packet lines, the world-ranging Donald McKay clippers, the first wood 
and iron steamships. These were conned through the Narrows by 
men off the superb Sandy Hook pilot schooners which had been 
worked out from the designs of Isaac Webb in the 1830's, the hollow- 
entrance experiments of Griffiths in the 1840's, and the later masterly 



126 READING I'VE LIKED 

work of George Steers in such craft as the Moses H. Grinnell and the 
America, for which the Americas Cup was named. Great numbers of 
immigrants and New Yorkers moved inland by way of the Hudson 
River sloops and steamboats, the Conestoga wagons, the Erie Canal 
barges and the railroads. Very early, therefore, the history of New York 
began to be a history of the successive phases in American transporta- 
tion. As its lines of influence spread out into the interior, thickened 
and were fixed, it became more and more the commanding American 
city, the maker or merchant of dress silks and pannikins and spices, 
wines and beds and grub hoes. Long before the paramount age of 
sail ended, New York had taken on its alternate character as a great 
two-way transfer point and classification yard for men and goods and 
ideas moving between the other countries of the world and the great 
central plain of America. It has consolidated and enlarged this charac- 
ter with a multiplicity of functions which help to determine its posi- 
tion as the first city of the Western Hemisphere. 

Approach to the City 

For the American traveler coming home from Cape Town or St. 
Moritz or the Caribbean, and for those others who converge upon the 
city from Chicago and El Paso and Kildeer and Tonopah, New York 
has a nearer meaning. It is, in whatever sense, a substitute home town 
—a great apartment hotel, as Glenway Wescott wrote, in which every- 
one lives and no one is at home. In other eyes it may be a state fair 
grown to magnificence, a Main Street translated into the imperial 
splendor of Fifth Avenue. For such travelers the city is a coat of many 
colors— becoming to each, but not quite his own. It is both novelty and 
recognition that pleases him: the novelty of its actual and amazing en- 
compassment, the recognition of great shafts and crowds and thorough- 
fares remembered from a hundred motion pictures, rotogravures and 
advertisements. 

The man from another city will perhaps be least discommoded, his 
sense of the familiar both intensified and expanded. But to the men 
and women of the small towns, the sierras, the cornlands and grass- 
lands the seaboard coves and Gulf bayous— farmers, automobile me- 



VINCENT McHUGH 



127 



chanics, pack-rats, schoolteachers— New York cannot help but stand 
as a special order : the place which is not wilderness, the place of light 
and warmth and the envelopment of the human swarm, the place in 
which everyone is awake and laughing at three in the morning. These 
things are not altogether true, of course — but magic does not need to 
be true. 

The traveler will know many things about New York and there will 
be guides to tell him many more, in the particular and the large; but 
he will see by looking, and find out by asking, and match the figure 
to the phenomenon. He may know that New York City is made up of 
five boroughs, four of which— Brooklyn, Queens, Richmond, the 
Bronx— compose like crinkled lily pads about the basking trout of 
Manhattan. He will not know, perhaps, that he and the other men and 
women who travel with him helped to make up a total of 68,999,376 
visitors to the city in 1936, an off year. If he is an agronomist, he may 
find a certain perverse irony in the fact that the 198,330 acres of the 
five boroughs, without any tillage worth mentioning, supported an esti- 
mated population of 7,434,346 in 1937. 

But it is less likely that the visitor who moves down one of those 
enormous radials that converge on New York from Seattle and Gal- 
veston and Los Angeles and Chicago will understand how Thomas 
Campanula's vision of a City of the Sun, published in 1623, has influ- 
enced the growth of such a modern metropolis as New York. Nor will 
he be aware, perhaps, that the verses of Walt Whitman and the paint- 
ings of "The Eight" and the landscape architecture of Olmsted the 
elder, quite as much as the Roeblings' Brooklyn Bridge and the Hoe 
press and the steel converters of Kelly and Bessemer, helped to create 
the social climate of the emerging city. 

In the larger aspects of New York he may glimpse not only the re- 
sults of the Randall Plan of 181 1, but evidences of the influence of 
Geddes, Norton, Wright, McClellan, Bassett, Delano, Burnham, Kep- 
pel, James, the Olmsteds, Lewis, Whitten, Howard, Unwin, Wilgus, 
Mumford, Adams, McAneny, Stein, Perkins, Walsh, the indefatigable 
Moses, and a hundred others of the noble guild of city planners, up to 
and including the work of the Regional Plan of New York and Its 
Environs, the Port of New York Authority, the New York Depart- 



128 READING I'VE LIKED 

ment of Parks and the New York City Planning Commission. He will 
wish to know how the city changes, the extent and character of its 
physical property, and something about the nature and complexity of 
its functions. But he will understand that plant and function are never 
more than indicators of a series of cultural choices and directions. 
Finally, he will be made aware of these choices and directions at their 
source, in the character, convictions and behavior of New Yorkers 
themselves: the faces, vivid or distracted, washed in neon light the 
color of mercurochrome, faces of men and women who work and eat 
and make love in catacombs under the enormous pylons of their city. 

The traveler approaches in bare winter or rainy autumn, in keen sea- 
board spring or the dog days. He drives a faded sedan with a child 
slung in a hammock cradle in the rear; or he takes the hot bouillon 
and crackers of the great airlines. He walks the glassed-in promenade 
deck of the Normandie or the open boat deck of the Nieuw Amster- 
dam; or he lounges in the doorway of the Manhattan's radio room. 
In the streamlined club cars of the Yankee Clipper, the Twentieth 
Century, the Royal Blue, the Broadway Limited, or in the day coaches 
of slower trains, he turns the pages of a national or trade journal pub- 
lished in New York — Women's Wear, Collier's, Life, Variety, Printers' 
ln\ — and watches the conglomerate backyards of Albany-Bridgeport- 
Trenton slide past the window. Painted with slipstream whorls, his 
blunt-nosed bus trundles out of the lunch stop and bores Manhattan- 
ward again, the whipcord back of the driver twisted as he pulls out 
and around a great dark pantechnicon truck with small lamps at its 
clearance points. 

The traveler is a fuel company executive returning from a trip 
through the West, a copy of Saward's Coal Annual wedged into the 
briefcase beside him; an elementary school principal from Lewiston, 
bound for special courses at Barnard College; a Cleveland printer out 
of a job, a men's wear buyer from Jacksonville, a Brooklyn clergyman 
on his return trip from Rome, a Pittsburgh engineer coming back from 
a South American cruise, a San Francisco divorcee loosed in Reno and 
remarried to a Hollywood fashion designer commuting to New York. 
These make up a composite American as alive and definite as Chau- 
cer's pilgrims or Whitman's cameradoes of democracy. 



VINCENT McHUGH 129 

But perhaps only the industrial engineer begins to comprehend the 
technical changes in transportation between Chaucer's time — or even 
Whitman's — and the 1930's. Unless the traveler drives his own car, he 
must resign himself to the helmsmen of the neotechnic age — locomo- 
tive engineers, ships' quartermasters, bus drivers, transport pilots — 
whose responsibilities have been reapportioned into a vast complex of 
schedules, maintenance men, radio directional and telephone signals, 
cartographers, traffic lights, instrument panels and routine instructions, 
all centered on New York. 

The helmsmen themselves are aware of their place in this network. 
The locomotive engineer knows it, intent on the block signals aimed 
at and swallowed by the rush of his train, a full minute to be made up 
between Poughkeepsie and Grand Central Terminal. The bus driver 
gunning his coach in heavy traffic over USi from New England, or 
the Albany Post Road, or the Sunrise Highway, or the loop over the 
Pulaski Skyway into the Jersey City mouth of the Holland Tunnel 
feels responsibility like a small knot between his shoulder blades: the 
need for quick and certain decisions, the judgment of space and time 
and the intent of drivers and a small boy heedless on a bicycle. 

The pilot of Flight 16 eastbound, crossing the Alleghenies in cloud 
at 7,000 feet, knows it well. When his tally of instruments — altimeter, 
clock, air speed, bank and turn, artificial horizon — indicates that he 
has passed the outer marker, he reports by radio to the company dis- 
patcher at Newark Metropolitan Airport, chief terminus for the New 
York district. Passengers rub at the bleared windows. But as he nears 
the inner marker at Martin's Creek, the mist begins to fade apart into 
soft translucent islands drenched with sun and the voice from the 
Newark radio control tower comes in with the tone of a man speaking 
clearly in the same room: "WREE to Western Trip 16, Pilot Johnson. 
Stuff breaking up fast. You are cleared at 3,000 feet to the range sta- 
tion. You're Number Two airplane." 

In the chart-room of a transatlantic liner inbound from Cherbourg 
to New York, 200 miles off Fire Island in a pea-soup fog, the blasts 
of the automatic ship's siren at intervals of one minute vibrate amongst 
the polished metal or enameled instruments: the chronometers, tele- 
phone, radio compass, loudspeaker, mercury and aneroid barometers, 



130 READING I'VE LIKED 

gyro course-indicator and other devices of the new scientific navigation. 
The senior watch officer checks his chronometers against time signals 
from Nauen, Arlington and the Eiffel Tower. A seaman at the radio 
directional compass slowly swivels the frame of his antenna ring until 
the note of the Fire Island radio beacon — plangent as a tuning fork, 
but crisper — is loudest in his headphones. Making a cross-check, the 
junior watch officer sets down fathometer depth readings on a length 
of tracing paper in such a way that it can be laid over the chart for 
comparison with course and position marks. 

Immobile in the dark wheelhouse, the helmsman concentrates on the 
lighted compass before him. No longer must he watch for the telltale 
flutter of the leech, or nurse his ship in weather seas. In the 330 years 
between Henry Hudson's Half Moon, steered into the future New 
York Harbor with a wheel-and-whipstaff rig that resembled a four- 
armed capstan with elongated bars, and the great express ships of the 
i93o's, already obsolescent in view of operating costs, irreducible vibra- 
tion and other factors, the helmsman's responsibilities have been shorn 
away by engineers and technicians. The automatic steering device, or 
"Iron Mike," has even in part replaced him. 

These new helmsmen of land and sea and air are the creatures of 
demanding time, their senses extended in the antennules of a hundred 
instruments. So they must necessarily regard the city a little as the 
gunnery officer does his target; but they too feel its magnetism. It 
comes to the traveler a great way off, like the intimation of any other 
dense human engagement. The expectant nerves contract, the mind is 
sensitized in advance. A familiar visitor, a New Yorker, waits for the 
sense of the city's resumed envelopment; but the bus passenger com- 
ing down over the Boston Post Road from New England watches 
traffic slow and thicken as the environs towns become larger, draw to- 
gether, give off the effect of a brisker life. There is a moment in which 
he asks himself: "Are we in the city yet? Is this New YorkP'^The 
visitor by rail, if he approaches from the south, may get hardly a 
glimpse of the towers before he tunnels under the river and coasts to 
a stop along the platform at Pennsylvania Station. Coming in from the 
north, he cannot help but be struck by the infinite pueblo of the Bronx. 

But to the traveler by air, especially from the north or east, the city 



VINCENT McHUGH 131 

appears with the instancy o£ revelation: the slowly crinkling samite 
of its rivers and New York Harbor vaporous beyond, the Bronx 
splayed out and interwoven with the tight dark Hudson Valley foli- 
age, Brooklyn and Queens and Staten Island dispersed in their enor- 
mous encampments about the narrow seaward-thrusting rock of Man- 
hattan. Seen thus from above, the pattern of the island suggests a 
weirdly shaped printer's form. It is as if the lead rules had been picked 
out for avenues between the solid lines of type which are buildings. 
The skyscrapers — those characters too pointed to be equalized by the 
wooden mallet of the makeup man — prickle up along the lower rim of 
Central Park, through the midtown section, and most densely at die 
foot of the island. 

These last are what the homebound traveler by water sees as his ves- 
sel comes through the Narrows into the Lower Bay, a journey and 
journey's end which has always somehow the quality of a public tri- 
umph. There stand the inconceivable spires of Manhattan — composed, 
repeating the upthrust torch of Liberty, at first almost without the 
sense of great weight, the distraction of archaic and heterogeneous de- 
tail. The forms of "gypsum crystals," a giant's cromlech, a mass of 
stalagmites, "the Cathedrals and Great White Thrones of the National 
Parks," an Arizona mesa, a "ship of living stone," a petrified forest, 
"an irregular tableland intersected by shadowy canons," a mastodon 
herd, "a pin-cushion," the Henry Mountains in Utah, "a vertical ag- 
gregation," dividends in the sky: such metaphors reflect its diversity 
of association. As Melville's Red burn indicates, the term skyscraper it- 
self — a noun full in the homely tradition of the American vernacular 
— was once synonymous with moon-sail and cloud-raker as the name 
for a ship's topmost kites. 

Le Corbusier, celebrated French architect in the International style, 
refers to this massed upthrust as "the winning of a game: proclamation 
by skyscraper." And in the third book of Jules Romains' Psyche, Pierre 
Febvre thinks of it as "a rivalry of tumefactions constructed in haste 
on the rock of Manhattan, a typical fragment of American unreality." 
Taken together, both images — a sense of the grandiose subjective ex- 
emplified in architectural terms, and the perhaps consequent suggestion 
of imperfectly realized forms — help to clarify a profound intimation of 



132 READING I'VE LIKED 

the familiar experienced by many travelers, even those who have no 
acquaintance with the city. In one of the Regional Plan volumes, this 
intimation is dramatized, simply enough, by photographs on facing 
pages: one of lower Manhattan, the other of Mont-Saint-Michel, the 
ancient fortress rock of France, a cluster of towers about which the 
tides swirl like level avalanches. 

The visual analogy is striking, but it does not end there. The image 
of the medieval castle-town has gone deep into the consciousness of 
western man. Preserved in masonry at Mont-Saint-Michel and Carcas- 
sonne, stylized in the perspectives of a hundred medieval and Renais- 
sance painters, translated into fantasy in the fairy tales of Andersen 
and Perrault and the towers of Cloud Cuckoo Land, popularized in 
the colors of Dulac and Rackham and Parrish and the mass-production 
lampshade, it reappears in the apparition of lower Manhattan evoked 
by the new technology: the medieval image of power, the infantile or 
schizoid fantasy of withdrawal, the supreme image of escape to the 
inaccessible. 

The Concept of the City 

Historically, as Robert L. DufTus points out in Mastering a Metrop- 
olis, cities "have tended to grow up around something — a fortification, 
a temple, a market-place, a landing-place." In other words, the selec- 
tion of site and arrangement have usually been determined by a choice 
of social function, a definite cultural emphasis. Sometimes it was rela- 
tively accidental. On the principle that travelers may be customers, a 
market town grew up at a crossroads. The walled towns of the Middle 
Ages, usually grouped about a castle for efficient defense, retained to 
some extent the lines of a military camp; but the exigencies of space 
within the walls made for a certain homogeneous and charming ir- 
regularity. The radial plans of the Renaissance, of which Karlsruhe is 
the most striking example, probably developed from the Greek and 
Roman cities clustered around a central temple or forum, although 
they retained some of the medieval irregularities. 

Parallel with the unplanned growth of cities, there has always been 
a tradition of planned cities, conceived either as Utopias — by Plato in 



VINCENT McHUGH 133 

his Republic, More in his Utopia, Campanella in his City of the Sun, 
Bellamy in his Looking Backward, Samuel Butler in his Erewhon, to 
name only a few — or by architects and city planners for actual realiza- 
tion in stone and mortar. The geometrical design for Alexandria, and 
Wren's project for the rebuilding of London after the great fire were 
examples of this kind. Notable among them was the plan for Wash- 
ington. Challenged by the unexpectedly possible, Jefferson studied the 
city patterns of Europe and with Washington and L'Enfant evolved 
the American capital city. 

But it is significant that in general the tradition of abstract design, 
surviving through the Renaissance, through Karlsruhe and Palladio 
and Wren into the era of L'Enfant's Washington and Haussmann's 
renovation of Paris, is basically eclectic, corresponding almost exactly to 
the anachronistic revivals of the classic orders or the Gothic in archi- 
tecture. But the criticism is not merely negative; it implies a basic 
disregard of the primacy of cultural function, of the possible and 
fruitful coordination between plant and function and environment in 
a new order of the city. 

In any case, for good or ill, planned cities did not by any means 
represent the dominant mode in urban evolution. If there was one, 
it can only be called agglomeration; the gathering of flies around a 
stain of honey. More often than not, that honey was commerce, addi- 
tionally sweetened by the perquisites of a capital city. Philip II, for 
example, deliberately built up the municipal strength of Paris as an 
offset to the challenge of the nobles, thus contributing to the new 
nationalism and the upswing of the merchant classes. Tudor London, 
clamorous with trades and spiky with the masts of ships, added central 
cells of industry to the commercial swarming of the city. After the 
great fires of the next century, Wren suggested that wherever possible 
industries should be relocated on the outer margins of the city — a 
recommendation seconded by Walter Curt Behrendt and the New 
York Regional Plan in the 1930's. 

The advent of what Sir Patrick Geddes called the paleotechnic 
period, early in the 19th century, with its criteria of absolute utilitar- 
ianism, gradually created the inhuman ratholes of London and Glas- 
gow and Birmingham and New York and Berlin — that "home city 



134 READING I'VE LIKED 

of the rent barracks." Dickens described a composite of industrial cities 
as Coketown. "It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple 
with ill-smelling dye"; and "the piston of the steam engine worked 
monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state 
of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like 
one another, inhabited by people exactly like one another, who all 
went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the 
same pavements to do the same work, and to whom every day was 
the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart 
of the last and the next." 

New York City, of all the great communities in the modern world, 
has been most acted upon by the agencies incident to the 19th century 
revolution in industry and techniques, most subject to the devastating 
consequences of 19th century laissez faire and the tensions of exces- 
sively rapid growth, most influenced by the multiplication and hyper- 
trophy of functions, most compromised by a street plan which united 
some of the inconvenient features of the rigidly classical and the 
narrowly utilitarian, most unstable in the number and distribution 
of its population, most opportunistic in land uses, most anarchic in the 
character of its building, and most dynamic in the pulse and variety 
of its living ways. 

In a history of some 330 years, of which hardly more than a century 
has been taken up with major growth, New York has somehow con- 
densed and accommodated the stresses of 20 centuries in the evolution 
of Rome or Paris. Such drastic foreshortening exacted a price and 
developed an opportunity. The price was paid and is being paid in the 
primary conception of the city as merely an accumulation: the largest 
size, the greatest number (even of units of quality), and the highest 
speed. It was paid in the ruthlessness — and the complementary melior- 
ism that all this would somehow right itself — of what may be called 
the utilitarian imperative, which cut of? waterside areas from public 
use, gobbled up available park sites, covered blocks with sunless tene- 
ments and no less sunless apartment houses, made night and day 
indistinguishable under the overhanging scarps of lower Manhattan, 
fostered duplication and peculation and high taxes in municipal gov- 
ernment, and centered a terrific volume of traffic in a few sectors 



VINCENT McHUGH 135 

already overburdened by subway and elevated concentration, the lack 
o£ through highways and the density of building. 

These became commonplaces, even rules of thumb. At a certain 
point, the practical effect was that a man could not go to the theater 
or visit a friend without a wholly disproportionate expenditure of time, 
energy, ingenuity and money. But in the deepest sense — the sense, that 
is, in which these processes were at once an expression and reflection 
of the New Yorker's cultural attitude toward his city — such factors 
tended to become psychological vested interests. The healthy dynamism 
of a developing metropolis was perpetuated as neurotic action for its 
own sake. The original necessity of enduring noise, dirt, conflict, con- 
fusion as symptoms of a transitional phase developed into a taste for 
the mindless intoxicant of sensation. Tall buildings convenient for 
intracommunication in such activities as finance became tall buildings 
for the sake of mere height and vainglory. In fine, the psychology of 
swift growth — its quick sense of the expedient, its prompt resource, its 
urgent energy, its prodigality in human waste, its impatience with 
deeper interrelationships and effects, by-products or details — was car- 
ried over and intensified in a period which demanded consolidation, 
an assay of cultural attitudes and values, planning, a new concept of 
the city. 

By 1938 the signs of this new attitude were already sharply manifest. 
Long before that, in 1931, Thomas Adams could write: "There is 
no city in the world that has a greater influence than New York. . . . 
All over this continent it is imitated, even where it is said to be feared. 
Men say New York is a warning rather than an example, and then 
proceed to make it an example. Outside America, New York is Amer- 
ica, and its skyscraper a symbol of the spirit of America. It is not only 
the largest city in the world, it is the greatest and most powerful city 
that is not a capital of a nation." There were jeremiads and panegyrics; 
this was a temperate statement of the fact. 

All through the 1920's, New York had been not only the symbol of 
America but the daemonic symbol of the modern — the fortunate giant 
in his youth, the world city whose past weighed least heavily upon 
its future. Had not Paul Morand testified that the latest skyscraper 
was always the best? It was a city infallible in finance, torrential in 



136 READING I'VE LIKED 

pace, unlimited in resource, hard as infrangible diamonds, forever 
leaping upon the moment beyond. "You can get away with anything," 
said Ellen Thatcher in John Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer, "if you 
do it quick enough." Speed — with its dividend, sensation — became the 
master formula in every human activity and technique: Wall Street, 
dancing, crime, the theater, construction, even death. "Don't get much 
time to sleep," said a Broadway soda clerk. "I have to sleep so fast 
I'm all tired out when I get up in the morning." This was rueful 
Eddington, the telescoping of time and space — a cliche of the period — 
in terms of the wear and tear on human metabolism. Photographers, 
draughtsmen, commentators all attempted to catch this loud moment 
or to translate it in terms of indefinite extension. An aseptic skyscraper 
city, an immense machine for living, was projected by such draughts- 
men and writers as Hugh Ferriss, Sheldon Cheney, Raymond Hood 
and Norman Bel Geddes (of whom an anonymous satirist remarked in 
1937 that he suffered from "an edifice complex"). 

In this period too New York had broken out full sail as the American 
capital of the arts and a world capital of major importance. This was 
in itself an extraordinary phenomenon. Other large, recently colonial 
cities — Melbourne, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, even Mexico City — had 
shown no such versatile and autochthonous upsurge. It could be ex- 
plained only in part by a reference to great concentration of wealth 
and commerce — as usual, a concentration in which artists had little 
share and against which, for the most part, they swung the shoulder 
of revolt. This cultural definition came out of the native genius of the 
city itself and was inseparably collateral with it. To a remarkable 
degree, the formulation and interpretation of that genius became the 
first task of the artist in New York. 

Historians of another age may find the cultural rivalries of the 
Eastern seaboard cities in the middle of the 19th century as fruitful a 
source of social interpretation as their contests in trade. Philadelphia 
had receded, Charleston and Baltimore settled into their graceful mold. 
But Boston, as Van Wyck Brooks has superbly recreated it in The 
Flowering of New England, produced a culture articulated in all its 
parts. It is necessary to indicate more closely here the relative scale of 
that culture. Its perfect symbol, perhaps, was the figure of Hawthorne 



VINCENT McHUGH 137 

confronting the Marble Faun. Its faithfulness to a special Anglo- 
American tradition at once defined its limits and committed it to 
contest with the assimilative turbulence of its more democratic neigh- 
bor to the southward. Even in Emerson, perhaps, there was something 
of the merely benign clergyman ; even in Thoreau, a little of the truant 
schoolboy decorating his metaphorical hut at Walden with the knick- 
knacks of Athens and Rome. And even in Emily Dickinson's triumph 
of the microcosmic, it was possible to feel the sedate child who with- 
draws from the world to thread in quietude the quicksilver necklaces 
of the imagination. The neat coherence of parts, the good scholars 
competing for the prizes of the intelligence, the inflexibility of ethical 
referents, the absence of that excess which is also the evidence of 
supreme vitality, the frugality and unanimity of pattern — all these were 
the sedate lamplight of a provincial culture, a culture comparable to 
that of Ghent in the late 14th century or 18th century Dublin and 
Stockholm. 

But there were giants to the southward — men who had consorted 
with the buffalo and leviathan, who were privy to enormous griefs 
and ecstasies, who had faced the tremendous gales of the world in 
their most disintegrative onslaught. These men — Whitman and Mel- 
ville — were of another breed, another stature; and they proclaimed 
themselves men of Manhattan. They came of the same Dutch-English 
stock, bred by that Empire State through which the commerce of the 
nation had begun to pour. Moby Dic\ appeared in 1851, heaves of 
Grass in 1855. Both books were shunned or excoriated. Then and later, 
the culture of New York resembled the tumultuous cross-rips of Hell 
Gate. Museums, opera, the theater, libraries, lecture halls, schools, the 
superb education of street and waterfront : these were lavishly available, 
and Whitman in particular made good use of them. But the dominant 
tenor of the city was savage in its commercial excesses, ravenous in 
land use (though the salvaging of Central Park began a few years 
before the Civil War) and brutal in its disregard for health, amenities, 
the elementary kindness of life. The deeper significance of such per- 
sonalities as Whitman and Melville is that they were archetypes of the 
city's character-to-be. Their decisive feeling for the supreme importance, 
the frequent nobility of the common man, their immersion by choice 



138 READING I'VE LIKED 

in his hopes and occupations — these were as foreign to the men of 
Boston, with their uneasy self-awareness in the role of scholar-gentle- 
men, as they would have been to that earlier New Yorker, the James 
Fenimore Cooper who wrote The American Democrat. 

"He who touches the soil of Manhattan and the pavement of New 
York," said Lewis Mumford, "touches, whether he knows it or not, 
Walt Whitman." Certainly it was Whitman who conceived the city 
as an image of the democratic process — an historic reversal, it may be 
noted, of Thomas Jefferson's primary design. The city spoke out of 
Whitman's fiber: out of the broadest and most intimate lines of A 
Broadway Pageant and Crossing Brooklyn Bridge, out of 

Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son, 
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking 
and breeding, 

or out of 

. . . submit to no models 

but your own O city! 

But in Democratic Vistas he faced all the implications of his image: 
splendor in the amplitude and onrush, "the sparkling sea-tides" and 
"masses of gay color" which were New York, but confession that to 
the cold eye appeared "pervading flippancy and vulgarity, low cunning, 
infidelity" and the rest, even to a degree beyond the average of man- 
kind. But there were poets to be called up, poets to make "a literature 
underlying life"; to fertilize it, to create again and again the corrective 
vision of the city in an order more nobly human than itself. Whitman 
said it and said it plain: 

A great city is that which has the greatest men and women. 

Did he not help to make good his own words? 

But in its essence, Whitman's concept of New York as a symbol of 
the democratic maelstrom was a neo-romantic one. It rejoiced in the 



VINCENT McHUGH 139 

splendor of the fact, hewed close to it, made it Homeric. But was it 
not, even in that society of transitional latitude, precisely a begging 
of the question as to what means were to be applied to the creation of 
what forms for what ends — ends, that is, which might be translated 
concretely from the abstract liberty, equality, fraternity, plenty? Af- 
firmation of greatness to nurture greatness, exultation in diversity for 
the use and promise of diversity, acceptance of barbarous poverty and 
wrong in the name of a more humane future, faith in the destiny of 
the free man intermingling freely with his fellows: these demanded 
a confident and practical vision of the city as a whole — a vision broader 
than Campanella's, as instrumental as the machine lathe — formulated 
and canalized in terms of New York's own native function and genius. 

On the contrary, Whitman's noble disorder, with its hospitality to 
everything human, tended to emphasize precisely those impulses to- 
ward unoriented mass, energy, diversity which came to their anarchic 
ultimate at the end of the 1920's. It was Whitman's dynamic, with its 
dramatization of the common impulse, that prevailed in the evolving 
folkways of New York. Even in 1937, the city was most often presented 
in terms of speed, energy, quantity rather than as a correlative for 
human use and aspiration. Nor is it enough to point out, as Marie 
Swabey does in Theory of the Democratic State, that the natural cri- 
teria of democracy are predominantly quantitative. The confusion 
inheres in the fact that big numbers have so often been used as if they 
were equivalent to definitions of quality — as if a tremendous number 
of housing units, even slum dwellings, somehow indicated a corre- 
sponding total of human happiness. 

Side by side with the most devouring greed, it has almost always 
been possible to find a superb generosity of life in New York — even, 
in the late i93o's, signs of a nascent change of heart. If the vainglory 
of power began to give way a little to the order of a genuine and 
mature society, there were men to be thanked for it — too many names 
for this place. These were the men who created and recreated values; 
who translated those values, under one form or another, into instru- 
ments of civic welfare; and who implemented the common aspiration. 
Together with that aspiration, the sum of their vision and accomplish- 
ments determined the living concept of New York: that basic unity, 



140 READING I'VE LIKED 

that prerequisite and final virtue of persons, which must be vital to 
the coherence of any human organization. 

There were engineers — the Roeblings of Brooklyn Bridge, Clifford 
M. Holland of the Holland Tunnel, Nelson P. Lewis of the Board of 
Estimate and Apportionment, Singstad and Amman of the Port 
Authority — whose probity blossomed in highways and tunnels, or in 
the piers and cables of a bridge: such a bridge as Hart Crane had 
envisaged, a figure of the flight of time and the passage of mankind 
across the gulf. Stubborn bands and lone fighters — John Peter Zenger 
of the New York Weekly Journal, whose trial in 1735 vindicated free 
expression in the press; Nast and Parkhurst and the Lexow Commit- 
tee; Seabury and the City Affairs Committee of the 1920's — these and 
a hundred others struck for the integrity of a free commonwealth. 
Scientists and research technicians, who worked with sludge digestion 
tanks and chlorination and polyphase alternators, created a fresh en- 
vironment available to the social imagination of an ampler culture. 
A John Dewey reground the tools of the mind; a Thorstein Veblen 
challenged the directions of American civilization, especially those 
directions which New York had long controlled. 

"A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of 
Rum Alley" in Stephen Crane's exact nightmare of the slum; John 
Dos Passos' Ellen Thatcher murmured: "I think that this city is full of 
people wanting inconceivable things"; and Thomas Wolfe's Eugene 
Gant cried: "Proud, cruel, everchanging and ephemeral city, to whom 
we came once when our hearts were high . . ." These were novelists 
answerable to the truth of the living. There were men who created 
vivid museums, set up liberal schools, fought to establish capable 
hospitals. Even politicians who hoped for nothing but their own 
advantage sometimes inadvertently contributed to the civic total, as 
Tweed did in setting out the pleasant boulevard along Broadway 
north of Sixty-Fifth Street, later routed by the subway. 

Painters and photographers — Albert Ryder and Thomas Eakins, the 
ancestors; Stieglitz and Paul Strand and Berenice Abbott; the genre 
work of Sloan, Glenn Coleman, Reginald Marsh, Lavvson, Glackens, 
Kenneth Hayes Miller; John Marin's vision of the skyscrapers in a 
vibrating rondure of forms; Demuth's My Egypt and Billings' and 



VINCENT McHUGH 141 

Sheeler's stylization of industrial masses — these and others literally 
created the human face of the city for the endowment of its citizens. 
The work of Hardenbergh and R. M. Hunt, among the older men, 
and of McKim and Stanford White in the 1890's; Goodhue's churches 
and Snyder's neo-Gothic schools; the loft buildings of Ely Jacques 
Kahn; the skyscraper designs of Harvey Wiley Corbett and Raymond 
Hood; the model apartment groups laid out by Clarence Stein and 
Henry Wright, which helped to anticipate the Federal Government's 
plans for housing developments in the 1930's: these were among the 
factors that made New York architecture the most exciting and 
various, if not always the soundest, in the world. Too, Whitman had 
his poets — not often prophets, but men and women who struck a dark 
accusatory music from the city's agonism: Edna St. Vincent Millay, 
Hart Crane, Louise Bogan, Archibald MacLeish, Horace Gregory. 

Forecast by such lively wine salesmen of the arts as James Huneker, 
a more thorough school of cultural commentators whose origins were 
mainly literary set out in the early logo's to reexamine the pattern of 
New York as a prefiguration of the new America. Randolph Bourne's 
voice, and such books as Harold Stearns' Civilization in the United 
States, Waldo Frank's Our America, Paul Rosenfeld's Port of New 
Yor\, Van Wyck Brooks' Americas Coming of Age and William 
Carlos Williams' In the American Grain managed to make themselves 
heard above the noise of traffic. Lewis Mumford's broad and precise 
imagination, the warmth and vitality of his interpenetrating sense of 
the whole distinguished half a dozen volumes that culminated in the 
definitive Technics and Civilization and The Culture of Cities. There 
were, finally, the innumerable common heroes in the patient and 
immense body of the city: the workers in laboratories and hospitals 
who died of X-ray burns or a finger pricked at an autopsy; the riveter 
tumbled from his hawk's perch, falling voiceless and alone; orange- 
helmeted sandhogs coughing with silicosis or twisted with the bends; 
and the men who could work no more, the unremembered ones 
Stephen Crane found in the city's scratch houses in An Experiment in 
Misery, whose successors were still there when Joseph Mitchell pub- 
lished his sketch, A Cold Night Downtown, in 1938. 

Together these engineers and artists and milk-wagon drivers forged 



142 READING I'VE LIKED 

a concept of the city, a unity for the city, out of the collective character 
and history of its inhabitants, just as the individuality of Paris was 
defined by Villon's reckless verses, the gardens of Marie Antoinette, 
Julian the Apostate's addresses to "my dear Lutetia," Victor Hugo, the 
engineer Eiffel, Marie Curie's dedication and Jules Romains' great 
antiphonal hymn. This unity, in fact, is at the root of the caricature 
visualized by outsiders as "a real New Yorker" — a certain large and 
shrewd liberality of thought and behavior, easy wit, compulsive energy, 
a liking for risk and the new, curiosity, restlessness. 
| There are those who consider that it is impossible to find any unity 
in the chaotic pattern of New York; or that, romantically enough, 
the emergence of unity would cancel its major charm. But the uneco- 
nomic and anti-social nature of many of the city's living ways demands 
a clear reorientation. The potential unity necessary to such reorienta- 
tion already exists in the New Yorker's own concept of his city. In this 
shared consciousness — generated by a look, a grin, an anecdote as 
cabalistic to outsiders as the shop talk of mathematicians — the complex 
of the metropolis finds its organizing principle, deeper than civic pride 
and more basic than the domination of mass or power. To the degree 
that this principle, this wise geolatry, can be instrumented by the 
forms and processes appropriate to it, New York will emerge in great- 
ness from the paradox of its confusion. 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 



COMMENTARY 



What the French are at this writing no one, perhaps least of all the 
French, knows. They used to he a race who carefully and profitably 
cultivated a reputation for frivolity and were at bottom extremely 
grave. They had a commercial phrase that was illuminating: maison 
serieuse. A maison serieuse means one that is solidly established and 
keeps its responsibilities constantly in mind. We would say "it really 
means business." 

In this sense there are certain writers, not necessarily the best, who 
are serieux. Others, often talented, are not. Miss Margaret Mitchell, 
for example, is not serious. (This does not mean that she is frivolous.) 
If we were to list the truly serious American novelists, John Dos 
Passos would be near the top. He is not, for me, a great writer or 
even a brilliant one. But he means business. He is less interested in 
striking attitudes, however memorable, of his own than in noting the 
far more memorable attitudes of whole classes and generations. He is 
not, like that gloomy Robinson Crusoe, William Faulkner, marooned 
on the island of his own sensibility. When he grasps American life 
it is always at the center. He works with cross sections, but the cross 
sections are of maximum density. When he fails, as he does on occa- 
sion, it is still with major material. If you lean to the exquisite and 
prefer small things done perfectly, Dos Passos is not your man, nor 
are you his. 

His solidest work to date consists of the trilogy U.S. A., composed 
of The 42nd Parallel, Nineteen Nineteen, and The Big Money. This 
triptych attempts to do on a relatively small scale what Jules Romains 
does on a larger one. Romains gives you France from 1908 to — well, 
name your own date. Dos Passos traces the crosscurrents of American 
life in the post-First World War years. 

To do this at all intelligently requires the invention of some kind 
of shorthand, otherwise the material would overwhelm one. Dos 
Passos works out four sets of symbols. The first and most conventional 

143 



144 READING I'VE LIKED 

consists of the biographies oi a few crucially representative imagina- 
tive Americans. The second is the life histories of a few equally rep- 
resentative actual ones. The third is the Newsreel, made up of scraps 
of popular songs, newspaper headlines, advertisements, speeches — 
a recall device to bring back the time from your unconscious memory, 
a kind of mood music, as the Hollywood composer would call it. The 
fourth symbol is the Camera Eye, consisting of lyric flashbacks which 
derive from the author's own experience. By manipulating, inter- 
twining, and counterpointing this quartet of devices Dos Passos estab- 
lishes a hundred and one lines of relation and so maps the general 
pattern of the life of the era. 

The Camera Eye is pretty arty at its worst, the Newsreel has its 
tedious moments, the fictional biographies are sound, interesting, and 
packed with meaning. Yet for me the straightaway narratives of the 
careers of real Americans show Dos Passos at his best. Read casually, 
they do not seem extraordinary, merely clean, journalistic, biograph- 
ical rewrites. But analyze them carefully and, best of all, read them 
aloud, and you will see how powerful they can be. 

In the Erst place they have rhythm. It is not mere typographical 
whimsicality that makes Dos Passos break up his long sentences and 
paragraph clauses as he does. 

In the second place, they have meaning. Each man is cunningly 
chosen for a speciEc purpose, to bear a dense weight of social interpre- 
tation. For example, in The Big Money, dealing with the "boom 
decade," Dos Passos tells the life stories of ten Americans. Four of 
them— Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henry Ford, and the Wright 
brothers— provided the technical framework of ideas and inventions 
that made possible the lunatic industrial expansion of the decade. 
Two—Samuel Insull and William Randolph Hea-rst— represent the 
kind of success the decade most valued. The arts yield a shrewdly 
selected trio: Rudolph Valentino, whose own life was not of great 
importance, but who, by the adoration in which he was held, revealed 
as in a mirror the emotional anemia of the lives of millions of others; 
Isadora Duncan, the bohemian rebel; and the architect, Frank Lloyd 
Wright, the real rebel who had all to give but few takers. The final 
exhibit is Thorstein Veblen, who understood the whole "big money" 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 145 

period in terms of its basic economic weaknesses. I submit that when 
you have studied carefully Dos Passos' account of the lives of these 
ten men and women, you already know a good deal about the spir- 
itual contour of the twenties. 

But these narratives do more than convey significant information. 
They do more than put across, often with subtle irony, a moral judg- 
ment. They are more than swift, direct pieces of American prose, 
making unobtrusive use of our vernacular rhythms and folk sayings. 
They are— and that is why I have included three of them in this 
book— first-rate versions of great American legends. For our legendary 
literature no longer consists of sweet little stories about Hiawatha. 
It does not even consist primarily of folk tales on the Paul Bunyan 
order. The point is that, owing to the outsize, fabulous character of 
our history, there is more mythic poetry in the true stories of cer- 
tain Americans than there is in all of our fantastic fables. 

Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, Wilson are not only interesting 
and important men. They are representative figures, almost as Pro- 
metheus is representative. They are not only part of American history 
but part of the American imagination. They are, whether you admire 
them or not, Heroes. It is this which comes through to us in Dos 
Passos' sharp, economical narrative. These stories have been told a 
hundred times in a hundred ways, and they will be told again, when 
you and I are forgotten and Dos Passos may be. But for our time, 
for the particular level of historic self-consciousness that we have 
reached, Dos Passos tells the stories in what seems to me a classic 
form. He does this quite without romanticizing his subjects. He cre- 
ates his Heroes without any admixture of Hero worship. But he is 
all the more truly American for his cool, man-to-man democratic 
treatment. 

At times even his unbluffable eye kindles at the sight of something 
truly noble, and his direct lines of prose unconsciously change char- 
acter, and swell with emotion, and we get a passage like the moving 
conclusion to "The Campers at Kitty Hawk." 



Tin Lizzie 

FROM "U.S.A." BY 

JOHN DOS PASSOS 



"Mr. Ford the automobileer," the featurewriter wrote in 1900, 

"Mr. Ford the automobileer began by giving his steed three or four 
sharp jerks with the lever at the righthand side of the seat; that is, he 
pulled the lever up and down sharply in order, as he said, to mix air 
with gasoline and drive the charge into the exploding cylinder. . . . 
Mr. Ford slipped a small electric switch handle and there followed a 
puff, puff, puff. . . . The puffing of the machine assumed a higher \ey. 
She was flying along about eight miles an hour. The ruts in the road 
were deep, but the machine certainly went with a dreamli\e smooth- 
ness. There was none of the bumping common even to a streetcar. . . . 
By this time the boulevard had been reached, and the automobileer , 
letting a lever fall a little, let her out. Whiz! She picked up speed with 
infinite rapidity. As she ran on there was a clattering behind, the new 
noise of the automobile." 

For twenty years or more, 

ever since he'd left his father's farm when he was sixteen to get a job. 
in a Detroit machineshop, Henry Ford had been nuts about machin- 
ery. First it was watches, then he designed a steamtractor, then he built 
a horseless carriage with an engine adapted from the Otto gasengine 
he'd read about in The World of Science, then a mechanical buggy 
with a onecylinder fourcycle motor, that would run forward but not 
back; 

at last, in ninetyeight, he felt he was far enough along to risk throw- 
ing up his job with the Detroit Edison Company, where he'd worked 
his way up from night fireman to chief engineer, to put all his time 
into working on a new gasoline engine, 

146 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 147 

(in the late eighties he'd met Edison at a meeting of electriclight 
employees in Atlantic City. He'd gone up to Edison after Edison had 
delivered an address and asked him if he thought gasoline was practi- 
cal as a motor fuel. Edison had said yes. If Edison said it, it was true. 
Edison was the great admiration of Henry Ford's life) ; 

and in driving his mechanical buggy, sitting there at the lever jaun- 
tily dressed in a tightbuttoned jacket and a high collar and a derby hat, 
back and forth over the level illpaved streets of Detroit, 

scaring the big brewery horses and the skinny trotting horses and 
the sleekrumped pacers with the motor's loud explosions, 

looking for men scatterbrained enough to invest money in a factory 
for building automobiles. 

He was the eldest son of an Irish immigrant who during the Civil 
War had married the daughter of a prosperous Pennsylvania Dutch 
farmer and settled down to farming near Dearborn in Wayne County, 
Michigan; 

like plenty of other Americans, young Henry grew up hating the 
endless sogging through the mud about the chores, the hauling and 
pitching manure, the kerosene lamps to clean, the irk and sweat and 
solitude of the farm. 

He was a slender, active youngster, a good skater, clever with his 
hands; what he liked was to tend the machinery and let the others do 
the heavy work. His mother had told him not to drink, smoke, gam- 
ble or go into debt, and he never did. 

When he was in his early twenties his father tried to get him back 
from Detroit, where he was working as mechanic and repairman for 
the Drydock Engine Company that built engines for steamboats, by 
giving him forty acres of land. 

Young Henry built himself an uptodate square white dwellinghouse 
with a false mansard roof and married and settled down on the farm, 

but he let the hired men do the farming; 

he bought himself a buzzsaw and remed a stationary engine and cut 
the timber off the woodlots. 

He was a thrifty young man who never drank or smoked or gam- 



148 READING I'VE LIKED 

bled or coveted his neighbor's wife, but he couldn't stand living on 
the farm. 

He moved to Detroit, and in the brick barn behind his house tink- 
ered for years in his spare time with a mechanical buggy that would 
be light enough to run over the clayey wagonroads of Wayne County, 
Michigan. 

By 1900 he had a practicable car to promote. 

He was forty years old before the Ford Motor Company was started 
and production began to move. 

Speed was the first thing the early automobile manufacturers went 
after. Races advertised the makes of cars. 

Henry Ford himself hung up several records at the track at Grosse 
Pointe and on the ice on Lake St. Clair. In his 999 he did the mile 
in thirtynine and fourfifths seconds. 

But it had always been his custom to hire others to do the heavy 
work. The speed he was busy with was speed in production, the rec- 
ords records in efficient output. He hired Barney Oldfield, a stunt bi- 
cyclerider from Salt Lake City, to do the racing for him. 

Henry Ford had ideas about other things than the designing of 
motors, carburetors, magnetos, jigs and fixtures, punches and dies; he 
had ideas about sales, 

that the big money was in economical quantity production, quick 
turnover, cheap interchangeable easilyreplaced standardized parts; 

it wasn't until 1909, after years of arguing with his partners, that 
Ford put out the first Model T. 

Henry Ford was right. 

That season he sold more than ten thousand tin lizzies, ten years 
later he was selling almost a million a year. 

In these years the Taylor Plan was stirring up plantmanagers "and 
manufacturers all over the country. Efficiency was the word. The same 
ingenuity that went into improving the performance of a machine 
could go into improving the performance of the workmen producing 
the machine. 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 149 

In 1913 they established the assemblyline at Ford's. That season the 
profits were something like twentyfive million dollars, but they had 
trouble in keeping the men on the job, machinists didn't seem to like 
it at Ford's. 

Henry Ford had ideas about other things than production. 

He was the largest automobile manufacturer in the world; he paid 
high wages; maybe if the steady workers thought they were getting 
a cut (a very small cut) in the profits, it would give trained men an 
inducement to stick to their jobs, 

wellpaid workers might save enough money to buy a tin lizzie; the 
first day Ford's announced that cleancut properlymarried American 
workers who wanted jobs had a chance to make five bucks a day (of 
course it turned out that there were strings to it; always there were 
strings to it) 

such an enormous crowd waited outside the Highland Park plant 

all through the zero January night 

that there was a riot when the gates were opened; cops broke heads, 
jobhunters threw bricks; property, Henry Ford's own property, was 
destroyed. The company dicks had to turn on the firehose to beat back 
the crowd. 

The American Plan; automotive prosperity seeping down from 
above; it turned out there were strings to it. 

But that five dollars a day 

paid to good, clean American workmen ^ 

who didn't drink or smoke cigarettes or read or think, 

and who didn't commit adultery 

and whose wives didn't take in boarders, 

made America once more the Yukon of the sweated workers of the 
world; 

made all the tin lizzies and the automotive age, and incidentally, 

made Henry Ford the automobileer, the admirer of Edison, the 
birdlover, 

the great American of his time. 



150 READING I'VE LIKED 

But Henry Ford had ideas about other things besides assemblylines 
and the livinghabits of his employees. He was full of ideas. Instead of 
going to the city to make his fortune, here was a country boy who'd 
made his fortune by bringing the city out to the farm. The precepts 
he'd learned out of McGuffey's Reader, his mother's prejudices and 
preconceptions, he had preserved clean and unworn as freshprinted 
bills in the safe in a bank. 

He wanted people to know about his ideas, so he bought the Dear- 
born Independent and started a campaign against cigarettesmoking. 

When war broke out in Europe, he had ideas about that too. (Sus- 
picion of armymen and soldiering were part of the midwest farm 
tradition, like thrift, stickativeness, temperance and sharp practice in 
money matters.) Any intelligent American mechanic could see that if 
the Europeans hadn't been a lot of ignorant underpaid foreigners who 
drank, smoked, were loose about women and wasteful in their meth- 
ods of production, the war could never have happened. 

When Rosika Schwimmer broke through the stockade of secretaries 
and servicemen who surrounded Henry Ford and suggested to him 
that he could stop the war, 

he said sure they'd hire a ship and go over and get the boys out of 
the trenches by Christmas. 

He hired a steamboat, the Oscar II, and filled it up with pacifists and 
socialworkers, 

to go over to explain to the princelings of Europe 

that what they were doing was vicious and silly. 

It wasn't his fault that Poor Richard's commonsense no longer rules 
the world and that most of the pacifists were nuts, 

goofy with headlines. 

When William Jennings Bryan went over to Hoboken to see him 
off, somebody handed William Jennings Bryan a squirrel in a cage; 
William Jennings Bryan made a speech with the squirrel under his 
arm. Henry Ford threw American Beauty roses to the crowd. The 
band played / Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier. Practical jokers 
let loose more squirrels. An eloping couple was married by a platoon 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 151 

of ministers in the saloon, and Mr. Zero, the flophouse humanitarian, 
who reached the docks too late to sail, 

dove into the North River and swam after the boat. 

The Oscar II was described as a floating Chautauqua; Henry Ford 
said it felt like a middlewestern village, but by the time they reached 
Christiansand in Norway, the reporters had kidded him so that he had 
gotten cold feet and gone to bed. The world was too crazy outside of 
Wayne County, Michigan. Mrs. Ford and the management sent an 
Episcopal dean after him who brought him home under wraps, 

and the pacifists had to speechify without him. 

Two years later Ford's was manufacturing munitions, Eagle boats; 
Henry Ford was planning oneman tanks, and oneman submarines 
like the one tried out in the Revolutionary War. He announced to the 
press that he'd turn over his war profits to the government, 

but there's no record that he ever did. 

One thing he brought back from his trip 

was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

He started a campaign to enlighten the world in the Dearborn In- 
dependent; the Jews were why the world wasn't like Wayne County, 
Michigan, in the old horse and buggy days; 

the Jews had started the war, Bolshevism, Darwinism, Marxism, 
Nietzsche, short skirts and lipstick. They were behind Wall Street 
and the international bankers, and the whiteslave traffic and the movies 
and the Supreme Court and ragtime and the illegal liquor business. 

Henry Ford denounced the Jews and ran for senator and sued the 
Chicago Tribune for libel, 

and was the laughingstock of the kept metropolitan press; 

but when the metropolitan bankers tried to horn in on his business 

he thoroughly outsmarted them. 

In 191 8 he had borrowed on notes to buy out his minority stock- 
holders for the picayune sum of seventy-five million dollars. 

In February, 1920, he needed cash to pay ofT some of these notes that 
were coming due. A banker is supposed to have called on him and 



152 READING I'VE LIKED 

offered him every facility if the bankers representative could be made 
a member of the board of directors. Henry Ford handed the banker 
his hat, 

and went about raising the money in his own way: 

he shipped every car and part he had in his plant to his dealers and 
demanded immediate cash payment. Let the other fellow do the bor- 
rowing had always been a cardinal principle. He shut down produc- 
tion and canceled all orders from the supplyfirms. Many dealers were 
ruined, many supplyfirms failed, but when he reopened his plant, 

he owned it absolutely, 

the way a man owns an unmortgaged farm with the taxes paid up. 

In 1922 there started the Ford boom for President (high wages, 
waterpower, industry scattered to the small towns) that was skillfully 
pricked behind the scenes 

by another crackerbarrel philosopher, 

Calvin Coolidge; 

but in 1922 Henry Ford sold one million three hundred and thirty- 
two thousand two hundred and nine tin lizzies; he was the richest 
man in the world. 

Good roads had followed the narrow ruts made in the mud by the 
Model T. The great automotive boom was on. At Ford's production 
was improving all the time; less waste, more spotters, strawbosses, 
stoolpigeons (fifteen minutes for lunch, three minutes to go to the 
toilet, the Taylorized speedup everywhere, reach under, adjust washer, 
screw down bolt, shove in cotterpin, reachunder adjustwasher, screw- 
down bolt, reachunderadjustscrewdownreachunderadjust until every 
ounce of life was sucked off into production and at night the workmen 
went home grey shaking husks). 

Ford owned every detail of the process from the ore in the hills until 
the car rolled oft the end of the assemblyline under its own power, the 
plants were rationalized to the last tenthousandth of an inch as meas- 
ured by the Johansen scale; 

in 1926 the production cycle was reduced to eightyone hours from 
the ore in the mine to the finished salable car proceeding under its own 
power, 

but the Model T was obsolete. 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 153 

New Era prosperity and the American Plan 

(there were strings to it, always there were strings to it) 

had killed Tin Lizzie. 

Ford's was just one of many automobile plants. 

When the stockmarket bubble burst, 

Mr. Ford the crackerbarrel philosopher said jubilantly, 

"I told you so. 

Serves you right for gambling and getting in debt. 

The country is sound." 

But when the country on cracked shoes, in frayed trousers, belts 
tightened over hollow bellies, 

idle hands cracked and chapped with the cold of that coldest March 
day of 1932, 

started marching from Detroit to Dearborn, asking for work and 
the American Plan, all they could think of at Ford's was machineguns. 

The country was sound, but they mowed the marchers down. 

They shot four of them dead. 

Henry Ford as an old man 

is a passionate antiquarian, 

(lives besieged on his father's farm embedded in an estate of thou- 
sands of millionaire acres, protected by an army of servicemen, secre- 
taries, secret agents, dicks under orders of an English exprizefighter, 

always afraid of the feet in broken shoes on the roads, afraid the 
gangs will kidnap his grandchildren, 

that a crank will shoot him, 

that Change and the idle hands out of work will break through the 
gates and the high fences; 

protected by a private army against 

the new America of starved children and hollow bellies and cracked 
shoes stamping on souplines, 

that has swallowed up the old thrifty farmlands 

of Wayne County, Michigan, 

as if they had never been). 

Henry Ford as an old man 

is a passionate antiquarian. 



154 READING I'VE LIKED 

He rebuilt his father's farmhouse and put it back exactly in the state 
he remembered it in as a boy. He built a village of museums for bug- 
gies, sleighs, coaches, old plows, waterwheels, obsolete models of motor- 
cars. He scoured the country for fiddlers to play old-fashioned square- 
dances. 

Even old taverns he bought and put back into their original shape, 
as well as Thomas Edison's early laboratories. 

When he bought the Wayside Inn near Sudbury, Massachusetts, he 
had the new highway where the newmodel cars roared and slithered 
and hissed oilily past {the new noise of the automobile), 

moved away from the door, 

put back the old bad road, 

so that everything might be 

the way it used to be, 

in the days of horses and buggies. 



The Campers at Kitty Hawk 

FROM "U.S.A." BY 

JOHN DOS PASSOS 



On December seventeenth, nineteen hundred and three, Bishop 
Wright of the United Brethren onetime editor of the Religions Tele- 
scope received in his frame house on Hawthorn Street in Dayton, 
Ohio, a telegram from his boys Wilbur and Orville who'd gotten it 
into their heads to spend their vacations in a little camp out on the 
dunes of the North Carolina coast tinkering with a homemade glider 
they'd knocked together themselves. The telegram read: 

SUCCESS FOUR FLIGHTS THURSDAY MORNING ALL AGAINST TWENTYONE MILE 
WIND STARTED FROM LEVEL WITH ENGINEPOWER ALONE AVERAGE SPEED 
THROUGH AIR THIRTYONE MILES LONGEST FIFTYSEVEN SECONDS INFORM PRESS 
HOME CHRISTMAS 

The figures were a little wrong because the telegraph operator mis- 
read Orville's hasty penciled scrawl 
but the fact remains 

that a couple of young bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio 
had designed constructed and flown 
for the first time ever a practical airplane. 

After running the motor a few minutes to heat it up I released the 
wire that held the machine to the trac\ and the machine started for- 
ward into the wind. Wilbur ran at the side of the machine holding the 
wing to balance it on the trac\. Unli\e the start on the 14th made in a 
calm the machine facing a 27 mile wind started very slowly. . . . Wilbur 
was able to stay with it until it lifted from the trac\ after a forty-foot 

155 



156 READING I'VE LIKED 

run. One of the lifesaving men snapped the camera for us taking a 
picture just as it reached the end of the trac\ and the machine had 
risen to a height of about two feet. . . . The course of the -flight up and 
down was extremely erratic, partly due to the irregularities of the air, 
partly to lac\ of experience in handling this machine. A sudden dart 
when a little over a hundred and twenty feet from the point at which 
it rose in the air ended the flight. . . . This flight lasted only 12 seconds 
but it was nevertheless the first in the history of the world in which a 
machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the 
air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed and 
had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it started. 

A little later in the day the machine was caught in a gust of wind 
and turned over and smashed, almost killing the coastguardsman who 
tried to hold it down; 

it was too bad 

but the Wright brothers were too happy to care 

they'd proved that the damn thing flew. 

When these points had been definitely established we at once packed 
our goods and returned home \nowing that the age of the flying 
machine had come at last. 

They were home for Christmas in Dayton, Ohio, where they'd been 
born in the seventies of a family who had been settled west of the 
Alleghenies since eighteen fourteen, in Dayton, Ohio, where they'd 
been to grammarschool and highschool and joined their father's church 
and played baseball and hockey and worked out on the parallel bars 
and the flying swing and sold newspapers and built themselves a print- 
ingpress out of odds and ends from the junkheap and flown kites and 
tinkered with mechanical contraptions and gone around town as boys 
doing odd jobs to turn an honest penny. 

The folks claimed it was the bishop's bringing home a helicopter, a 
fiftycent mechanical toy made of two fans worked by elastic bands that 
was supposed to hover in the air, that had got his two youngest boys 
hipped on the subject of flight 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 157 

so that they stayed home instead of marrying the way the other boys 
did, and puttered all day about the house picking up a living with 
jobprinting, 

bicyclerepair work, 

sitting up late nights reading books on aerodynamics. 

Still they were sincere churchmembers, their bicycle business was 
prosperous, a man could rely on their word. They were popular in 
Dayton. 

In those days flyingmachines were the big laugh of all the cracker- 
barrel philosophers. Langley's and Chanute's unsuccessful experiments 
had been jeered down with an I-told-you-so that rang from coast to 
coast. The Wrights' big problem was to find a place secluded enough 
to carry on their experiments without being the horselaugh of the 
countryside. Then they had no money to spend; 

they were practical mechanics; when they needed anything they 
built it themselves. 

They hit on Kitty Hawk, 

on the great dunes and sandy banks that stretch south towards Hat- 
teras seaward of Albemarle Sound, 

a vast stretch of seabeach 

empty except for a coastguard station, a few fishermen's shacks and 
the swarms of mosquitoes and the ticks and chiggers in the crabgrass 
behind the dunes 

and overhead the gulls and swooping terns, in the evening fishhawks 
and cranes flapping across the saltmarshes, occasionally eagles 

that the Wright brothers followed soaring with their eyes 

as Leonardo watched them centuries before 

straining his sharp eyes to apprehend 

the laws of flight. 

Four miles across the loose sand from the scattering of shacks, the 
Wright brothers built themselves a camp and a shed for their gliders. 
It was a long way to pack their groceries, their tools, anything they 
happened to need; in summer it was hot as blazes, the mosquitoes 
were hell; 

but they were alone there 



158 READING I'VE LIKED 

and they'd figured out that the loose sand was as soft as anything 
they could find to fall in. 

There with a glider made of two planes and a tail in which they 
lay flat on their bellies and controlled the warp of the planes by shim- 
mying their hips, taking off again and again all day from a big dune 
named Kill Devil Hill, 

they learned to fly. 

Once they'd managed to hover for a few seconds 
and soar ever so slightly on a rising aircurrent 
they decided the time had come 
to put a motor in their biplane. 

Back in the shop in Dayton, Ohio, they built an airtunnel, which 
is their first great contribution to the science of flying, and tried out 
model planes in it. 

They couldn't interest any builders of gasoline engines so they had 
to build their own motor. 

It worked; after that Christmas of nineteen three the Wright broth- 
ers weren't doing it for fun any more; they gave up their bicycle busi- 
ness, got the use of a big old cowpasture belonging to the local banker 
for practice flights, spent all the time when they weren't working on 
their machine in promotion, worrying about patents, infringements, 
spies, trying to interest government officials, to make sense out of the 
smooth involved heartbreaking remarks of lawyers. 

In two years they had a plane that would cover twentyfour miles at 
a stretch round and round the cowpasture. 

People on the interurban car used to crane their necks out of the 
windows when they passed along the edge of the field, startled by the 
clattering pop pop of the old Wright motor and the sight of the white 
biplane like a pair of ironingboards one on top of the other chugging 
along a good fifty feet in the air. The cows soon got used to it. 

As the flights got longer 

the Wright brothers got backers, 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 159 

engaged in lawsuits, 

lay in their beds at night sleepless with the whine of phantom mil- 
lions, worse than the mosquitoes at Kitty Hawk. 

In nineteen seven they went to Paris, 

allowed themselves to be togged out in dress suits and silk hats, 

learned to tip waiters 

talked with government experts, got used to gold braid and post- 
ponements and vandyke beards and the outspread palms of politicos. 
For amusement 

they played diabolo in the Tuileries gardens. 

They gave publicized flights at Fort Myers, where they had their 
first fatal crackup, St. Petersburg, Paris, Berlin; at Pau they were all 
the rage, 

such an attraction that the hotelkeeper 

wouldn't charge them for their room. 

Alfonso of Spain shook hands with them and was photographed 
sitting in the machine, 

King Edward watched a flight, 

the Crown Prince insisted on being taken up, 

the rain of medals began. 

They were congratulated by the Czar 

and the King of Italy and the amateurs of sport, and the society 
climbers and the papal titles, 

and decorated by a society for universal peace. 

Aeronautics became the sport of the day. 

The Wrights don't seem to have been very much impressed by the 
upholstery and the braid and the gold medals and the parades of plush 
horses, 

they remained practical mechanics 

and insisted on doing all their own work themselves, 

even to filling the gasolinetank. 



160 READING I'VE LIKED 

In nineteen eleven they were back on the dunes 

at Kitty Hawk with a new glider. 

Orville stayed up in the air for nine and a half minutes, which re- 
mained a long time the record for motorless flight. 

The same year Wilbur died of typhoidfever in Dayton. 

in the rush of new names: Farman, Bleriot, Curtiss, Ferber, Esnault- 
Peltrie, Delagrange; 

in the snorting impact of bombs and the whine and rattle of shrap- 
nel and the sudden stutter of machineguns after the motor's been shut 
oft overhead, 

and we flatten into the mud 

and make ourselves small cowering in the corners of ruined walls, 

the Wright brothers passed out of the headlines 

but not even headlines or the bitter smear of newsprint or the choke 
of smokescreen and gas or chatter of brokers on the stockmarket or 
barking of phantom millions or oratory of brasshats laying wreaths 
on new monuments 

can blur the memory 

of the chilly December day 

two shivering bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, 

first felt their homemade contraption 

whittled out of hickory sticks, 

gummed together with Arnstein's bicycle cement, 

stretched with muslin they'd sewn on their sister's sewingmachine 
in their own backyard on Hawthorn Street in Dayton, Ohio, 

soar into the air 

above the dunes and the wide beach 

at Kitty Hawk. 



Meestcr Veclson 

FROM "U.S.A." BY 

JOHN DOS PASSOS 



The year that Buchanan was elected president Thomas Woodrow 
Wilson 

was born to a presbyterian minister's daughter 

in the manse at Staunton in the valley of Virginia; it was the old 
Scotch-Irish stock; the father was a presbyterian minister too and a 
teacher of rhetoric in theological seminaries; the Wilsons lived in a 
universe of words linked into an incontrovertible firmament by two 
centuries of calvinist divines, 

God was the Word 

and the Word was God. 

Dr. Wilson was a man of standing who loved his home and his chil- 
dren and good books and his wife and correct syntax and talked to God 
every day at family prayers; 

he brought his sons up 

between the bible and the dictionary. 

The years of the Civil War 

the years of fife and drum and platoonfire and proclamations 

the Wilsons lived in Augusta, Georgia; Tommy was a backward 
child, didn't learn his letters till he was nine, but when he learned to 
read his favorite reading was Parson Weems' 

Life of Washington. 

In 1870 Dr. Wilson was called to the Theological Seminary at Co- 
lumbia, South Carolina; Tommy attended Davidson college, 
where he developed a good tenor voice; 

161 



162 READING I'VE LIKED 

then he went to Princeton and became a debater and editor of the 
Princetonian. His first published article in the Nassau Literary Maga- 
zine was an appreciation of Bismarck. 

Afterwards he studied law at the University of Virginia; young Wil- 
son wanted to be a Great Man, like Gladstone and the eighteenth cen- 
tury English parliamentarians; he wanted to hold the packed benches 
spellbound in the cause of Truth; but lawpractice irked him; he was 
more at home in the booky air of libraries, lecturerooms, college chapel, 
it was a relief to leave his lawpractice at Atlanta and take a Historical 
Fellowship at Johns Hopkins; there he wrote Congressional Govern- 
ment. 

At twentynine he married a girl with a taste for painting (while 
he was courting her he coached her in how to use the broad "a") and 
got a job at Bryn Mawr teaching the girls History and Political Econ- 
omy. When he got his Ph.Do from Johns Hopkins he moved to a pro- 
fessorship at Wesleyan, wrote articles, started a History of the United 
States, 

spoke out for Truth Reform Responsible Government Democracy 
from the lecture platform, climbed all the steps of a brilliant university 
career; in 1901 the trustees of Princeton offered him the presidency; 

he plunged into reforming the university, made violent friends and 
enemies, set the campus by the ears, 

and the American people began to find on the front pages 

the name of Woodrow Wilson. 

In 1909 he made addresses on Lincoln and Robert E. Lee 

and in 1910 

the democratic bosses of New Jersey, hardpressed by muckrakers 
and reformers, got the bright idea of offering the nomination foj gov- 
ernor to the stainless college president who attracted such large audi- 
ences 

by publicly championing Right. 

When Mr. Wilson addressed the Trenton convention that nominated 
him for governor he confessed his belief in the common man, (the 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 163 

smalltown bosses and the wardheelers looked at each other and 
scratched their heads) ; he went on, his voice growing firmer: 

that is the man by whose judgment I for one wish to be guided, so 
that as the tas\s multiply, and as the days come when all will feel 
confusion and dismay, we may lift up our eyes to the hills out of these 
dar\ valleys where the crags of special privilege overshadow and darken 
our path, to where the sun gleams through the great passage in the 
broken cliffs, the sun of God, 

the sun meant to regenerate men, 

the sun meant to liberate them from their passion and despair and 
lift us to those uplands which are the promised land of every man who 
desires liberty and achievement. 

The smalltown bosses and the wardheelers looked at each other and 
scratched their heads; then they cheered; Wilson fooled the wiseacres 
and doublecrossed the bosses, was elected by a huge plurality; 

so he left Princeton only half reformed to be Governor of New 

Jersey, 

and became reconciled with Bryan 

at the Jackson Day dinner: when Bryan remarked, "I of course 
knew that you were not with me in my position on the currency," 
Mr. Wilson replied, "All I can say, Mr. Bryan, is that you are a great 

big man." 

He was introduced to Colonel House, 

that amateur Merlin of politics who was spinning his webs at the 

Hotel Gotham 

and at the convention in Baltimore the next July the upshot of the 
puppetshow staged for sweating delegates by Hearst and House behind 
the scenes, and Bryan booming in the corridors with a handkerchief 
over his wilted collar, was that Woodrow Wilson was nominated for 
the presidency. 

The bolt of the Progressives in Chicago from Taft to T.R. made his 

election sure; 

so he left the State of New Jersey halfreformed 

(pitiless publicity was the slogan of the Shadow Lawn Campaign) 

and went to the White House 



164 READING I'VE LIKED 

our twentyeighth president. 

While Woodrow Wilson drove up Pennsylvania Avenue beside 
Taft the great buttertub, who as president had been genially undoing 
T.R.'s reactionary efforts to put business under the control of the gov- 
ernment, 

J. Pierpont Morgan sat playing solitaire in his back office on Wall 
Street, smoking twenty black cigars a day, cursing the follies of democ- 
racy. 

Wilson flayed the interests and branded privilege refused to recog- 
nize Huerta and sent the militia to the Rio Grande 

to assume a policy of watchful waiting. He published The New 
Freedom and delivered his messages to Congress in person, like a col- 
lege president addressing the faculty and students. At Mobile he said: 

/ wish to ta\e this occasion to say that the United States will never 
again see\ one additional foot of territory by conquest; 

and he landed the marines at Vera Cruz. 

We are witnessing a renaissance of public spirit, a reawakening of 
sober public opinion, a revival of the power of the people the begin^ 
ning of an age of thoughtful reconstruction . . . 

but the world had started spinning round Sarajevo. 

First it was neutrality in thought and deed, then too proud to fight 
when the Lusitania sinking and the danger to the Morgan loans and 
the stones of the British and French propagandists set all the financial 
centers in the East bawling for war, but the suction of the drumbeat 
and the guns was too strong; the best people took their fashions from 
Paris and their broad "a's" from London, and T.R. and the House of 
Morgan. 

Five months after his reelection on the slogan He \ept us out of 
war, Wilson pushed the Armed Ship Bill through congress and de- 
clared that a state of war existed between the United States and- the 
Central Powers: 

Force without stint or limit, force to the utmost. 

Wilson became the state (war is the health of the state), Washing- 
ton his Versailles, manned the socialized government with dollar a 



JOHN DOS PASSOS 165 

year men out of the great corporations and ran the big parade 

of men munitions groceries mules and trucks to France. Five million 
men stood at attention outside of their tarpaper barracks every sun- 
down while they played The Star Spangled Banner. 

War brought the eight hour day, women's votes, prohibition, com- 
pulsory arbitration, high wages, high rates of interest, cost plus con- 
tracts and the luxury of being a Gold Star Mother. 

If you objected to making the world safe for cost plus democracy 
you went to jail with Debs. 

Almost too soon the show was over, Prince Max of Baden was 
pleading for the Fourteen Points, Foch was occupying the bridgeheads 
on the Rhine and the Kaiser out of breath ran for the train down the 
platform at Potsdam wearing a silk hat and some say false whiskers. 

With the help of Almighty God, Right, Truth, Justice, Freedom, 
Democracy , the Self determination of Nations, No indemnities no an- 
nexations, 

and Cuban sugar and Caucasian manganese and Northwestern 
wheat and Dixie cotton, the British blockade, General Pershing, the 
taxicabs of Paris and the seventyfive gun 

we won the war. 

On December 4th, 1918, Woodrow Wilson, the first president to 
leave the territory of the United States during his presidency, sailed for 
France on board the George Washington, 

the most powerful man in the world. 

In Europe they knew what gas smelt like and the sweet sick stench 
of bodies buried too shallow and the grey look of the skin of starved 
children; they read in the papers that Meester Veelson was for peace 
and freedom and canned goods and butter and sugar; 

he landed at Brest with his staff of experts and publicists after a 
rough trip on the George Washington. 

La France heroique was there with the speeches, the singing school- 
children, the mayors in their red sashes. (Did Meester Veelson see 
the gendarmes at Brest beating back the demonstration of dockyard 
workers who came to meet him with red flags?) 



166 READING I'VE LIKED 

At the station in Paris he stepped from the train onto a wide red 
carpet that led him, between rows of potted palms, silk hats, legions 
of honor, decorated busts of uniforms, frockcoats, rosettes, bouton- 
nieres, to a Rolls Royce. (Did Meester Veelson see the women in 
black, the cripples in their little carts, the pale anxious faces along the 
streets, did he hear the terrible anguish of the cheers as they hurried 
him and his new wife to the hotel de Murat, where in rooms full of 
brocade, gilt clocks, Buhl cabinets and ormolu cupids the presidential 
suite had been prepared?) 

While the experts were organizing the procedure of the peace con- 
ference, spreading green baize on the tables, arranging the protocols, 

the Wilsons took a tour to see for themselves: the day after Christ- 
mas they were entertained at Buckingham Palace; at Newyears they 
called on the pope and on the microscopic Italian king at the Quirinal. 
(Did Meester Veelson know that in the peasants' wargrimed houses 
along the Brenta and the Piave they were burning candles in front of 
his picture cut out of the illustrated papers?) (Did Meester Veelson 
know that the people of Europe spelled a challenge to oppression out 
of the Fourteen Points as centuries before they had spelled a challenge 
to oppression out of the ninetyfive articles Martin Luther nailed to the 
churchdoor in Wittenberg?) 

January 18, 1919, in the midst of serried uniforms, cocked hats and 
gold braid, decorations, epaulettes, orders of merit and knighthood, the 
High Contracting Parties, the allied and associated powers met in the 
Salon de l'Horloge at the quai d'Orsay to dictate the peace, 

but the grand assembly of the peace conference was too public a 
place to make peace in 

so the High Contracting Parties 

formed the Council of Ten, went into the Gobelin Room and, sur- 
rounded by Rubens's History of Marie de Medici, 

began to dictate the peace. 

But the Council of Ten was too public a place to make peace in 

so they formed the Council of Four. 

Orlando went home in a huft 

and then there were three: 

Clemenceau, 



JOHN DOS PASSOS . - 167 

Lloyd George, 

Woodrow Wilson. 

Three old men shuffling the pack, 

dealing out the cards: 

the Rhineland, Danzig, the Polish corridor, the Ruhr, self determi- 
nation of small nations, the Saar, League of Nations, mandates, the 
Mespot, Freedom of the Seas, Transjordania, Shantung, Fiume and 
the Island of Yap : 

machine gun fire and arson 

starvation, lice, cholera, typhus; 

oil was trumps. 

Woodrow Wilson believed in his father's God 

so he told the parishioners in the little Lowther Street Congrega- 
tional church where his grandfather had preached in Carlisle in Scot- 
land, a day so chilly that the newspaper men sitting in the old pews 
all had to keep their overcoats on. 

On April 7th he ordered the George Washington to be held at 
Brest with steam up ready to take the American delegation home; 
but he didn't go. 

On April 19 sharper Clemenceau and sharper Lloyd George got him 
into their little cosy threecardgame they called the Council of Four. 

On June 28th the Treaty of Versailles was ready 

and Wilson had to go back home to explain to the politicians who'd 
been ganging up on him meanwhile in the Senate and House and to 
sober public opinion and to his father's God how he'd let himself be 
trimmed and how far he'd made the world safe 

for democracy and the New Freedom. 

From the day he landed in Hoboken he had his back to the wall of 
the White House, talking to save his faith in words, talking to save his 
faith in the League of Nations, talking to save his faith in himself, in 
his father's God. 

He strained every nerve of his body and brain, every agency of the 



168 READING I'VE LIKED 

government he had under his control; (i£ anybody disagreed he was 
a crook or a red; no pardon for Debs). 

In Seattle the wobblies whose leaders were in jail, in Seattle the wob- 
blies whose leaders had been lynched, who'd been shot down like dogs, 
in Seattle the wobblies lined four blocks as Wilson passed, stood silent 
with their arms folded staring at the great liberal as he was hurried 
past in his car, huddled in his overcoat, haggard with fatigue, one side 
of his face twitching. The men in overalls, the workingstiffs let him 
pass in silence after all the other blocks of handclapping and patriotic 
cheers. 

In Pueblo, Colorado, he was a grey man hardly able to stand, one 
side of his face twitching: 

Now that the mists of this great question have cleared away, I be- 
lieve that men will see the Truth, eye for eye and face to face. There 
is one thing the American People always rise to and extend their hand 
to, that is, the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace. We have 
accepted that truth and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to 
lead us, and through us the world, out into pastures of quietness and 
peace such as the world never dreamed of before. 

That was his last speech; 

on the train to Wichita he had a stroke. He gave up the speaking 
tour that was to sweep the country for the League of Nations. After 
that he was a ruined paralysed man barely able to speak; 

the day he gave up the presidency to Harding the joint committee 
of the Senate and House appointed Henry Cabot Lodge, his lifelong 
enemy, to make the formal call at the executive office in the Capitol 
and ask the formal question whether the president had any message 
for the congress assembled in joint session; 

Wilson managed to get to his feet, lifting himself painfully by the 
two arms of the chair. "Senator Lodge, I have no further communica- 
tion to make, thank you . . . Good morning," he said. 

In 1924 on February 3rd he died. 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 



COMMENTARY 



Most writers, even those who talk glibly oi his "selling out/' have a 
genuine respect for Somerset Maugham. They respect him because, 
whatever his limitations as an artist, he is an honest craftsman and an 
honest man. Perhaps honest isn't the word. Ingenuous might be better. 
I dont mean that he is naive, but rather that he is an ingenuous 
hawker of his wares. Every so often he will do a job obviously car- 
pentered for the trade and with little else to recommend it. My point 
is that he doesnt really dissimulate. When he prepares tripe, he 
practically puts a label on it stating its high percentage of adultera- 
tion. I find this a virtue. It makes his work so much more agreeable 
than the novels, for example, of Mr. Charles Morgan, which are not 
only tripe but are rendered doubly unpalatable by the fact that Mr. 
Morgan doesnt seem to know it. 

Take Mr. Maugham's recent confection, Up at the Villa. The ma- 
terials are stock melodrama but Maugham's touch relieves them of 
their vulgarity. It's almost a pleasure to be sold so smooth and shiny 
a gold brick. The same thing is true of his novel Theatre, whose title 
is suspiciously apt. It is a clockwork job of gadgetry. It's old hat, but 
old hat from an old hand, deft as the devil at refurbishing the back- 
shelf millinery, the faded Rowers and dead birds of fiction. Theatre 
may be theatrical, but it's a good show. 

No, Somerset Maugham doesn't fool himself. In The Summing 
Up, a book of reEections tinged with autobiography, he says, "I have 
a clear and logical brain, but not a very subtle nor a very powerful 
one." He has not tried to write subtly or powerfully, to make grand 
generalizations about humanity, to beat his breast in public. He 
knows what he can do. "Never having felt some of the fundamental 
emotions of normal men, it is impossible that my work should have 
the intimacy, the broad human touch and the animal serenity which 
the greatest writers alone can give." I do not believe Maugham has 

169 



170 READING I'VE LIKED 

ever struck a pose in his work. His plays are often cheap, but they 
have an honest and candid cheapness. 

He will live mainly by one hook, hut it is unfair to say that he 
could have followed it, had he wished, with otheis just as good. Of 
Human Bondage was the product of a brief period of belief, of cer- 
tain special emotional pressures in his life, pressures that never re- 
peated themselves. At ail times he wrote what he could, and that 
alone. 

Writers respect Maugham, too, because he respects his own craft. 
He has actually spent years of his life studying it. How many Ameri- 
can novelists, now in their twenties or early thirties, have considered 
it necessary to spend several hours a day doing what Maugham did— 
analyzing model prose writers, charting his limitations, working out a 
style that would correspond both to what he was as a person and 
what he wanted to be as a writer? "On taking thought it seemed to 
me that I must aim at lucidity, simplicity and euphony." He has 
attained them by diligence, patience, and the subordination of his 
ego to his craft. 

I suppose Somerset Maugham is really the cynical, embittered man 
of the world that rumor makes him. Still, I cannot help feeling that 
he must be getting a great deal of pleasure out of these, his latter 
years. For one thing, his contemporaries are dying off in the most 
satisfactory manner. Not only his own talent but mortality itself is 
helping him to a commanding position in the literary hierarchy. 
Again, by some curious twist, while his colleagues as they age lose 
almost daily in reputation, he seems to gain. Even his poorer books 
are greated with salvos of approbation, and the fact that he has pro- 
duced only one important work is an asset rather than a liability, 
for at least it is a novel everyone has read and none disliked. But 
most gratifying of all, I should imagine, is the complete mastery he 
has gained in late maturity over his own talents. Through study and 
hard work he has finally evolved a style adequate to anything he 
wishes to say. 

It is this which accounts for the feeling we have, when we open a 
new Maugham, that although wc will never be lifted up, we will 
never be let down. He is the most comforting, if not the weightiest, 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 171 

of modern English writers. When he is entertaining, he is so without 
vulgarity or pretentiousness. When he is thoughtful, he offers his 
undeniable cultivation oi mind without pompousness or any claim 
upon the attention of posterity. 

A good example oi what I mean is to he found in "Don Fer- 
nando/' a ruminative essay, which I should think many might enjoy, 
on the Golden Age of Spain. "Don Fernando" has no great depth- 
it is almost too consciously civilized for that— but it is far from super- 
ficial. Maugham does not say a single witty thing, yet he gives the 
constant impression of wit. He is never enthusiastic, always interest- 
ing; never learned, always easy and copious in his fund of informa- 
tion; never daringly original, yet a personality is quietly present in 
every line. He is neither Hispanophile nor Hispanophobe. He writes 
not to persuade us to any special view of the epoch of Cervantes or 
El Greco but merely to amuse himself, intelligently, without frivolity. 
His fatal fault is one he would gladly confess— complete lack of con- 
viction. But opinions dressed in charm offer a palatable substitute. 

In "Don Fernando" he has much to say of the art of prose. Many 
of his comments are self-flattering half-truths, such as his judgment 
that "good writing should be like the conversation of a well-bred 
man." Apropos the autobiography of Saint Teresa, he remarks upon 
"that sound of the living voice that we all, for the most part without 
success, aim at." He has aimed at it successfully. His books of non- 
fiction are causerie carried to its highest point of development. 

Maugham is one of those writers, never of the highest rank, who 
seem to have been born civilized. He takes his own disillusion calmly, 
without emphasis, making no Noel Coward pose of it. He is always 
interesting and never absorbing, always intelligent and intelligible but 
quite without the passion, the frenzy, that he admires in the great 
Russians. His mind is made up. He observes the vagaries of humans 
with a sympathy that enlists the reader s eager interest but never 
betrays Maugham himself into anything like abandon. Thus his 
insights are always shrewd, rarely deep, and his stories more remark- 
able for their lucidity and formal perfection than for those more 
enduring qualities we associate with the masters. 

In one of his tales he makes a character (obviously close to his own 



172 READING I'VE LIKED 

heart) say, "li to look truth in the face and not resent it when it's 
unpalatable, and take human nature as you End it, smiling when it's 
absurd and grieved without exaggeration when it's pitiful, is to be 
cynical, then I suppose I'm a cynic." There is a casual gravity about 
the statement which removes it completely from a merely literary 
attitude. 

To read his stories is like listening to the reminiscential talk of 
a man who has been everywhere and seen everything but prefers not 
to absorb too much, not to take anything either too seriously or too 
frivolously. Among those authors who steer a kind of middle course 
between first-rate art and first-rate entertainment, Somerset Maugham 
emerges foremost by a generous margin. He is as good a writer as a 
man of the world can possibly be. 

"In my twenties," he says, and he is not complaining, u the critics 
said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties 
they said I was cynical, in my Efties they said I was competent, and 
now in my sixties they say I am superficial." It is an excellent sum- 
ming up of the changes in public taste as well as of the curve of 
Maugham's own development. He has been all of these things, but 
one thing he has never been: careless. 

Of Human Bondage, of course, is in a class by itself. Of his other 
novels I think only one will last: Cakes and Ale, one of the most 
masterly satires on the literary temperament to be found anywhere. 
It is minor and it is delicious. Maugham obviously enjoyed writing 
it, and as long as people enjoy a perfect puncturing of pretense and 
hypocrisy they will enjoy reading it. 

Then there are the short stories. For the purposes of this book I 
reread them— there must be around a hundred— and discovered a fact 
about Maugham that he may not be aware of himself. The best 
stories are the most recent the ones you will End in a collection 
called The Mixture as Before. In his introduction to this volume 
Maugham, as the title indicates, seems to assume that his latest 
stories are about on a level with his earlier ones. I thought this 
was probably so, until I went through the whole series. My judg- 
ment may be faulty, but it seems to me that these swan-song tales 
(the author says, "I shall not write any more" of them) have a con- 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 173 

cision, a directness, that his earlier stories, even the famous "Sadie 
Thompson, 7 ' Jack. Also, they are less mechanical. Their comments on 
life, though oi a piece with everything Maugham has ever said about 
that popular institution, are no longer slick ironies, hut genuine 
worldly wisdom, and there is a place in literature for wisdom that is 
worldly. 

From this volume I have chosen three tales. One oi them, "Lord 
Mountdrago," is just a trick story and has been placed, for a reason, 
in another part of this hook. The remaining two, "The Treasure 7 
and "The Facts of Life," show Maugham at his best. They are urbane 
without affectation, they are sagacious without cynicism, they have 
that note of perfect craftsmanship, literary conscientiousness, modest 
reasonableness which is pure Somerset Maugham. And they are in- 
fused with a dry-sherry humor that will, I think, keep them alive when 
his more famous short stories— the ones they make bad films out of— 
are no longer read. 



■£_..£ 



xyn_ or 



The Treasure 



BY 

W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 



Richard Harenger was a happy man. Notwithstanding what the pes- 
simists, from Ecclesiastes onwards, have said, this is not so rare a 
thing to find in this unhappy world, but Richard Harenger knew it, 
and that is a very rare thing indeed. The golden mean which the 
ancients so highly prized is out of fashion, and those who follow it 
must put up with polite derision from those who see no merit in self- 
restraint and no virtue in common sense. Richard Harenger shrugged 
a polite and amused shoulder. Let others live dangerously, let others 
burn with a hard gemlike flame, let others stake their fortunes on the 
turn of a card, walk the tightrope that leads to glory or the grave, or 
hazard their lives for a cause, a passion or an adventure. He neither 
envied the fame their exploits brought them nor wasted his pity on 
them when their efforts ended in disaster. 

But it must not be inferred from this that Richard Harenger was a 
selfish or a callous man. He was neither. He was considerate and of 
a generous disposition. He was always ready to oblige a friend, and 
he was sufficiently well off to be able to indulge himself in the pleasure 
of helping others. He had some money of his own, and he occupied in 
the Home Office a position that brought him an adequate stipend. The 
work suited him. It was regular, responsible and pleasant. Every day 
when he left the office he went to his club to play bridge for a couple 
of hours, and on Saturdays and Sundays he played golf. He went 
abroad for his holidays, staying at good hotels, and visited churches, 
galleries and museums. He was a regular first-nighter. He dined out 
a good deal. His friends liked him. He was easy to talk to. He was 
well read, knowledgeable and amusing. He was besides of a personable 

174 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 175 

exterior, not remarkably handsome, but tall, slim and erect of carriage, 
with a lean, intelligent face; his hair was growing thin, for he was 
now approaching the age of fifty, but his brown eyes retained their 
smile and his teeth were all his own. He had from nature a good 
constitution, and he had always taken care of himself. There was no 
reason in the world why he should not be a happy man, and if there 
had been in him a trace of self-complacency he might have claimed 
that he deserved to be. 

He had the good fortune even to sail safely through those perilous, 
unquiet straits of marriage in which so many wise and good men have 
made shipwreck. Married for love in the early twenties, his wife and 
he, after some years of almost perfect felicity, had drifted gradually 
apart. Neither of them wished to marry anyone else, so there was 
no question of divorce (which indeed Richard Harenger's situation in 
the government service made undesirable), but for convenience' sake, 
with the help of the family lawyer, they arranged a separation which 
left them free to lead their lives as each one wished without inter- 
ference from the other. They parted with mutual expressions of respect 
and good will. 

Richard Harenger sold his house in St. John's Wood and took a 
flat within convenient walking distance of Whitehall. It had a sitting 
room which he lined with his books, a dining room into which his 
Chippendale furniture just fitted, a nice-sized bedroom for himself, 
and beyond the kitchen a couple of maids' rooms. He brought his 
cook, whom he had had for many years, from St. John's Wood, but 
needing no longer so large a staff dismissed the rest of the servants 
and applied at a registry office for a house-parlourmaid. He knew 
exactly what he wanted, and he explained his needs to the superin- 
tendent of the agency with precision. He wanted a maid who was 
not too young, first because young women are flighty and secondly 
because, though he was of mature age and a man of principle, people 
would talk, the porter and the tradesmen if nobody else, and both 
for the sake of his own reputation and that of the young person he 
considered that the applicant should have reached years of discretion. 
Besides that he wanted a maid who could clean silver well. He had 
always had a fancy for old silver, and it was reasonable to demand 



176 READING I'VE LIKED 

that the forks and spoons that had been used by a woman of quality 
under the reign of Queen Anne should be treated with tenderness and 
respect. He was of a hospitable nature and liked to give at least once 
a week little dinners of not less than four people and not more than 
eight. He could trust his cook to send in a meal that his guests would 
take pleasure in eating and he desired his parlourmaid to wait with 
neatness and dispatch. Then he needed a perfect valet. He dressed 
well, in a manner that suited his age and condition, and he liked 
his clothes to be properly looked after. The parlourmaid he was looking 
for must be able to press trousers and iron a tie, and he was very 
particular that his shoes should be well shone. He had small feet, and 
he took a good deal of trouble to have well-cut shoes. He had a large 
supply, and he insisted that they should be treed up the moment he 
took them ofT. Finally the flat must be kept clean and tidy. It was of 
course understood that any applicant for the post must be of irreproach- 
able character, sober, honest, reliable and of a pleasing exterior. In 
return for this he^ was prepared to ofler good wages, reasonable liberty 
and ample holidays. The superintendent listened without batting an 
eyelash, and telling him that she was quite sure she could suit him, 
sent him a string of candidates which proved that she had not paid 
the smallest attention to a word he said. He saw them all personally. 
Some were obviously inefficient, some looked fast, some were too old, 
others too young, some lacked the presence he thought essential; there 
was not one to whom he was inclined even to give a trial. He was a 
kindly, polite man, and he declined their services with a smile and a 
pleasant expression of regret. He did not lose patience. He was pre- 
oared to interview house-parlourmaids till he found one who was 
suitable. 

Now it is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything 
but the best you very often get it: if you utterly decline to make do 
with what you can get, then somehow or other you are verv likely 
to get what you want. It is as though Fate said, "This man's a perfect 
fool, he's asking for perfection," and then just out of her feminine 
wilfulness flung it in his lap. One day the porter of the flats said to 
Richard Harenger out of a blue sky: 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 177 

"I hear you're lookin' for a house-parlourmaid, sir. There's someone 
I know lookin' for a situation as might do." 

"Can you recommend her personally?" 

Richard Harenger had the sound opinion that one servant's recom- 
mendation of another was worth much more than that of an em- 
ployer. 

"I can vouch for her respectability. She's been in some very good 
situations." 

"I shall be coming in to dress about seven. If that's convenient to 
her I could see her then." 

"Very good, sir. I'll see that she's told." 

He had not been in more than five minutes when the cook, having 
answered a ring at the front door, came in and told him that the 
person the porter had spoken to him about had called. 
, "Show her in," he said. 

He turned on some more light so that he could see what the appli- 
cant looked like, and getting up, stood with his back to the fireplace. 
A woman came in and stood just inside the door in a respectful atti- 
tude. 

"Good evening," he said. "What is your name?" 

"Pritchard, sir." 

"How old are you?" 

"Thirty-five, sir." 

"Well, that's a reasonable age." 

He gave his cigarette a puff and looked at her reflectively. She was 
on the tall side, nearly as tall as he, but he guessed that she wore high 
heels. Her black dress fitted her station. She held herself well. She 
had good features and a rather high colour. 

"Will you take off your hat?" he asked. 

She did so, and he saw that she had pale brown hair. It was neatly 
and becomingly dressed. She looked strong and healthy. She was 
neither fat nor thin. In a proper uniform she would look very pre- 
sentable. She was not inconveniently handsome, but she was certainly 
a comely, in another class of life you might almost have said a hand- 
some, woman. He proceeded to ask her a number of questions. Her 
answers were satisfactory. She had left her last place for an adequate 



178 READING I'VE LIKED 

reason. She had been trained under a butler and appeared to be well 
acquainted with her duties. In her last place she had been head parlour- 
maid of three, but she did not mind undertaking the work of the flat 
single-handed. She had valeted a gentleman before who had sent her 
to a tailor's to learn how to press clothes. She was a little shy, but 
neither timid nor ill at ease. Richard asked her his questions in his 
amiable, leisurely way, and she answered them with modest compo- 
sure. He was considerably impressed. He asked her what references 
she could give. They seemed extremely satisfactory. 

"Now look here," he said, "I'm very much inclined to engage you. 
But I hate changes, I've had my cook for twelve years: if you suit 
me and the place suits you I hope you'll stay. I mean, I don't want 
you to come to me in three or four months and say that you're leaving 
to get married." 

"There's not much fear of that, sir. I'm a widow. I don't believe 
marriage is much catch for anyone in my position, sir. My husband 
never did a stroke of work from the day I married him to the dav 
he died, and I had to keep him. What I want now is a good home." 

"I'm inclined to agree with you," he smiled. "Marriage is a very 
good thing, but I think it's a mistake to make a habit of it." 

She very properly made no reply to this, but waited for him to 
announce his decision. She did not seem anxious about it. He reflected 
that if she was as competent as she appeared she must be well aware 
that she would have no difficulty in finding a place. He told her what 
wages he was offering, and these seemed to be satisfactory to her. 
He gave her the necessary information about the place, but she gave 
him to understand that she was already apprised of this, and he re- 
ceived the impression, which amused rather than disconcerted him, 
that she had made certain enquiries about him before applying for 
the situation. It showed prudence on her part and good sense. 

"When would you be able to come in if I engaged you? I haven*' t 
got anybody at the moment. The cook's managing as best she can 
with a char, but I should like to get settled as soon as possible/' 

"Well, sir, I was going to give myself a week's holiday, but if it's 
a matter of obliging a gentleman I don't mind giving that up. I could 
come in tomorrow if it was convenient." 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 179 

Richard Harenger gave her his attractive smile. 

"I shouldn't like you to do without a holiday that I daresay you've 
been looking forward to. I can very well go on like this for another 
week. Go and have your holiday and come to me when it's over." 

"Thank you very much, sir. Would it do if I came in tomorrow 
week?" 

"Quite well." 

When she left, Richard Harenger felt he had done a good day's 
work. It looked as though he had found exactly what he was after. 
He rang for the cook and told her he had engaged a house-parlour- 
maid at last. 

"I think you'll like her, sir," she said. "She came in and 'ad a talk 
with me this afternoon. I could see at once she knew her duties. And 
she's not one of them flighty ones." 

"We can but try, Mrs. Jeddy. I hope you gave me a good character." 

"Well, I said you was particular, sir. I said you was a gentleman as 
liked things just so." 

"I admit that." 

"She said she didn't mind that. She said she liked a gentleman as 
knew what was what. She said there's no satisfaction in doing things 
proper if nobody notices. I expect you'll find she'll take a rare lot of 
pride in her work." 

"That's what I want her to do. I think we might go farther and 
fare worse." 

"Well, sir, there is that to it, of course. And the proof of the pud- 
ding's the eating. But if you ask my opinion I think she's going to 
be a real treasure." 

And that is precisely what Pritchard turned out. No man was ever 
better served. The way she shone shoes was marvellous, and he set 
out of a fine morning for his walk to the office with a more jaunty- 
step because you could almost see yourself reflected in them. She 
looked after his clothes with such attention that his colleagues began 
to chaff him about being the best-dressed man in the Civil Service. 
One day, coming home unexpectedly, he found a line of socks and 
handkerchiefs hung up to dry in the bathroom. He called Pritchard. 



180 READING I'VE LIKED 

"D'you wash my socks and handkerchiefs yourself, Pritchard? I 
should have thought you had enough to do without that." 

"They do ruin them so at the laundry, sir. I prefer to do them at 
home if you have no objection." 

She knew exactly what he should wear on every occasion, and with- 
out asking him was aware whether she should put out a dinner jacket 
and a black tie in the evening or a dress coat and a white one. When 
he was going to a party where decorations were to be worn he found 
his neat little row of medals automatically affixed to the lapel of his 
coat. He soon ceased to choose every morning from his wardrobe the 
tie he wanted, for he found that she put out for him without fail 
the one he would have himself selected. Her taste was perfect. He 
supposed she read his letters, for she always knew what his move- 
ments were, and if he had forgotten at what hour he had an engage- 
ment he had no need to look in his book, for Pritchard could tell him. 
She knew exactly what tone to use with persons with whom she 
conversed on the telephone. Except with tradesmen, with whom she 
was apt to be peremptory, she was always polite, but there was a dis- 
tinct difference in her manner if she was addressing one of Mr. 
Harenger's literary friends or the wife of a Cabinet Minister. She 
knew by instinct with whom he wished to speak and with whom 
he didn't. From his sitting room he sometimes heard her with placid 
sincerity assuring a caller that he was out, and then she would come 
in and tell him that So-and-so had rung up, but she thought he 
wouldn't wish to be disturbed. 

"Quite right, Pritchard," he smiled. 

"I knew she only wanted to bother you about that concert," said 
Pritchard. 

His friends made appointments with him through her, and she 
would tell him what she had done on his return in the evening. 

"Mrs. Soames rang up, sir, and asked if you would lunch with her 
on Thursday, the eighth, but I said you were very sorry but you were 
lunching with Lady Versinder. Mr. Oakley rang up and asked if 
you'd go to a cocktail party at the Savoy next Tuesday at six. I said 
vou would if you possibly could, but you might have to go to the 
dentist's." 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 181 

"Quite right." 

"I thought you could see when the time came, sir." 

She kept the flat like a new pin. On one occasion soon after she 
entered his service, Richard, coming back from a holiday, took out 
a book from his shelves and at once noticed that it had been dusted. 
He rang the bell. 

"I forgot to tell you, when I went away, under no circumstances ever 
to touch my books. When books are taken out to be dusted they're 
never put back in the right place. I don't mind my books being dirty, 
but I hate not being able to find them." 

"I'm very sorry, sir," said Pritchard. "I know some gentlemen are 
very particular and I took care to put back every book exactly where 
I took it from." 

Richard Harenger gave his books a glance. So far as he could see 5 
every one was in its accustomed place. He smiled. 

"I apologize, Pritchard." 

"They were in a muck, sir. I mean, you couldn't open one without 
getting your hands black with dust." 

She certainly kept his silver as he had never had it kept before. He 
felt called upon to give her a special word of praise. 

"Most of it's Queen Anne and George I, you know," he explained. 

"Yes, I know, sir. When you've got something good like that to 
look after, it's a pleasure to keep it like it should be." 

"You certainly have a knack for it. I never knew a butler who kept 
his silver as well as you do." 

"Men haven't the patience women have," she replied modestly. 

As soon as he thought Pritchard had settled down in the place, he 
resumed the little dinners he was fond of giving once a week. He 
had already discovered th^t she knew how to wait at table, but it 
was with a warm sense of complacency that he realized then how 
competently she could manage a party. She was quick, silent and 
watchful. A guest had hardly felt the need of something before 
Pritchard was at his elbow offering him what he wanted. She soon 
learned the tastes of his more intimate friends and remembered that 
one liked water instead of soda with his whisky and that another 
particularly fancied the knuckle end of a leg of lamb. She knew 



182 READING I'VE LIKED 

exactly how cold a hock should be not to ruin its taste and how long 
claret should have stood in the room to bring out its bouquet. It was 
a pleasure to see her pour out a bottle o£ burgundy in such a fashion 
as not to disturb the grounds. On one occasion she did not serve the 
wine Richard had ordered. He somewhat sharply pointed this out to 
her. 

"I opened the bottle, sir, and it was slightly corked. So I got the 
Chambertin, as I thought it was safer." 

"Quite right, Pritchard." 

Presently he left this matter entirely in her hands, for he discovered 
that she knew perfectly what wines his guests would like. Without 
orders from him she would provide the best in his cellar and his 
oldest brandy if she thought they were the sort of people who knew 
what they were drinking. She had no belief in the palate of women, 
and when they were of the party was apt to serve the champagne 
which had to be drunk before it went off. She had the English serv- 
ant's instinctive knowledge of social differences, and neither rank 
nor money blinded her to the fact that someone was not a gentleman, 
but she had favourites among his friends, and when someone she 
particularly liked was dining, with the air of a cat that has swallowed 
a canary she would pour out for him a bottle of a wine that Harenger 
kept for very special occasions. It amused him. 

"You've got on the right side of Pritchard, old boy," he exclaimed. 
"There aren't many people she gives this wine to." 

Pritchard became an institution. She was known very soon to be 
the perfect parlourmaid. People envied Harenger the possession of her 
as they envied nothing else that he had. She was worth her weight 
in gold. Her price was above rubies. Richard Harenger beamed with 
self-complacency when they praised her. 

"Good masters make good servants," he said gaily. 

One evening, when they were sitting over their port and she had 
left the room, they were talking about her. 

"It'll be an awful blow when she leaves you." 

"Why should she leave me? One or two people have tried to get 
her away from me, but she turned them down. She knows where she's 
well off." 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 183 

"She'll get married one of these days." 

"I don't think she's that sort." 

"She's a good-looking woman." 

"Yes, she has quite a decent presence." 

"What are you talking about? She's a very handsome creature. In 
another class of life she'd be a well-known society beauty with her 
photograph in all the papers." 

At that moment Pritchard came in with the coffee. Richard Haren- 
ger looked at her. After seeing her every day, or? and on, for four years 
it was now, my word, how time flies, he had really forgotten what 
she looked like. She did not seem to have changed much since he 
had first seen her. She was no stouter than then, she still had the 
high colour, and her regular features bore the same expression which 
was at once intent and vacuous. The black uniform suited her. She 
left the room. 

"She's a paragon, and there's no doubt about it." 

"I know she is," answered Harenger. "She's perfection. I should be 
lost without her. And the strange thing is that I don't very much like 
her." 

"Why not?'' 

"I think she bores me a little. You see, she has no conversation. I've 
often tried to talk to her. She answers when I speak to her, but that's 
all. In four years she's never volunteered a remark of her own. I 
know absolutely nothing about her. I don't know if she likes me or 
if she's completely indifferent to me. She's an automaton. I respect 
her, I appreciate her, I trust her. She has every quality in the world, 
and I've often wondered why it is that with all that I'm so completely 
indifferent to her. I think it must be that she is entirely devoid of 
charm." 

They left it at that. 

Two or three days after this, since it was Pritchard's night out and 
he had no engagement, Richard Harenger dined by himself at his 
club. A page boy came to him and told him that they had just rung 
up from his flat to say that he had gone out without his keys and 
should they be brought along to him in a taxi? He put his hand 
to his pocket. It was a fact. By a singular chance he had forgotten 



184 READING I'VE LIKED 

to place them when he had changed into a blue serge suit before 
coming out to dinner. His intention had been to play bridge, but it 
was an off night at the club, and there seemed little chance of a 
decent game; it occurred to him that it would be a good opportunity 
to see a picture that he had heard talked about, so he sent back the 
message by the page that he would call for the keys himself in half 
an hour. 

He rang at the door of his flat, and it was opened by Pritchard. 
She had the keys in her hand. 

"What are you doing here, Pritchard?" he asked. "It's your night 
out, isn't it?" 

"Yes, sir. But I didn't care about going, so I told Mrs. Jeddy she 
could go instead." 

"You ought to get out when you have the chance," he said, with 
his usual thoughtfulness. "It's not good for you to be cooped up 
here all the time." 

"I get out now and then on an errand, but I haven't been out in 
the evening for the last month." 

"Why on earth not?" 

"Well, it's not very cheerful going out by yourself, and somehow 
I don't know anyone just now that I'm particularly keen on going 
out with." 

"You ought to have a bit of fun now and then. It's good for you." 

"I've got out of the habit of it somehow." 

"Look here, I'm just going to the cinema. Would you like to come 
along with me?" 

He spoke in kindliness, on the spur of the moment, and the moment 
he had said the words half regretted them. 

"Yes, sir, I'd like to," said Pritchard. 

"Run along then and put on a hat." 

"I shan't be a minute." 

She disappeared, and he went into the sitting room and lit a cigarette. 
He was a little amused at what he was doing, and pleased, too; it was 
nice to be able to make someone happy with so little trouble to himself. 
It was characteristic of Pritchard that she had shown neither surprise 
nor hesitation. She kept him waiting about five minutes, and when 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 185 

she came back he noticed that she had changed her dress. She wore 
a blue frock in what he supposed was artificial silk, a small black hat 
with a blue brooch on it, and a silver fox round her neck. He was 
a trifle relieved to see that she looked neither shabby nor showy. It 
would never occur to anyone who happened to see them that this was 
a distinguished official in the Home Office taking his housemaid to 
the pictures. 

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, sir." 

"It doesn't matter at all," he said graciously. 

He opened the front door for her, and she went out before him. 
He remembered the familiar anecdote of Louis XIV and the courtier 
and appreciated the fact that she had not hesitated to precede him. 
The cinema for which they were bound was at no great distance from 
Mr. Harenger's flat, and they walked there. He talked about the 
weather and the state of the roads and Adolf Hitler. Pritchard made 
suitable replies. They arrived just as Mickey the Mouse was starting, 
and this put them in a good humour. During the four years she had 
been in his service Richard Harenger had hardly ever seen Pritchard 
even smile, and now it diverted him vastly to hear her peal upon 
peal of joyous laughter. He enjoyed her pleasure. Then the principal 
attraction was thrown on the screen. It was a good picture, and they 
both watched it with breathless excitement. Taking his cigarette case 
out to help himself, he automatically offered it to Pritchard. 

"Thank you, sir," she said, taking one. 

He lit it for her. Her eyes were on the screen and she was almost 
unconscious of his action. When the picture was finished they streamed 
out with the crowd into the street. They walked back towards the 
flat. It was a fine starry night. 

"Did you like it?" he said. 

"Like anything, sir. It was a real treat." 

A thought occurred to him. 

"By the way, did you have any supper tonight?" 

"No, sir. I didn't have time." 

"Aren't you starving?" 

"I'll have a bit of bread and cheese when I get in and I'll make me- 
self a cup of cocoa." 



186 READING I'VE LIKED 

"That sounds rather grim." There was a feeling of gaiety in the 
air, and the people who poured past them, one way and another, 
seemed filled with a pleasant elation. In for a penny, in for a pound, 
he said to himself. "Look here, would you like to come and have a 
bit of supper with me somewhere?" 

"If you'd like to, sir." 
Come on. 

He hailed a cab. He was feeling very philanthropic and it was not 
a feeling that he disliked at all. He told the driver to go to a restaurant 
in Oxford Street which was gay, but at which he was confident there 
was no chance of meeting anyone he knew. There was an orchestra, 
and people danced. It would amuse Pritchard to see them. When they 
sat down a waiter came up to them. 

"They've got a set supper here," he said, thinking that was what 
she would like. "I suggest we have that. What would you like to 
drink? A little white wine?" 

"What I really fancy is a glass of ginger beer," she said. 

Richard Harenger ordered himself a whisky and soda. She ate the 
supper with hearty appetite, and though Harenger was not hungry, 
to put her at her ease he ate too. The picture they had just seen 
gave them something to talk about. It was quite true what they had 
said the other night, Pritchard was not a bad-looking woman, and 
even if someone had seen them together he would not have minded. 
It would make rather a good story for his friends when he told them 
how he had taken the incomparable Pritchard to the cinema and then 
afterwards to supper. Pritchard was looking at the dancers with a 
faint smile on her lips. 

"Do you like dancing?" he said. 

"I used to be a rare one for it when I was a girl. I never danced 
much after I was married. My husband was a bit shorter than me, 
and somehow I never think it looks well unless the gentleman's taller, 
if you know what I mean. I suppose I shall be getting too old for it 
soon." 

Richard was certainly taller than his parlourmaid. They would look 
all right. He was fond of dancing and he danced well. But he hesitated. 
He did not want to embarrass Pritchard by asking her to dance with 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 187 

him. It was better not to go too far perhaps. And yet what did it 
matter? It was a drab life she led. She was so sensible, if she thought 
it a mistake he was pretty sure she would find a decent excuse. 

"Would you like to take a turn, Pritchard?" he said, as the band 
struck up again. 

"I'm terribly out of practice, sir." 

"What does that matter?" 

"If you don't mind, sir," she answered coolly, rising from her seat. 

She was not in the least shy. She was only afraid that she would not 
be able to follow his step. They moved on to the floor. He found she 
danced very well. 

"Why, you dance perfectly, Pritchard," he said. 

"It's coming back to me." 

Although she was a big woman, she was light on her feet, and she 
had a natural sense of rhythm. She was very pleasant to dance with. 
He gave a glance at the mirrors that lined the walls, and he could not 
help reflecting that they looked very well together. Their eyes met in 
the mirror; he wondered whether she was thinking that, too. They 
had two more dances, and then Richard Harenger suggested that 
they should go. He paid the bill and they walked out. He noticed 
that she threaded her way through the crowd without a trace of self- 
consciousness. They got into a taxi and in ten minutes were at home. 

"I'll go up the back way, sir," said Pritchard. 

"There's no need to do that. Come up in the lift with me." 

He took her up, giving the night porter an icy glance, so that he 
should not think it strange that he came back at that somewhat late 
hour with his parlourmaid, and with his latchkey let her into the flat. 

"Well, good night, sir," she said. "Thank you very much. It's been 
a real treat for me." 

"Thank you, Pritchard. I should have had a very dull evening by 
myself. I hope you've enjoyed your outing." 

"That I have, sir, more than I can say." 

It had been a success. Richard Harenger was satisfied with himself. 
It was a kindly thing for him to have done. It was a very agreeable 
sensation to give anyone so much real pleasure. His benevolence 



188 READING I'VE LIKED 

warmed him and for a moment he felt a great love in his heart for 
the whole human race, 

"Good night, Pritchard," he said, and because he felt happy and 
good he put his arm round her waist and kissed her on the lips. 

Her lips were very soft. They lingered on his, and she returned his 
kiss. It was the warm, hearty embrace of a healthy woman in the 
prime of life. He found it very pleasant, and he held her to him a 
little more closely. She put her arms round his neck. 

As a general rule he did not wake till Pritchard came in with his 
letters, but next morning he woke at half past seven. He had a curious 
sensation that he did not recognize. He was accustomed to sleep with 
two pillows under his head, and he suddenly grew aware of the 
fact that he had only one. Then he remembered and with a start looked 
round. The other pillow was beside his own. Thank God, no sleeping 
head rested there, but it was plain that one had. His heart sank. He 
broke out into a cold sweat. 

"My God, what a fool I've been!" he cried out loud. 

How could he have done anything so stupid? What on earth had 
come over him ? He was the last man to play about with servant girls. 
What a disgraceful thing to do! At his age and in his position. He had 
not heard Pritchard slip away. He must have been asleep. It wasn't 
even as if he'd liked her very much. She wasn't his type. And as he 
had said the other night, she rather bored him. Even now he only 
knew her as Pritchard. He had no notion what her first name was. 
What madness! And what was to happen now? The position was 
impossible. It was obvious he couldn't keep her, and yet to send her 
away for what was his fault as much as hers seemed shockingly unfair. 
How idiotic to lose the best parlourmaid a man ever had just for an 
hour's folly! 

"It's that damned kindness of heart of mine," he groaned. 

He would never find anyone else to look after his clothes so admi- 
rably or clean the silver so well. She knew all his friends' telephone 
numbers, and she understood wine. But of course she must go. She 
must see for herself that after what had happened things could never 
be the same. He would make her a handsome present and give her 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 189 

an excellent reference. At any minute she would be coming in now. 
Would she be arch, would she be familiar? Or would she put on airs? 
Perhaps even she wouldn't trouble to come in with his letters. It would 
be awful if he had to ring the bell and Mrs. Jeddy came in and said: 
"Pritchard's not up yet, sir, she's having a lie in after last night." 

"What a fool I've been! What a contemptible cad!" 

There was a knock at the door. He was sick with anxiety. 

"Come in." 

Richard Harenger was a very unhappy man. 

Pritchard came in as the clock struck. She wore the print dress she 
was in the habit of wearing during the early part of the day. 

"Good morning, sir," she said. 

"Good morning." 

She drew the curtains and handed him his letters and the papers. 
Her face was impassive. She looked exactly as she always looked. Her 
movements had the same competent deliberation that they always had. 
She neither avoided Richard's glance nor sought it. 

"Will you wear your grey, sir ? It came back from the tailor's yester- 
day." 

"Yes." 

He pretended to read his letters, but he watched her from under 
his eyelashes. Her back was turned to him. She took his vest and 
drawers and folded them over a chair. She took the studs out of the 
shirt he had worn the day before and studded a clean one. She put out 
some clean socks for him and placed them on the seat of a chair with 
the suspenders to match by the side. Then she put out his grey suit and 
attached the braces to the back buttons of the trousers. She opened his 
wardrobe and after a moment's reflection chose a tie to go with the 
suit. She collected on her arm the suit of the day before and picked 
up the shoes. 

"Will you have breakfast now, sir, or will you have your bath first?" 

"I'll have breakfast now," he said. 

"Very good, sir." 

With her slow quiet movements, unruffled, she left the room. Her 
face bore that rather serious, deferential, vacuous look it always bore. 
What had happened might have been a dream. Nothing in Pritchard's 



190 READING I'VE LIKED 

demeanour suggested that she had the smallest recollection of the 
night before. He gave a sigh of relief. It was going to be all right. She 
need not go, she need not go. Pritchard was the perfect parlourmaid. 
He knew that never by word nor gesture would she ever refer to the 
fact that for a moment their relations had been other than those of 
master and servant. Richard Harenger was a very happy man. 






The Facts of Life 

BY 

W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 



It was Henry Garnet's habit on leaving the city of an afternoon to 
drop in at his club and play bridge before going home to dinner. He 
was a pleasant man to play with. He knew the game well, and you 
could be sure that he would make the best of his cards. He was a good 
loser; and when he won was more inclined to ascribe his success to 
his luck than to his skill. He was indulgent, and if his partner made 
a mistake, could be trusted to find an excuse for him. It was surprising 
then on this occasion to hear him telling his partner with unnecessary 
sharpness that he had never seen a hand worse played; and it was 
more surprising still to see him not only make a grave error himself, 
an error of which you would never have thought him capable, but 
when his partner, not unwilling to get a little of his own back, pointed 
it out, insist against all reason and with considerable heat that he was 
perfectly right. But they were all old friends, the men he was playing 
with, and none of them took his ill humour very seriously. Henry 
Garnet was a broker, a partner in a firm of repute, and it occurred to 
one of them that something had gone wrong with some stock he was 
interested in. 

"How's the market today?" he asked. 

"Booming. Even the suckers are making money." 

It was evident that stocks and shares had nothing to do with Henry 
Garnet's vexation; but something was the matter; that was evident, 
too. He was a hearty fellow who enjoyed excellent health; he had 
plenty of money; he was fond of his wife and devoted to his children. 
As a rule he had high spirits, and he laughed easily at the nonsense 
they were apt to talk while they played; but today he sat glum and 

191 



192 READING I'VE LIKED 

silent. His brows were crossly puckered, and there was a sulky look 
about his mouth. Presently, to ease the tension, one of the others men- 
tioned a subject upon which they* all knew Henry Garnet was glad 
to speak. 

"How's your boy, Henry? I see he's done pretty well in the tourna- 
ment." 

Henry Garnet's frown grew darker. 

"He's done no better than I expected him to." 

"When does he come back from Monte?" 

"He got back last night." 

"Did he enjoy himself?" 

"I suppose so; all I know is that he made a damned fool of himself." 

"Oh. How?" 

"I'd rather not talk about it if you don't mind." 

The three men looked at him with curiosity. Henry Garnet scowled 
at the green baize. 

"Sorry, old boy. Your call." 

The game proceeded in a strained silence. Garnet got his bid, and 
when he played his cards so badly that he went three down not a word 
was said. Another rubber was begun, and in the second game Garnet 
denied a suit. 

"Having none?" his partner asked him. 

Garnet's irritability was such that he did not even reply, and when 
at the end of the hand it appeared that he had revoked, and that his 
revoke cost the rubber, it was not to be expected that his partner 
should let his carelessness go without remark. 

"What the devil's the matter with you, Henry?" he said. "You're 
playing like a fool." 

Garnet was disconcerted. He did not so much mind losing a big 
rubber himself, but he was sore that his inattention should have made 
his partner lose too. He pulled himself together. 

"I'd better not play any more. I thought a few rubbers would calm 
me, but the fact is I can't give my mind to the game. To tell you the 
truth I'm in a hell of a temper." 

They all burst out laughing. 

"You don't have to tell us that, old boy. It's obvious." 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 193 

Garnet gave them a rueful smile. 

"Well, I bet you'd be in a temper if what's happened to me had hap- 
pened to you. As a matter of fact I'm in a damned awkward situation, 
and if any of you fellows can give me any advice how to deal with 
it I'd be grateful." 

"Let's have a drink and you tell us all about it. With a K.C., a 
Home Office official and an eminent surgeon — if we can't tell you how 
to deal with a situation, nobody can." 

The K.C. got up and rang the bell for a waiter. 

"It's about that damned boy of mine," said Henry Garnet. 

Drinks were ordered and brought. And this is the story that Henry 
Garnet told them. 

The boy of whom he spoke was his only son. His name was 
Nicholas, and of course he was called Nicky. He was eighteen. The 
Garnets had two daughters besides, one of sixteen and the other of 
twelve, but however unreasonable it seemed, for a father is gener- 
ally supposed to like his daughters best, and though he did all he 
could not to show his preference, there was no doubt that the greater 
share of Henry Garnet's affection was given to his son. He was kind, 
in a chafing, casual way, to his daughters, and gave them handsome 
presents on their birthdays and at Christmas; but he doted on Nicky. 
Nothing was too good for him. He thought the world of him. He 
could hardly take his eyes off him. You could not blame him, for 
Nicky was a son that any parent might have been proud of. He was 
six foot two, lithe but muscular, with broad shoulders and a slim waist, 
and he held himself gallantly erect; he had a charming head, well 
placed on the shoulders, with pale brown hair that waved slightly, 
blue eyes with long dark lashes under well-marked eyebrows, a full 
red mouth and a tanned, clean skin. When he smiled he showed very 
regular and very white teeth. He was not shy, but there was a modesty 
in his demeanour that was attractive. In social intercourse he was easy, 
polite and quietly gay. He was the offspring of nice, healthy, decent 
parents, he had been well brought up in a good home, he had been 
sent to a good school, and the general result was as engaging a speci- 
men of young manhood as you were likely to find in a long time. You 
felt that he was as honest, open and virtuous as he looked. He had 



194 READING I'VE LIKED 

never given his parents a moment's uneasiness. As a child he was 
seldom ill and never naughty. As a boy he did everything that was 
expected of him. His school reports were excellent. He was wonder- 
fully popular, and he ended his career, with a creditable number of 
prizes, as head of the school and captain of the football team. But 
this was not all. At the age of fourteen Nicky had developed an 
unexpected gift for lawn tennis. This was a game that his father not 
only was fond of, but played very well, and when he discerned in the 
boy the promise of a tennis player he fostered it. During the holidays 
he had him taught by the best professionals, and by the time he was 
sixteen he had won a number of tournaments for boys of his age. He 
could beat his father so badly that only parental affection reconciled 
the older player to the poor show he put up. At eighteen Nicky went 
to Cambridge and Henry Garnet conceived the ambition that before 
he was through with the university he should play for it. Nicky had 
all the qualifications for becoming a great tennis player. He was tall, 
he had a long reach, he was quick on his feet and his timing was 
perfect. He realized instinctively where the ball was coming and, 
seemingly without hurry, was there to take it. He had a powerful 
serve, with a nasty break that made it difficult to return, and his fore- 
hand drive, low, long and accurate, was deadly. He was not so good 
on the backhand and his volleying was wild, but all through the 
summer before he went to Cambridge Henry Garnet made him work 
on these points under the best teacher in England. At the back of 
his mind, though he did not even mention it to Nicky, he cherished 
a further ambition, to see his son play at Wimbledon, and who could 
tell, perhaps be chosen to represent his country in the Davis Cup. A 
great lump came into Henry Garnet's throat as he saw in fancy his 
son leap over the net to shake hands with the American champion 
whom he had just defeated, and walk off the court to the deafening 
plaudits of the multitude. 

As an assiduous frequenter of Wimbledon, Henry Garnet had a 
good many friends in the tennis world, and one evening he found 
himself at a city dinner sitting next to one of them, a Colonel Braba- 
zon, and in due course began talking to him of Nicky and what chance 
there might be of his being chosen to play for his university during 
the following season. 



195 

"Why don't you let him go down to Monte Carlo and play in the 
spring tournament there?" said the Colonel suddenly. 

"Oh, I don't think he's good enough for that. He's not nineteen 
yet, he only went up to Cambridge last October; he wouldn't stand 
a chance against all those cracks." 

"Of course, Austin and Von Cramm and so on would knock spots 
off him, but he might snatch a game or two; and if he got up against 
some of the smaller fry there's no reason why he shouldn't win two 
or three matches. He's never been up against any of the first-rate 
players, and it would be wonderful practice for him. He'd learn a lot 
more than he'll ever learn in the seaside tournaments you enter him 
for." 

"I wouldn't dream of it. I'm not going to let him leave Cambridge 
in the middle of a term. I've always impressed upon him that tennis 
is only a game and it mustn't interfere with work." 

Colonel Brabazon asked Garnet when the term ended. 

"That's all right. -.jyte'd only have to cut about three days. Surely 
that could be arranged. You see, two of the men we were depending 
on have let us down, and we're in a hole. We want to send as good a 
team as we can. The Germans are sending their best players, and so 
are the Americans." 

"Nothing doing, old boy. In the first place Nicky's not good enough, 
and secondly, I don't fancy the idea of sending a kid like that to 
Monte Carlo without anyone to look after him. If I could get away 
myself I might think of it, but that's out of the question." 

"I shall be there. I'm going as the nonplaying captain of the English 
team. I'll keep an eye on him." 

"You'll be busy, and besides, it's not a responsibility I'd like to ask 
you to take. He's never been abroad in his life, and to tell you the 
truth, I shouldn't have a moment's peace all the time he was there." 

They left it at that, and presently Henry Garnet went home. He was 
so flattered by Colonel Brabazon's suggestion that he could not help 
telling his wife. 

"Fancy his thinking Nicky's as good as that. He told me he'd seen 
him play and his style was fine. He only wants more practice to get 
into the first flight. We shall see the kid playing in the semifinals at 
Wimbledon yet, old girl." 



196 READING I'VE LIKED 

To his surprise Mrs. Garnet was not so much opposed to the notion 
as he would have expected. 

"After all the boy's eighteen. Nicky's never got into mischief yet, 
and there's no reason to suppose he will now." 

"There's his work to be considered; don't forget that. I think it 
would be a very bad precedent to let him cut the end of term." 

"But what can three days matter? It seems a shame to rob him of 
a chance like that. I'm sure he'd jump at it if you asked him." 

"Well, I'm not going to. I haven't sent him to Cambridge just to 
play tennis. I know he's steady, but it's silly to put temptation in his 
way. He's much too young to go to Monte Carlo by himself." 

"You say he won't have a chance against these crack players, but 
you can't tell." 

Henry Garnet sighed a little. On the way home in the car it had 
struck him that Austin's health was uncertain and that Von Cramm 
had his off days. Supposing, just for the sake of argument, that Nicky 
had a bit of luck like that — then there would be no doubt that he 
would be chosen to play for Cambridge. But of course that was all 
nonsense. 

"Nothing doing, my dear. I've made up my mind, and I'm not 
going to change it." 

Mrs. Garnet held her peace. But next day she wrote to Nicky, telling 
him what had happened, and suggested to him what she would do 
in his place if, wanting to go, he wished to get his father's consent. 
A day or two later Henry Garnet received a letter from his son. He 
was bubbling over with excitement. He had seen his tutor, who was 
a tennis player himself, and the Provost of his college, who happened 
to know Colonel Brabazon, and no objection would be made to his 
leaving before the end of term; they both thought it an opportunity 
that shouldn't be missed He didn't see what harm he could come to, 
and if only, just this once, his father would stretch a point, well, next 
term, he promised faithfully, he'd work like blazes. It was a very pretty 
letter. Mrs. Garnet watched her husband read it at the breakfast 
table; she was undisturbed by the frown on his face. He threw it over 
to her. 

"I don't know why you thought it necessary to tell Nicky something 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 197 

I told you in confidence. It's too bad of you. Now you've thoroughly 
unsettled him." 

"I'm so sorry. I thought it would please him to know that Colonel 
Brabazon had such a high opinion of him. I don't see why one should 
only tell people the disagreeable things that are said about them. Of 
course I made it quite clear that there could be no question of his 
going." 

"You've put me in an odious position. If there's anything I hate it's 
for the boy to look upon me as a spoilsport and a tyrant." 

"Oh, he'll never do that. He may think you rather silly and un- 
reasonable, but I'm sure he'll understand that it's only for his own 
good that you're being so unkind." 

"Christ," said Henry Garnet. 

His wife had a great inclination to laugh. She knew the battle was 
won. Dear, oh dear, how easy it was to get men to do what you 
wanted. For appearance' sake Henry Garnet held out for forty-eight 
hours, but then he yielded, and a fortnight later Nicky came to Lon- 
don. He was to start for Monte Carlo next morning, and after dinner, 
when Mrs. Garnet and her elder daughter had left them, Henry took 
the opportunity to give his son some good advice. 

"I don't feel quite comfortable about letting you go off to a place like 
Monte Carlo at your age practically by yourself," he finished, "but 
there it is, and I can only hope you'll be sensible. I don't want to play 
the heavy father, but there are three things especially that I want to 
warn you against: one is gambling, don't gamble; the second is money, 
don't lend anyone money; and the third is women, don't have any- 
thing to do with women. If you don't do any of those three things you 
can't come to much harm, so remember them well." 

"All right, Father," Nicky smiled. 

"That's my last word to you, I know the world pretty well, and be- 
lieve me, my advice is sound." 

"I won't forget it. I promise you." 

"That's a good chap. Now let's go up and join the ladies." 

Nicky beat neither Austin nor Von Cramm in the Monte Carlo 
tournament, but he did not disgrace himself. He snatched an unex- 
pected victory over a Spanish player and gave one of the Austrians a 



198 READING I'VE LIKED 

closer match than anyone had thought possible. In the mixed doubles 
he got into the semifinals. His charm conquered everyone, and he 
vastly enjoyed himself. It was generally allowed that he showed prom- 
ise, and Colonel Brabazon told him that when he was a little older 
and had had more practice with first-class players he would be a credit 
to his father. The tournament came to an end, and the day following 
he was to fly back to London. Anxious to play his best, he had lived 
very carefully, smoking little and drinking nothing, and going to bed 
early; but on his last evening he thought he would like to see some- 
thing of the life in Monte Carlo of which he had heard so much. An 
official dinner was given to the tennis players, and after dinner with the 
rest of them he went into the Sporting Club. It was the first time be 
had been there. Monte Carlo was very full, and the rooms were 
crowded. Nicky had never before seen roulette played except in the 
pictures; in a maze he stopped at the first table he came to; chips of 
different sizes were scattered over the green cloth in what looked like 
a hopeless muddle; the croupier gave the wheel a sharp turn and with 
a flick threw in the little white ball. After what seemed an endless 
time the ball stopped and another croupier with a broad, indifferent 
gesture raked in the chips of those who had lost. 

Presently Nicky wandered over to where they were playing trente 
et quarante, but he couldn't understand what it was all about, and he 
thought it dull. He saw a crowd in another room and sauntered in. A 
big game of baccara was in progress, and he was immediately con- 
scious of the tension. The players were protected from the thronging 
bystanders by a brass rail; they sat round the table, nine on each side, 
with the dealer in the middle and the croupier facing him. Big money 
was changing hands. The dealer was a member of the Greek Syndi- 
cate. Nicky looked at his impassive face. His eyes were watchful, but 
his expression never changed whether he won or lost. It was a terri- 
fying, strangely impressive sight. It gave Nicky, who had been thriftily 
brought up, a peculiar thrill to see someone risk a thousand pounds on 
the turn of a card and when he lost make a little joke and laugh. It 
was all terribly exciting. An acquaintance came up to him. 

"Been doing any good?" he asked. 

"I haven't been playing." 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 199 

"Wise of you. Rotten game. Come and have a drink." 

"All right." 

While they were having it Nicky told his friend that this was the 
first time he had ever been in the rooms. 

"Oh, but you must have one little flutter before you go. It's idiotic to 
leave Monte without having tried your luck. After all it won't hurt you 
to lose a hundred francs or so." 

"I don't suppose it will, but my father wasn't any too keen on my 
coming at all, and one of the three things he particularly advised me 
not to do was to gamble." 

But when Nicky left his companion he strolled back to one of the 
tables where they were playing roulette. He stood for a while looking 
at the losers' money being raked in by the croupier and the money 
that was won paid out to the winners. It was impossible to deny that 
it was thrilling. His friend was right, it did seem silly to leave Monte 
without putting something on the table just once. It would be an ex- 
perience, and at his age you had to have all the experience you could 
get. He reflected that he hadn't promised his father not to gamble, 
he'd promised him not to forget his advice. It wasn't quite the same, 
was it? He took a hundred-franc note out of his pocket and rather 
shyly put it on number eighteen. He chose it because that was his age. 
With a wildly beating heart he watched the wheel turn; the little 
white ball whizzed about like a small demon of mischief; the wheel 
went round more slowly, the little white ball hesitated, it seemed 
about to stop, it went on again; Nicky could hardly believe his eyes 
when it fell into number eighteen. A lot of chips were passed over to 
him, and his hands trembled as he took them. It seemed to amount to 
a lot of money. He was so confused that he never thought of putting 
anything on the following round; in fact he had no intention of play- 
ing any more, once was enough; and he was surprised when eighteen 
again came up. There was only one chip on it. 

"By George, you've won again," said a man who was standing near 
to him. 

"Me? I hadn't got anything on." 

"Yes, you had. Your original stake. They always leave it on unless 
you ask for it back. Didn't you know?" 



200 READING I'VE LIKED 

Another packet of chips was handed over to him. Nicky's head 
reeled. He counted his gains: seven thousand francs. A queer sense of 
power seized him; he felt wonderfully clever. This was the easiest way 
of making money that he had ever heard of. His frank, charming face 
was wreathed in smiles. His bright eyes met those of a woman stand- 
ing by his side. She smiled. 

"You're in luck," she said. 

She spoke English, but with a foreign accent. 

"I can hardly believe it. It's the first time I've ever played." 

"That explains it. Lend me a thousand francs, will you? I've lost 
everything I've got. I'll give it you back in half an hour." 

"All right." 

She took a large red chip from his pile and with a word of thanks 
disappeared. The man who had spoken to him before grunted. 

"You'll never see that again." 

Nicky was dashed. His father had particularly advised him not to 
lend anyone money. What a silly thing to do! And to somebody he'd 
never seen in his life. But the fact was, he felt at that moment such a 
love for the human race that it had never occurred to him to refuse. 
And that big red chip, it was almost impossible to realize that it had 
any value. Oh, well, it didn't matter, he still had six thousand francs, 
he'd just try his luck once or twice more, and if he didn't win he'd go 
home. He put a chip on sixteen, which was his elder sister's age, but 
it didn't come up; then on twelve, which was his younger sister's, and 
that didn't come up either; he tried various numbers at random, but 
without success. It was funny, he seemed to have lost his knack. He 
thought he would try just once more and then stop; he won. He made 
up all his losses and had something over. At the end of an hour, after 
various ups and downs, having experienced such thrills as he had never 
known in his life, he found himself with so many chips that they 
would hardly go in his pockets. He decided to go. He went to- the 
changers' office, and he gasped when twenty thousand-franc notes were 
spread out before him. He had never had so much money in his life. 
He put it in his pocket and was turning away when the woman to 
whom he had lent the thousand francs came up to him. 

"I've been looking for you everywhere," she said. "I was afraid you'd 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 201 

gone. I was in a fever, I didn't know what you'd think of me. Here's 
your thousand francs and thank you so much for the loan." 

Nicky, blushing scarlet, stared at her with amazement. How he had 
misjudged her! His father had said, don't gamble; well, he had, and 
he'd made twenty thousand francs; and his father had said, don't lend 
anyone money; well, he had, he'd lent quite a lot to a total stranger, 
and she'd returned it. The fact was that he wasn't nearly such a fool as 
his father thought: he'd had an instinct that he could lend her the 
money with safety, and you see, his instinct was right. But he was so 
obviously taken aback that the little lady was forced to laugh. 

"What is the matter with you?" she asked. 

"To tell you the truth I never expected to see the money back." 

"What did you take me for? Did you think I was a — cocotte?" 

Nicky reddened to the roots of his wavy hair. 

"No, of course not." 

"Do I look like one?" 

"Not a bit." 

She was dressed very quietly, in black, with a string of gold beads 
round her neck; her simple frock showed off a neat, slight figure; she 
had a pretty little face and a trim head. She was made up, but not ex- 
cessively, and Nicky supposed that she was not more than three or 
four years older than himself. She gave him a friendly smile. 

"My husband is in the administration in Morocco, and I've come to 
Monte Carlo for a few weeks because he thought I wanted a change." 

"I was just going," said Nicky because he couldn't think of anything 
else to say. 

"Already!" 

"Well, I've got to get up early tomorrow. I'm going back to London 
by air." 

"Of course. The tournament ended today, didn't it? I saw you play, 
you know, two or three times." 

"Did you? I don't know why you should have noticed me." 

"You've got a beautiful style. And you looked very sweet in your 
shorts." 

Nicky was not an immodest youth, but it did cross his mind that 



202 READING I'VE LIKED 

perhaps she had borrowed that thousand francs in order to scrape ac- 
quaintance with him. 

"Do you ever go to the Knickerbocker?" she asked. 

"No. I never have." 

"Oh, but you mustn't leave Monte without having been there. Why 
don't you come and dance a little? To tell you the truth, I'm starving 
with hunger, and I should adore some bacon and eggs." 

Nicky remembered his father's advice not to have anything to do 
with women, but this was different; you had only to look at the pretty 
little thing to know at once that she was perfectly respectable. Her hus- 
band was in what corresponded, he supposed, to the civil service. His 
father and mother had friends who were civil servants, and they and 
their wives sometimes came to dinner. It was true that the wives were 
neither so young nor so pretty as this one, but she was just as ladylike 
as they were. And after winning twenty thousand francs he thought it 
wouldn't be a bad idea to have a little fun. 

"I'd love to go with you," he said. "But you won't mind if I don't 
stay very long. I've left instructions at my hotel that I'm to be called 
at seven." 

"We'll leave as soon as ever you like." 

Nicky found it very pleasant at the Knickerbocker. He ate his bacon 
and eggs with appetite. They shared a bottle of champagne. They 
danced, and the little lady told him he danced beautifully. He knew he 
danced pretty well, and of course she was easy to dance with. As light 
as a feather. She laid her cheek against his and when their eves met 
there was in hers a smile that made his heart go pit-a-pat. A coloured 
woman sang in a throaty, sensual voice. The floor was crowded. 

"Have you ever been told that you're very good-looking?" she asked. 

"I don't think so," he laughed. "Gosh," he thought, "I believe she's 
fallen for me." 

Nicky was not such a fool as to be unaware that women often Piked 
him, and when she made that remark he pressed her to him a little 
more closely. She closed her eyes, and a faint sigh escaped her lips. 

"I suppose it wouldn't be quite nice if I kissed you before all these 
people," he said. 

"What do you think they would take me for?" 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 203 

It began to grow late, and Nicky said that really he thought he 
ought to be going. 

"I shall go too," she said. "Will you drop me at my hotel on your 
way?" 

Nicky paid the bill. He was rather surprised at its amount, but with 
all that money he had in his pocket he could afford not to care, and 
they got into a taxi. She snuggled up to him, and he kissed her. She 
seemed to like it. 

"By Jove," he thought, "I wonder if there's anything doing." 

It was true that she was a married woman, but her husband was in 
Morocco, and it certainly did look as if she'd fallen for him. Good and 
proper. It was true also that his father had warned him to have noth- 
ing to do with women, but, he reflected again, he hadn't actually 
promised he wouldn't, he'd only promised not to forget his advice* 
Well, he hadn't; he was bearing it in mind that very minute. But cir- 
cumstances alter cases. She was a sweet little thing; it seemed silly to 
miss the chance of an adventure when it was handed to you like that 
on a tray. When they reached the hotel he paid off the taxi. 

"I'll walk home," he said. "The air will do me good after the stufify 
atmosphere of that place." 

"Come up a moment," she said. "I'd like to show you the photo of 
my little boy." 

"Oh, have you got a little boy?" he exclaimed, a trifle dashed. 

"Yes, a sweet little boy." 

He walked upstairs after her. He didn't in the least want to see the 
photograph of her little boy, but he thought it only civil to pretend he 
did. He was afraid he'd made a fool of himself; it occurred to him 
that she was taking him up to look at the photograph in order to show 
him in a nice way that he'd made a mistake. He'd told her he was 
eighteen. 

"I suppose she thinks I'm just a kid." 

He began to wish he hadn't spent all that money on champagne at 
the night club. 

But she didn't show him the photograph of her little boy after all. 
They had no sooner got into her room than she turned to him, flung 



204 . READING I'VE LIKED 

her arms round his neck, and kissed him full on the lips. He had never 
in all his life been kissed so passionately. 

"Darling," she said. 

For a brief moment his father's advice once more crossed Nicky s 
mind, and then he forgot it. 

Nicky was a light sleeper, and the least sound was apt to wake him. 
Two or three hours later he awoke and for a moment could not im- 
agine where he was. The room was not quite dark, for the door of the 
bathroom was ajar, and the light in it had been left on. Suddenly he 
was conscious that someone was moving about the room. Then he re- 
membered. He saw that it was his little friend, and he was on the point 
of speaking when something in the way she was behaving stopped 
him. She was walking very cautiously, as though she were afraid of 
waking him; she stopped once or twice and looked over at the bed. He 
wondered what she was after. He soon saw. She went over to the chair 
on which he had placed his clothes and once more looked in his direc- 
tion. She waited for what seemed to him an interminable time. The 
silence was so intense that Nicky thought he could hear his own heart 
beating. Then, very slowly, very quietly, she took up his coat, slipped 
her hand into the inside pocket and drew out all those beautiful thou- 
sand-franc notes that Nicky had been so proud to win. She put the 
coat back and placed some other clothes on it so that it should look as 
though it had not been disturbed, then, with the bundle of notes in her 
hand, for an appreciable time stood once more stock-still. Nicky had re- 
pressed an instinctive impulse to jump up and grab her; it 'was partly 
surprise that had kept him quiet, partly the notion that he was in a 
strange hotel, in a foreign country, and if he made a row he didn't 
know what might happen. She looked at him. His eyes were partly 
closed, and he was sure that she thought he was asleep. In the silence 
she could hardly fail to hear his regular breathing. When she had re- 
assured herself that her movements had not disturbed him, she stepped, 
with infinite caution, across the room. On a small table in the window 
a cineraria was growing in a pot. Nicky watched her now with his 
eyes wide open. The plant was evidently placed quite loosely in the 
pot, for, taking it by the stalks, she lifted it out; she put the bank notes 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 205 

in the bottom of the pot and replaced the plant. It was an excellent hid- 
ing place. No one could have guessed that anything was concealed 
under that richly flowering plant. She pressed the earth down with her 
fingers and then, very slowly, taking care not to make the smallest 
noise, crept across the room and slipped back into bed. 

"Cheri," she said, in a caressing voice. 

Nicky breathed steadily, like a man immersed in deep sleep. The 
little lady turned over on her side and disposed herself to slumber. But 
though Nicky lay so still, his thoughts worked busily. He was ex- 
tremely indignant at the scene he had just witnessed, and to himself 
he spoke his thoughts with vigour. 

"She's nothing but a damned tart. She and her dear little boy and 
her husband in Morocco. My eye! She's a rotten thief, that's what she 
is. Took me for a mug. If she thinks she's going to get away with any- 
thing like that, she's mistaken." 

He had already made up his mind what he was going to do with 
the money he had so cleverly won. He had long wanted a car of his 
own and had thought it rather mean of his father not to have given him 
one. After all, a feller doesn't always want to drive about in the family 
bus. Well, he'd just teach the old man a lesson and buy one himself. 
For twenty thousand francs, two hundred pounds roughly, he could 
get a very decent second-hand car. He meant to get the money back, 
but just then he didn't quite know how. He didn't like the idea of 
kicking up a row, he was a stranger, in a hotel he knew nothing of; it 
might very well be that the beastly woman had friends there; he didn't 
mind facing anyone in a fair fight, but he'd look pretty foolish if 
someone pulled a gun on him. He reflected besides, very sensibly, that 
he had no proof the money was his. If it came to a showdown and she 
swore it was hers, he might very easily find himself hauled off to a 
police station. He really didn't know what to do. Presently by her 
regular breathing he knew that the little lady was asleep. She must 
have fallen asleep with an easy mind, for she had done her job without 
a hitch. It infuriated Nicky that she should rest so peacefully while he 
lay awake, worried to death. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. It was 
such a good one that it was only by the exercise of all his self-control 
that he prevented himself from jumping out of bed and carrying it out 



206 READING I'VE LIKED 

at once. Two could play at her game. She'd stolen his money; well, 
he'd steal it back again, and they'd be all square. He made up his 
mind to wait quite quietly until he was sure that deceitful woman was 
sound asleep. He waited for what seemed to him a very long time. She 
did not stir. Her breathing was as regular as a child's. 

''Darling," he said at last. 

No answer. No movement. She was dead to the world. Very slowly, 
pausing after every movement, very silently, he slipped out of bed. He 
stood still for a while, looking at her to see whether he had disturbed 
her. Her breathing was as regular as before. During the time he was 
waiting he had taken note carefully of the furniture in the room so 
that in crossing it he should not knock against a chair or a table and 
make a noise. He took a couple of steps and waited; he took a couple 
of steps more; he was very light on his feet and made no sound as he 
walked; he took fully five minutes to get to the window, and here he 
waited again. He started, for the bed slightly creaked, but it was only 
because the sleeper turned in her sleep. He forced himself to wait till he 
had counted one hundred. She was sleeping like a log. With infinite 
care he seized the cineraria by the stalks and gently pulled it out of the 
pot; he put his other hand in, his heart beat nineteen to the dozen as 
his fingers touched the notes, his hand closed on them and he slowly 
drew them out. He replaced the plant and in his turn carefully pressed 
down the earth. While he was doing all this he had kept one eye on 
the form lying in the bed. It remained still. After another pause he 
crept softly to the chair on which his clothes were lying. He first put 
the bundle of notes in his coat pocket and then proceeded to dress. It 
took him a good quarter of an hour, because he could afford to make 
no sound. He had been wearing a soft shirt with his dinner jacket, and 
he congratulated himself on this because it was easier to put on silently 
than a stiff one. He had some difficulty in tying his tie without a look- 
ing glass, but he very wisely reflected that it didn't really matter if it 
wasn't tied very well. His spirits were rising. The whole thing now 
began to seem rather a lark. At length he was completely dressed ex- 
cept for his shoes, which he took in his hand; he thought he would 
put them on when he got into the passage. Now he had to cross the 
room to get to the door. He reached it so quietly that he could not have 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 207 

disturbed the lightest sleeper. But the door had to be unlocked. He 
turned the key very slowly; it creaked. 

"Who's that?" 

The little woman suddenly sat up in bed. Nicky's heart jumped to 
his mouth. He made a great effort to keep his head. 

"It's only me. It's six o'clock and I've got to go. I was trying not to 
wake you." 

"Oh, I forgot." 

She sank back onto the pillow. 

"Now that you're awake I'll put on my shoes." 

He sat down on the edge of the bed and did this. 

"Don't make a noise when you go out. The hotel people don't like it. 
Oh, I'm so sleepy." 

"You go right off to sleep again." 

"Kiss me before you go." He bent down and kissed her. "You're a 
sweet boy and a wonderful lover. Bon voyage." 

Nicky did not feel quite safe till he got out of the hotel. The dawn 
had broken. The sky was unclouded, and in the harbour the yachts 
and the fishing boats lay motionless on the still water. On the quay 
fishermen were getting ready to start on their day's work. The streets 
were deserted. Nicky took a long breath of the sweet morning air. He 
felt alert and well. He also felt as pleased as Punch. With a swinging 
stride, his shoulders well thrown back, he walked up the hill and 
along the gardens in front of the Casino — the flowers in that clear light 
had a dewy brilliance that was delicious — till he came to his hotel. 
Here the day had already begun. In the hall porters with mufflers 
round their necks and berets on their heads were busy sweeping. Nicky 
went up to his room and had a hot bath. He lay in it and thought with 
satisfaction that he was not such a mug as some people might think. 
After his bath he did his exercises, dressed, packed and went down to 
breakfast. He had a grand appetite. No continental breakfast for him! 
He had grapefruit, porridge, bacon and eggs, rolls fresh from the oven, 
so crisp and delicious they melted in your mouth, marmalade and three 
cups of coffee. Though feeling perfectly well before, he felt better after 
that. He lit the pipe he had recently learnt to smoke, paid his bill and 
stepped into the car that was waiting to take him to the aerodrome on 



208 READING I'VE LIKED 

the other side of Cannes. The road as far as Nice ran over the hills, and 
below him was the blue sea and the coast line. He couldn't help think- 
ing it damned pretty. They passed through Nice, so gay and friendly 
in the early morning, and presently they came to a long stretch of 
straight road that ran by the sea. Nicky had paid his bill, not with the 
money he had won the night before, but with the money his father had 
given him; he had changed a thousand francs to pay for supper at the 
Knickerbocker, but that deceitful little woman had returned him the 
thousand francs he had lent her, so that he still had twenty thousand- 
franc notes in his pocket. He thought he would like to have a look at 
them. He had so nearly lost them that they had a double value for 
him. He took them out of his hip pocket into which for safety's sake 
he had stuffed them when he put on the suit he was travelling in, and 
counted them one by one. Something very strange had happened to 
them. Instead of there being twenty notes, as there should have been, 
there were twenty-six. He couldn't understand it at all. He counted 
them twice more. There was no doubt about it; somehow or other he 
had twenty-six thousand francs instead of the twenty he should have 
had. He couldn't make it out. He asked himself if it was possible that 
he had won more at the Sporting Club than he had realized. But no, 
that was out of the question; he distinctly remembered the man at the 
desk laying the notes out in four rows of five, and he had counted 
them himself. Suddenly the explanation occurred to him; when he had 
put his hand into the flower pot, after taking out the cineraria, he had 
grabbed everything he felt there. The flower pot was the little hussy's 
money box, and he had taken out not only his own money, but her 
savings as well. Nicky leant back in the car and burst into a roar of 
laughter. It was the funniest thing he had ever heard in his life. And 
when he thought of her going to the flower pot sometime later in the 
morning when she awoke, expecting to find the money she had so 
cleverly got away with, and finding, not only that it wasn't there,"but 
that her own had gone too, he laughed more than ever. And so far as 
he was concerned there was nothing to do about it, he knew neither 
her name nor the name of the hotel to which she had taken him. He 
couldn't return her money even if he wanted to. 
"It serves her damned well right," he said. 



W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM 209 

This then was the story that Henry Garnet told his friends over the 
bridge table, for the night before, after dinner when his wife and 
daughter had left them to their port, Nicky had narrated it in full. 

"And you know what infuriated me is that he's so damned pleased 
with himself. Talk of a cat swallowing a canary. And d'you know 
what he said to me when he'd finished? He looked at me with those 
innocent eyes of his and said: 'You know, Father, I can't help thinking 
there was something wrong about the advice you gave me. You said, 
don't gamble; well, I did, and I made a packet; you said, don't lend 
money; well, I did, and I got it back; and you said, don't have any- 
thing to do with women; well, I did, and I made six thousand francs 
on the deal' " 

It didn't make it any better for Henry Garnet that his three com- 
panions burst out laughing. 

"It's all very well for you fellows to laugh, but you know, I'm in a 
damned awkward position. The boy looked up to me, he respected me, 
he took whatever I said as gospel truth, and now, I saw it in his eyes, 
he just looks upon me as a drivelling old fool. It's no good my saying 
one swallow doesn't make a summer; he doesn't see that it was just a 
fluke, he thinks the whole thing was due to his own cleverness. It may 
ruin him." 

"You do look a bit of a damned fool, old man," said one of the oth- 
ers. "There's no denying that, is there?" 

"I know I do, and I don't like it. It's so dashed unfair. Fate has no 
right to play one tricks like that. After all, you must admit that my 
advice was good." 

"Very good." 

"And the wretched boy ought to have burnt his fingers. Well, he 
hasn't. You're all men of the world, you tell me how I'm to deal with 
the situation now." 

But they none of them could. 

"Well, Henry, if I were you I wouldn't worry," said the lawyer. "My 
belief is that your boy's born lucky, and in the long run that's better 
than to be born clever or rich." 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 



COMMENTARY 



The following essay was delivered at Oxford on the twenty-fourth of 
October, 1923, as the Herbert Spencer Lecture for that year. J quote 
from a recent letter from Mr. Santayana: "ft was a curious occasion, 
that lecture of mine in Oxford. I was entrusted to the care of a sci- 
entific Don, doubtless of the committee for the Spencer Lectureship; 
and when I called at his house by appointment an hour before the 
time for the lecture, his wife said he was so sorry but had been called 
away to receive 4000 butterflies that had just arrived for him from 
South America. He turned up later, however, and took me to the 
Natural History Museum, to a lecture-room with a deep pit, and large 
maps on the walls, and instead of introducing me he only said, 'Oh, 
you might as well begin. 7 The audience was small, a few ladies, and 
a good many Indians and Japanese: However, I recognized old Pro- 
fessor Stewart of Christ Church and F. R. S. Schiller. This audience, 
however, was most sympathetic, didnt mind the length of the lec- 
ture, and applauded heartily at the end. But there was nothing 
Oxonian about the occasion: might have been at Singapoor." 

Nor did very many people on this side of the water pay any atten- 
tion to "The Unknowable. 7 ' I remember that some months later a 
few copies of it in pamphlet form reached a small group of Serious 
Thinkers attending Columbia College. At that time a number of us 
were accepting the consolations of philosophy from the lips of such 
mentors as Frederick Woodbridge (the only philosopher I have ever 
met who looked completely like one), John Dewey (the only philoso- 
pher I' have ever met who looked completely unlike one), and Irwin 
Edman, who, I believe, tipped us off to the essay, acting in his 
capacity of permanent advance agent for Santayana. 

You wont believe this, but when we read "The Unknowable 7 we 
became highly excited. Some of us, I recall, committed to memory its 
final paragraph, in which the nature of substance, the mystery of 

210 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 211 

love, and the fascination of jewels are combined to yield one of the 
most perfectly cadenced pieces of prose in out language. 

I find myself, almost twenty years afterward, smiling, as perhaps 
you are smiling, at the ludicrous picture of a dozen schoolboys going 
into a lather over this profound metaphysical meditation. No doubt 
our excitement was thoroughly unhealthy. We should have been agi- 
tated over the prospects of the football team. (I suppose some of us 
who could double in brass were.) Yet I imagine that what the foot- 
ball team did that season is today of only remote interest, whereas 
"The Unknowable" is still of considerable value. 

Though I do not say that we understood everything Santayana was 
saying, we had enough sense to realize that "The Unknowable" was 
a masterpiece of its sort. It is still a masterpiece and J am still not 
sure that I understand everything in it. Yet it is at no point obscure, 
if at many points difficult. Those of my patient readers who have no 
turn for speculation may skip it, and the heavens will not fall. Santa- 
yana will lack a reader or two, you will lack Santayana, and neither 
you nor Santayana will be any the worse off. 

I have included "The Unknowable" because I am fascinated by 
the beautiful labyrinth of its argument and because I see no reason 
why a collection such as this must necessarily confine itself to so- 
called "easy" reading. Santayana (I quote again from his letter) says: 
"I think it is one of the most reasonable things I have written, reason- 
able yet not cold, and I am encouraged to find that it has not been- 
altogether forgotten." 

"The Unknowable," let me say at once, deals with the profoundest, 
the most arcane problem that man in his most passionately medita- 
tive moments has put to himself. What is the nature, of Reality 7 ? 
What underlies the seeable, graspable flow of events we call experi- 
ence? Is there a Substance, immutable and eternal, of which the 
things that we "know" are the expressions, the projections, the inti- 
mations? It is a question that engaged the subtlest intellects of the 
Greeks and ancient Hindus. It continues persistently to engage us 
during those fleeting instants when we act as rational beings. That 
dour old systematist, Herbert Spencer, had his notion of Substance, 
and it is Santayana's purpose in this essay to explain and vindicate it, 



212 READING I'VE LIKED 

and to set it in a clearer and more impressive light than Spencer did. 

During the last thirty years the reputation of Santayana has under- 
gone some curious vicissitudes. He was at one time frowned upon by 
professional philosophers (so often merely a dignified term for philo- 
sophical professors) because he wrote too well to he trustworthy. He 
was infra dig, I suppose, because he has always tried to transform the 
perspective of the metaphysician into the vision of the artist. To his 
mind a professional philosopher is a notion as absurd as a professional 
father or a professional child, or, indeed, a professional human being. 
For him a philosopher is what the Greeks said he was— a lover of 
wisdom. But this was enough to cut him off from the world of the 
academy. 

Then, for a time, he was in the hands of a hand of exquisites who 
swooned over his rhythms and treated him as if he were a seduction 
rather than a thinker. For years he was neglected, his influence on the 
course of American thought being not readily observable. Then came 
another sharp turn in the attitude of his audience: The Last Puritan, 
the work of a man of seventy-two, was published, and the remote, 
aristocratic Santayana became a best seller. 

But all this while, it seems to me, his essential value remained un- 
changed. He is a profound interpreter of the strange constructs that 
man throws up in his imagination: the great symbolisms of art, reli- 
gion, science, philosophy. Santayana' s irony has been overemphasized. 
He is a classic ironist but his irony is tinged with reverence. He is, 
I have no doubt, a poor systematist. But if he is no systematist it is 
because he feels that a system is just another of those grandiose meta- 
phors invented by man that he may image in his own mind the 
nature of what Spencer called The Unknowable. 



The Unknowable 

BY 

GEORGE SANTAYANA 



Your kind invitation to deliver the Herbert Spencer Lecture of this 
year, apart from the honour and pleasure it brings me, enables me to 
perform a small act of piety. On the whole, with qualifications which 
will appear presently, I belong to Herbert Spencer's camp; and I am 
glad of so favourable an opportunity to offer a grain of propitiatory 
incense to his shade, which I feel to be wandering in our midst some- 
what reproachfully. Fashion has completely deserted him, and the 
course of evolution in which he trusted has not taken his hints. Even 
where some philosophy of evolution is still in vogue, it is not his phi- 
losophy, but perhaps that of Hegel or Bergson, who conceive evolution 
as imposed on nature by some magic or dialectical force, contrary to 
an alleged helplessness in matter. Such devices were far removed from 
the innocence of Herbert Spencer, who dutifully gathered reports from 
every quarter and let them settle as they would in the broad levels of 
his system, as in geological strata; whence that Homeric sweep with 
which he pictures progress and decay, not in aversion from the sever- 
ities of natural existence, but as the mechanical sediment of the tides 
of matter and motion, perpetually surging. Of course this epic move- 
ment, as Spencer describes it, is but a human perspective; he instinc- 
tively imposes his grandiloquent rhythms on things as he does his 
ponderous Latin vocabulary, or as Empedocles or Lucretius imposed 
their hexameters; but that is the case with every human system; it is 
and can be nothing but human discourse. Science and philosophy cast 
a net of words into the sea of being, happy in the end if they draw 
anything out besides the net itself, with some holes in it. The meshes 
of Spencer's net were not subtle; a thousand amiable human things 

213 



214 READING I'VE LIKED 

slipped through them like water, and compared with the studied en- 
tanglements of more critical systems, his seem scandalously coarse and 
wide: yet they caught the big fish. When I rub my eyes and look at 
things candidly, it seems evident to me that this world is the sort of 
world described by Herbert Spencer, not the sort of world described 
by Hegel or Bergson. At heart these finer philosophers, like Plato, are 
not seeking to describe the world of our daily plodding and commerce, 
but to supply a visionary interpretation of it, a refuge from it in some 
contrasted spiritual assurance, where the sharp facts vanish into a clar- 
ified drama or a pleasant trance. Far be it from me to deride the im- 
agination, poetic or dialectical; but after all it is a great advantage for 
a system of philosophy to be substantially true. 

In political speculation, too, the times have turned their back on 
Herbert Spencer. Everything he saw waxing is now visibly waning: 
liberalism, individualism, faith in science, complacency at recent prog- 
ress, assurance of further progress to come. Doubtless it is fortunate 
for those who are not philosophers to share unreservedly the spirit of 
their age. It must be exhilarating to stand on the hill-tops and point 
the way to future generations, when you are confident that future gen- 
erations must anyhow take that road. Such prophets have their reward. 
They have seemed leaders in their day, they remain its representatives, 
and hereafter they may prove a landmark to the historian or a find for 
the antiquary. Time also has its revenges, and after an honest man has 
been laughed at for a century or two as a simpleton or a scholastic, his 
turn may come round again, and he may find keen advocates and 
young defenders. But frankly, if in some respects Herbert Spencer's 
views have so soon grown obsolete, I think he deserved his fate. A 
philosopher should not be subject to the mood of the age in which he 
happens to be born. When a man swims to eminence and to joyous 
conviction on the crest of that wave, he must expect to be left high 
and dry at the ebb-tide. A believer in evolution is indeed justified in 
assuming that the latest view and the latest practice are the best so far; 
but in consistency he must admit that the next view and subsequent 
practice will be better still; so that his real faith is pinned by anticipa- 
tion on an ultimate view and an ultimate practice, in which evolution 
will reach its goal. Evolution, in the proper sense of this word, is not 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 215 

a mere flux expected to be endless; evolution must have a goal, it must 
unfold a germ in a determinate direction towards an implicit ideal; 
otherwise there would be no progress involved, no means of distin- 
guishing changes for the better from changes for the worse. I think it 
was a merit in Spencer to admit that evolution would culminate in a 
state from which any deviation would be decay; and he not only ad- 
mitted such a goal in the abstract, but conceived it clearly. The goal 
was vital equilibrium, the adjustment and adaptation of living beings 
to their environment, or of their environment to them. The end of 
progress was harmony, that celestial harmony spoken of by a very dif- 
ferent philosopher, which ran through all the gamut of the worlds, the 
diapason ending full, not exactly in man, but in any and every creature 
that might achieve a perfect harmony in nature. This confirms what I 
was saying just now about a system of philosophy — this philosophy of 
evolution, for instance — being but a human perspective. For the rein- 
deer or the polar bear, evolution culminated in the glacial period; it 
culminated in the cities of Greece for one sort of man; it will culminate 
in other perfections, if there is plasticity enough in living creatures to 
adapt them to their conditions, before these conditions have passed 
away. Evolution, for any observer, will mean that strain in the total 
movement of nature which has ministered to the formation of his 
spirit, and to its full expression. 

It is not, however, as a philosopher of evolution or as a political 
prophet that I wish to consider Herbert Spencer. I should like to con- 
fine myself, if it were possible, to one point in his system, not especially 
characteristic of his age nor of ours, a point in which he seems to me 
to have been a true philosopher such as any age might produce; for if 
nature has made a man observant, intelligent, and speculative, the 
times cannot prevent him from being so. I refer to his belief in a sub- 
stance which by its secret operation, in infinite modes, kindles experi- 
ence, so that all phenomena as they appear and all minds observing 
these appearances are secondary facts and not, as is often alleged, the 
fundamental or only realities. On the contrary, any experience is inci- 
dental to animal life and animal passions, which in turn are incidental 
to the general flux of substance in the world. Appearances and feelings 
and consciousness itself are in their nature desultory and unsubstantial, 



216 READING I'VE LIKED 

yet not groundless nor altogether mad, because substance creates and 
sustains them by its steady rhythms, so that they are truly expressive 
and, when intelligence arises, may become terms and symbols in true 
knowledge. 

This is of course no new doctrine, but as old as the hills. It is an 
opinion which any man, if not otherwise prejudiced or indoctrinated, 
might well come to by himself. It was embraced by Spencer as a 
matter of course, and held perhaps all the more resolutely because he 
was not too respectful of academic tradition. Had he been expert in 
metaphysics and educated at a university, he might have missed the 
obvious. 

Unfortunately, in wishing to pick out from Spencer's system this one 
ancient and familiar belief, and to defend it, I am arrested at once by 
an untoward circumstance. Herbert Spencer called this substance be- 
neath all appearances the Unknowable. This negative appellation is 
evidently drawn from a critical and subjective philosophy, such as 
Spencer's was not. It belongs to the vocabulary of disappointment; it is 
a romantic word. It transports us far from the region of eager inquiry, 
experiment, statistics, miscellaneous information, and scientific enlight- 
enment in which Spencer's other theories had bloomed. Why this 
anomaly? Why any metaphysical preface at all to a work of straight- 
forward natural philosophy? 

I think the reason was that Spencer, not being by nature a logician, 
bowed in logic to casual authorities, and relied too much, in this sub- 
ject too, on the fashion of the hour. He supposed, as some do today, 
that the latest logic was the last. Dean Mansel, Sir William Hamilton, 
and Kant would never be superseded. He hardly considered the at- 
mosphere, the implications, or the contradictions of the doctrines he 
quoted from those worthies; he appealed to them on one point, in 
order to discredit all their other arguments. Metaphysics should be 
proved, out of the mouths of the metaphysicians themselves, to -be in- 
competent to revise his scientific speculations, or to refute his con- 
clusions. He hardly cared, therefore, if the language of his metaphys- 
ical preface was that of his natural enemies, and perverse essentially: 
that fact seemed almost an advantage since it locked the gates against 
those enemies with their own bolts. 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 217 

Yet words are weapons, and it is dangerous in speculation, as in 
politics, to borrow them from the arsenal of the enemy. In consenting 
to call substance unknowable, Spencer exposed himself to the derisive 
question how, if substance was unknowable, he ever came to know of 
its existence. Indeed, if the epithet were taken strictly, it would pos- 
itively contradict and abolish belief in that tremendous reality on 
which he bestowed it, partly perhaps in reverence, and partly in haste 
to be done with reverence and to come to business. But Spencer did not 
take the epithet strictly, since he spoke of modes of the unknowable 
and regarded phenomena everywhere as its manifestations; and if we 
take the word knowledge in its natural sense (of which I shall speak 
presently) it is hard to see how anything could be better revealed than 
by being manifested everywhere. The fact is that relative and oblique 
designations, such as the unknowable or the unconscious, cannot be 
taken strictly: they cannot be intended to describe anything in its 
proper nature, but only in its accidental relation to something else — 
to a would-be knower who is unable to know it, or to an ulterior 
sensibility which as yet has not arisen. Nothing can be intrinsically un- 
knowable; for if any one was tempted to imagine a substance such 
that it should antecedently defy description, inasmuch as that substance 
had no assignable character, he would be attributing existence to a 
nonentity. It would evidently make no difference in the universe 
whether a thing without any character were added to it or were taken 
away. If substance is to exist, it must have a character distinguishing it 
from nothing, and also from everything else. In saying this I do not 
mean to ignore those renowned philosophers who have maintained 
that the entire essence of substance is pure Being: I can easily con- 
ceive that in some other world pure Being should be all in all. Pure 
Being is itself a particular essence, the simplest essence of all, clearly 
distinguishable, both in definition and in experience, from every other 
essence, and loudly contrary to nothing, with which Hegel would 
identify it, not (I think) honestly; and if pure Being by chance were 
the essence of substance, substance would be so far from unknowable 
that it would be thoroughly well known, and we should always carry 
with us, as Spinoza observes, an adequate idea of it. That the sub- 
stance of this world has a far more elaborate nature I believe can be 



218 READING I'VE LIKED 

easily proved; but I cannot enter here into that argument. It is easy to 
conceive, however, that the intrinsic nature of substance may be very 
recondite and very rich, so that the human mind has no occasion and 
no capacity to describe it adequately — and this perhaps comes nearer 
to Spencer's intention in calling it unknowable. In this sense not only 
God but the remoter parts of space and time, and probably the depths 
of matter, would be unknowable to man. Even then, however, the 
intrinsic nature of substance could offer no resistance to being discov- 
ered, if any one had the means and the wit to do so; and if substance 
remains largely unknown to mankind, the reason will not be any re- 
calcitrancy on its part, but rather a casual coincidence in ourselves of 
curiosity with blindness, so that we earnestly desire to search the 
depths of substance, but cannot. 

In this measure the emotion suggested by the term unknowable is a 
legitimate emotion. It expresses an integral part of the tragedy involved 
in being finite and mortal — perhaps in being a mind or spirit at all. 
Poets and philosophers sometimes talk as if life were an entertainment, 
a feast of ordered sensations; but the poets, if not the philosophers, 
know too well in their hearts that life is no such thing: it is a pre- 
dicament. We are caught in it; it is something compulsory, urgent, 
dangerous, and tempting. We are surrounded by enormous, mysteri- 
ous, only half-friendly forces. This is our experience in the dilemmas 
of conduct, in religion, in science, and in the arts; so that the usual 
sequel to agnosticism, when impatient people deny that the unknown 
exists, far from being a rational simplification, is a piece of arrant folly: 
one of those false exits in the comedy of thought which, though dra- 
matic, are ignominious, because the mind must revert from them to 
the beginning of the scene, and play it over again on some other prin- 
ciple. All the reasons that originally suggested the belief in substance 
remain unimpaired, and suggest the same belief again and again. We 
are not less dependent than our forefathers on food, on circumstances, 
on our own bodies; the incubus of the not-ourselves is not lifted from 
us; or if in some respects we have acquired a greater dominion over 
nature, this only adds positive knowledge of substance to the dumb 
sense we had before of its environing presence. How far this under- 
standing of substance shall go depends on the endowment of the pro- 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 219 

posed knower, and on the distance, scale, and connexions of the things 
he is attempting to describe. How far knowledge is possible, therefore, 
can never be determined without first knowing the circumstances; and 
the very notion of knowledge — by which I do not mean mere feeling 
or consciousness, but the cognizance which one existence can take of 
another — is a notion that never could be framed without confident ex- 
perience of sundry objects known and of persons able to know them. 
In saying this I am not merely expressing my own view of the 
matter; I am thinking of the agnosticism prevalent in Spencer's gen- 
eration. It was no general scepticism; it did not, even in Kant, chal- 
lenge the possibility of knowledge on account of the audacious claim 
which all transitive or informing knowledge puts forth in professing 
to report and describe something absent. On the contrary, such transi- 
tive and informing knowledge was still assumed to exist; the essential 
miracle of it was not denied, because it was not noticed. Everybody 
was assumed to know his own past, not merely to imagine it; every- 
body was assumed to know, not merely to imagine, the conscious ex- 
istence of others, and the laws and phenomena of nature ad infinitum. 
But all these known facts, however remote and unobservable, were 
phenomena that had appeared, or might have appeared, to some human 
mind. What was condemned never to be known was only the envi- 
ronment of this experience, which experience had always supposed it 
possessed and observed, and which had been called matter, God, or the 
natural world. Yet the existence of these objects was not denied: had 
there really been no God, no matter, and no natural world, I do not 
see how incapacity to discover them could have been called agnosti- 
cism. The agnostic was haunted by ghosts of substance, filling his 
whole experience with a sense of discomfort, ignorance, and defeat. 
Those substances were real but elusive; and though he never saw 
them, the agnostic remembered only too well the tales once told con- 
cerning them, and secretly desired to have assurance of their truth; 
only he thought such assurance was eternally denied him by his psy- 
chological constitution. As speech has been called a means of conceal- 
ing thought, so knowledge was a screen cutting off reality. Evidently 
this agnosticism, besides assuming true knowledge of much absent ex- 
perience, presupposed accurate knowledge of the human mind and its 



220 READING I'VE LIKED 

categories, conceived to be unalterable; and it also presupposed a defi- 
nition of that veiled reality definite enough to assure us that no defi- 
nition of it would ever be given. 

So much sure knowledge at home had a tendency to console the 
agnostic for his ignorance abroad. If metaphysics had closed its doors 
upon him, science was inviting him to a feast. Science was then be- 
lieved to be so clear and unquestionable, and practically so beneficent, 
that human life would presently be filled to the brim with busy knowl- 
edge, busy wealth, and busy happiness. Mankind being thus happily 
occupied, like the busy bee, would have no reason to regret its igno- 
rance of what did not concern it. Yet this contentment in agnosticism, 
so wise in its humility and so natural in an age of material progress, 
is fatal sooner or later to agnosticism itself. If you are not a wistful 
and distressed agnostic, you will forget ere long that you are an ag- 
nostic at all. Why should you believe in those ghosts of substance, if 
you never see them ? There were once, or there seemed to be, substan- 
tial and formidable realities which everybody was sure of— God, mat- 
ter, the natural world; but after literary psychology had proved that 
you could know nothing but your own ideas, and you found that, in 
spite of your incredulity, these ideas continued to flow as pleasantly as 
ever, what reason could you have to imagine the existence of anything 
else? Thus the agnostic who has lost his sense of bereavement will 
readily revert to dogmatism. He will relapse into the innocent habit 
of mind which regards what we see as existing substantially, and what 
we do not see as nothing. 

You will not expect me, in these few minutes, to discuss the logic 
of idealism, but it is interesting to note how two important phases of 
this logic reappear in Spencer. One phase is the Socratic doctrine that 
knowledge is recognition. To know a thing, according to this view, is 
to be able to say what it is; in other words, to name and to classify it. 
The logical conclusion from this was drawn by Plato. He saw that the 
only true objects of knowledge were the types of being which we rec- 
ognized things to possess. These types he called Ideas; earthly and 
transitory things could be understood only in so far as one or another 
of these Ideas was illustrated in them, or at least suggested by them in 
their confusion and imperfection. There is a curious approximation to 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 221 

this view in the Spencerian cosmology, where various principles of evo- 
lution are traced through all departments of nature, and represented 
as a sort of framework of eternal necessity on which the frail web of 
phenomena is stretched, and must be stretched in all future time. Law 
is the modern equivalent for the Ideas of Plato: there is no reason, 
save the plastic habit of the Hellenic imagination, why forms of mo- 
tion or of relation should not have been counted amongst Platonic 
Ideas as honourably as the forms of animals or the categories of lan- 
guage. The radical divergence of modern rationalism from that of 
antiquity comes at another point. The modern is an agnostic in his 
idealism; he is subjective; he cannot believe that the laws that hold 
the world together are its true substance. They seem to him evidently 
figments of the mind, and he is driven to put substance in some nearer 
plane, a plane which on Socratic principles would be unknowable, 
since only laws or types of being can be defined in thought. 

The other phase of idealistic logic which enters into Spencer's ag- 
nosticism is sensualism, or the doctrine that the only object of knowl- 
edge is the datum of sense. It is usual to identify this datum of sense, 
which is properly a visionary essence, with the sensation which reveals 
it, a sensation which is an event in somebody's personal experience 
and an historical fact. Sensations will then seem to be the substantial 
facts; for although they will remain unknowable in the sense of being 
indefinable, they will be felt and found, each at its own time; and this 
is the empirical criterion of reality and knowledge. But it is not clear 
how one sensation can know another, nor is it clear in what medium, 
if sensations are the only reality, they can arise or can be related; and 
a bottomless abyss of scepticism opens before anyone who takes the 
doctrine seriously that nothing can exist except sensations, each know- 
ing itself only. Spencer was spared these perplexities by his robust 
faith in substance. Deeply influenced as he was by his idealistic friends, 
he could not forget that sensations had roots. They expressed bodily 
states, and effects of the environment. But as only laws or Platonic 
types could be defined, and only sensations could be felt, and as feeling 
and defining were the sole ways of knowing admitted by the two 
schools of idealistic logic, Spencer was confirmed in his conviction 
that only appearances were knowable. To be known in either of those 



222 READING I'VE LIKED 

ways is incongruous with the nature of substance. This fact does not 
militate against its existence; it militates against the illusion that any- 
thing existent can be known in either of those ways. 

What jurisdiction can any feeling have, or any logic, over what shall 
arise or not arise in the universe ? Even when we assert that the self- 
contradictory cannot exist, I suppose what we mean, if we are reason- 
able, is that some notion of ours, which contradicts itself, cannot be 
the true or complete description of the object we mean to describe by 
it. But often the objects to which we attempt to apply such notions are 
the things most indubitably existing in the world, such for instance as 
motion, and as this very fact of knowledge which we are now trying to 
understand. Motion and knowledge are facts perfectly notorious and 
familiar, although several great philosophers deny them to be possible, 
because the definitions they have given of them are self-contradictory. 
It is nothing against the existence of such things that they should be 
inexpressible in the terms of a particular logic, or unknowable to a 
stone. The lack of possible communication between two creatures is 
not necessarily a reproach to either. Even when they are sensitive, and 
are intelligent enough to take their sensations for signs of an external 
agent, the connexion may be too slight, or the scale too different, for 
mutual knowledge to be possible or important. But when it is impor- 
tant it is usually possible. We need but to sharpen our wits, and shake 
our minds loose from prejudice, trying new categories, until we come 
nearer to the heart of those substantial dynamic objects which confront 
us in action. This approach need not be by a miraculous divination of 
their essence, although when the object recognized is a mind like our 
own, such literal divination is not impossible. Usually, however, the 
approach is by refinements of adaptation, as in the moods and tenses of 
verbs, or the application of mathematics to nature; there is no similar- 
ity established of a pictorial sort between the symbol in the fancy and 
the fact in the world, but only a methodical correspondence in some 
one direction. If, however, we find that our senses and our logic are 
obdurate and incapable of further adaptations, we may reflect that all 
knowledge of fact, by its very privilege of transcending the data, is 
condemned to be external and symbolical, and that the most plastic 
and penetrating intellect, being still an animal function, will never dis- 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 223 

cover the whole of things, either in their extent or in their structure. 
Things will not be unknown, since notice will have been taken of them 
and their appearance, in some respect, will have been recorded; we 
shall understand that there is one strain, at least, in their constitution 
and movement fitted to provoke our perception and to render our de- 
scription applicable and correct. Even that intrinsic character of things, 
which remains undiscovered or inexpressible in our particular lan- 
guage, is a perfectly knowable character, and would be disclosed at 
any moment, in any particular, if a new observer turned up with the 
requisite organs, and a more sympathetic imagination. 

Calling substance unknowable, then, is like calling a drum inaudible, 
for the shrewd reason that what you hear is the sound and not the 
drum. It is a play on words, and little better than a pun. In the sense 
in which what is heard is the sound, hearing is intuition: in the sense 
in which what is heard is the drum, hearing is an instance of animal 
faith, of that sort of perception which includes understanding and 
readiness to assume much that is not perceived, and to act on that as- 
sumption. Certainly if nature had confined our cognitive powers to in- 
tuition of absolute data, and we were incorrigibly aesthetic idiots, sub- 
stance would be unknowable to us; but in that case we should not be 
agnostics about substance, since we should have not the least inkling 
that such a thing might exist, nor the least notion of its nature. But 
mankind has always had ideas of matter, of God or the gods, and of a 
natural world, full of hidden processes and powers; these objects, just 
because they existed, were necessarily removed from intuition; but 
everybody knew the quarter in which they lay and the circle of ex- 
periences in which each of them was manifested. Everybody knew 
what he meant by believing in them, and what sort of things they 
would be if it was really on them, and not on something quite differ- 
ent, that his action was directed. For instance, at this moment, not be- 
ing able to discard the rude logic of my animal ancestors, I think I 
find indications before me of the four walls of this room and of you 
sitting within them, both you and the walls being possessed of a sub- 
stantial existence, that is, having existed prior to my arrival in Oxford 
and existing apart, even now, from my summary intuitions of you, 
vague symbols to me of your being and of your presence. Nor does the 



224 READING I'VE LIKED 

equal substantiality which I attribute to you and to the walls at all im- 
ply an identity of nature between the two. On the contrary, I should 
be utterly lacking in sanity, as well as in civility, if I now turned my 
back upon you and addressed the wall; yet on the hypothesis that my 
perceptions do not convey knowledge of substance, but are intuitions 
of pure ideas, it would be equally vain to address myself to you or to 
the wall, since in either case I should be haranguing my own sensa- 
tions. The fact that substantial, and substantially different, realities 
must be posited beyond myself and my data, one sort amenable to per- 
suasion and the other deaf, is something I assume because the enter- 
prise of life in me at this moment demands that I should do so. I am 
pledged by my instant adventure and by the general art of living 
(which has a groundless ascendancy over all animals) to take for 
granted that you are sitting there, admirable in your patience and in- 
scrutable in your thoughts; and that just as in speaking to you I posit 
your substantial existence, so you in your turn are kindly positing 
mine, over and above the volatile sounds which you actually hear: and 
I am sure you are intelligently recognizing me and my thoughts very 
much for what we really are. 

Thus the Spencerian Unknowable is unknowable only to idealists, 
who identify knowledge with intuition, and, if they are consistent, 
deny the capacity of thought to indicate anything external, whether an 
event, a substance, or another actual thought. But these objects with- 
drawn from intuition are the objects of daily knowledge and of sci- 
ence: and Spencer believed he knew them very well. The scruples that 
made him substitute the word unknowable for the word force or the 
word force for the word matter, were the scruples of an idealist, such 
as he did not intend to be. They sprang from the habit of reducing 
things to their adventitious relation to ourselves, the habit of egotism; 
as if the difficulty we may have in approaching them could constitute 
their intrinsic being. 

There was, however, a motive of quite another sort leading Spencer 
to disguise the substance of things under the name of the Unknowable. 
He wished to reconcile science with religion. It is easy to deride this 
pretension in one who had so little sympathy with religious institutions 
and with religious experience. Religion in the mass of mankind has 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 225 

never been a mere sense of mystery. It has been a positive belief, and 
an experimental effort, directed on the means of salvation. A prophet, 
conscious of some promise or warning conveyed to him miraculously, 
cannot substitute for this specific faith an official assurance that science 
will never quite succeed in dissipating the mystery of things: it is not 
what he will never know that interests him, but what he thinks he has 
discovered. Genuine religion professes to have positive knowledge and 
to bring positive benefits: it is an art; and to ask it to be satisfied with 
knowing that no knowledge can penetrate to the heart of things is 
sheer mockery: the opposite is what religion instinctively asserts. Like 
science, religion is solid only in so far as by faith and art — the two 
wings of true knowledge — it can really survey human destiny and re- 
veal the divine decrees on which human destiny depends. And yet I 
think that Herbert Spencer, in throwing somewhat contemptuously 
that sop to religion, was in fact silently reconciling religion with science 
behind his back and without suspecting it. The substance envisaged in 
science and that envisaged in religion have always been the same. The 
paths of discovery are different, but, if they convey true knowledge, 
they must ultimately converge upon the same facts, on the same 
ground of necessity in things. In the recognition of a universal sub- 
stance far removed from the imagination and the will of men, yet cre- 
ating this will and imagination at the appropriate places, and giving 
them their natural scope, there lies a quite positive religion, and by 
no means a new one. Substance, if we admit it at all, is by definition 
the source of our life and the dispenser to us of good and evil. Respect 
for it, then, is the beginning of wisdom, and harmony with it is the 
sign of salvation. I do not mean to suggest that all religion is addressed 
to such a real and formidable object. There are strains in religion of 
quite another quality. There is, for instance, a rapturous strain, the 
impulse to praise, to sing, to mythologize, to escape from all the limita- 
tions and cares of mortality into an ecstatic happiness. But I ask myself 
this question: What would ecstasy be but madness if it were not the 
voice of a substantial harmony with the substance of things and with 
its movement? Though substance may be forgotten, and only light 
and music may seem to remain, it is the massive harmonies in sub- 
stance that justify those mystic feelings, if anything justifies them at 



226 READING I'VE LIKED 

all. If the spheres did not revolve according to law, the morning stars 
would not sing together; and the God of Aristotle would not think 
his eternal thoughts. Even enthusiasm, therefore, when not vapid, ex- 
presses respect for substance and happy union with its motion. Those 
prosaic terms of Spencer's— adaptation and equilibrium— really express 
admirably the basis of the most ecstatic emotions, when they are 
healthy and deserving of a place in human economy. It would be a sad 
compliment to pay to religion to identify it with fatuous and ephem- 
eral heats, divorced from all perception of substance and of its true 
fertility. Religion of the sober, practical, manly sort, Roman piety, is 
emphatically reverence for the nature of things, for the ways of sub- 
stance. How far such manly piety may have been misled by supersti- 
tion, or by hasty and sentimental science, so as to distort the laws of the 
world and found a false religion, is a question of fact for soberer sci- 
ence to examine. If a traditional deity proves to be a living power, if 
it is the whole or a part of the substance actually confronting us, then 
serious piety will revere that deity and meditate on its ways. If on the 
contrary the only substance that controls our destiny or can reward 
our obedience is a natural substance, manifested in all nature and 
plastic to common arts, then a serious piety will study the ways and 
sing the praises of this natural substance. Piety is on the side of belief 
in substance: the existence of substance is the basis of piety. To set up 
in the place of substance any spontaneous ideas or pert exigences of 
our own is contrary to religion: a mind that professes to create matter, 
to create truth, and to create itself is a satanic mind. At least Lucifer 
and the ancient sceptics were disinterested, and disdained a world in 
which they did not believe; but modern rebels, religious or political, 
are without asceticism; like Doctor Faustus they are crammed with 
pretentious learning, they trust in magic and in their own will, covet 
all experience, and hanker for the promised land; but they will never 
see it except in a mirage if, in contempt of substance, they merely com- 
mand it to appear. 

There is a maxim which counsels a man lost in a wood to walk on 
steadily in any one direction, no matter which, lest by turning and 
turning in a circle he should never come out into the open. Spencer 
might have followed this maxim to advantage, and by sticking to his 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 227 

own cosmic principles he might have arrived at a theory of substance 
and of knowledge which would have been adequate to the facts, and 
potentially just also to the experience and logic of idealism (which are 
pathetically human), without departing at any point from the method 
of external observation or the doctrine of natural evolution. Knowl- 
edge, whatever else it may be, is certainly an incident in life. If all 
things were dead, no one of them could know another, much less it- 
self. Now of the nature of life Spencer had a very just, if external, 
conception: life is a form of adaptation, a moving equilibrium, an ad- 
justment of inner to outer relations. If a dog winces when struck, he 
is alive and has felt the blow; if a fly, when you try to catch it, escapes 
by flight, it has perceived the hand descending upon it. I am far from 
wishing to maintain a behaviourist psychology, or to say that in such 
observable cases of knowledge there is nothing that is not observable; 
on the contrary, I believe that every natural event has several ontolog- 
ical dimensions: it moves in the realm of matter, it is definable in the 
realm of truth, perhaps it flashes and burns for a moment in the realm 
of spirit, forming an actual feeling or thought. But the material facts, 
which biology might survey, are sufficient to determine the distribution 
of life and knowledge, as well as the distribution of all the other di- 
mensions and values which the facts may involve. The state of our 
organs determines our sensations; our actions, or our perceptible im- 
pulses to act, determine our passions; our words enact and define our 
thoughts. Knowledge in its natural basis, bearing with it all its spiritual 
accompaniments, is thus a perfectly ascertainable fact of natural history. 
It is a relation of living bodies to their environment, such that the acts 
and words flowing from the body fit their external occasions, chang- 
ing in a way relevant to these occasions but prompted by the native 
impulses of those bodies. Apart from such external adjustments there 
would be no telling whether the inner visions of any mind were 
knowledge or not. Intrinsically they are dream-images in any case; 
and they would never be anything more if directly or indirectly, by the 
action which accompanies them, they found no point of application in 
the material world. 

The question what is knowable and what unknowable to any animal 
is accordingly easily answered by a biologist enjoying the requisite fa- 



228 READING I'VE LIKED 

cilities for observation: if an animal possesses organs capable of dis- 
criminating response to a determinate thing, that animal can know 
this thing: if on the contrary the presence of this thing in influencing 
the animal materially does not stimulate any reaction focused upon 
that thing — any turning, or visible contemplation, or defensive move- 
ment, or pursuit — then the thing in question is unknowable to that 
particular animal, and can never become an object of his thought, ac- 
tion, or desire. In the first case, when a fit reaction occurs, any sensu- 
ous image or any logical system which might then fill the mind would 
express that reaction; and this expression would not be meaningless to 
the active animal in whom it arose; he would instinctively understand 
it to be the voice of the substance confronting him, his opposite partner 
in the dance. Having announced its presence, and provoked in its host 
some reaction of sense or fancy, that neighbour substance will have re- 
vealed itself in the only way in which anything existent and collateral 
can be revealed at all — by producing some slight disturbance, which in 
an active animal calls attention to its source; so that the intruder ac- 
quires a reputation for good or ill, and a character in the social world. 

Human experience is filled full with such appropriate comments on 
neighbouring modes of substance, and with appropriate names and 
sketches clapped upon events. Amongst these signs and tokens there 
are some especially venerable symbols, those same ideas already men- 
tioned of matter, of God, of the natural world, of various persons and 
passions. These venerable symbols are characters attributed to substance 
and its modes by the human imagination, after long experience and 
much puzzled reflection: the degree of truth and precision which they 
may possess will naturally vary, partly with the articulation they re- 
ceive — the more articulate, the truer or the falser they will become — 
and partly with the range of substantive being to which they are ap- 
plied. Intrinsically they are all poetic ideas, fictions of the fancy; a 
fact which does not prevent them from being true symbolically and 
even literally, if they are so happily framed as to attribute to substance 
no character which substance does not actually possess. 

When people discuss the existence of matter or the existence of God, 
the problem does not seem to me to be well stated. It is as if we began 
to discuss the existence of our friends. In the material locus in which 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 229 

we place the persons of our acquaintance there is undoubtedly some- 
thing, and not something of any sort, but a mode of substance with 
precisely the active powers exerted upon us from that quarter. This 
reality is no less real than ourselves, being in dynamic interplay with 
the substance of our own being. To deny the reality of one's friends, 
though possible to a determined sceptic, is idle and in the end dishon- 
est; because we can be sure of nothing and can believe nothing, if we 
do not allow ourselves to believe and to be sure that we are in contact 
with a substance not ourselves when we fight, love, or talk. This sub- 
stance may be recognized and named without being at all compre- 
hended; merely the different instincts awakened in its presence may 
suffice to distinguish it clearly, as when a child says John, mother, dog. 
It does not follow that these names, and the sentiment each mutely 
awakens, are similar to the substance they indicate, or form any part 
of that substance. Even the barking of the dog, not to speak of the 
dog himself, is not very like the bow-wow of the childish vocabulary. 
I see no necessity that our ideas of matter or of God should be truer 
than that; yet they have substantial and unequivocal objects. If, for in- 
stance, in denying that persons exist, a philosopher like Buddha had 
meant that the idea we commonly form of persons does not rightly de- 
scribe the substance at work in those places, he might have been more 
than justified; a supposed spiritual substance called the soul is not eas- 
ily to be found there; but he could hardly have maintained his nega- 
tion if he had meant that there is no substance of any sort for which 
the idea of persons is a conventional mask. In fact Buddha himself 
implicitly believed in Karma, a principle of inheritance and continuity 
which was the parent of all illusions and the substance of our imag- 
inary selves. No doubt this conception of Karma, like the notion of a 
person, needs to be clarified; but it is a splendid instrument of moral 
synthesis, and describes the operations of substance in one important 
respect, though doubtless without understanding the mechanism which 
actually subtends human character and moral inheritance. 

Knowledge, then, is not knowledge of appearance, but appearances 
are knowledge of substance when they are taken for signs of it. The 
stuff and texture of knowledge, its verbal and pictorial terms, are flex- 
ible and subject to progressive correction. Thus the notion ot matter, 



230 READING I'VE LIKED 

of God, of a human person, may continually vary, and may end by 
shedding completely the specious character it had at first: as, for 
instance, this Buddhistic notion of what a person really is, namely, 
a moral heritage, is a complete denial of several grosser definitions 
of a human spirit; but these reformed ideas and new names are meant 
to be applicable to the same object formerly conceived otherwise; for 
this reason they may be truer and better. In like manner the idea of 
matter or of God may be reformed; it may even be reformed so 
radically that a fresh word may be thought necessary to designate 
the new conception, and the old substance will receive a new name; 
but controversy is misguided if it turns on hypostatizing either idea, 
and asking which of them exists. The answer is, neither: what exists 
is the substance at work, and this substance is never an idea hypos- 
tatized. It is prior to all ideas and descriptions of it, the object that in 
their rivalry they are all endeavouring to report truly. In its local 
modes, or in its broad relations to some human interest, it bears with- 
out a murmur whatsoever names any one's tongue, in its pathetic 
spontaneity, may impose upon it; here it is called mother, there John, 
there bow-wow; in one broad aspect it is called matter, in another it 
is called God. When such names, in physics or in theology, are ex- 
panded into articulate systems, the question may arise whether they 
continue to be appropriate to the part or aspect of substance on which 
they were first bestowed : and this is a doubt for further study to solve, 
patiently directed upon the same object. A man may then honestly 
ask himself whether he believes in matter; meaning that he does not 
regard the conventional notion of matter as certainly applicable to the 
substance meant; or if he likes to startle the pious he may say he 
does not believe in God, because he may not regard the conventional 
notion of God, or perhaps any notion bred in the region of dramatic 
emotion, as honestly applicable to the substance actually operative in 
that sphere — say, in the sphere of momentous events and ultimate 
destiny. Evidently further study of momentous events, and further 
reflection on destiny, might decide this question for him, as further 
study of physics might decide the other; but whether we think fit to 
call substance there matter, and substance here God, or invent other 
names, substance will remain what it is; our appellations and ideas will 



GEORGE SANTAYANA 231 

have no power to create it where it is not, or to dislodge it or modify 
it where it is. Illusions have their own specious reality and physiog- 
nomy, curious as folklore is curious; but it is substance as it exists 
that is momentous, since it determines events, including our illusions 
and the disappointments they entail. I should be sorry to think for 
one moment that any philosopher, much less any religious man, could 
cling to his beliefs merely because they were his, or he liked them, 
or had defended them before. Of course every earnest mind recoils 
from self-deception and from the thought that its dearest feelings 
might go up in smoke; of course it is singly devoted to discovering 
the facts, whatever they may be, and to assuming towards them a 
brave and becoming attitude. 

My conclusion accordingly is this: Belief in substance, besides being 
inevitable in daily life (which I think is the right place for philosophy), 
is vindicated by the adequacy and harmony of the view it gives us 
of existence; and the notion that substance is unknowable is reduced 
to a misunderstanding — intelligible but unfortunate — due to a con- 
fusion of knowledge with intuition. If by knowledge we understood 
an intuition containing no element of faith, but simply inspecting the 
obvious, then indeed all substance would be unknowable; but this 
necessary ignorance would then extend to every subsisting fact assumed 
in science and in daily life: not only would matter and God disappear 
from the scene, but the whole past and future would be denied, 
together with all that flux of experience which social intercourse, psy- 
chology, and history presuppose. Nothing would then be knowable 
save the feeling or image present at the moment to the mind; and 
even this would not be known for a fact or event in the world, but 
all that would be known in it, or through it, would be its own specious 
nature, the idea presented or the sensation felt. To limit knowledge 
to intuition of such obvious essences is to deny knowledge: it is to 
revoke the whole transitive intention or significance of ideas. The 
knowledge that mankind claims and rejoices in is of quite another 
sort; it consists in information about removed facts, intuitively un- 
discoverable. To a mortal creature, hounded by fate, and not merely 
engaged in seraphic contemplation, absent things are the things im- 
portant to know; it is they that have created us, and can now feed 



232 READING I'VE LIKED 

or entice us; it is they that our moral nature hangs upon and looks to 
with respect. 

I have sometimes wondered at the value ladies set upon jewels: 
as centres of light, jewels seem rather trivial and monotonous. And yet 
there is an unmistakable spell about these pebbles; they can be taken 
up and turned over; they can be kept; they are faithful possessions; 
the sparkle of them, shifting from moment to moment, is constant 
from age to age. They are substances. The same aspects of light and 
colour, if they were homeless in space, or could be spied only once and 
irrecoverably, like fireworks, would have a less comfortable charm. 
In jewels there is the security, the mystery, the inexhaustible fixity 
proper to substance. After all, perhaps I can understand the fascination 
they exercise over the ladies; it is the same that the eternal feminine 
exercises over us. Our contact with them is unmistakable, our contem- 
plation of them gladly renewed, and pleasantly prolonged; yet in one 
sense they are unknowable; we cannot fathom the secret of their 
constancy, of their hardness, of that perpetual but uncertain brilliancy 
by which they dazzle us and hide themselves. These qualities of the 
jewel and of the eternal feminine are also the qualities of substance 
and of the world. The existence of this world — unless we lapse for 
a moment into an untenable scepticism — is certain, or at least it is 
unquestioningly to be assumed. Experience may explore it adventur- 
ously, and science may describe it with precision; but after you have 
wandered up and down in it for many years, and have gathered all 
you could of its ways by report, this same world, because it exists 
substantially and is not invented, remains a foreign thing and a marvel 
to the spirit: unknowable as a drop of water is unknowable, or un- 
knowable like a person loved. 



H. W. FOWLER 



COMMENTARY 



People who try to use the language with respect will do well to keep 
on hand the fattish, blue-hound volume known as H. W. Fowler's 
Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It should he a brain-side 
book for every writer, amateur as well as professional, since each of 
its 742 type-filled pages is a teacher of true humility. I refer to Fow- 
ler often, but not necessarily to solve a problem in usage, grammar, 
or pronunciation. I refer to it for spiritual sustenance. It shows me 
how bad a writer I am and encourages me to do better. 

I am one of that dwindling band that believes the English language, 
Eexible as it is, obeys certain laws and regulations. I do not believe 
writers are superior to these laws unless, like James Joyce, they have 
earned the right to that superiority. If a writer is vulgar in mind, 
sloppy in thought, and crude in manner, his language will betray him; 
his syntax will find him out. By examining his language with the kind 
of microscope Fowler supplies, he can spy upon his own defects of 
character and temperament. 

I read, for example, the essays on Genteelisms and Hackneyed 
Phrases and I realize with a sense of shame that I have been guilty 
of many of them, not alone in speech but in formal prose. This does 
not argue that I am a character of black iniquity, but it does point 
to a tendency of mine to borrow the stale wit and ingenuity of others 
or to dress up linsey-woolsey thoughts in ostentatious finery. These 
are small faults of taste and tiny derelictions of morality. They are 
worth correcting. 

Somerset Maugham sums up Fowler thus: 

"I have read many books on English prose, but have found it 
hard to profit by them; for the most part they are vague, unduly 
theoretical, and often scolding. But you cannot say this of Fowler's 
Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It is a valuable work. I do 
not think anyone writes so well that he cannot learn much from it. 

233 



234 READING I'VE LIKED 

It is lively reading. Fowler liked simplicity, straightforwardness and 
common sense. He had no patience with pretentiousness. He had 
a sound feeling that idiom was the backbone of a language and he 
was all for the racy phrase. He was no slavish admirer of logic and 
* was willing enough to give usage right of way through the exact 
demesnes of grammar." 

J must add that Fowler is not only useful but diverting. He is him- 
self, if something of a precisian, a sound writer, witty and ironical 
when he wishes to be (note, for example, the high comedy in his dis- 
course on the Split Infinitive, here included), and able to make 
lucid the most subtle and difficult distinctions of usage and shades 
of linguistic feeling. He is also, on occasion, a vest-pocket essayist of 
no mean ability, as the little table on Wit, Humor, Irony, etc., indi- 
cates. 

Naturally the few selections I have made give no complete idea of 
the worth of his dictionary, but they do afford a clue to the sort of 
pleasure you can get from the book if you happen to be the sort 
of person who gets pleasure from this sort of book. 



Excerpts from "A Dictionary of Modern 
English Usage" 



BY 

H. W. FOWLER 



GENTEELISM. By genteelism is here to be understood the substitut- 
ing, for the ordinary natural word that first suggests itself to the mind, 
of a synonym that is thought to be less soiled by the lips of the com- 
mon herd, less familiar, less plebeian, less vulgar, less improper, less 
apt to come unhandsomely betwixt the wind & our nobility. The truly 
genteel do not offer beer, but ale; invite one to step, not come, this 
way; take in not lodgers, but paying guests; send their boys not to 
school, but to college; never help, but assist, each other to potatoes; 
keep stomachs & domestics insteads of bellies & servants; & have quite 
forgotten that they could ever have been guilty of toothpowder & nap- 
kins & underclothing, of before & except & about, where nothing now 
will do for them but dentifrice, serviette, lingerie, ere, save, anent. 

The reader need hardly be warned that the inclusion of any par- 
ticular word in the small selection of genteelisms offered below does 
not imply that that word should never be used. All or most of these, & 
of the hundreds that might be classed with them, have their proper 
uses, in which they are not genteel, but natural. Ale is at home in his- 
torical novels, ere & save in poetry, mirrors in marble halls, the military 
in riots, dentifrices in druggists' lists, & so forth; but out of such con- 
texts, & in the conditions explained above, the taint of gentility is on 
them. To illustrate a little more in detail, "He went out without shut- 
ting the door" is plain English; with closing substituted for shutting 
it becomes genteel; nevertheless, to close the door is justified if more is 
implied than the mere not leaving it open: — "Before beginning his 

235 



236 



READING I'VE LIKED 



story, he crossed the room & closed the door," i.e. placed it so as to 
obviate overhearing; "Six people sleeping in a small room with closed 
windows," i.e. excluding air. Or again, "The schoolroom roof fell in, 
& two of the boys (or girls, or children) were badly injured"; scholars 
for boys &c. would be a genteelism, & a much more flagrant one than 
closing in the previous example; yet scholar is not an obsolete or ar- 
chaic word; it is no longer the natural English for a schoolboy or 
schoolgirl, that is all. 

The reader may now be left to the specimen list of genteelisms, 
which he will easily increase for himself. The point is that, when the 
word in the second column is the word of one's thought, one should 
not consent to displace it by the word in the first column unless an im- 
provement in the meaning would result. 



Genteelisms 


Normal words 


Genteelisms 


Normal words 


ale 


beer 


lady-dog 


bitch 


anent 


about 


lady help 


servant 


assist 


help 


lingerie 


underclothing 


carafe 


water-bottle 


military, the 


soldiers 


cease 


stop 


mirror 


looking-glass 


chiropodist 


corn-cutter 


odour 


smell 


close 


shut 


paying guest 


boarder 


coal-vase 


coal-scuttle 


perspire, -ration 


sweat 


college 


school 


peruse 


read 


couch 


sofa 


place 


put 


dentifrice 


toothpowder 


preserve 


jam 


distingue 


striking 


proceed 


g° 


domestic 


servant 


recreation 


amusement 


edifice 


building 


save 


except 


endeavour 


try 


scholar 


boy &c. 


ere 


before 


serviette 


napkin 


exclusive 


select 


step 


come, go 


expectorate 


spit 


stomach 


belly 


hither 


here 


sufficient 


enough 


inquire 


ask 


woolly 


sweater 


kinema 


cinema 


tipsy 


drunk 



H. W. FOWLER 237 

HACKNEYED PHRASES. When Punch set down a heading that 
might be, & very likely has been, the title of a whole book, "Advice 
to those about to marry," & boiled down the whole contents into a 
single word, & that a surprise, the thinker of the happy thought de- 
served congratulations for a week; he hardly deserved immortality, 
but he has — anonymously, indeed — got it; a large percentage of the 
great British people cannot think of the dissuasive "don't" without re- 
membering, &, alas! reminding others, of him. There are thousands to 
whose minds the cat cannot effect an entrance unaccompanied by 
"harmless necessary"; nay, in the absence of the cat, "harmless" still 
brings "necessary" in its train; & all would be well if the thing stopped 
at the mind, but it issues by way of the tongue, which is bad, or of the 
pen, which is worse. King David must surely writhe as often as he 
hears it told in Sheol what is the latest insignificance that may not be 
told in Gath. How many a time has Galileo longed to recant the re- 
canting of his recantation, as "e pur si muove" was once more applied 
or misapplied! And the witty gentleman who equipped coincidence 
with her long arm has doubtless suffered even in this life at seeing that 
arm so mercilessly overworked. 

The hackneyed phrases are counted by the hundred, & those regis- 
tered below are a mere selection. Each of them comes to each of us 
at some moment in life with, for him, the freshness of novelty upon it; 
on that occasion it is a delight, & the wish to pass on that delight is 
amiable; but we forget that of any hundred persons for whom we at- 
tempt this good office, though there may be one to whom our phrase 
is new & bright, it is a stale offence to the ninety & nine. 

The purpose with which these phrases are introduced is for the most 
part that of giving a fillip to a passage that might be humdrum with- 
out them; they do serve this purpose with some readers — the less dis- 
cerning — though with the other kind they more effectually disserve 
k; but their true use when they come into the writer's mind is as 
danger-signals; he should take warning that when they suggest them- 
selves it is because what he is writing is bad stuff, or it would not need 
such help; let him see to the substance of his cake, instead of decorat- 
ing with sugarplums. In considering the following selection, the reader 
will bear in mind that he & all of us have our likes & our dislikes in 



238 READING I'VE LIKED 

this kind; he may find pet phrases of his own in the list, or miss his 
pet abominations; he should not on that account decline to accept a 
caution against the danger of the hackneyed phrase. Suffer a sea 
change./Sleep the sleep of the just./The cups that cheer but not in- 
ebriate./Conspicuous by his absence./The feast of reason./The flow 
of soul./A chartered libertine./A consummation devoutly to be wished./ 

All that was mortal of ./Which would be laughable if it were not 

tragic/But that is another story ./Had few equals & no superior./But 
it was not to be./Come into one's life./Has the defects of his quali- 
ties./Leave severely alone./Take in each other's washing./In her great 
sorrow./Metal more attractive./More sinned against than sinning./ 
There is balm in Gilead./Fit audience though few./My prophetic 
soul!/The scenes he loved so well./A work of supererogation./The 
irony of fate./The pity of it! /The psychological moment./Curses not 
loud but deep./More in sorrow than in anger./Heir of all the ages./ 
There's the rub./The curate's egg./To be or not to be./Hinc illae 

lacrimae./Filthy lucre./The outer man./The inner man./Of the 

persuasion./Too funny for words./Get no forrader./My better half./ 
Eagle eye./Young hopeful./Seriously incline./ Snapper-up of uncon- 
sidered trifles./The logic of facts, events./The tender mercies of./Olive 
branches./Pity 'tis, 'tis true./Have one's quiver full./In durance vile./ 
At the parting of the ways./Not wisely, but too well. 

HUMOUR, WIT, SATIRE, SARCASM, INVECTIVE, IRONY, 
CYNICISM, THE SARDONIC. So much has been written upon the 
nature of some of these words, & upon the distinctions between pairs 
or trios among them (wit & humour, sarcasm & irony & satire), that 
it would be both presumptuous & unnecessary to attempt a further dis- 
quisition. But a sort of tabular statement may be of service against 
some popular misconceptions. No definition of the words is offered, 
but for each its motive or aim, its province, its method or means, & its 
proper audience, are specified. The constant confusion between" sar- 
casm, satire, & irony, as well as that now less common between wit & 
humour, seems to justify this mechanical device of parallel classifica- 
tion ; but it will be of use only to those who wish for help in determin- 
ing which is the word that they really want. 



H. W. FOWLER 



239 





MOTIVE 
or AIM 


PROVINCE 


METHOD 
or MEANS 


AUDIENCE 


humour 
wit 
satire 
sarcasm 

invective 

irony 

cynicism 

The sardonic 


Discovery 
Throwing light 
Amendment 
Inflicting pain 

Discredit 
Exclusiveness 
Self -justification 

Self-relief 


Human nature 
Words & ideas 
Morals & manners 
Faults & foibles 

Misconduct 
Statement of facts 
Morals 

Adversity 


Observation 
Surprise 
Accentuation 
Inversion 

Direct statement 
Mystification 
Exposure of na- 
kedness 
Pessimism 


The sympathetic 
The intelligent 
The self-satisfied 
Victim & bystand- 
er 
The public 
An inner circle 
The respectable 

Self 



IRRELEVANT ALLUSION. We all know the people-for they 
are the majority, & probably include our particular selves — who cannot 
carry on the ordinary business of everyday talk without the use of 
phrases containing a part that is appropriate & another that is pointless 
or worse; the two parts have associated themselves together in their 
minds as making up what somebody has said, & what others as well 
as they will find familiar, & they have the sort of pleasure in produc- 
ing the combination that a child has in airing a newly acquired word. 
There is indeed a certain charm in the grown-up man's boyish ebul- 
lience, not to be restrained by thoughts of relevance from letting the 
exuberant phrase jet forth. And for that charm we put up with it when 
one draws our attention to the methodical by telling us there is method 
in the madness, though method & not madness is all there is to see, 
when another's every winter is the winter of his discontent, when a 
third cannot complain of the light without calling it religious as well 
as dim, when for a fourth nothing can be rotten except in the state of 
Denmar\, or when a fifth, asked whether he does not owe you 1/6 
for that cabfare, owns the soft impeachment. Other phrases of the kind 
will be found in the article Hackneyed phrases. A slightly fuller ex- 
amination of a single example may be useful. The phrase to leave 
severely alone has two reasonable uses — one in the original sense of to 
leave alone as a method of severe treatment, i.e. to send to Coventry 
or show contempt for; & the other in contexts where severely is to be 
interpreted by contraries — to leave alone by way not of punishing the 
object, but of avoiding consequences for the subject. The straightfor- 



240 READING I'VE LIKED 

ward meaning, & the ironical, are both good; anything between them, 
in which the real meaning is merely to leave alone, & severely is no 
more than an echo, is pointless & vapid & in print intolerable. Exam- 
ples follow: (i, straightforward) You must show him, by leaving him 
severely alone, by putting him into a moral Coventry, your detestation 
of the crime; (2, ironical) Fish of prey do not appear to relish the sharp 
spines of the sticklebac\, & usually seem to leave them severely alone; 
(3, pointless) Austria forbids children to smo\e in public places; & in 
German schools & military colleges there are laws upon the subject; 
France, Spain, Greece, & Portugal, leave the matter severely alone. It 
is obvious at once how horrible the faded jocularity of N° 3 is in print; 
&, though things like it come crowding upon one another in most con- 
versation, they are not very easy to find in newspapers & books of any 
merit; a small gleaning of them follows: — The moral, as Alice would 
say, appeared to be that, despite its difference in degree, an obvious 
essential in the right hind of education had been equally lacking to 
both these girls (as Alice, or indeed as you or I, might say). /Resigna- 
tion became a virtue of necessity for Sweden (If you do what you must 
with a good grace, you make a virtue of necessity; without make, a 
virtue of necessity is meaningless) . // strongly advise the single word- 
ing-man who would become a successful backyard poultry-deeper to 
ignore the advice of Punch, & to secure a useful helpmate./ The be- 
loved lustige Wien [merry Vienna] of his youth had suffered a sea 
change. The green glacis . . . was blocked by ranges of grand new 
buildings (Ariel must chuckle at the odd places in which his sea 
change turns up). /Many of the celebrities who in that most frivolous 
of watering-places do congregate./ When about to quote Sir Oliver 
Lodge's tribute to the late leader, Mr Law drew, not a dial, but what 
was obviously a penny memorandum boo\ from his pocket (You want 
to mention that Mr Bonar Law took a notebook out of his pocket; but 
pockets are humdrum things; how give a literary touch? call it a pol{e? 
no, we can better that; who was it drew what from his poke? why, 
Touchstone a dial, to be sure! & there you are). 

SPLIT INFINITIVE. The English-speaking world may be divided 
into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; 



H. W. FOWLER 241 

(2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know 
& condemn; (4) those who know & approve; & (5) those who know 
& distinguish. 

1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, & are a 
happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes; "to really un- 
derstand" comes readier to their lips & pens than "really to understand," 
they see no reason why they should not say it (small blame to them, 
seeing that reasons are not their critics' strong point), & they do say 
it, to the discomfort of some among us, but not to their own. 

2. To the second class, those who do not know but do care, who 
would as soon be caught putting their knives in their mouths as split- 
ting an infinitive but have hazy notions of what constitutes that de- 
plorable breach of etiquette, this article is chiefly addressed. These 
people betray by their practice that their aversion to the split infinitive 
springs not from instinctive good taste, but from tame acceptance of 
the misinterpreted opinion of others; for they will subject their sen- 
tences to the queerest distortions, all to escape imaginary split infini- 
tives. "To really understand" is a s.i.; "to really be understood" is a 
s.i.; "to be really understood" is not one; the havoc that is played with 
much well-intentioned writing by failure to grasp that distinction is in- 
credible. Those upon whom the fear of infinitive-splitting sits heavy 
should remember that to give conclusive evidence, by distortions, of 
misconceiving the nature of the s.i. is far more damaging to their 
literary pretensions than an actual lapse could be; for it exhibits them 
as deaf to the normal rhythm of English sentences. No sensitive ear 
can fail to be shocked, if the following examples are read aloud, by the 
strangeness of the indicated adverbs. Why on earth, the reader won- 
ders, is that word out of its place? He will find, on looking through 
again, that each has been turned out of a similar position, viz between 
the word be & a passive participle. Reflection will assure him that the 
cause of dislocation is always the same — all these writers have sacri- 
ficed the run of their sentences to the delusion that "to be really under- 
stood" is a split infinitive. It is not; & the straitest non-splitter of us all 
can with a clear conscience restore each of the adverbs to its rightful 
place: — He was proposed at the last moment as a candidate likely gen- 



242 READING I'VE LIKED 

erally to be accepted./When the record of this campaign comes dis- 
passionately to be written, & in just perspective, it will be found that 
. . ./The leaders have given instructions that the lives & property of 
foreigners shall scrupulously be respected./New principles will have 
boldly to be adopted if the Scottish case is to be met ./This is a very 
serious matter, which clearly ought further to* be inquired into./There 
are many points raised in the report which need carefully to be ex- 
plored./Only two ways of escaping from the conflict without loss, by 
this time become too serious squarely to be faced, have ever offered 
themselves./The Headmaster of a public school possesses very great 
powers, which ought most carefully & considerately to be exercised./ 
The time to get this revaluation put through is when the amount paid 
by the State to the localities is very largely to be increased. /But the 
party whose Leader in the House of Commons acts in this way cannot 
fail deeply to be discredited by the way in which he flings out & about 
these false charges. 

3. The above writers are bogy-haunted creatures who for fear of split- 
ting an infinitive abstain from doing something quite different, i.e. di- 
viding be from its complement by an adverb. Those who presumably do 
know what split infinitives are, & condemn them, are not so easily iden- 
tified, since they include all who neither commit the sin nor flounder 
about in saving themselves from it, all who combine with acceptance of 
conventional rules a reasonable dexterity. But when the dexterity is lack- 
ing, disaster follows. It does not add to a writer's readableness if readers 
are pulled up now & again to wonder — Why this distortion ? Ah, to be 
sure, a non-split die-hard! That is the mental dialogue occasioned by each 
of the adverbs in the examples below. It is of no avail merely to fling 
oneself desperately out of temptation; one must so do it that no traces 
of the struggle remain; that is, sentences must be thoroughly remod- 
elled instead of having a word lifted from its original place & dumped 
elsewhere: — What alternative can be found which the Pope has not 
condemned, & which will make it possible to organize legally public 
worship ?/If it is to do justice between the various parties & not un- 
duly to burden the State, it will . . ./It will, when better understood, 
tend firmly to establish relations between Capital & Labour./Both Ger- 



H. W. FOWLER 243 

many & England have done ill in not combining to forbid flatly hos- 
tilities./Nobody expects that the executive of the Amalgamated So- 
ciety is going to assume publicly sackcloth & ashes./Every effort must 
be made to increase adequately professional knowledge & attainments./ 
We have had to shorten somewhat Lord Denbigh's letter./ The kind of 
sincerity which enables an author to move powerfully the heart would 
. . . /Safeguards should be provided to prevent effectually cosmopolitan 
fin ciers from manipulating these reserves. 

4. Just as those who know & condemn the s.i. include many who are 
not recognizable, only the clumsier performers giving positive proof 
of resistance to temptation, so too those who know & approve are not 
distinguishable with certainty; when a man splits an infinitive, he may 
be doing it unconsciously as a member of our class 1, or he may be 
deliberately rejecting the trammels of convention & announcing that 
he means to do as he will with his own infinitives. But, as the follow- 
ing examples are from newspapers of high repute, & high newspaper 
tradition is strong against splitting, it is perhaps fair to assume that 
each specimen is a manifesto of independence: — It will be found pos- 
sible to considerably improve the present wages of the miners without 
jeopardizing the interests of capital./ Always providing that the Im- 
perialists do not feel strong enough to decisively assert their power in 
the revolted provinces./But even so, he seems to still be allowed to 
speak at Unionist demonstrations./It is the intention of the Minister of 
Transport to substantially increase all present rates by means of a gen- 
eral percentage./The men in many of the largest districts are declared 
to strongly favour a strike if the minimum wage is not conceded. 

It should be noticed that in these the separating adverb could have 
been placed outside the infinitive with little or in most cases no dam- 
age to the sentence-rhythm {considerably after miners, decisively after 
power, still with clear gain after be, substantially after rates, & strongly 
at some loss after strike), so that protest seems a safe diagnosis. 

5. The attitude of those who know & distinguish is something like 
this: We admit that separation of to from its infinitive (viz be, do, 
have, sit, doubt, kjll, or other verb inflexionally similar) is not in itself 
desirable, & we shall not gratuitously say either "to mortally wound" 



244 READING I'VE LIKED 

or "to mortally be wounded"; but we are not foolish enough to con- 
fuse the latter with "to be mortally wounded", which is blameless Eng- 
lish, nor "to just have heard" with "to have just heard", which is also 
blameless. We maintain, however, that a real s.i., though not desirable 
in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguitv, & to 
patent artificiality. For the first, we will rather write "Our object is to 
further cement trade relations" than, by correcting into "Our object is 
further to cement . . .", leave it doubtful whether an additional object 
or additional cementing is the point. And for the second, we take it 
that such reminders of a tyrannous convention as "in not combining 
to forbid flatly hostilities" are far more abnormal than the abnormality 
they evade. We will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or arti- 
ficial; more than that, we will freely admit that sufficient recasting will 
get rid of any s.i. without involving either of those faults, & yet re- 
serve to ourselves the right of deciding in each case whether recasting 
is worth while. Let us take an example: "In these circumstances, the 
Commission, judging from the evidence taken in London, has been 
feeling its way to modifications intended to better equip successful 
candidates for careers in India & at the same time to meet reasonable 
Indian demands". To better equip? We refuse "better to equip" as a 
shouted reminder of the tyranny; we refuse "to equip better" as am- 
biguous {better an adjective?); we regard "to equip successful candi- 
dates better" as lacking compactness, as possibly tolerable from an anti- 
splitter, but not good enough for us. What then of recasting? "Intended 
to make successful candidates fitter for" is the best we can do if the 
exact sense is to be kept; it takes some thought to arrive at the cor- 
rection; was the game worth the candle? 

After this inconclusive discussion, in which, however, the author's 
opinion has perhaps been allowed to appear with indecent plainness, 
readers may like to settle for themselves whether, in the following sen- 
tence, "either to secure" followed by "to resign", or "to either secure" 
followed by "resign", should have been preferred — an issue in which 
the meaning & the convention are pitted against each other: — The 
speech has drawn an interesting letter from Sir Antony MacDonnelL 
who states that his agreement with Mr Wyndham was never cancelled. 



H. W. FOWLER 245 

& that Mr Long was too weak either to secure the dismissal of Sir An- 
tony or himself to resign office. 

It is perhaps hardly fair that this article should have quoted no split 
infinitives except such as, being reasonably supposed (as in 4) to be 
deliberate, are likely to be favourable specimens. Let it therefore con- 
clude with one borrowed from a reviewer, to whose description of it 
no exception need be taken : "A book ... of which the purpose is thus 
— with a deafening split infinitive — stated by its author: — 'Its main 
idea is to historically, even while events are maturing, & divinely — from 
the Divine point of view — impeach the European system of Church 
& State.' " 

WORN-OUT HUMOUR. "We are not amused"; so Queen Vic- 
toria baldly stated a fact that was disconcerting to someone; yet the 
thing was very likely amusing in its nature; it did not amuse the per- 
son whose amusement mattered, that was all. The writer's Queen Vic- 
toria is his public, & he would do well to keep a bust of the old Queen 
on his desk with the legend "We are not amused" hanging from it. 
His public will not be amused if he serves it up the small facetiae that 
it remembers long ago to have taken delight in. We recognize this 
about anecdotes, avoid putting on our friends the depressing duty of 
simulating surprise, & sort our stock into chestnuts & still possibles. 
Anecdotes are our pounds, & we take care of them; but of the phrases 
that are our pence we are more neglectful. Of the specimens of worn- 
out humour exhibited below nearly all have had point & liveliness in 
their time; but with every year that they remain current the proportion 
of readers who "are not amused" to those who find them fresh & new 
inexorably rises. 

Such grammatical oddities as muchly; such puns as Bedfordshire & 
the Land of Nod; such allusions as the Chapter on Snakes in Iceland; 

such parodies as To or not to ; such quotations as On 

intent, or single blessedness, or suffer a sea change; such oxymorons 
as The gentle art of doing something ungentle; such polysyllabic un- 
couthness as calling a person an individual or an old maid an unappro- 
priated blessing; such needless euphemisms as unmentionables or a 



246 READING I'VE LIKED 

table's limbs; such meioses as the herringpond, or Epithets the reverse 
of complimentary, or "some" as a superlative; such playful archaisms as 

hight or yclept; such legalisms as (the) said , & the same, & this 

deponent; such shiftings of application as innocent or guiltless of hs, 
or of the military persuasion , or to spell ruin or discuss a roast fowl or 
be too previous; such metonymies as the leather & the ribbons for ball 
h reins; such metaphors as timberyard & s\y -pilot & priceless; such 
zeugmas as in top-boots & a temper; such happy thoughts as takjng 
in each other's washing — with all these we, i.e. the average adult, not 
only are not amused; we feel a bitterness, possibly because they remind 
us of the lost youth in which we could be tickled with a straw, against 
the scribbler who has reckoned on our having tastes so primitive. 



C. K. OGDEN 



COMMENTARY 



Except by divine accident, book reviews are not works of literature. 
Called into being by trivial causes, they are generally written in haste 
and forgotten at the same tempo. In England, during the early nine- 
teenth century, book reviews were massive and learned; sometimes 
three months might be taken in their composition. (They were often, 
one should add, extremely dull.) Today book reviews are at best in- 
formative, sprightly, and intelligent. At worst they are merely in- 
formative. 

Perhaps they are not literature, not only because book reviewers 
are not first-rate writers but because a book review is the wrong 
length. It is difficult to say anything moving and memorable about 
a book in a thousand words. One needs either ten words or ten thou- 
sand. That is why the reviews I remember with most pleasure have 
been very long or very short. The little girl who wrote "This book 
tells me more about penguins than I am interested in knowing" was 
the author of a classic sentence and a classic book review. Those old 
single line crushers, "The only unity the book has was given it by the 
binder' and "There is too much space between the covers of this 
book 77 — these are good, direct-action reviews. If the truth were told, 
they would be appropriate to at least fifty per cent of the volumes 
that are accorded more extended treatment. 

When I think of the best reviews I have read in the last twenty 
years, two come quickly to mind. One was a whopper of a job by 
Laurence Stallings in the Sun of perhaps twelve years ago. It per- 
formed several major operations on the autobiography of Emma 
Goldman, as a result of which the patient expired. It was cruel, but 
it was superb. 

The other I am reprinting here. It appeared in the October 23, 
1926, issue of The Saturday Review of Literature, rudely displacing 
practically all the other reviews scheduled for that week. The irate 
reader may well ask why at this late date I am digging up this mam- 

247 



248 READING I'VE LIKED 

moth commentary full oi strange names and allusions and apoplectic 
with erudition. I have one or two reasons ready, none oi which, it 
is quite possible, will seem cogent to anyone else. 

In the Erst place, Mr. C. K. Ogden, its author, was handed what 
is about the toughest assignment any reviewer can face: The Ency- 
clopaedia Britannica. The mere possession of erudition (and it will 
be seen that Mr. Ogden has what might almost be called a corner on 
general information) will not suffice. You must make your erudition 
comprehensible and you must make your erudition entertaining. I 
submit that Mr. Ogden meets these three tests superbly. I draw par- 
ticular attention to the fact that this lengthy comment on matters 
which after all do not concern us vitally is not only interesting but 
frequently funny. Through it blows like a favoring wind that amus- 
ingly cheeky English urbanity which we now know to be the draw- 
ing-room face of stoical English courage. 

Mr. Ogden s piece was thrown off hurriedly as a bit of journalism. 
Yet it is full of good sense, good writing, and good humor. It is stuffed 
with jokes and puns, some of them donnish, it is true, others fresh 
and merry, one at least a most outrageous double-entendre. (No, End 
it yourself.) A man so flexible and humane of temperament that he 
can play games with the Britannica and at the same time accord it 
the reverence that noble institution deserves is a phenomenon worthy 
of your attention. 

The minds of polymaths, though fascinating to the psychologist 
tend to repel us ordinary folk. It is difficult to pump up enthusiasm 
over the personalities of such Know r Everythings as Macaulay, von 
Ranke, or Lord Acton. C. K. Ogden, if less imposing than any of 
these, has their same catholicity of intellectual interest. But his mind 
remains playful, even skittish, and his learning sits lightly upon his 
sentences. He will even teach you a new parlor game— the one he 
calls Offs and Ons. It is fun to watch a brain like this at work. 

It may also be of interest to some to note how shrewdly Ogden 
called the intellectual turn fifteen years ago. His amiable strictures 
on the Britannica's sins of omission in 1926 are indicative of the state 
of vanguard knowledge at that time. For example, he scolds the 
supplementary edition of the Britannica, which he is reviewing, for 



C. K. OGDEN 249 

omitting or treating insufficiently such names as Charles Peirce, Tos- 
canini, Stokowski, Gershwin, Le Corbusier, Zaharoff, General Hoff- 
mann, Laski, William Morton Wheeler, Tawney, T.S. Eliot, Rebecca 
West. Today it is a bit easier to estimate the importance of these 
figures. But in 1926 it required rare erudition, judgment, and bold- 
ness to be as certain of their worth as was C. K. Ogden. 

Ogden is a Cambridge scholar. His special province is psychology 
and semantics. He is the author, with I. A. Richards, of The Mean- 
ing of Meaning (not recommended as light literature) and of a num- 
ber of other books. His most important recent contribution is his 
invention of Basic English, a scientific vocabulary of about eight hun- 
dred common English words with which most ordinary discourse can 
be effectively conducted. Basic English has nothing in common with 
such ''international languages" as Esperanto, Ido, or Volapiik. It is 
an auxiliary, a tool constructed to serve as a supplement to existing 
languages. It is already being widely taught in Russia and parts of 
China and, properly used, may turn out a valuable aid in the gradual 
formation of that world-mindedness which must ensue if the present 
war is won by the democracies. 

After the publication of the piece that follows, one of the Ency- 
clopaedia Britannica people came to Henry Seidel Canby, then editor 
of The Saturday Review, in a state of considerable choler. He felt 
that the Ogden review might be considered prejudicial and talked 
of bringing suit. Dr. Canby inquired mildly what the grounds of com- 
plaint were. The other replied that Dr. Canby was responsible for 
having chosen an incompetent to write the review. "In that case, 7 ' 
replied Dr. Canby very gently, 'T suggest that you look up the 
Britannica article on Aesthetics and bring suit against yourself." The 
article in question was, of course, by C. K. Ogden. 



The New Britannica 

BY 

C. K. OGDEN 



Between the ages of ten and twenty-five the growing organism is pre- 
pared for the Battle with Death. So too with the Body of Knowledge. 
Between 1910 and 1925, it "just growed" — and after Topsy, the Au- 
topsy. Its debonair grandsire the eighteenth, its heavy father the nine- 
teenth, of a long line of centuries, were dissected and embalmed in 
those twelve monumental cenotaphs — the successive editions of the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica as we have known it hitherto. But with the 
Resurrection at the dawn of the new century, a new Body was formed. 
Overshadowed in infancy, it grew slowly; but since 1910 its progress 
has been phenomenal, and now we can profitably take stock of the 
adolescent period, for the three new volumes of the Encyclopaedia are 
before us.* 

Once upon a time the writing of encyclopaedias was a glorious ad- 
venture, and if your work ever reached a conclusion, i.e., if you eventu- 
ally got out of prison and could prevent the printers from mutilating 
your proofs at the last minute, you might even initiate a revolution. 
Diderot, as we know, was the Debs of Encyclopaedism, and it is to Vol- 
taire, who pronounced his achievement a compound of marble and 
wood, that we owe the description of the Royal supper-party in 1774 
after the first twenty-one volumes had been suppressed. He tells us»how 
the conversation turned on the nature of gunpowder; how Madame 
Pompadour complained that since the confiscation she had no idea 



* The present survey deals only with the three new volumes. But these are intended 
to be regarded as supplementing the nth Edition, 1910 (so as to supersede the War 
Volumes, 1921, known as the 12th Edition), and forming with it a complete 13th Edi- 
tion. 

250 



C. K. OGDEN 251 

what even her rouge or her stockings were made of; how the king 
thereupon sent for the volumes, and three servants eventually staggered 
in with a load which answered all the questions mooted; and how the 
next ten volumes were then sanctioned. 

That was the moment chosen by "a society of gentlemen" in Scot-, 
land to launch the Encyclopedia Britannica. But with a very different 
motive, as is shown by the dedication of the two supplementary vol- 
umes in 1800, anent Diderot's "dissemination of the seeds of anarchy 
and atheism." — If they "shall in any degree counteract the tendency of 
that pestiferous work, even these two volumes will not be wholly un- 
worthy of your Majesty's attention." Needless to say, no one has ever, 
before or since, accused the Britannica of radical or unsettling tenden- 
cies; nor are they likely to do so, as long as the judicious impartiality 
of Mr. Garvin is in evidence. 

These three volumes, however, considerably larger in themselves 
than the entire first edition of 1771, are remarkable for the extent to 
which the barriers which have hitherto preserved the public from the 
inroads of modernity have been broken down. Thus, the Rev. J. M. 
Creed does not hesitate to expound Leuba's view that there is no es- 
sential difference between the so-called religious experience of the 
mystic and the illusions of narcotic intoxication: "Other psychologists 
have argued that religion is to be explained in terms of hallucinatory 
images formed by the mind, to which objective reality is wrongly 
ascribed." Diderot himself could scarcely ask for more. 

This attempt to put at our disposal a means of understanding the 
material and intellectual forces which have made the past fifteen years 
amongst the most momentous in history must be pronounced a tri- 
umph of publishing and organization by everyone who realizes the 
labor and goodwill that have gone to its making. In particular, a 
notable advance can be recorded in all that pertains to the American 
scene, and here the name of Mr. Hooper has to be joined with those 
of the Editor and Mr. Holland in awarding to all their due meed of 
praise. The gradual widening of the Britannica horizon is also evi- 
dent in the effort to meet the needs of the average family as well as 
of the librarian and the specialist. 

Never, we feel, has such a comprehensive record of human endeavor 



252 READING I'VE LIKED 

been offered in so small a compass. Amongst the contributions which 
no one can afford to miss are the masterly architectural survey bv the 
designer of Bush House, supplemented by the study of City planning 
(which might with advantage have referred to Le Corbusier's visions 
of the Paris of tomorrow) ; Leon Gaster's description of the possibili- 
ties of artificial light; Professor Raymond Pearl's discussion of the prob- 
abilities of artificial rejuvenation (though both he and Serge Voronoff 
are agreed that we cannot yet altogether escape Death — or even, be it 
added, add to our expectation of life) ; Stefansson's survey of Arctic 
resources; Henry Ford on Mass Production; Professor Rankine on 
Sound; Professor R. W. Gregory on Color and Race; and the formid- 
able sextet on the various aspects of Evolution. 

The section on Archaeology is another notable triumph of composite 
work, though strangely enough so eminent and active an archaeologist 
as Mr. Harold Peake is not indexed; the unique account of the new 
developments of air photography in the detection of ancient sites, by 
O. G. S. Crawford, is embellished by a convincing illustration. 

Many would have favored the adoption of the same method for 
the War itself, and will deplore the practice of splitting up the various 
military episodes whereby the world was made a Safe for Democracy 
— to which we have apparently lost the key. The recurrence every 
few pages of a purely strategic narrative, under the name of some 
arbitrarily selected battle or campaign, in addition to elaborate studies 
of the various fronts and full military histories of the different bel- 
ligerent powers, gives the impression that the Britannica has never 
been properly demobilized. 

The articles on Economics and Social Science are naturally scattered, 
and number about two hundred, supplemented by over a hundred 
biographies. The right man for the subject, as in 1910, has been sought, 
regardless of prejudices, and the result is a sense of freshness and 
authority which rivals even that of the slightly more technical En- 
gineering contributions. These, by the way, the literary reader should 
not shirk, for the marvels of modern engineering are often reflected 
in a brilliant linguistic technique for grappling with the most intricate 
mechanical constructions. The Currency and Finance section, in 
twenty-four divisions, will be as valuable to everyone concerned with 



C. K. OGDEN 253 

business and administration as the less complicated articles on com- 
mercial topics proper. 

The practical note of Professor Ashley's central summary is echoed 
in the thoughtful essays of T. E. Gregory, Sir Josiah Stamp, Gustav 
Cassel, Moritz Julius Bonn, and even in the Cassandra-tones of Joseph 
Caillaux. The international scope of the work, too, is here seen to 
special advantage. 

A special word of praise is necessary for many of the biographies. 
Mr. Ervine, in particular, is in his element on the subject of Shaw, 
and includes a brief excursus on the Shavian religion, showing how 
American influences were twice paramount. Mr. D. G. Hogarth tells 
the romantic story of Colonel Lawrence; and in the parallel column 
the secret is out that the author of "The White Peacock" has written 
a successful manual of modern history. In a word the new volumes 
have, where suitable, sufficiently subordinated the formal character 
which we associate with Encyclopaedias to become readable and enter- 
taining in the best sense. 

Here is Trotsky assuring us that Lenin was courteous and attentive, 
especially to the. weak and oppressed, and to children, and Freud ex- 
plaining why medical hostility could not check the progress of psycho- 
analysis. Dr. E. J. Dillon refuses to believe "that Izvolsky was respon- 
sible for the World War," and G. B. S. tweaks the beard of Capitalism 
so violently that the editor has to launch a special bulletin to make 
it quite clear that Wall Street is still hale and hirsute. The author of 
"Thunder on the Left" gives us a brisk column on O. Henry, who 
"often arouses the trained reader's amazement," while the sound 
scholars who believe that our language is going to the dogs will hear 
them barking in every line of Mr. Mencken's excellent essay on 
Americanisms. Joyce's "Ulysses," it appears, is "little known to the 
general public," Bela Kun "was a man of medium size, rather plump," 
and Noel Coward "has made himself an international figure." Mary 
Pickford's violet eyes smile at us from her niche alongside Doug., 
and even Charlie's feet twinkle through a respectful black-type blurb. 

In the exact sciences, of course, the high standard of the main En- 
cyclopaedia is fully maintained. Sir Ernest Rutherford and Sir J. J. 
Thomson, the knights unerrant of physics, are ably assisted by Pro- 



254 READING I'VE LIKED 

fessors Bohr, Eddington, McLennan, Millikan, and Soddy. To get 
Mr. F. W. Aston to write, "Within a tumbler of water lies sufficient 
energy to propel the Mauretania across the Atlantic and back at full 
speed," and Einstein to assert that "we fare no better in our specula- 
tions than a fish which should strive to become clear as to what is 
water," is an achievement after which any editor might claim a long 
week-end. 

Medicine, too, is well represented, and a fair balance is struck be- 
tween the Clinicians and the Bacteriologists. Sir Humphrey Rolleston, 
Professor L. F. Barker, Dr. Alexis Carrel, Hideyo Noguchi (Nogouchi 
at H-474, as in both lists of contributors), Adolf Lorenz, Sir Almroth 
Wright, and Dr. Kinnier Wilson, all contribute of their best. The last 
named, by the way, has lately produced a manual for general practi- 
tioners embodying all the most recent work on speech defects, and 
Pieron's summary of continental experience over the last decade, in 
his popular exposition "Thought and the Brain," runs to over a 
hundred pages; but in spite of the fact that one of the chief medical 
results of the War was the stimulus it gave to Aphasia, even the 
single allusion to Dr. Henry Head in these volumes (III-257) does 
not get the subject indexed. Another missing entry is Chronaxy, with 
its intriguing neurological implications; Bourguignon's contribution, 
for example. 

But let the reader beware of getting a false impression from any 
captious remarks he may read by young men in a hurry to air their 
own omniscience. Such an enterprise as this cannot be judged by one 
or two lapses, however serious, nor yet by fifty. A few days ago the 
Chinese delegate at Geneva, on the pretext of presenting to the League 
of Nations a Chinese Encyclopedia, used his moments on the plat- 
form to insinuate a number of tuitional statements about gunboats 
and cruisers on distant waters. Just as we cannot condemn the whole of 
China even for such a lapse, as this, so we may hesitate to decry the 
Britannica because, as we shall contend, the analogy is not altogether 
inapplicable. Its methods and its material may frequently be at fault, 
but let us generously acknowledge the great stride an institution 158 
years old has taken towards a renewal of those spacious days of 
Encyclopaxlia-making, when Pierre Bayle would write down all that 



C. K. OGDEN 255 

he knew in alphabetical order, because he enjoyed doing it, with taste 
and gusto. Fresh breezes are blowing through these 3,000 pages, and 
a new and welcome spirit informs the majority o£ its 1,200 contributors. 
With this preamble, let us muster such reverence as befits an advocatus 
diaboli confronted by their labors. 



II 

A just criticism, we readily admit, makes much of good points and 
only mentions flaws for the purpose of future improvement. Our sole 
reason for adding a second part to this survey is the supreme impor- 
tance and outstanding merits of the new Britannica. It would be an 
easy and a pleasant task to continue to lay stress on those merits, but 
for the discerning reader every further inch devoted to this edition is 
actually a further compliment. The following notes, then, are designed 
primarily for persons who are already in possession of the volumes 
and who expect from the Saturday Review some indication of the 
extent to which their record of modern achievement can claim to be 
"complete." 

Since any such probe in these degenerate days is liable to be mis- 
interpreted, let it be explained at the outset that the Britannica survives 
the test with flying colors — relatively to any other Encyclopaedia in 
the world. But Homer's occasional surreptitious nod does not license 
the stertorous exhibitionism of his rivals. It is hardly necessary to state 
that the mention of an omission is not a demand for a biography. 
Every reader of the Britannica knows that only a very small propor- 
tion of those included are treated separately. Omissions are judged 
by the comparative standards set in these volumes themselves and by 
the public claims to completeness which have been made for them. 
In other words, 90 per cent of the names he has looked for in vain 
are regarded by the reviewer as more important than 30 per cent of 
the corresponding inclusions. It should be possible for an inquirer at 
once to discover from these three thousand pages whether and whereby 
they are able, notable, or noble, i.e., whether their success is due to 
brains, behavior, or blood. 

The Britannica does not regard itself as impressionistic or eclectic, 



256 READING I'VE LIKED 

and it is not so regarded. The reader who failed at once to find Low 
or Weyl might complain that American Administration and the Uni- 
verse respectively had been inadequately treated; so the Britannica has 
exalted each in its own way. Britons must just accept the fact (though 
they may balk at the misplaced and misprinted entry "Weil's hypoth- 
esis"), but when they hear the cognoscenti acclaiming Sacharoff and 
Robeson they will find that here their needs have been less carefully 
considered, though in both fields ample space has been devoted to nu- 
merous lesser personalities. 

The criticism, then, is one of judgment and correlation rather than 
of policy or intention. The Britannica, in fact, has doubled its value 
by opening its pages to modernity, but it is not surprising that in such 
an intellectual hurricane the editorial trireme rocks a trifle. Every little 
while the oars do not beat in unison, and a crab is caught. Imagine, 
for instance, a man "temperamentally desperate, loving extremes, . . . 
almost querulously criticizing the world's workings." There is in fact 
such a miserable specimen of humanity. His name, according to the 
Britannica biography, is Bertrand Arthur William Russell. He "has 
been peculiarly successful in eliciting from contemporary physics those 
theorems that are most consonant with his own temper." Bearing that 
in mind, locate now the most crucial article in the whole three volumes, 
the one that requires for its composition the acutest, the astutest, the 
most balanced, and the best informed mind in Christendom. There is 
such an article. It is on Knowledge itself — what we can know and 
how we know it. And whom does the editor select to write that article ? 
The whole royal stable and all Cal's men will not induce me to give 
him away. 

Something has gone wrong somewhere. As Mr. Russell himself 
writes: "I have read accounts of my own death in the newspapers, but 
I abstained from inferring that I was a ghost." Nay more: Mr. Russell 
visited Russia shortly after the war with the Labor delegation, and 
published a book expressing his disapproval of what he saw. He was 
subsequently appointed Professor of Philosophy in the University of 
Peking, being the first European thinker of first-class attainments to 
win the confidence of the East. The significance of such a contact for 
the future thought of the world has yet to be appreciated. The Britan- 



C. K. OGDEN 257 

nica allows these events to be recorded as follows: "He travelled 
through China and Bolshevik Russia." 

In the biography of F. H. Bradley we are informed that he "once 
and for all established the supremacy of idealism over realism, in 
dialectical controversy." On page 332 of Volume III, where modern 
thought says its last word, this is very properly contradicted — "It is a 
mistake to suppose that relativity adopts an idealistic picture of the 
world." But when we finally reach the Golden Gates behind which 
"there is found to be a residue not dependent upon the point of view 
of the observer" we are met by the magic word Tensors. The editors 
have presumably not noticed that after thus whetting our curiosity 
about this mysterious cosmic mantram, "the importance of which can 
hardly be exaggerated," the Britannica, though not elsewhere afraid 
of technicalities, leaves us in the lurch: for Professor Eddington, who 
likewise contracts a tensor just at this point (III-9o8a), also contracts 
his exegetic antennae. 

The Britannica has always featured the Population problem and 
Malthus himself adorned the supplement to the fifth edition. But it 
is too little known that Malthus was a clergyman and a Fellow of 
Jesus College, Cambridge. Consequently it is a new departure to be 
informed that Dr. Marie Stopes' "exhaustive treatise has been largely 
used by doctors and medical students." The Rev. Sir James Marchant 
is further inspired by his subject, Birth Control, to quote: 

By filching all the substance of the fit 
We make the rotten multiply as it. 

Perhaps in the fourteenth edition he will rise to the worthier lines: 

There was an old woman who lived in a stew: 

She had so many children; she didn't know what to do. 

The recent triumphs of Parasitology and the discovery of a virus or a 
tic in connection with so many of the ills to which flesh is heir seem 
to have led to a new and somewhat sinister form of medical optimism 
which might be christened V trusties. At any rate both Professor S. L. 



258 READING I'VE LIKED 

Cummins (II-474), and still more confidently Dr. C. M. Wenyon 
(III-50D), as well as Dr. Tidy (I-978), envisage the complete virustica- 
tion of Influenza. 

Meanwhile we would have welcomed an article on the exorcism of 
the common cold, or of alopecia, to show just how far we really have 
progressed beyond our grandmothers. For though there is nearly a 
page of information and advice (how to move the bowels, etc.) should 
you be stricken by Phlebotomous fever in Malta, there is nothing to 
warn Americans against facing possible death by inoculation for ty- 
phoid prior to a European pleasure trip — and returning to find that 
the family has caught it in New York. Nor is anything said about 
Mongolian imbecility, for which this year's Bradshaw lecturer pro- 
pounded so challenging an aetiology in 1924; about the effects of Noise 
and its abatement; or about Abrams' box. 

Such reticence, when we reach topics which interest intelligent people 
not over-endowed with special knowledge, is distressing. Apart from an 
unindexed allusion, under Pragmatism, there is no mention of that 
outstanding American genius, Charles Santiago Sanders Peirce; nor 
of such pioneers of modern thought as Smith Ely Jelliffe, William A. 
White, Stewart Paton, G. M. Gould, Charles R. Stockard, R. W. Wood, 
and J. J. Putnam (Major Putnam's name by the way is also notably 
inconspicuous). Edward Carpenter fails to register, though throughout 
the period covered his influence on thought both in England and 
America has been considerable. More astonishing still is the fact that 
we search in vain for G. Lowes Dickinson and Rebecca West. And 
Stop, Look, Listen! — for Professor W. Z. Ripley (at whose whisper 
Wall Street winces) is not reckoned among the First Hundred Thou- 
sand of his compatriots. No wonder the Britannica suggests (I-420)* 
that had Carpentier come to New York, he would have been a mere 
pork and beaner. 

Though incorrigibly repetitive, the treatment of Armageddon is ad- 
mittedly authoritative. We search, however, without success for anv 
mention of General Hoffmann, the opponent of Ludendorff, whose. 
book "The War of Lost Opportunities" is surely one of the most 
notable documents of the last ten ye^.rs. His role in shaping recent 
history was presumably as great as that of, say Johann Friedrich 



C. K. OGDEN 259 

(q.v.) ; which also applies to the Hon. James M. Beck, Frederic Cou- 
dert, Sir Geoffrey Butler, and Arthur Ponsonby. Nor do we find any 
allusion to the exploits of Nogales Bey. Rasputin is in, but not Burt 
Reese. It is curious, too, that J. B. S. Haldane's "Callinicus" is not 
mentioned even in the bibliography of the lengthy article on Chemical 
Warfare. That he himself is not in the index is, however, merely a 
mistake; for he is there confused with his father, the Vitalist — after 
the best traditions of the American press, which throughout the divorce 
proceedings against Cambridge University insisted on using photo- 
graphs of the Oxford Professor in spectacles. 

Marshal Foch asserts (II-950) that the British Tommy marched 
into battle "to the cry of 'Lusitania.' " We are more inclined to believe 
him when he declares that while soldiers wait in the trenches, "hours 
succeed hours, nights follow days, and weeks go by." It may be noted 
that though there is an arresting supernumerary article on War, like 
Pelion piled on Ossa, by Sir Ian Hamilton, there is no sign of a com- 
panion plea for Peace. A dirge on World Recovery and three despon- 
dent epithalamfa on International Rapprochement do not adequately 
counterbalance the 70,000-word epic entitled World War; and by 
the same token the name Norman Angell is not in the index. Several 
of the 193 special military contributions look, or shall we say point, 
forward to the Next War. Two and a half pages, for example, are 
devoted to devices for attacking submerged hostile submarines, when 
your vessel is moving at a high speed, by means of paravanes equipped 
with automatic dynamometer switch trippers. In other words a highly 
technical article, dealing chiefly with offensive tactics in active warfare 
and quite likely to be out of date next year, gets more than twice the 
space devoted to the whole subject of Anaesthetics! 

In their advertisements the Britannica Company referred to seven- 
teen of their contributors as having won the Nobel Prize. We turn 
to the entry Nobel Prize to discover what standard it has maintained 
since 1910, but there is no such entry. To verify a hazy recollection 
that the Prime Minister of Great Britain recommended Mr. E. D. 
Morel, just before his death, for the said prize, we look the traitor up; 
no mention. The Congo, then: again the slippery scamp escapes us. 
The Union of Democratic Control, which he founded and whose 



260 READING I'VE LIKED 

committee afterwards virtually formed the British Cabinet; no men- 
tion. Quakers — with whom he plotted; no mention. Pacifism — in which 
he saw the hope of the future; no mention. Wearily we try the League 
of Nations — yes, Mr. Garvin allows us to hear of that. 

Graham Wallas draws a blank. So does Dr. Eileen Power, most 
erudite and gracious of modern historians. Where then is the "New 
History" of which the biographer of James Harvey Robinson gives us 
a tantalizing glimpse? The "A. K. Travelling Fellowships," designed 
to broaden the minds of historians; no mention. Albert Kahn himself, 
who gave all that money? Nor Otto Kahn, who gave more still to 
still more deserving causes? Shame! Then Otto Beit, perhaps, whose 
generosity has made his name a household word amongst scientists? 
Or Arthur Serena, who founded so many costly chairs to make Italian 
thought and culture better known to the English-speaking world; not 
a word of either. And in spite of those chairs, neither Sante de Sanctis, 
nor Federigo Enriques, nor Eugenio Rignano, nor Professor Luciani is 
known to the Britannica index, where even Gentile is misspelt. Such 
is gratitude — but perhaps Sir Basil Zaharoff, since he has both endowed 
learning and influenced the destinies of nations, is more fortunate; not 
even he. 

As regards history, then, and the making of history the Britannica 
cannot be unequivocally congratulated. The lid is still down on J. L. 
Hammond, Montague Summers, G. G. Coulton, H. J. Laski, Norman 
Baynes, Alfred Zimmern, M. Dorothy George, Sir Samuel Dill, E. 
Lipson, Professors Gras, Arias, Brodnitz and Kosminsky, and R. H. 
Tawney. Not one of these prime determinants of twentieth century 
revaluations gets a mention. And you may read right through the 
index without finding the name of Mr. G. P. Gooch. 

Reverting for a moment to Sir Basil's interest in Athens, Oxford 
and Monte Carlo (Harvard men can agree to symbolically omit the 
comma, since the Britannica omits Professor Kittredge), we are re- 
minded of the classic game of chance known as Oils and Ons. \ou 
write down all the world-famous names you know that end in off, 
and for each that is not in the Encyclopaedia index you score another 
point. The same with the Ons. My score to date, including Rachma- 
ninoff and Carrie Nation, is twenty. 



C. K. OGDEN 261 

The English reader, like the dilettante, turns eagerly to the survey 
of American literature, where he had had so little opportunity o£ 
forming a just estimate; and he discovers a mine of valuable informa- 
tion. We note that America accepts E. E. Cummings, but England 
has not yet adopted T. S. Eliot — even as a critic. German literature 
is admirably covered by Soergel; but when we come to Britain we 
must confess that if the Britannica makes any claim to completeness, 
the omissions we have already recorded, where so many hundreds 
are admitted, would already give us pause. Moreover, here are ten 
names not one of which can be found in the index: Arthur Symons, 
Laurence Housman, R. Y. Tyrrell, Eden Phillpotts, Israel Zangwill, 
Rose Macaulay, Wyndham Lewis, Harold Munro, Alfred Noyes, Al- 
dous Huxley. A careful search, however, does discover allusions to 
the last five in the main text, as well as of the unindexed Sir Owen 
Seaman (I-ioio; though Punch "continued to reflect the prejudices 
rather than the judgments of the educated middle class." I-539). But 
let the American reader who so readily gets confused by Mr. and Mrs. 
Leonard Woolf, Humbert Wolfe, Wolfe the painter, Wolf the Macca- 
baean, and now "Turbott Wolfe," see what assistance he can get; for 
even with the aid of the text itself I have only tracked down a single 
Woolf, in Virginia (I-20o8a). 

Where more than a page is devoted to praise of Alice Meynell, some- 
one might put in a word for England's most- delectable emotionalist, 
Arthur Machen, though he did bring the Angels to Mons; or a line 
for that master of word-craft, Mr. Powys Mathers, though he did 
translate those "Nights" (Mardrus himself should appear) ; or a para- 
graph for the sophisticated satire of Norman Douglas, though he does 
live in Capri. And might not Edward M. C. Mackenzie (for so Mr. 
Compton Mackenzie appears in the index, where the reference at I-1008 
should be added) be allowed some credit for his Phonograph record? 
Darrell Figgis, too; and the whole Sitwell family would seem to be- 
long to the period covered, or vice versa. 

But perhaps literature is, as they say, a matter of prejudices, and 
anyhow space had to be found for the news that "men, women, and 
children of all colors" answered the queen-mother's appeal for a Kitch- 
ener memorial. 



262 READING I'VE LIKED 

Yet it cannot be a matter of space, for look at the biographies of 
Carlo Caneva, Luigi Capello, James Schoolcraft Sherman, or Count 
Casimir Badeni (who died in 1909 and gets as many inches as John 
Dewey), and the article on Choral singing which shows how "square- 
toed Choralism has been shaken to the roots" so that now "first rate 
work can be produced anywhere" — not only in Yorkshire. Now, too, 
"the dominions bid fair to follow the good example of the mother 
country," but "America has not yet produced a composer of outstand- 
ing choral works." 

And need those homes of culture, the townships of Lancashire, ad- 
vertize their parochial misfortunes at quite such length? In Preston, 
we are glad to learn, "much attention has been given to the health of 
the city and to the provision of hospitals, infant welfare centres, etc." 
We had already wondered whether the drainage problem was still 
engaging the attention of the Mayor. From Salford come tidings that 
"a wide new road was opened at Pendleton in 1925, and further road 
improvements were under consideration in 1926," while in Bolton "a 
Presbyterian Church and the Claremont Baptist Institute were erected 
in 1910." At Blackburn, "St. Jude's Church was built and its parish 
formed from that of St. Thomas in 1914." Blackpool has prepared 
"an ambitious scheme of development, including a 'social centre,' a 
restaurant, and a lake." What is Wigan going to do about it? A cafe- 
teria perhaps? 

The articles on the social side of Industry are for the most part 
hardly less uninspired than the disconnected oddments on international 
organization (Arbitration and the various Pacts). "Health," we read 
(III-463) "is needed for efficient work"; and Miss May Smith occupies 
two whole pages in elaborating the thesis that we cannot work for 
twenty-four hours a day. ("The physiological necessity for sleep pre- 
vented the complete working out of this principle.") We also learn 
that "a good industrial leader should possess vitality, sympathy, justice, 
and humor, as well as knowledge of the work." The late P. E. B. Jour- 
dain, the paralytic mathematician, possessed all these qualities in a 
supreme degree. So, one would suppose, does Mr. Ring Lardner. The 
Girl Scouts, "known as Brownies, " who are to be found under the 
Boy Scouts at page 42} of Vol. I, may, however, be without humor. 



C. K. OGDEN 263 

Everything, too, is provided for domestic bliss, from dish-washers to 
fire-extinguishers. The attempt to cope with Divorce strikes a layman 
as less adequate, and aspirants pressed for time would probably be 
better advised to go direct to Dudley Field Malone — another inter- 
national name for the Editors to note on their cuffs. 

Without a System, modern business would undoubtedly be back at 
1910. By the best people, "motor-driven machines are used for endors- 
ing large numbers of cheques. . . . Cheques are fed by hand one at a 
time." And again (III-ioo5d), "a stenographer employed in taking 
notes and transcribing letters, will do much more effective work than 
one who also keeps and files records": but will she abstain from putting 
commas between subjects and their verbs, Mr. Leffingwell? Vivent les 
fourmisl Our little friends the ants have reached an even higher 
degree of efficiency in the polycalic formicary. 

Education is equally badly served. Lord Haldane and Professor 
Judd give us little idea of the ferment of new life which their stuffy 
summaries conceal. It is something that "Metaphysics" has vanished; 
but "Philosophy" remains, undisturbed by the fact that its foundations, 
too, have lately been removed; and Theology, unaware that Mr. Clive 
Bell's "significant form" has silently withdrawn before the shafts of 
linguistic analysis, is reduced to hoping that the even more naive 
verbal projections of Otto may establish the existential validity of the 
numinous. In Logic we are asked to believe that the work of Driesch 
and Royce was the most important contribution between 1910 and 
1921 — though the articles on Knowledge, Mathematics, Philology, and 
Pragmatism fortunately combine to stultify this estimate. 

Scepticism is gingerly tackled, but something must be done when 
the scientists are so disparaging about our eyes and ears. Thus "it is 
impossible to rely upon audition, handicapped as it is by the vagaries 
of the ear" (III-590). Sound, however, is not something which we hear. 
Nor is color what we see; that is only visible color. The really exciting 
colors, explains Professor Thorpe, are the invisible ones! Visible color, 
such as it is, receives inadequate treatment, however. The systems of 
Ross and Munsell, the experiments of Ladd-Franklin, and the work 
of Dr. Mary Collins are all passed over. Even in its biography of 
Ostwald the Britannica omits to record that the last ten years of his 



264 READING I'VE LIKED 

life have been devoted to Color, and to the publication of a number of 
fundamental studies bearing on a system of standardization which 
will only be superseded when the Tudor-Hart double inverted cones 
are finally available. The bibliographies are said to "provide lists of 
books carefully selected by the specialist who contributes the article." 
As one narcissist to another, I particularly commend the care with 
which Dr. Edridge-Green has selected his bibliography. 

While it is indeed gratifying to have Dr. John B. Watson's crystalli- 
zation of Behaviorism it is disappointing to find no mention of so pro- 
found and influential a thinker as Professor W. M. Wheeler, America's 
leading entomologist and perhaps her leading sociologist as well. Mr. 
Cornelius Newton Bliss and Mr. James Carrol Beckwith are dignified 
by full biographies, but Professors W. B. Cannon and C. Judson 
Herrick, who have contributed so brilliantly to our understanding of 
the body and mind of man, receive no word of appreciation. Sir 
Richard Burbidge sefur&s a handsome tribute, but Major Darwin's life- 
service to Eugenics evokes no echo. Charles Frohman is immortalized 
at length, but Mr. Qrage's decade of intellectual pioneering on the 
New Age is greeted with silence, and even his journal draws a blank; 
the same applies to Henry Goddard Leach, while Herbert Croly is 
indexed as Croley. Dean Keppef is side-stepped no less than J. O'Hara 
Cosgrave, Walkley, Hartley W^hers, Bruce Richmond, and Norman 
Hapgood. Frank Harris suffers with them. Baron Corvo rings no 
bells, nor Panait Istrati, nor the Poet Laureate's "discovery" of Gerard 
Hopkins. Even capricoprophijy avails Aleister Crowley naught, though 
his claims as poet are at least equal to those of Edna St. Vincent 
Millay; and it is a pity that Rudolph Valentino lived and died in vain. 

Why, if Douglas Fairbanks, not Jackie Coogan, Billy Sunday, San- 
■ dow, Frank Crane, Pola Negri, Madame Nazimova, Emil Jannings, 
Raquel Meller and Mistinguette ? I say nothing of the aristocracy of 
Variety — Lady Peel, Earl Carroll, and Lord George Sanger — though 
the Sanger circus, pace the index, does secure a mention at I-6^8d; but 
•where are Mascagni and Toscanini, and where Jeritza? Surely those 
who stir the emotions of millions should have absolute precedence 
over the Philatelists and their acquisitive idiosvncrasies. More than a 
'hundred words are, consecrated to Aerophilosemy (q. v.) but Eugene 



C. K. OGDEN 265 

Goossens, who re-introduced Stravinsky to England, conducted the 
Russian Ballet, became the father of twins, thrice visited Rochester, 
and is now due in Hollywood, receives no recognition, though he 
should be in as a composer, quite apart from the allure of his vie 
de baton. His predecessor in Hollywood, Sir Henry Wood, is 
equally unfortunate. So is Ysaye. Some would regard Mme Suggia 
as more than a John, but she might have been listed as that (II-610). 
John McCormack need only open his mouth for thirty minutes once 
a year to keep himself and family in food and clothing, but of those 
minutes the tens of thousands who hang on his lips cherish a lasting 
memory; yet he returns from his triumphs in China to find that the 
Britannica can dispense with him altogether. Ruth Draper is the out- 
standing personality of the American solipsist stage, but neither she 
nor her locally eminent medical brother (in spite of his concern for 
the Constitution, admitted at I-981) is allowed to snip half an inch 
of? those treatises on square-toed Choralism and detonating Paravanes. 

The Drama gets plenty of space; but unless we can assume that mis- 
prints occur in key articles, Mr. St. John Ervine might find a better 
predicate than "meritable" to apply to his own "J ane Clegg" (I-86ox). 
Literary Criticism has not yet heard of I. A. Richards, nor Dancing of 
Margaret Morris or the Quadro Flamenco, though the Charleston 
"was already dying out in 1926." We find no allusion to Gurdjeff, and 
Geoffrey Toye's colleagues, Leopold Stokowski and Ernest Bloch, 
should at least be given half a line if so full a biography is to reward 
Sousa's services to music since 1910. Gershwin must get busy with 
some Out in the Cold Blues, nor has the editorial chariot swung low 
enough for Roland Hayes. Somewhere between Aesthetics and Atmos- 
pherics we had half expected to hear of Antheil, and somewhere be- 
tween Albee and Ziegfeld we might have glimpsed Will Rogers or 
Florence Mills, but all three have escaped this gross reticulation. 
Amongst the scores of black and white bruisers whose form is ana- 
lyzed at I-420, we miss the only one who has punched continuously 
since 1919 without striking his match, viz Tunney; while Fish is 
correspondingly absent from a further long list of successful black and 
white artists at I-539- 

Since Science and Learning refuse to play at all with their eminent 



266 READING I'VE LIKED 

sons Professors Herbert A. Giles and E. W. Parker the sinologists, 
J. W. Postgate and Fritz Mauthner the protagonists of semantics, Flick 
and Feuter the historiographers, Jacques de Morgan and Dechelette 
the pre-historians, and since both von Buschan and von Uexkiill are 
also absent from the index, the biography accorded to Professor Fitz- 
maurice-Kelly is all the more significant as a tribute to the progress 
of Hispanic philology. Fabre is in, but Donisthorpe, Bugnion, Emery 
and Escherich, no less than Mr. Ernest Thompson Seton, have natural- 
ized in vain; and Father Wasmann is apparently too myrmecophilous 
even to be entered as a symposiast in the Animal Intelligence contro- 
versy. 

Having approached our Britannica from the standpoint of knowl- 
edge, let us now for a moment consider her in the family way. America 
is proud of her Cabots, but is given instead a single Lodge. Britain 
is proud of her golf champions and would like to see them indexed, 
but since even "Mr. R. T. Jones, commonly called 'Bobby,' " is not 
indexed in spite of all the nice things Darwin's grandson says about 
him on the same page, what can plain John Ball expect? And where 
is the rest of this potent English stock ? Most of us remember how the 
heavens were first opened for them by the late Sir Robert Ball, the 
author of the astronomical articles in the 1910 Britannica. Neither 
he, nor W. W. Rouse Ball, the genial historian of Mathematics, nor 
C. T. Ball the Assyriologist, nor Sidney Ball who moulded the social 
thought of so many generations of Oxonians, nor J. Ball, the geog- 
rapher of Africa, is so much as alluded to; nor yet the Nottingham 
aces. No Balls at all, but discreet pages, covering both Whales and 
Earnings, by Bowley and Borley, a carillon of Bells, a long range 
of Hills, six Fishers, six Morgans, six Joneses (without Bobby), six 
Murrays, six Robertsons, seven Scotts, eight Millers, eight Walkers, 
nine Andersons, and fourteen Smiths. 

After the family the nation, so let us once more vary the venue 
by a geographical approach and consider specifically the intellectual 
achievements of France. There is assuredly no prejudice as yet against 
our glorious ally and presumably every effort has been made to reflect 
and interpret her thought. Yet here is a list of names which everyone 
who knows anything of the movement of ideas must agree are hardly 



C. K. OGDEN 267 

less significant than those of the Rev. Lyman Abbott, Mr. Owen 
Wister, Mr. Edward Arber, or John Strange Winter. Starting with 
the doyen of French letters, Ferdinand Brunot, we proceed as follows : 
Julien Benda, Henri Berr, Rene Berthelot, Georges Blondel, Leon 
Brunschwicg, Rene Cruchet, Georges Dumas, Espinas, Giard, Grand- 
jean, Goblot, Laignel-Lavastine, Lalande, Le Dantec, Milhaud, Mari- 
tain, Paulhan, Piaget, de Pressense, Pradines, Rabaud, Riviere, Rougier, 
Segond, Seailles, concluding with Georges Sorel, whose "Reflexions on 
Violence" surely exercised more influence on this generation than all 
the works of Ferdinand Tonnies and Sir Frederick Wedmore com- 
bined. 

Not one of these leaders of French thought can be found in the 
Britannica index! And where are Richepin, Henri de Regnier, Colette 
Willy, Dufy, and the builder of the Eiffel Tower? As for other domi- 
nating figures in the record of the last fifteen years, it would be hard to 
find more startling omissions than Auguste Forel, Leon Duguit, and 
Vilfredo Pareto, though an equally formidable trio consists of Rops, 
Lipps, and Stumpf (I would have added Wundt for euphony, were it 
not that he does happen to have caught the editor's fancy). But before 
we leave the subject of eminent Frenchmen we may note that Jules 
Romains (wrongly spelt without an s on five separate occasions) is 
not the real name of the author of "Dr. Knock," that he did not "make 
a reputation for himself" by that play, but was justly famous even ten 
years earlier, and that his much discussed work, "Eyeless Sight," was 
written under his own name of Louis Farigoule and should not be 
overlooked. 

But would not the rectification of these omissions require more 
space than the Britannica had at its command? If so, much of the 
above would, of course, be irrelevant. Our point is, however, that 
judgment and adjustment alone are involved; or at most the extra 
space which would be available if such curiosities as "Time Sales" and 
"Hythe, Conference of" were reconsidered, the articles on Barracks 
and Canteens curtailed, and the experts on Ping Pong, Luck, and 
possibly Ballistics appropriately curbed! The index could then include 
such names as the following, who by all the canons of Encyclopaedism 
belong to these eventful years, even if they figured to some extent in 



268 READING I'VE LIKED 

the older volumes. Sir Francis Younghusband, Iwan Bloch, Sir William 
Barrett, Professor James Sully, Professor William Smart, Vaihinger, 
H. B. Irving, A. H. Fried, Benjamin Kidd, Sir Victor Horsley, .and 
Lady Welby. And what is psychiatry without Emil Kraepelin, phonet- 
ics without the researches of E. W. Scripture, the press without Mr. 
Swope, or sport without Babe Ruth, whose English counterpart, by 
the way, is wrongly listed as G. B. Hobbs? 

Occasionally, as we have seen, the index may fail to do justice to the 
Britannica even where the giants are concerned. A glaring example is 
the case of Wolfgang Kohler who appears, wrongly spelt, at I-383, but 
summa cum laude at II-495. H. S. Jennings is in at I-382, Glotz at 
I-178, Professor Rothenstein can be found at II-6, and Mr. Rutherston 
at III-411, while Gilbert and Stanley Spencer both occur at III-8; thus 
scoring over Duveen and Berenson alike. Neither Meinong nor Hus- 
serl has really been omitted — except where we should expect them; 
the former, however, appears as Alexander instead of Alexius (Il-icjod). 
There is no excuse for such misleading omissions, when Kalkstickstoff 
(sic), Stic\sto^hal\ and two other chance synonyms for crude cyana- 
mide are all gravely entered. Indeed the indexing as a whole seems 
to have been done on somewhat arbitrary principles, which, where 
arrangement and contents are equally arbitrary, is particularly to 
be deprecated. 

In our opinion it would have been more important to be able to 
find quickly in these new volumes such names as Avenarius, F. C. 
Conybeare, W. A. Craigie, Edward J. Dent, Michael Farbman, Jane 
Harrison, and Baron Meyendorft (so far, we have only found the 
first two) than that "brilliant filly" Fifinella (Steinberg, obiit 1908), 
the gallant Shcherbackev (q. v.), or even the heroic Shtcherbachev 
(q. v.) who constitutes a good example of literary double-exposure. 

In a work of this sort a complete and impeccable index is essential. 
But some articles, such as that of Mr. Cochran, seem hardly to have 
been judged worthy of attention, and another example is to be found 
in the Johns Hopkins column, where Doctor Wilmer may ultimately 
be located. Moorish names seem early to have been given up in despair, 
after an amusing attempt to index one misprint by another (Anoal, 
III-614C). We should be surprised to find that more than five per 



C. K. OGDEN 269 

cent of the persons referred to in the bibliographies and bibliographical 
sections are indexed. Thus Mr. Garvin himself in his article on Capi- 
talism (L-528b) singles out for recommendation a book which no 
American publisher can be persuaded to accept, Mr. M. H. Dobb's 
"Capitalist Enterprise and Social Progress" ("an acute critical analysis 
of the place of the entrepreneur"). Yet this able young Cambridge 
economist does not get into the index, whereas, for example, Carter 
G. Woodson, mentioned only in the bibliographical notes on Negro 
literature (I-ina), is duly inserted. Joseph Priestley is wrongly spelt 
in the index; Ellen Terry on the other hand, like the Ford Peace Ship, 
is not there at all, though the one is referred to in the full text at 
I-756 and the other at II-270 ("In 1915 he was convinced by certain 
peace advocates of foreign extraction," etc.; which the reader may 
compare with Mr. Lochner's version in "America's Don Quixote"). 
The Harvard notational relativist, H. M. Shelter (II-83ob), is not 
listed, nor is the dramatist H. M. Harwood (II-870, III-873), nor the 
chief references to Professor Elliot Smith (I-385, II-567), nor Charles 
M. Doughty's appearances as a geographer (I-1091, II-171). 

Particularly unsystematic is the listing of periodicals. Shnplicissimus 
appears in italics and quotes, Jugend not at all, though in the text they 
occur together. Harper's Bazaar and Harper's Magazine are in roman 
type, The Century in italics, while the Forum is nowhere to be found. 
Though Capablanca's prowess at chess is squarely dealt with, Bogolju- 
bofT, who won the 1926 Tournament and is thrice referred to (I-602), 
must be content with that, like Euwe, Samisch, and others whose 
exploits with Rooks and Knights Mr. Van Vleit has so faithfully 
chronicled. Professor F. C. Burkitt, who seems to have been totally 
overlooked, will be sorry to see his son's name misspelt in the Editorial 
Preface. 

Among five million words at least a dozen will always be errors 
or omissions. That proposition is proved once more in the case of the 
Britannica as follows: Duhamel should be Georges not George, Pro- 
fessor Lashley is K. S., not L. S., and the foremost educationist of this 
century is Georg, not H., Kerschensteiner. Sydney Webb (I-390) 
should be Sidney and should receive fair treatment in the index (III- 
525, IH-572) even if he was a failure in the Cabinet. Wicod (II-830) 



270 READING I'VE LIKED 

is a disconcerting misprint for the late Jean Nicod who should be 
indexed, and who also occurs at II-644CI. Incidentally, if Wittgenstein 
is as important as Mr. Ramsey makes him in the article on Mathe- 
matics, he certainly deserves a biography. Kandinsky has been over- 
looked at I-190 and II-793, where he is wrongly spelt on both occasions. 
Kurt Koflfka, please, not C. Koffka, Mr. Printer, for this is unfor- 
tunately the only reference to the brilliant apostle of Gesta.lt in the 
whole three volumes, and he is due back in America this week. A 
sentence has gone astray at I-ioiod, complete should be incomplete at 
III-915C, and Pragmatistism Pragmatism at III-2o6c. I also note that 
Mr. Bernard Shaw is made to attribute war "on a scale which threatens 
not only civilization but human existence" to the "nobility" of capital. 
This rivals the famous printer's error, Hotario Bottomley, who does 
not get in even as Horatio, though he is now at large again. 

In many cases there is no indication that the works of a foreign 
author are available in good English translations — a particularly strik- 
ing example being Romain Rolland. This is presumably due to the 
fact that recourse has been had to foreign writers for many of these 
biographies. Tischner is recommended in the German and not the 
English edition by the writer of the article on Psychical Research, who, 
we think, is ill-advised in attaching so much importance to the "medi- 
um" Willy Schneider. 

Students of the occult will notice that Houdini curtly dismisses all 
mediums, including "Margery" and the makers of "ectoplasm," in his 
brief article on Conjuring; and in general there is an abundance of 
piquant material scattered about for the curious reader. Thus the 
Britannica understands that a Tibetan lad is starting a small hydro- 
electric scheme in Lhasa (III-777C). Elsewhere it records that the 
Ringlings "set out from New York in four or five trains," this spring 
(I-637). It is interesting to know that America can claim the first five 
and twenty years of the life of Jacob Epstein (not to be confused 
with his patron, Mr. Jacob Epstein of Baltimore, the possessor of the 
Raphaels and the Rembrandts) ; we are given a superb picture of 
Lower Manhattan, some life-like Mendelian rats, and a faithful study 
of Musicians recording; and the colored illustrations add greatlv to 



C. K. OGDEN 271 

the impression of magnificence which pervades this stupendous under- 
taking. 

For when all is said, these 5,000,000 words are a more worthy record 
of our time than anything that has hitherto been published. Mr. Garvin 
may not go down to history as the man who transformed Swords into 
Ploughshares, but at least he can be hailed as the man who took the 
initial sibilance out of Swords. Let us add wings to his words by 
promptly beckoning them to our shelves. 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 



COMMENTARY 



Only moderate notice was taken when Frank Moore Colby died 
in 1925. During his life he was no great seeker of society, and society 
has not sought him since his death. I do not suppose many people 
have read his essays: "Imaginary Obligations" (1904), "Constrained 
Attitudes" (1910), and "The Margin of Hesitation" (1921). Yet he 
was one of the hest informal essayists produced in this country, the 
negligent master of a style witty, humorous, and urbane. With all 
this, American writers have hardly been conscious of his influence. 

Perhaps to be "influential" in the modern journalistic sense, one 
must have in one's make-up at least a thin streak of vulgarity. Colby 
had none. During a period when complacence and mediocrity for the 
most part ruled the literary roost, he paid the penalty that comes of 
being almost puritanically conscientious. 

Colby was not a professional writer. After a brief period of teach- 
ing at Columbia and New York University, he succeeded Ham- 
Thurston Peck (there's another neglected figure for you) as editor 
of the New International Encyclopedia and the New International 
Yearbook. His trade, then, for the larger part of his mature life was 
that of an encyclopedist, which is, as he tells us, an executive rather 
than a literary job. From our point of view it was a silly waste of a 
fine brain, but Colby must have had his own reasons for doing what 
he did, and it is not for us to question them. 

Perhaps this splitting of his life had its good points. It helped to 
produce in him a humorous attitude toward books and writers, the 
long, ironic view that the professional en';:, busily, busily, busily 
reading all day long, tends to h ;e. This attitude has its limitations, 
too. Colby wrote at times like a gentleman scholar, as it lie had been 
comfortably retired since infancy. But his detachment never weak- 
ened into mere elegance. He was too self-distrustful for that. Philip 
Littell, who knew him, wrote, "His was the face of a person having 

272 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 273 

authority, to whom authority was distrustful, and who thought the 
idea that he himself possessed it altogether absurd." 

Today the literature of discursive reflection seems on its last legs. 
We no longer ask of a writer whether he has an interesting mind; 
we ask what his mind stands for. Our public thinking is done for a 
purpose. We have not the time— or the time does not encourage us 
—to let our mind drift, its oars shipped, its rudder loose. Colby had 
the kind of discursive intellect that has ceased to be fashionable. He 
was as interested in how much play he could get out of it as in how 
much work it could produce. Perhaps that is the definition of a 
humorist, and Colby was one. 

Like many humorists— Aristophanes was the Erst, and a good ex- 
ample — he was conservative. He was fond of ringing changes on his 
aphorism "A 'new thinker/ when studied closely, is merely a man 
who does not know what other people have thought." He was, I 
should judge, a fairly good classicist, in the eighteenth-century Eng- 
lish manner, and because he was familiar with the standards set up 
by writers of the past, he was not for a moment taken in by the 
puerilities of current literary fashion. He is an excellent monitor for 
book reviewers, which is one reason I reread him often and with 
profit. He knows my tribe perfectly: "A critic is commonly a person 
who reads with an unusual show of feeling some very usual book, 
then tries to turn the writer s head completely or else to take it off! 7 
And of the great works of the past he has said with penetrating 
shrewdness, 'The classics are not and never have been chiefly valu- 
able as the means of success. They are obviously valued as the means 
of escaping its consequences." This is pretty much what Mortimer 
Adler teaches, though more systematically, in How to Read a Book. 

If circumstances allow me to do another of these grab bags I 
should like to include some of Frank Moore Colby's writings on writ- 
ing. You will End many of the best of them in a two-volume collec- 
tion called The Colby Essays, selected and edited after his death by 
his friend Clarence Day. From these volumes I have chosen two 
pieces, neither of them critical. The Erst is "Trials of an Encyclo- 
pedist" diverting in itself and also useful as a mild counterblast to 
C. K. Ogdens review of the Britannica. After all, the encyclopedists 



274 READING I'VE LIKED 

have a case to make, too, and Colby makes it for them, though not 
perhaps precisely in the way they would prefer. J hope other readers 
will share my pleasure in Colby s account of his invented clergyman 
and the story of his adventure with the biologists. 

The second selection, ''Confessions of a Gallomaniac," is one of 
the most delicious pieces Colby ever wrote. Philip Littell praises it 
aptly when he says that the essay "as a whole is to Mark Twain on 
the German language what comedy is to farce." Its humor, so pure 
and true, links it with the humor of James Thurber. 

Here, Enally, is a small handful of Colby isms that may give you 
the twist of his mind: 

"Horace Walpole with his even Row of animal spites." 

"Never burn an uninteresting letter is the first rule of British aris- 
tocracy." 

"One learns little more about a man from the feats of his literary 
memory than from the feats of his alimentary canal." 

"By rights, satire is a lonely and introspective occupation, for no- 
body can describe a fool to the life without much patient self- 
inspection." 

"Self-esteem is the most voluble of the emotions." 

"When a young American writer seems mad it is usually because 
an old one drives him almost crazy." 

(Of H.G. Wells) "He is annoyed by the senseless refusal of almost 
everybody to shape his life in such a manner as will redound to the 
advantage of the beings who will people the earth a hundred thou- 
sand years hence." 



Trials of an Encyclopedist 

BY 

FRANK MOORE COLBY 



For the past twenty years, with occasional interruptions, I have been 
associated with encyclopedias either as a department editor or as an 
editor of the work as a whole.* I began by writing for an encyclopedia 
that has since gone into the junk-shop things beginning with the letter 
A. It may have been the Jewish month Abib. More likely it was one 
of those two familiar animals Aardvark and Aardwolf that are always 
at the mouth of every encyclopedia Hades. I don't remember my 
maiden effort — nor does anybody else. I didn't dream that twenty years 
later I should be worrying lest I hadn't said the latest thing about Zulu- 
land in an annual volume covering the year 1909. It began with a flirta- 
tion and ended in marriage. I am still what Dr. Johnson called the 
lexicographer — "a harmless drudge." 

From the advertisements one would never guess that encyclopedias 
are made by human beings. Nor does a casual encounter with ency- 
clopedia editors, of whom fortunately there are very few, always carry 
a strong conviction on that point. I am myself aware of being badly 
damaged by my calling. I feel drier after twenty years of it than I 
believe I should have felt after an equal time at some more gregarious 
occupation, and I fancy other people sometimes find me even drier 



* This essay is one of the many that Colby published anonymously. It appeared in 
191 1, when he was forty-six, over the semi-transparent pseudonym of C. M. Francis. 
Colby was editor of the New International Encyclopedia, and of the International Year 
Book, and he used to say that after each new edition appeared his mind was so stuffed 
with facts that he had to pluck them out of his memory one by one, like slivers. Or he 
would vary the simile and complain that while the work was in progress his brain had 
felt like a coal-chute — tons of general information rattling through it in one long deaf- 
ening roar. (Clarence Day, Jr., in his edition of The Colby Essays, 1926.) 

275 



276 READING I'VE LIKED 

than I feel. Twenty years among the barebones of all subjects, and see- 
ing the full rotundity of none, must surely leave its mark upon one. 

If it were a profession, it would be different. No one ever really 
means to be an encyclopedia editor. It merely happens to him. We do 
not hear children say they wish to be encyclopedia editors when they 
grow up. If we did we should probably punish them. No one ought 
f ever to desire to be an encyclopedia editor. But though a peculiar call- 
ing, segregating and to a certain degree dehumanizing, it is not nearly 
so bad as might be inferred from advertisements and editorial an- 
nouncements. Behind those smooth absurdities there often lurk actual 
men, withered perhaps, but fellow-beings nevertheless. 

And so far as there is any honesty in them they will not confound 
their miscellaneous and unassimilated information with true knowl- 
edge. There is a good deal of nonsense talked about "varied learning," 
"enormous range of information," and so forth. If there really is a man 
who with any justice is entitled a "walking encyclopedia," I should be 
glad if some one would have a shot at him. It would scarcely be a case 
of homicide. Universality at the present stage of knowledge is a syno- 
nym for scatterbrains. Even in Diderot's time it was a doubtful com- 
pliment. No encyclopedia editor ever let so large a part of the work 
pass through his own head as Diderot, and certainly no encyclopedia 
editor ever had such a fiery head. The result was that his was not an 
encyclopedia in the present sense but a huge polemical pamphlet. Its 
attacks on the existing order were covert and indirect, because it was 
under governmental control; but by subterfuge, veiled irony, secret 
thrusts, Diderot never lost a chance to insinuate the spirit that was to 
overturn the Church and State. As to his universality Diderot con- 
fessed : 

I know indeed a great enough number of things, but there is hardly 
any one who does not know his own subject better than I. This mediocrity 
in all fields is the result of an unbridled curiosity and of means so straitened 
that I could never give myself up wholly to a single branch of learning. 
I have been forced all my life to follow occupations for which I am not 
fitted and to leave aside those to which my taste calls me. 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 277 

Sainte-Beuve, to be sure, says of him that he showed so much genius 
in his many-sidedness that "one is tempted to believe that he best 
fulfilled his destiny in thus scattering himself." 

Nowadays Diderot's universality would be embarrassment. The 
modern editor is primarily an executive. His worth is in no wise meas- 
ured by the span of his information — a narrow span at best. To know 
is impossible, but it is not impossible to know the men who should. 
Diderot's methods would ruin any modern encyclopedic enterprise. 
If I were a publisher I should distrust the omnivorous reader, still 
more a mind acquisitive of universal scraps. He would be more likely 
to consume the stock than organize it. He would be addicted to "drink- 
ing behind the bar." 

Giants of learning are not at the present time needed for the work. 
For as Owen Meredith sang in lines too atrocious to be forgotten: 

A dwarf on a dead giant's shoulders sees more 
Than the live giant's eyesight availed to explore. 

And I venture to say that a quite commonplace person, provided only 
that he had an open mind and plenty of time and money, could easily 
devise an encyclopedia today that should surpass all its predecessors. 
Diderot gave the keynote to the present encyclopedia title list and its 
scope. There is no such break between the French encyclopedia and its 
successors in these respects as divided it from those which went before. 
Every encyclopedia maker turns as a matter of course to the title list 
of his predecessors. That is the way to begin and there is no trick 
about it. People have often asked me how the editor knows what titles 
to select. They do not stop to think that the majority of subjects in any 
one encyclopedia are in all the other encyclopedias. The editor is for- 
ever poring over the title lists of his predecessors. He may combine 
them in a single list or card catalog. He may sift into it the title lists 
of special reference books, as dictionaries of architecture, music and 
mechanic arts, reader's handbooks, or titles from the indexes of special 
treatises, and his department editors or contributors will swell the list 
from still more special sources. But the bulk of the titles remains the 
same from decade to decade. 



278 READING I'VE LIKED 

The exercise of a rational judgment in selection is not the thing that 
surprises one who has seen encyclopedias in the making. The really 
amazing thing is their imitativeness and formalism. In every long-lived 
encyclopedia, titles are carried for a generation for no other reason 
than that they have been found in some preceding work. There is 
hardly a page of any encyclopedia, even the best, that does not include 
matters of less significance than something which has been left out. 

In the department of biography, for instance, names of men and 
women are preserved merely as the result of the whim of some hack 
writer long since dead. If the late Leslie Stephen, in his much re- 
spected "Dictionary of National Biography," had in a sportive mood 
written three pages apiece on six purely imaginary British worthies — 
invented their names, dates, the books they wrote, the offices they held, 
their birthplaces and burial places — you would no doubt find them all 
in condensed form in the new edition of the "Britannica." At the next 
revision of "La Grande" they would probably appear in a concise 
French version, and the indefatigable "Brockhaus" and "Meyers" 
would surely catch them up. Posterity would be certain to encounter 
some of them. 

I myself as a hack writer once invented a clergyman. That his title 
to fame might pass unchallenged, I said he was the author of the well- 
known hymn, "Leap, Leap, My Soul." No one cared to admit that that 
hymn was unfamiliar. I watched his life, carefully prepared in the en- 
cyclopedic style appropriate to clergymen, pass through the successive 
editorial stages. The article underwent the scrutiny of department 
editor, managing editor, editor-in-chief, and all the little sub-editors, 
and emerged unscathed; then it went into first proof, second proof, 
revise, and pages, and I pulled it out barely in time to save it from the 
plates. Otherwise he might have lived for fifty years in the hearts of 
his countrymen. 

Hence to ask an encyclopedia editor how he knows what to put into 
his volume is greatly to embarrass the poor creature. He does not know 
what to put in. He has his precautions, his more or less elaborate sys- 
tem of subdivision and of checks. He can say that a certain title was 
taken from such and such a source, that it was assigned to the editor 
or contributor-in-chief of a certain department, that it was written by 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 279 

him or one of his collaborators-, that it passed through the hands of a 
certain office editor whose duty it was to read all the articles of this 
and certain related departments, that the managing editor saw it, the 
editor-in-chief saw it, the editorial proofreader read it, and changed a 
noun from singular to plural, and the second proofreader read it, and 
caught two p's that were standing upside down. But he knows that 
many titles find their way into his work and into every other as the 
result of a foolish guess, and that all conceivable safeguards can only 
reduce the damage done by routine thinking, credulity, somnolence, 
conventionality, and imitativeness. 

Luckily for him, encyclopedias are seldom criticized for this useless 
lumber. The great body of criticism is concentrated on omissions. En- 
cyclopedia-making is a form of journalism — ponderous and intermit- 
tent, but journalism nevertheless. In order to tell people what they wish 
to know it casts its dragnet far and wide. Like the newspapers and 
magazines it tells a great deal that nobody wishes to know. 

I know nothing of the peculiar problems that beset editors of dic- 
tionaries, encyclopedias of names, or special works of reference. I am 
speaking only of general encyclopedias, of which five have been my 
portion, all straining to be "universal" and one perishing miserably in 
the attempt, for lack of capital. In the course of this experience, one 
great difficulty has been the lack of intelligent adverse criticism. To be 
sure I have been aided by some censorious but able reviewers, who 
were willing to take pains in order to inflict them, and I recall one 
long, envenomed article which enabled me to revise an entire depart- 
ment to its great advantage. But in the press generally I have been in- 
sanely praised and so discouraged from doing better. Praise to an 
encyclopedia reviewer is the line of least resistance. To find fault he 
would have to read the text. 

Still the best criticism is to be found in the reviews. That which 
comes to the editor's desk by mail is not reassuring as to the alertness 
of the public mind. The greater part of it is local or trivial. A church 
steeple is ten feet too low. A Western railway is not long enough. 
Somebody's relative is omitted. Correspondents in the West seem par- 
ticularly engrossed in the sheer size of everything, and the omission 



280 READING I'VE LIKED 

of any large object situated in or near a Western town angers the 
inhabitants exceedingly. 

I have been sometimes attacked on dogmatic or historical grounds. 
I have been accused of a deep-seated personal hatred of Ireland and of 
a determined purpose always to snub Australia. To state both sides of 
a disputed question fairly is not so safe as it seems. It angers the ex- 
tremists on each side. It angers one party even to have the views of the 
other mentioned. State one side and the missiles all come only from 
the other. State both sides and you are exposed to a raking cross-fire 
from each. Nor is peace maintained always by preserving a mild de- 
meanor. If you are calm you are sometimes doubly provocative. Many 
people lose their tempers merely from seeing you keep yours. "You 
are incapable," wrote one accuser, "of an honest statement of plain 
facts," and then substituted a new and hitherto private history of the 
heavens and the earth. I have learned to regard with suspicion anyone 
who inquires vehemently, "What are the facts?" That outward devo- 
tion to fact seems to increase with the power of misstatement, and it is 
a safe rule for an editor on reading a prefatory eulogy of truth in gen- 
eral to brace himself for some giant falsehoods in particular. . . . There 
is nothing stubborn about a fact. It is a time-server and a lickspittle 
and whenever it meets a fool it is ready to lay down its life for him. 

It will do so sometimes for a genius. "It is my stern desire," said 
Ruskin, in one of his delightful letters to Mr. Norton, "to get at the 
pure facts, and nothing less or more, which gives me whatever power 
I have." Accordingly our Civil War was to him "a squabble between 
black and red ants," and Cervantes and Dickens were merely "mis- 
chievous," and Sainte-Beuve was a hopelessly "shallow" creature, and 
so on through a thousand charming vagaries (sternly pursued as 
"facts"), till he became quite mad, still convinced that he was merely 
judicious. 

On the whole, however, the editor has little to fear from the odium 
theologicum. We are so used to free thought that restraint is hardly 
imaginable. It is not easy to picture Diderot with nine censors placed 
over him, "one of whom must be an orthodox theologian." Once the 
whole work was snatched away from him and turned over to the 
Jesuits, and it was only because they could not make head or tail of it 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 281 

that he got it back again. It goes without saying that in our day the 
state does not bother with such matters. The only tyrannical laws now 
are those of demand and supply. But it does seem rather remarkable 
that the people themselves are so good natured. Sects that presumably 
would desire proselytes or at least wish to defend themselves are in the 
main quite unconcerned with the statement of principles that under- 
mine their foundations. The Catholic Church is, as it always has been, 
the most alert; but in this country at least it does not do much to stifle 
heresy at its source. 

I remember years ago writing a school history intended for the use 
of both Catholics and Protestants. The publishers impressed on me the 
importance of presenting both sides fairly. Accordingly, as I was reared 
in the Protestant tradition, and knew very well that I could not help 
inclining to that point of view, I determined to seek counsel of the 
Jesuits. I submitted the proof to a Jesuit father, the head of a well- 
known American seminary, and, in a conversation with him afterward, 
warned him against the inevitable Protestant bias of my work. But 
what did he, breathing the latitudinarian air of this country, care for 
a Protestant bias? His suggested changes pertained, as I recall, to a 
few phrases about Tetzel and the Sale of Indulgences. Yet at a hundred 
points the book showed a spirit utterly at variance with Catholicism. 

It has been much the same in editing encyclopedias. I have courted 
the criticism of both sides. Neither has seemed to care very much. I 
have taken the utmost pains to submit articles on delicate doctrinal 
points to both Protestants and Catholics, only to find on each side a 
weary and flaccid acquiescence. I have found the Jesuits more wide- 
awake than others. Yet they, as a matter of fact, questioned only the 
most obvious points — as in the case of that historical textbook. And 
this, though we all know that a Protestant or Roman Catholic color 
runs all through modern secular history in matters remote from defi- 
nite doctrines. There is, of course, a Catholic and a Protestant view of 
the modern world. As Bishop Stubbs has said, history cannot be writ- 
ten later than the fourteenth century. All that follows is subject of 
present-day religious controversy. 

We laugh at the Middle Ages for applying the test of orthodoxy to 
every branch of learning — an heretical or orthodox astronomy, a bias- 



232 READING I'VE LIKED 

phemous view of the solar system, an irreligious physical law. I hazard 
the question whether we have not gone to the opposite extreme. We 
play at ostrich with one another. We hide one portion of our intellect 
from the rest. We profess a principle of faith that makes our scientific 
teaching ridiculous, and we accept as a matter of course scientific the- 
ories that would blow our churches into the air. We call it practical — 
this intellectual hide-and-seek. As a matter of fact we prefer not to 
know what our minds are up to. 

Schoolmasters, as a recent English writer points out, treat a boy's 
mind "as if it were a badger's pit. You put in the badger and you put 
in the dog, and you wait to see which comes out first. They throw in 
the Catechism and they throw in the Chemical Theory, and then they 
wait to see whether he will turn out a Christian or an Atheist." 

What interests me is not that we are constantly doing these things, 
but that we are so sublimely, so complacently unconscious that we are 
doing it — and that we think the Middle Ages so absurd. I contend that 
the joke on human nature is permanent. Persecution was at least a 
sign of personal interest. Tolerance is composed of nine parts of apathy 
to one of brotherly love. We don't care to think where principles lead 
to. Once I found on the margin of a seventeenth-century treatise on 
mathematics, in the crabbed writing of some monkish reader, this 
exclamation in Latin: "Luther and Melanchthon and those who think 
with them be damned." Apropos of mathematics, mind you. Now- 
adays Christianity and its refutation live together in perfect amity in 
the same mind. People make up little nosegays of doctrines for them- 
selves out of the New Testament and Haeckel. I am not deploring the 
decline of bigotry. I am merely pointing to the well-known fact, which 
is brought out strongly in my experience as an encyclopedia editor, 
that it has been replaced by the Religion of Sloppy-Mindedness. 

Of course the direst problem of all is presented by modern special- 
ism. The aim of the French Encyclopedia, as set forth in its prospectus, 
was to serve as a reference library for every intelligent man on all sub- 
jects save his own. That has remained the aim of general encyclopedias 
ever since. It is obvious that if every subject were written in such a 
way as to appeal to the man who had specialized in it, few others 
could make much out of it. But here is the difficulty: Though the 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 283 

topics of a given science cannot be written for specialists, they must 
either be contributed by specialists or rest on their authority. The 
groundwork of any good encyclopedia must rest on special scholar- 
ship. I say any good encyclopedia. A bad one may make quite as much 
money, perhaps more. A financially successful encyclopedia may be 
made without any bothersome recourse to specialists. Buy up the plates 
of some dead predecessor, get four or five hack writers, and the thing 
is done, provided only you can swing a good force of those amazing 
hypnotists and prestidigitators — the subscription agents. Time and 
again they have told me they could sell anything, however bad; and 
from the books that they have sold, I know it is true. One of them 
went to a publisher and gave him this simple plan for a book. He said 
all that he asked was that it should have plenty of pictures of the 
Virgin Mary in it. He wanted merely to turn over the pages rapidly 
and sell it at the back door. Of course the subscription business as 
carried on in certain quarters is notorious — one of the scandals into 
which muck-rakers have not yet gone, hence still very fraudulent and 
comfortable. 

Any good encyclopedia will carry specialization to the furthest point 
that is possible without sacrificing the interests of the layman. He 
is supposed to be a rather robust and intelligent layman willing to take 
some pains. The encyclopedia is not intended to coax the layman. It is 
not a baby pathfinder or a guide to little feet. Without some very 
formidable technicalities many subjects could not be treated at all. It 
is not the aim of an encyclopedia to do away with technicality or com- 
plexity, but only wich that portion of it which inheres not in the sub- 
ject itself but in the muddled mind of the man who writes about it. 
There is no less pedantry today than there ever was. I have never read 
a college textbook on any subject, science or other, that was free from 
it. It is human nature. I have never known a man who could so well 
digest his information that he did not occasionally show signs of flatu- 
lence. That is what pedantry means. That is why this is so hard a 
problem. 

If one could find men of the Huxley type for every science it would 
be easy. Huxley liked to think himself a specialist. He called himself 
the "Reverend Father of Worms and Bishop of Annelida." But he 



284 READING I'VE LIKED 

elsewhere gave himself a better title— that of "something between a 
gladiator-general of science and a maid of all work." Huxley's mind 
would often wander gladly far from his specialty. Nowadays the man 
of worms is homesick when away from them. He is moreover disdain- 
ful of all elements that are accessible to laymen. He calls it populariz- 
ing to mention them. Popularizing has a bad name with specialists 
and they include in it almost every means for the diffusion of knowl- 
edge. 

There is much to justify their contempt. Making things "readable" 
is often synonymous with making them silly. As a country we are 
much given to a sort of democratic insipidity. Witness the speeches of 
our public men, college presidents, culture courses, presidential mes- 
sages, popular magazines. When we talk down, we talk too far down. 
Consider President Roosevelt* on the home and woman, and how 
there are good people and bad people, and how man should be manly 
and woman womanly. The most adroit politician we have had in a 
generation in the executive chair has talked more like a Sunday-school 
leaflet than any ruler or statesman ever did before. 

Hence the embarrassment of the middleman of information, the 
encyclopedia editor, vibrating between specialist and layman, an object 
of suspicion to both. I am snubbed by the learned and yet not wel- 
comed by the totally illiterate. 

It may be merely an accident, but somehow I have always fared the 
worst among zoologists and botanists. Naturally, an editor of an en- 
cyclopedia cannot have a sub-editor for every animal, but that is what 
the zoologist apparently expected of me. Matters are far worse than in 
the days of Dr. Holmes's naturalist who flew into a rage because some 
one called him a Coleopterist. He was no smatterer, he said, trying to 
spread himself over the Coleoptera; he was a Scaraba:ist. Nowadays a 
zoologist seeks out his animal in early life and henceforth stays with 
it. Often the intimacy between them is so great that it seems indelicate 
to intrude. I have known a bivalve and a man to develop interests in 
common so exclusively molluscous or bivalvular that no human being 
dared break in. 



•Theodore, it need hardly be mentioned.- 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 285 

When I tried to organize a department of biology, I soon found that 
it was impossible to thresh the matter out by correspondence. No one 
cared to be superficial enough to take charge of any branch of that 
subject, to say nothing of the whole. No man would leave his insect 
for that foolish, scattering popular subject, entomology. So one day I 
went to Washington, where biologists, I understood, were very thick 
and tame; and I had myself put up at a certain learned club, which 
seemed to be a sort of runway for biologists, where the layman might 
watch them as they came to drink. I have counted eight or ten dis- 
tinct and mutually unintelligible varieties in the same room at once. 

But when I came to meet them it was no easier. It was impossible 
to get the mosquito man away from his mosquito, the fossil horse man 
would not dismount, and the fish people, though kind, were firmly 
fishy. Day after day I was passed from one kind of biologist to an- 
other. ... At length one man stooped so far as to help me with a plan, 
but it involved a subdivision of zoology into thirty departments with 
no one responsible for the whole. Less specialization than that would, 
he said, be vain and shallow. This would have left me alone to 
drive that herd of thirty rearing and plunging zoologists. 

I left Washington and again had recourse to correspondence. I wrote 
many letters, full of an Oriental flattery — abject grovelling letters in a 
style that I had learned as a layman addressing specialists. Finally I 
got a man to take charge of the department. It was understood that he 
might gather about him all the zoologists he could find, but that he 
must be responsible for the whole department. He carried the work 
half through, then forgot it and sailed for Europe, chasing some in- 
sect, I suppose. In his absence I fell into the hands of a group of 
zoologists whose eccentricities were scandalous. Part of the work had 
to be done over twice; part of it three times. 

This illustrates the difficulty of making the knowledge of specialists 
available — not alluring, or exciting — but merely available to intelligent 
persons, even to persons of their own size, but of unlike experience. 
It is hard to convince many of them that the work is worth doing. 
It is a natural feeling but it is indulged to a point where it becomes 
a vice. 

Bishop Stubbs once said that anything that he wrote that was read- 



286 READING I'VE LIKED 

able was trivial and that anything worth while was unreadable. A great 
deal of the unreadable qualities in his writings, however, did not arise 
from having gone too deep into history. They arose from not having 
gone deep enough into the expressive capacities of the English lan- 
guage. Specialists must not be allowed to become completely inarticu- 
late. Otherwise we shall have the state of things described by the old 
philosopher when he said: Those who tell do not know, and those 
who know don't tell. 



Confessions of a Gallomaniac 

BY 

FRANK MOORE COLBY 



Down to the outbreak of the war I had no more desire to converse 
with a Frenchman in his own language than with a modern Greek. 
I thought I understood French well enough for my own purposes, be- 
cause I had read it off and on for twenty years, but when the war 
aroused sympathies and sharpened curiosities that I had not felt before, 
I realized the width of the chasm that cut me off from what I wished 
to feel. Nor could it be bridged by any of the academic, natural, or 
commercial methods that I knew of. They were either too slow or they 
led in directions that I did not wish to go. I tried a phonograph, and 
after many bouts with it I acquired part of a sermon by Bossuet and 
real fluency in discussing a quinsy sore throat with a Paris physician, 
in case I ever went there and had one. I then took fourteen conver- 
sation lessons from a Mme. Carnet, and being rather well on in years 
at the start, I should, if I had kept on diligently, have been able at the 
age of eighty-five to inquire faultlessly my way to the post-office. I 
could already ask for butter and sing a song written by Henry IV — 
when my teacher went to France to take care of her half-brother's 
children. I will say this for Mme. Carnet. I came to understand per- 
fectly the French for all her personal and family affairs. No human 
being has ever confided in me so abundantly as she did. No human 
being has ever so sternly repressed any answering confidences of my 
own. Her method of instruction, if it was one, was that of jealous, 
relentless, unbridled soliloquy. 

Thrown on the world with no power of sustaining a conversation on 
any other subject than the members of the Carnet family, I neverthe- 
less resolved to take no more lessons but to hunt down French people 

287 



288 READING I'VE LIKED 

and make them talk. What I really needed was a governess to take 
me to and from my office and into the park at noon, but at my age 
that was out of the question. Then began a career of hypocritical 
benevolence. I scraped acquaintance with every Frenchman whom I 
heard talking English very badly, and I became immensely interested 
in his welfare. I formed the habit of introducing visiting Frenchmen 
to French-speaking Americans, and sitting, with open mouth, in the 
flow of their conversation. Then I fell in with M. Bernou, the commis- 
sioner who was over here buying guns, and whose English and my 
French were so much alike that we agreed to interchange them. We 
met daily for two weeks and walked for an hour in the park, each 
tearing at the other's language. Our conversations, as I look back on 
them, must have run about like this: 

"It calls to wal\" said he, smiling brilliantly. 

"It is good morning," said I, "better than I had extended." 

"I was at you ye stair day ze morning, but I deed not find." 

"I was obliged to leap early" said I, "and I was busy standing up 
straight all around the forenoon" 

"The boo\ I prayed you send, he came, and I than\, but positively 
are you not deranged?" 

"Don't tal\" said I. "Never tal\ again. It was really nothing any- 
where. I had been very happy, I reassure." 

"Pardon, I glide, I glode. There was the hide of a banane. Did I 
crash you?" 

"I noticed no insults," I replied. "You merely gnawed my arm." 

Gestures and smiles of perfect understanding. 

I do not know whether Bernou, who like myself was middle-aged, 
felt as I did on these occasions, but by the suppression of every 
thought that I could not express in my childish vocabulary, I came to 
feel exactly like a child. They said I ought to think in French and I 
tried to do so, but thinking in French, when there is so little French 
to think with, divests the mind of its acquisitions of forty years. Ex- 
perience slips away for there are not words enough to lay hold of it. 
Knowledge of good and evil does not exist; the sins have no names; 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 289 

and the mind under its linguistic limitations is like a rather defective 
toy Noah's ark. From the point of view of Bernou's and my vocabu- 
lary, Central Park was as the Garden of Eden after six months — new 
and unnamed things everywhere. A dog, a tree, a statue taxed all our 
powers of description, and on a complex matter like a policeman our 
minds could not meet at all. We could only totter together a few steps 
in any mental direction. Yet there was a real pleasure in this earnest 
interchange of insipidities and they were highly valued on each side. 
For my part I shall always like Bernou, and feel toward him as my 
childhood's friend. I wonder if he noticed that I was an old, battered 
man, bothered with a tiresome profession. I certainly never suspected 
that he was. His language utterly failed to give me that impression. 

After I lost Bernou I fastened upon an unfrocked priest who had 
come over here and gone into the shoe trade — a small, foxy man, who 
regarded me, I think, in the light of an aggressor. He wanted to be- 
come completely American and forget France, and as I was trying to 
reverse the process, I rather got in his way. He could talk of mediaeval 
liturgies and his present occupation, but nothing in between, and as 
he spoke English very well, his practical mind revolted at the use of 
a medium of communication in which one of us almost strangled when 
there was another available in which we both were at ease. I could not 
pump much French out of him.* He would burst into English rather 
resentfully. Then I took to the streets at lunch-time and tried news- 
dealers, book-shops, restaurants, invented imaginary errands, bought 
things that I did not want, and exchanged them for objects even less 
desirable. That kept a little conversation going day by day, but on the 
whole it was a dry season. It is a strange thing. There are more than 
thirty thousand of them in the city of New York, and I had always 
heard that the French are a clannish folk and hate to learn another 
language, but most of my overtures in French brought only English 
upon me. The more pains I took the more desirable it seemed to them 
that I should be spared the trouble of continuing. I was always diving 
into French and they were always pulling me out again. They thought 
they were humane. 

French people hate broken French worse than most of us hate bro- 
ken English. But when dragged out into the light of English I tried to 



290 READING I'VE LIKED 

talk just as foolishly in order that they might think it was not really 
my French that was the matter with me. Sometimes that worked quite 
well. Finding me just as idiotic in my own language they went back 
to theirs. It certainly worked well with my friend M. Bartet, a paralytic 
tobacconist in the West Thirties near the river, to whom my relation 
was for several months that of a grandchild, though I believe we were 
of the same age. He tried to form my character by bringing me up on 
such praiseworthy episodes of his early life as he thought I was able 
to grasp. 

Now at the end of a long year of these persistent puerilities I am 
able to report two definite results: In the first place a sense of my 
incapacity and ignorance infinitely vaster than when I began, and in 
the second a profound distrust, possibly vindictive in its origin, of all 
Americans in the city of New York who profess an acquaintance with 
French culture, including teachers, critics, theater audiences, lecture 
audiences, and patronesses of visiting Frenchmen. 

It was perhaps true, as people said at the time, that a certain French 
theatrical experiment in New York could not continue for the simple 
reason that it was too good a thing for the theater-going public to sup- 
port. It may be that the precise equivalent of the enterprise, even if not 
hampered by a foreign language, could not have permanently endured. 
Yet from what I saw of its audiences, critics, enthusiasts, and from 
what I know of the American Gallophile generally, including myself, 
I believe the linguistic obstacle to have been more serious than they 
would have us suppose — serious enough to account for the situation 
without dragging in our aesthetic incapacity. It was certainly an obstacle 
that less than one-half of any audience ever succeeded in surmounting. 

I do not mean that the rest of the audience got nothing out of it, 
for so expressive were the players by other means than words, that 
they often sketched the play out in pantomime. The physical activities 
of the troupe did not arise, as some of the critics declared, from the 
vivacity of the Gallic temperament; nor were they assumed, as others 
believed, because in the seventeenth century French actors had been 
acrobats. These somewhat exaggerated gestures were occasioned by the 
perception that the majority of the spectators were beginners in French. 



FRANK MOORE COLBY 291 

They were supplied by these ever-tactful people as a running transla- 
tion for a large body of self-improving Americans. 

I do not blame other Americans for dabbling in French, since I my- 
self am the worst of dabblers, but I see no reason why any of us should 
pretend that it is anything more than dabbling. The usual way of 
reading French does not lead even to an acquaintance with French 
literature. Everybody knows that words in a living language in order 
to be understood have to be lived with. They are not felt as a part of 
living literature when you see them pressed out and labeled in a glos- 
sary, but only when you hear them fly about. A word is not a definite 
thing susceptible of dictionary explanation. It is a cluster of associa- 
tions, reminiscent of the sort of men that used it, suggestive of social 
class, occupation, mood, dignity or the lack of it, primness, violences, 
pedantries, or platitudes. It hardly seems necessary to say that words 
in a living literature ought to ring in the ear with the sounds that 
really belong to them, or that poetry without an echo cannot be felt. 

It may be that there is no way out of it. Perhaps it is inevitable that 
the colleges which had so long taught the dead languages as if they 
were buried should now teach the living ones as if they were dead. 
But there is no need of pretending that this formal acquaintance with 
books results in an appreciation of literature. No sense of the intimate 
quality of a writer can be founded on a verbal vacuum. His plots, his 
place in literature, his central motives, and the opinion of his critics 
could all be just as adequately conveyed, if his books were studied in 
the language of the deaf and dumb. Of course, one may be drawn to 
an author by that process but it would hardly be the artistic attraction 
of literature; it is as if one felt drawn to a woman by an interest ex- 
clusively in her bones. 

Elementary as these remarks may seem I offer them to Gallophiles 
without apology. On the contrary I rather fear that I am writing over 
their heads. 



JAMES THURBER 



COMMENTARY 



J do not propose to explain Mr. James Thurber, or his doleful dogs, 
or his funny little men, or his terrifying little women. Explanations 
of humor are usually made by analytical fellows who substitute an 
awesome knowledge of why we should laugh for their own inability 
to do so. Philosophers of humor, like Sigmund Freud and Henri 
Bergson, often possess high intelligences which they employ with 
great dexterity on a problem which seems somehow to elude them. 
For humor is not perceived by the intelligence alone; often it is not 
perceived by the intelligence at all. The sudden interior burst of 
delight that comes of catching the humor of a remark or a situation 
seems ventral rather than cerebral. It is not an intellectual satisfac- 
tion, but one much more akin to the pleasure of consuming a good 
dinner. 

The humor-analysts appear to think that a joke is related to a rid- 
dle. It is not; it is much more nearly related to a tickle. Those jokes 
which are iilce riddles, which have a complicated point, are precisely 
the jokes that have the shortest life and are least able to bear re- 
hearing. Practically all radio humor is of this variety, and that is why 
it uses itself up so quickly. Radio gags of the Bob Hope order are 
often admirably clever, but on some people, including myself, they 
have the same effect as does a troupe of performing acrobats. Watch- 
ing acrobats can be interesting, but it is also a little painful, because 
of empathy, the process by which you put yourself in the other 
fellow's place. It is also, when the act is over, in a way disappointing. 
You are left with an empty feeling, or no feeling at all. Gag humor 
has the same effect on me. I am lost in gap-mouthed wonder at Mr. 
Hope's rapid-fire quips. At the same time I am tense lest I lose the 
point of one of them, and I suffer lest Mr. Hope should fail to do 
the expected, to top his previous gag, or cap his stooge's remark. And 
when it is all over I find I am a trifle tired and vacant-minded. 

True humor (and, mind, I am not explaining it) does something 

292 



JAMES THURBER 293 

to you, like great literature. It changes your feelings, usually in the 
direction of greater well-being and general expansiveness. Instead oi 
tensing you, it relaxes you. It works not on the nerves and the brain 
but on the heart and the imagination. It does not have a "point" 
which is a hard, direct thing. It suffuses an atmosphere, which is a 
soft and subtle thing. 

That is why good humor is enjoyable again and again. Once you 
have "got the point" of something that has only "point" to offer, 
you are through, but an atmosphere is no more exhaustible than a 
fine landscape. The point of the fence-whitewashing chapter in 
Tom Sawyer is that if you wish a person to perform a tiresome 
job you should make it appear a hard-to-win privilege. The point 
of it, however, has precious little to do with the humor, which you 
can resavor even when you know the point in advance. 

The humor of James Thurber (I am still not explaining it) is of 
this subtle, atmospheric kind. It is the distillation of a rich tempera- 
ment and so it is "rich" humor. 

Perhaps it would be more correct to speak of two temperaments, 
or, better, two sides of the same temperament. The Thurber of Let 
Your Mind Alone and the Fables for Our Time shows one side. 
The Thurber of My Life and Hard Times and The Male Ani- 
mal * shows another. The Erst Thurber is the Sane Innocent; the 
second is the Confused Innocent. Actually, Mr. Thurber is never 
confused and never innocent. His confusion and his innocence, 
though, are not just poses, but positions which he assumes in order 
to allow his humor to play more readily. 

The Sane Innocent is the Thurber who makes you laugh because 
he sees through imposture (such as that of the self-improvement 
school) from an angle that the rest of us would never think of. He is 
to comedy what Dostoevskys wise idiots are to tragedy. The pleasure 
you get from this Thurber is the pleasure of sudden illumination. 

The Confused Innocent is the Thurber who makes you laugh not 
because he sees through things but, on the contrary, because he is 
bewildered by them. (Actually, this bewilderment is merely a slyer 



* Written in collaboration with J. C. Nugent. 



294 READING I'VE LIKED 

form of understanding.) The pleasure you get from this Thurher is 
that wry and rueful satisfaction that comes of watching somebody 
make a fool of himself in a maze. Don Quixote and a drunk, Caspar 
Milquetoast and Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Disney s Dopey and Mr. Thin- 
ner's persecuted males— all are examples, on various levels, of the 
comedy of befuddlement. 

You will note that I have still not explained the humor of James 
Thurber. 

One of the staples of our writers is the Great American Eccentric 
Family. Examples: Mr. Caldwell's Tobacco Roaders, Thomas Wolfe s 
Gants, Kaufman and Hart's Sycamores, Mr. Saroyans Saroyans— 
one could easily extend the list. There have been so many of these 
grotesques in the last decade that it almost seems as though they 
were called into being to redress a balance. During the period domi- 
nated by Sinclair Lewis and the realistic school the stupefying con- 
ventionality of American family life was the thing emphasized. The 
pendulum has swung back, and we are now hip-deep in grotesques. 

My Life and Hard Times is about an eccentric family, too, but 
not a very eccentric one. The Thurbers are only slightly off-balance. 
Still, that small disequilibrium is enough to upset them and propel 
them into situations that are thoroughly and hilariously abnormal. 
"The little perils of routine living," in Thurber s phrase, form the 
base of his "autobiography" This is not to say that the Thurbers are 
ordinary people. It is to say that the Thurbers are mildly extraor- 
dinary people whose domestic lives from time to time burst into 
small volcanic eruptions of comic disaster. 

This is especially true of a certain level of American life. It is pre- 
cisely such respectable middle-class inhabitants of Columbus, Ohio, 
whose public lives are models of modest deportment, that develop 
within the family circle a compensating environment of eccentricity . 
It takes a James Thurber, of course, to see how funny the other 
Thurbers are. They themselves probably have no inkling of the fig- 
ures they cut. 

The humor of this book docs not lie in the fact that crazy things 
happen. It lies in the fact that everybody in it is trying to be reason- 



JAMES THURBER 295 

able about the crazy things that happen. Mr. Thurber s mother, for 
example (a precious creation who must be waiting for her son to put 
her full-face into a book), is funny because she is so bent on ration- 
alizing the odd cataclysms that shake her household. Her iron deter- 
mination to be sensible amid this crowd of muddled maniacs is the 
root of her comicality. And the humor of Grandfather, of course, 
lies not in his Gts of lunacy but in his spasms of sanity. 

Everybody misunderstands everybody else — a tiny reflection of the 
whole universe of human discourse. The mishaps of misunderstand- 
ing generally yield farce. Here they yield true comedy, as in the in- 
comparable Perth Amboy episode (which, just as a test, I have often 
tried to read through without breaking into laughter, failing each 
time); as in the story of the day the dam broke, which is a treatise 
by he Bon translated by the comic spirit; as in the narratives of the 
night the bed fell on Father and the night the ghost got in. 

Thurber is, true enough, a quiet writer who creates his effects with 
the most dexterous and light touches, but his understatement is a 
little different from the British variety, as one can see by comparing 
him with the much less funny P. G. Wodehouse. For one thing, he 
is subtler. For another, there is an odd, almost furtive touch of fancy 
that one does not End among the English. Here, for example, is a 
typical Thurber sentence: "In the early years of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, Columbus won out, as State capital, by only one vote over 
Lancaster, and ever since then has had the hallucination that it is 
being followed, a curious municipal state of mind which affects, in 
some way or other, all those who live there." No one but Thurber 
could have written this, and surely no Englishman, though the Eng- 
lish are among Thurber's most devoted admirers. 

My Life and Hard Times is so vivid and real as a family portrait 
that one sometimes forgets it is also a parody, a delicate parody on 
all the pompous, self-important autobiographies of the last fifteen 
years. Beyond all this, despite Thurber's disclaimer, it is a curiously 
intimate picture of a time and place— the comfortable, quiet, almost 
somnolent Middle West during the years just preceding the out- 
break of the First World War. Finally, it is a fine piece of prose. It 
flows along so easily that only the attentive student marks how ex- 



■ 



296 READING I'VE LIKED 

actly Thuibei manages his sentences so as to accommodate them to 
the effects he is after and the tempo he is setting. 

There is one misconception about Thuibei that I have always 
found it hard to understand. That is the notion that he is typical of 
a New Yorker school of humoi. There is no New Yorker school of 
humor. J cannot conceive a moie wildly dispaiate and ill-assoited 
group than, let us say, S. J. Peielman, Frank Sullivan, John O'Haia, 
Ruth McKenny, Arthur Kober, Wolcott Gibbs, and James Thuibei. 
All of them abhoi gags, except Peielman, who uses them for pur- 
poses of parody, but otheiwise I can see nothing that unites them. 
Of the lot, Thuibei is the most individual, the least a servant to 
formula. He has the most unexpected and, I should say, the wisest 
mind, and, though they all write well, Thuibei is more than a good 
wiitei. He is an aitist. 

But enough of not explaining James Thuibei. His life and hard 
times, given heie in full, speak foi themselves. 



My Life and Hard Times 



BY 



JAMES THURBER 



PREFACE TO A LIFE 



Benvenuto Cellini said that a man should be at least forty years old 
before he undertakes so fine an enterprise as that of setting down the 
story of his life. He said also that an autobiographer should have ac- 
complished something of excellence. Nowadays nobody who has a 
typewriter pays any attention to the old master's quaint rules. I myself 
have accomplished nothing of excellence except a remarkable and, to 
some of my friends, unaccountable expertness in hitting empty ginger 
ale bottles with small rocks at a distance of thirty paces. Moreover, I 
am not yet forty years old. But the grim date moves toward me apace; 
my legs are beginning to go, things blur before my eyes, and the faces 
of the rose-lipped maids I knew in my twenties are misty as dreams. 

At forty my faculties may have closed up like flowers at evening, 
leaving me unable to write my memoirs with a fitting and discreet 
inaccuracy or, having written them, unable to carry them to the pub- 
lisher's. A writer verging into the middle years lives in dread of losing 
his way to the publishing house and wandering down to the Bowery 
or the Battery, there to disappear like Ambrose Bierce. He has some- 
times also the kindred dread of turning a sudden corner and meeting 
himself sauntering along in the opposite direction. I have known writ- 
ers at this dangerous and tricky age to phone their homes from their 
offices, or their offices from their homes, ask for themselves in a low 
tone, and then, having fortunately discovered that they were "out," 
to collapse in hard-breathing relief. This is particularly true of writers 
of light pieces running from a thousand to two thousand words. 

The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curi- 

297 



298 READING I'VE LIKED 

ously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness 
and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In 
the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken oft 
their overcoats. Afraid of losing themselves in the larger flight of the 
two-volume novel, or even the one-volume novel, they stick to short 
accounts of their misadventures because they never get so deep into 
them but that they feel they can get out. This type of writing is not a 
joyous form of self-expression but the manifestation of a twitchiness 
at once cosmic and mundane. Authors of such pieces have, nobody 
knows why, a genius for getting into minor difficulties: they walk 
into the wrong apartments, they drink furniture polish for stomach 
bitters, they drive their cars into the prize tulip beds of haughty neigh- 
bors, they playfully slap gangsters, mistaking them for old school 
friends. To call such persons "humorists," a loose-fitting and ugly 
word, is to miss the nature of their dilemma and the dilemma of their 
nature. The little wheels of their invention are set in motion by the 
damp hand of melancholy. 

Such a writer moves about restlessly wherever he goes, ready to get 
the hell out at the drop of a pie-pan or the lift of a skirt. His gestures 
are the ludicrous reflexes of the maladjusted; his repose is the momen- 
tary inertia of the nonplussed. He pulls the blinds against the morn- 
ing and creeps into the smokey corners at night. He talks largely 
about small matters and smally about great affairs. His ears are shut 
to the ominous rumblings of the dynasties of the world moving toward 
a cloudier chaos than ever before, but he hears with an acute percep- 
tion the startling sounds that rabbits make twisting in the bushes 
along a country road at night and a cold chill comes upon him when 
the comic supplement of a Sunday newspaper blows unexpectedly out 
of an areaway and envelops his knees. He can sleep while the com- 
monwealth crumbles but a strange sound in the pantry at three in the 
morning will strike terror into his stomach. He is not afraid, or much 
aware, of the menaces of empire but he keeps looking behind him as 
he walks along darkening streets out of the fear that he is being softly 
followed by little men padding along in single file, about a foot and a 
half high, large-eyed, and whiskered. 

It is difficult for such a person to conform to what Ford Madox Ford 



JAMES THURBER 299 

in his book o£ recollections has called the sole reason for writing one's 
memoirs: namely, to paint a picture of one's time. Your short-piece 
writer's time is not Walter Lippmann's time, or Stuart Chase's time, 
or Professor Einstein's time. It is his own personal time, circumscribed 
by the short boundaries of his pain and his embarrassment, in which 
what happens to his digestion, the rear axle of his car, and the con- 
fused flow of his relationships with six or eight persons and two or 
three buildings is of greater importance than what goes on in the na- 
tion or in the universe. He knows vaguely that the nation is not much 
good any more; he has read that the crust of the earth is shrinking 
alarmingly and that the universe is growing steadily colder, but he 
does not believe that any of the three is in half as bad shape as he is. 

Enormous strides are made in star-measurement, theoretical eco- 
nomics, and the manufacture of bombing planes, but he usually doesn't 
find out about them until he picks up an old copy of "Time" on a 
picnic grounds or in the summer house of a friend. He is aware that 
billions of dollars are stolen every year by bankers and politicians, and 
that thousands of people are out of work, but these conditions do not 
worry him a tenth as much as the conviction that he has wasted three 
months on a stupid psychoanalyst or the suspicion that a piece he has 
been working on for two long days was done much better and prob- 
ably more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924. 

The "time" of such a writer, then, is hardly worth reading about if 
the reader wishes to find out what was going on in the world while 
the writer in question was alive and at what might be laughingly called 
"his best." All that the reader is going to find out is what happened to 
the writer. The compensation, I suppose, must lie in the comforting 
feeling that one has had, after all, a pretty sensible and peaceful life, by 
comparison. It is unfortunate, however, that even a well-ordered life 
can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in 
the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of 
the sea-puss gets us all in the end. 

J.T. 
Sandy Hoo\, 
Connecticut, 
September 25, 1933. 






CHAPTER ONE 



THE NIGHT THE BED FELL 



I suppose that the high-water mark of my youth in Columbus, Ohio, 
was the night the bed fell on my father. It makes a better recitation 
(unless, as some friends of mine have said, one has heard it five or six 
times) than it does a piece of writing, for it is almost necessary to 
throw furniture around, shake doors, and bark like a dog, to lend the 
proper atmosphere and verisimilitude to what is admittedly a some- 
what incredible tale. Still, it did take place. 

It happened, then, that my father had decided to sleep in the attic 
one night, to be away where he could think. My mother opposed the 
notion strongly because, she said, the old wooden bed up there was 
unsafe: it was wobbly aria 1 the heavy headboard would crash down on 
father's head in case the bed fell, and kill him. There was no dissuad- 
ing him, however, and at a quarter past ten he closed the attic door 
behind him and went up the narrow twisting stairs. We later heard 
ominous creakings as he crawled into bed. Grandfather, who usually 
slept in the attic bed when he was with us, had disappeared some days 
before. (On these occasions he was usually gone six or eight days and 
returned growling and out of temper, with the news that the federal 
Union was run by a passel of blockheads and that the Army of the 
Potomac didn't have any more chance than a fiddler's bitch.) 

We had visiting us at this time a nervous first cousin of mine named 
Briggs Beall, who believed that he was likely to cease breathing when 
he was asleep. It was his feeling that if he were not awakened every 
hour during the night, he might die of suffocation. He had been ac- 
customed to setting an alarm clock to ring at intervals until morning, 
but I persuaded him to abandon this. He slept in my room and I told 
him that I was such a light sleeper that if anybody quit breathing in 

300 



JAMES THURBER 301 

the same room with me, I would wake instantly. He tested me the 
first night — which I had suspected he would — by holding his breath 
after my regular breathing had convinced him I was asleep. I was not 
asleep, however, and called to him. This seemed to allay his fears a 
little, but he took the precaution of putting a glass of spirits of camphor 
on a little table at the head of his bed. In case I didn't arouse him 
until he was almost gone, he said, he would sniff the camphor, a pow- 
erful reviver. Briggs was not the only member of his family who had 
his crotchets. Old Aunt Melissa Beall (who could whistle like a man, 
with two fingers in her mouth) suffered under the premonition that 
she was destined to die on South High Street, because she had been 
born on South High Street and married on South High Street. Then 
there was Aunt Sarah Shoaf, who never went to bed at night without 
the fear that a burglar was going to get in and blow chloroform under 
her door through a tube. To avert this calamity — for she was in greater 
dread of anesthetics than of losing her household goods — she always 
piled her money, silverware, and other valuables in a neat stack just 
outside her bedroom, with a note reading: "This is all I have. Please 
take it and do not use your chloroform, as this is all I have." Aunt 
Gracie Shoaf also had a burglar phobia, but she met it with more forti- 
tude. She was confident that burglars had been getting into her house 
every night for forty years. The fact that she never missed anything 
was to her no proof to the contrary. She always claimed that she 
scared them ofT before they could take anything, by throwing shoes 
down the hallway. When she went to bed she piled, where she could 
get at them handily, all the shoes there were about her house. Five 
minutes after she had turned off the light, she would sit up in bed and 
say "Hark!" Her husband, who had learned to ignore the whole situ- 
ation as long ago as 1903, would either be sound asleep or pretend to 
be sound asleep. In either case he would not respond to her tugging 
and pulling, so that presently she would arise, tiptoe to the door, open 
it slightly and heave a shoe down the hall in one direction, and its 
mate down the hall in the other direction. Some nights she threw them 
all, some nights only a couple of pair. 

But I am straying from the remarkable incidents that took place 
during the night that the bed fell on father. By midnight we were all 



302 READING I'VE LIKED 

in bed. The layout of the rooms and the disposition of their occupants 
is important to an understanding of what later occurred. In the front 
room upstairs (just under father's attic bedroom) were my mother and 
my brother Herman, who sometimes sang in his sleep, usually "March- 
ing Through Georgia" or "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Briggs Beall 
and myself were in a room adjoining this one. My brother Roy was in 
a room across the hall from ours. Our bull terrier, Rex, slept in the 
hall. 

My bed was an army cot, one of those affairs which are made wide 
enough to sleep on comfortably only by putting up, flat with the mid- 
dle section, the two sides which ordinarily hang down like the side- 
boards of a drop-leaf table. When these sides are up, it is perilous to 
roll too far toward the edge, for then the cot is likely to tip com- 
pletely over, bringing the whole bed down on top of one, with a 
tremendous banging crash. This, in fact, is precisely what happened, 
about two o'clock in the morning. (It was my mother who, in recall- 
ing the scene later, first referred to it as "the night the bed fell on 
your father.") 

Always a deep sleeper, slow to arouse (I had lied to Briggs), I was 
at first unconscious of what had happened when the iron cot rolled 
me onto the floor and toppled over on me. It left me still warmly 
bundled up and unhurt, for the bed rested above me like a canopy. 
Hence I did not wake up, only reached the edge of consciousness and 
went back. The racket, however, instantly awakened my mother, in 
the next room, who came to the immediate conclusion that her worst 
dread was realized: the big wooden bed upstairs had fallen on father. 
She therefore screamed, "Let's go to your poor father!" It was this 
shout, rather than the noise of my cot falling, that awakened Herman, 
in the same room with her. He thought that mother had become, for 
no apparent reason, hysterical. "You're all right, Mamma!" he shouted, 
trying to calm her. They exchanged shout for shout for perhaps ten 
seconds: "Let's go to your poor father!" and "You're all right!" That 
woke up Briggs. By this time I was conscious of what was going on, 
in a vague way, but did not yet realize that I was under my bed in- 
stead of on it. Briggs, awakening in the midst of loud shouts of fear 
and apprehension, came to the quick conclusion that he was suflfocat- 



JAMES THURBER 303 

ing and that we were all trying to "bring him out." With a low moan, 
he grasped the glass of camphor at the head of his bed and instead of 
sniffing it poured it over himself. The room reeked of camphor. "Ugf, 
ahfg," choked Briggs, like a drowning man, for he had almost suc- 
ceeded in stopping his breath under the deluge of pungent spirits. He 
leaped out of bed and groped toward the open window, but he came 
up against one that was closed. With his hand, he beat out the glass, 
and I could hear it crash and tinkle on the alleyway below. It was 
at this juncture that I, in trying to get up, had the uncanny sensation 
of feeling my bed above me! Foggy with sleep, I now suspected, in 
my turn, that the whole uproar was being made in a frantic endeavor 
to extricate me from what must be an unheard-of and perilous situ- 
ation. "Get me out of this!" I bawled. "Get me out!" I think I had 
the nightmarish belief that I was entombed in a mine. "Gugh," gasped 
Briggs, floundering in his camphor. 

By this time my mother, still shouting, pursued by Herman, still 
shouting, was trying to open the door to the attic, in order to go up 
and get my father's body out of the wreckage. The door was stuck, 
however, and wouldn't yield. Her frantic pulls on it only added to the 
general banging and confusion. Roy and the dog were now up, the 
one shouting questions, the other barking. 

Father, farthest away and soundest sleeper of all, had by this time 
been awakened by the battering on the attic door. He decided that the 
house was on fire. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" he wailed in a slow, 
sleepy voice — it took him many minutes to regain full consciousness. 
My mother, still believing he was caught under the bed, detected in 
his "I'm coming!" the mournful, resigned note of one who is prepar- 
ing to meet his Maker. "He's dying!" she shouted. 

"I'm all right!" Briggs yelled to reassure her. "I'm all right!" He 
still believed that it was his own closeness to death that was worrying 
mother. I found at last the light switch in my room, unlocked the 
door, and Briggs and I joined the others at the attic door. The dog, 
who never did like Briggs, jumped for him — assuming that he was the 
culprit in whatever was going on — and P.oy had to throw Rex and 
hold him. We could hear father crawling out of bed upstairs. Roy 
pulled the attic door open, with a mighty jerk, and father came down 



304 READING I'VE LIKED 

the stairs, sleepy and irritable but safe and sound. My mother began 
to weep when she saw him. Rex began to howl. "What in the name of 
God is going on here?" asked father. 

The situation was finally put together, like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. 
Father caught a cold from prowling around in his bare feet but there 
were no other bad results. "I'm glad," said mother, who always looked 
on the bright side of things, "that your grandfather wasn't here." 



■ -3^ 



CHAPTER TWO 



THE CAR WE HAD TO PUSH 



Many autobiographers, among them Lincoln Steflfens and Gertrude 
Atherton, describe earthquakes their families have been in. I am un- 
able to do this because my family was never in an earthquake, but we 
went through a number of things in Columbus that were a great deal 
like earthquakes. I remember in particular some of the repercussions 
of an old Reo we had that wouldn't go unless you pushed it for quite 
a way and suddenly let your clutch out. Once, we had been able to 
start the engine easily by cranking it, but we had had the car for so 
many years that finally it wouldn't go unless you pushed it and let 
your clutch out. Of course, it took more than one person to do this; 
it took sometimes as many as five or six, depending on the grade of 
the roadway and conditions underfoot. The car was unusual in that 
the clutch and brake were on the same pedal, making it quite easy to 
stall the engine after it got started, so that the car would have to <be 
pushed again. 

My father used to get sick at his stomach pushing the car, and very 
often was unable to go to work. He had never liked the machine, even 
when it was good, sharing my ignorance and suspicion of all auto- 
mobiles of twenty years ago and longer. The boys I went to school 
with used to be able to identify every car as it passed by: Thomas 
Flyer, Firestone-Columbus, Stevens Duryea, Rambler, Winton, White 
Steamer, etc. I never could. The only car I was really interested in 
was one that the Get-Ready Man, as we called him, rode around town 
in : a big Red Devil with a door in the back. The Get-Ready Man was 
a lank unkempt elderly gentleman with wild eyes and a deep voice 
who used to go about shouting at people through a megaphone to 
prepare for the end of the world, "get ready! get read-y!" he would 

305 



306 READING I'VE LIKED 

bellow, "the worllld is coming to an end!" His startling exhortations 
would come up, like summer thunder, at the most unexpected times 
and in the most surprising places. I remember once during MantelFs 
production of ''King Lear" at the Colonial Theatre that the Get- 
Ready Man added his bawlings to the squealing of Edgar and the 
ranting of the King and the mouthing of the Fool, rising from some- 
where in the balcony to join in. The theatre was in absolute darkness 
and there were rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning offstage. 
Neither father nor I, who were there, ever completely got over the 
scene, which went something like this: 

Edgar: Tom's a-cold. — O, do de, do de, do de! — Bless thee from 
whirlwinds, star-blasting, and taking . . . the foul fiend vexes! 

(Thunder off. 

Lear: What! Have his daughters brought him to this pass? — 

Get-Ready Man: Get ready! Get ready! 

Edgar: Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill: — 

Halloo, halloo, loo, loo! 
(Lightning fashes. 

Get-Ready Man: The Worllld is com-ing to an End! 

Fool: This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen! 

Edgar: Take heed o' the foul fiend: obey thy paren 

Get-Ready Man: Get Rea-dy\ 

*Edga.r: Tom's a.-cold\ 

Get-Ready Man: The Worr-u\d is coming to an end! . . . 

They found him finally, and ejected him, still shouting. The The- 
atre, in our time, has known few such moments. 

But to get back to the automobile. One of my happiest memories of 
it was when, in its eighth year, my brother Roy got together a great 
many articles from the kitchen, placed them in a square of canvas, 
and swung this under the car with a string attached to it so that, at a 
twitch, the canvas would give way and the steel and tin things would 
clatter to the street. This was a little scheme of Roy's to frighten 
father, who had always expected the car might explode. It worked 
perfectly. That was twenty-five years ago, but it is one of the few 
things in my life I would like to live over again if I could. I don't 
suppose that I can, now. Roy twitched the string in the middle of a 



JAMES THURBER 307 

lovely afternoon, on Bryden Road near Eighteenth Street. Father had 
closed his eyes and, with his hat off, was enjoying a cool breeze. The 
clatter on the asphalt was tremendously effective: knives, forks, can- 
openers, pie pans, pot lids, biscuit-cutters, ladles, egg-beaters fell, beau- 
tifully together, in a lingering, clamant crash. "Stop the carl" shouted 
father. "I can't," Roy said. "The engine fell out." "God Almighty!" 
said father, who knew what that meant, or knew what it sounded as if 
it might mean. 

It ended unhappily, of course, because we finally had to drive back 
and pick up the stuff and even father knew the difference between 
the works of an automobile and the equipment of a pantry. My 
mother wouldn't have known, however, nor her mother. My mother, 
for instance, thought — or, rather, knew — that it was dangerous to drive 
an automobile without gasoline: it fried the valves, or something. 
"Now don't you dare drive all over town without gasoline!" she 
would say to us when we started off. Gasoline, oil, and water were 
much the same to her, a fact that made her life both confusing and 
perilous. Her greatest dread, however, was the Victrola — we had a 
very early one, back in the "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" 
days. She had an idea that the Victrola might blow up. It alarmed her, 
rather than reassured her, to explain that the phonograph was run 
neither by gasoline nor by electricity. She could only suppose that it 
was propelled by some newfangled and untested apparatus which was 
likely to let go at any minute, making us all the victims and martyrs 
of the wild-eyed Edison's dangerous experiments. The telephone she 
was comparatively at peace with, except, of course, during storms, 
when for some reason or other she always took the receiver off the 
hook and let it hang. She came naturally by her confused and ground- 
less fears, for her own mother lived the latter years of her life in the 
horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the 
house. It leaked, she contended, out of empty sockets if the wall switch 
had been left on. She would go around screwing in bulbs, and if they 
lighted up she would hastily and fearfully turn off the wall switch 
and go back to her Pearson's or Everybody's, happy in the satisfaction 
that she had stopped not only a costly but a dangerous leakage. Noth- 
ing could ever clear this up for her. 



308 READING I'VE LIKED 

Our poor old Reo came to a horrible end, finally. We had parked 
it too far from the curb on a street with a car line. It was late at night 
and the street was dark. The first streetcar that came along couldn't 
get by. It picked up the tired old automobile as a terrier might seize a 
rabbit and drubbed it unmercifully, losing its hold now and then but 
catching a new grip a second later. Tires booped and whooshed, the 
fenders queeled and graked, the steering-wheel rose up like a spectre 
and disappeared in the direction of Franklin Avenue with a melan- 
choly whistling sound, bolts and gadgets flew like sparks from a 
Catherine wheel. It was a splendid spectacle but, of course, saddening 
to everybody (except the rnotorman of the streetcar, who was sore). I 
think some us broke down and wept. It must have been the weeping 
that caused grandfather to take on so terribly. Time was all mixed up 
in his mind; automobiles and the like he never remembered having 
seen. He apparently gathered, from the talk and excitement and weep- 
ing, that somebody had died. Nor did he let go of this delusion. He 
insisted, in fact, after almost a week in which we strove mightily to 
divert him, that it was a sin and a shame and a disgrace on the family 
to put the funeral off any longer. "Nobody is dead! The automobile 
is smashed!" shouted my father, trying for the thirtieth time to ex- 
plain the situation to the old man. "Was he drunk?" demanded grand- 
father, sternly. "Was who drunk?" asked father. "Zenas," said grand- 
father. He had a name for the corpse now: it was his brother Zenas, 
who, as it happened, was dead, but not from driving an automobile 
while intoxicated. Zenas had died in 1866. A sensitive, rather poetical 
boy of twenty-one when the Civil War broke out, Zenas had gone to 
South America — "just," as he wrote back, "until it blows over." Re- 
turning after the war had blown over, he caught the same disease that 
was killing off the chestnut trees in those years, and passed away. It 
was the only case in history where a tree doctor had to be called in to 
spray a person, and our family had felt it very keenly; nobody else in 
the United States caught the blight. Some of us have looked upon 
Zenas' fate as a kind of poetic justice. 

Now that grandfather knew, so to speak, who was dead, it became 
increasingly awkward to go on living in the same house with him as 
if nothing had happened. He would go into towering rages in Which 



JAMES THURBER 309 

he threatened to write to the Board of Health unless the funeral were 
held at once. We realized that something had to be done. Eventually, 
we persuaded a friend of father's, named George Martin, to dress up 
in the manner and costume of the eighteen-sixties and pretend to be 
Uncle Zenas, in order to set grandfather's mind at rest. The impostor 
looked fine and impressive in sideburns and a high beaver hat, and 
not unlike the daguerreotypes of Zenas in our album. I shall never for- 
get the night, just after dinner, when this Zenas walked into the living- 
room. Grandfather was stomping up and down, tall, hawk-nosed, 
round-oathed. The newcomer held out both his hands. "Clem!" he 
cried to grandfather. Grandfather turned slowly, looked at the in- 
truder, and snorted. "Who air you?" he demanded in his deep, reso- 
nant voice. "I'm Zenas!" cried Martin. "Your brother Zenas, fit as a 
fiddle and sound as a dollar!" "Zenas, my foot!" said grandfather. 
"Zenas died of the chestnut blight in '66V 

Grandfather was given to these sudden, unexpected, and extremely 
lucid moments; they were generally more embarrassing than his other 
moments. He comprehended before he went to bed that night that the 
old automobile had been destroyed and that its destruction had caused 
all the turmoil in the house: "It flew all to pieces, Pa," my mother told 
him, in graphically describing the accident. "I knew 'twould," growled 
grandfather. "I alius told ye to git a Pope-Toledo." 



CHAPTER THREE 



THE DAY THE DAM BROKE 



My memories of what my family and I went through during the 
1913 flood in Ohio I would gladly forget. And yet neither the hard- 
ships we endured nor the turmoil and confusion we experienced can 
alter my feeling toward my native state and city. I am having a fine 
time now and wish Columbus were here, but if anyone ever wished 
a city was in hell it was during that frightful and perilous afternoon 
in 1913 when the dam broke, or, to be more exact, when everybody in 
town thought that the dam broke. We were both ennobled and de- 
moralized by the experience. Grandfather especially rose to magnifi- 
cent heights which can never lose their splendor for me, even though 
his reactions to the flood were based upon a profound misconception; 
namely, that Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry was the menace we 
were called upon to face. The only possible means of escape for us 
was to flee the house, a step which grandfather sternly forbade, bran- 
dishing his old army sabre in his hand. "Let the sons come!" 

he roared. Meanwhile hundreds of people were streaming by our 
house in wild panic, screaming "Go east! Go east!" We had to stun 
grandfather with the ironing board. Impeded as we were by the inert 
form of the old gentleman — he was taller than six feet and weighed 
almost a hundred and seventy pounds — we were passed, in the first 
half-mile, by practically everybody else in the city. Had grandfather 
not come to, at the corner of Parsons Avenue and Town Street", we 
would unquestionably have been overtaken and engulfed by the 
roaring waters — that is, if there had been any roaring waters. Later, 
when the panic had died down and people had gone rather sheepishly 
back to their homes and their offices, minimizing the distances they 
had run and offering various reasons for running, city engineers 

310 



JAMES THURBER 311 

pointed out that even if the dam had broken, the water level would 
not have risen more than two additional inches in the West Side. 
The West Side was, at the time of the dam scare, under thirty feet 
of water — as, indeed, were all Ohio river towns during the great spring 
floods of twenty years ago. The East Side (where we lived and where 
all the running occurred) had never been in any danger at all. Only 
a rise of some ninety-five feet could have caused the flood waters to flow 
over High Street — the thoroughfare that divided the east side of town 
from the west — and engulf the East Side. 

The fact that we were all as safe as kittens under a cookstove did 
not, however, assuage in the least the fine despair and the grotesque 
desperation which seized upon the residents of the East Side when 
the cry spread like a grass fire that the dam had given way. Some of 
the most dignified, staid, cynical, and clear-thinking men in town 
abandoned their wives, stenographers, homes, and offices and ran east. 
There are few alarms in the world more terrifying than "The dam has 
broken!" There are few persons capable of stopping to reason when 
that clarion cry strikes upon their ears, even persons who live in 
towns no nearer than five hundred miles to a dam. 

The Columbus, Ohio, broken-dam rumor began, as I recall it, about 
noon of March 12, 1913. High Street, the main canyon of trade, was 
loud with the placid hum of business and the buzzing of placid business- 
men arguing, computing, wheedling, offering, refusing, compromising. 
Darius Conningway, one of the foremost corporation lawyers in the 
Middle-West, was telling the Public Utilities Commission in the 
language of Julius Caesar that they might as well try to move the 
Northern star as to move him. Other men were making their little 
boasts and their little gestures. Suddenly somebody began to run. It 
may be that he had simply remembered, all of a moment, an engage- 
ment to meet his wife, for which he was now frightfully late. What- 
ever it was, he ran east on Broad Street (probably toward the Mara- 
mor Restaurant, a favorite place for a man to meet his wife). 
Somebody else began to run, perhaps a newsboy in high spirits. An- 
other man, a portly gentleman of affairs, broke into a trot. Inside of 
ten minutes, everybody on High Street, from the Union Depot to 
the Courthouse was running. A loud mumble gradually crystallized 



312 READING I'VE LIKED 

into the dread word "dam." "The dam has broke!" The fear was put 
into words by a little old lady in an electric, or by a traffic cop, or by 
a small boy: nobody knows who, nor does it now really matter. Two 
thousand people were abruptly in full flight. "Go east!" was the cry 
that arose — east away from the river, east to safety. "Go east! Go east! 
Go east!" 

Black streams of people flowed eastward down all the streets leading 
in that direction; these streams, whose headwaters were in the dry- 
goods stores, office buildings, harness shops, movie theatres, were fed 
by trickles of housewives, children, cripples, servants, dogs, and cats, 
slipping out of the houses past which the main stream flowed, shouting 
and screaming. People ran out leaving fires burning and food cooking 
and doors wide open. I remember, however, that my mother turned out 
all the fires and that she took with her a dozen eggs and two loaves 
of bread. It was her plan to make Memorial Hall, just two blocks away, 
and take refuge somewhere in the top of it, in one of the dusty rooms 
where war veterans met and where old battle flags and stage scenery 
were stored. But the seething throngs, shouting "Go east!," drew her 
along and the rest of us with her. When grandfather regained full 
consciousness, at Parsons Avenue, he turned upon the retreating mob 
like a vengeful prophet and exhorted the men to form ranks and stand 
off the Rebel dogs, but at length he, too, got the idea that the dam 
had broken and, roaring "Go east!" in his powerful voice, he caught 
up in one arm a small child and in the other a slight clerkish man 
of perhaps forty-two and we slowly began to gain on those ahead 
of us. 

A scattering of firemen, policemen, and army officers in dress uni- 
forms — there had been a review at Fort Hayes, in the northern part 
of town — added color to the surging billows of people. "Go east!" cried 
a little child in a piping voice, as she ran past a porch on which 
drowsed a lieutenant-colonel of infantry. Used to quick decisions, 
trained to immediate obedience, the officer bounded off the porch and, 
running at full tilt, soon passed the child, bawling "Go east!" The 
two of them emptied rapidly the houses of the little street they were 
on. "What is it? What is it?" demanded a fat, waddling man who 
intercepted the colonel. The officer dropped behind and asked the 



JAMES THURBER 313 

little child what it was. "The dam has broke!" gasped the girl. "The 
dam has broke!" roared the colonel. "Go east! Go east! Go east!" He 
was soon leading, with the exhausted child in his arms, a fleeing com- 
pany of three hundred persons who had gathered around him from 
living-rooms, shops, garages, backyards, and basements. 

Nobody has ever been able to compute with any exactness how 
many people took part in the great rout of 1913, for the panic, which 
extended from the Winslow Bottling Works in the south end to 
Clintonville, six miles north, ended as abruptly as it began and the 
bobtail and ragtag and velvet-gowned groups of refugees melted away 
and slunk home, leaving the streets peaceful and deserted. The shout- 
ing, weeping, tangled evacuation of the city lasted not more than two 
hours in all. Some few people got as far east as Reynoldsburg, twelve 
miles away; fifty or more reached the Country Club, eight miles away; 
most of the others gave up, exhausted, or climbed trees in Franklin 
Park, four miles out. Order was restored and fear dispelled finally by 
means of militiamen riding about in motor lorries bawling through 
megaphones: "The dam has not broken!" At first this tended only 
to add to the confusion and increase the panic, for many stampeders 
thought the soldiers were bellowing "The dam has now broken!," 
thus setting an official seal of authentication on the calamity. 

All the time, the sun shone quietly and there was nowhere any 
sign of oncoming waters. A visitor in an airplane, looking down on 
the straggling, agitated masses of people below, would have been 
hard put to it to divine a reason for the phenomenon. It must have 
inspired, in such an observer, a peculiar kind of terror, like the sight 
of the Marie Celeste, abandoned at sea, its galley fires peacefully burn- 
ing, its tranquil decks bright in the sunlight. 

An aunt of mine, Aunt Edith Taylor, was in a movie theatre on 
High Street when, over and above the sound of the piano in the pit 
(a W. S. Hart picture was being shown), there rose the steadily in- 
creasing tromp of running feet. Persistent shouts rose above the tromp- 
ing. An elderly man, sitting near my aunt, mumbled something, got 
out of his seat, and went up the aisle at a dogtrot. This started every- 
body. In an instant the audience was jamming the aisles. "Fire!" 
shouted a woman who always expected to be burned up in a theatre; 



314 READING I'VE LIKED 

but now the shouts outside were louder and coherent. "The dam has 
broke!" cried somebody. "Go east!" screamed a small woman in front 
of my aunt. And east they went, pushing and shoving and clawing, 
knocking women and children down, emerging finally into the street, 
torn and sprawling. Inside the theatre, Bill Hart was calmly calling 
some desperado's bluff and the brave girl at the piano played "Row! 
Row! Row!" loudly and then "In My Harem." Outside, men were 
streaming across the Statehouse yard, others were climbing trees, a 
woman managed to get up onto the "These Are My Jewels" statue, 
whose bronze figures of Sherman, Stanton, Grant, and Sheridan 
watched with cold unconcern the going to pieces of the capital city. 

"I ran south to State Street, east on State to Third, south on Third 
to Town, and out east on Town," my Aunt Edith has written rne. 
"A tall spare woman with grim eyes and a determined chin ran past 
me down the middle of the street. I was still uncertain as to what was 
the matter, in spite of all the shouting. I drew up alongside the woman 
with some effort, for although she was in her late fifties, she had a 
beautiful easy running form and seemed to be in excellent condition. 
'What is it?' I puffed. She gave me a quick glance and then looked 
ahead again, stepping up her pace a trifle. 'Don't ask me, ask God!' she 
said. 

"When I reached Grant Avenue, I was so spent that Dr. H. R. 
Mallory — you remember Dr. Mallory, the man with the white beard 
who looks like Robert Browning? — well, Dr. Mallory, whom I had 
drawn away from at the corner of Fifth and Town, passed me. 'It's got 
us!' he shouted, and I felt sure that whatever it was did have us, for 
you know what conviction Dr. Mallory's statements always carried. 
I didn't know at the time what he meant, but I found out later. There 
was a boy behind him on rollerskates, and Dr. Mallory mistook the 
swishing of the skates for the sound of rushing water. He eventually 
reached the Columbus School for Girls, at the corner of Parsons 
Avenue and Town Street, where he collapsed, expecting the cold 
frothing waters of the Scioto to sweep him into oblivion. The boy 
on the skates swirled past him and Dr. Mallorv realized for the hist 
time what he had been running from. Looking back up the street, 
he could see no signs of water, but nevertheless, after resting a few 



JAMES THURBER 315 

minutes, he jogged on east again. He caught up with me at Ohio 
Avenue, where we rested together. I should say that about seven 
hundred people passed us. A funny thing was that all of them were on 
foot. Nobody seemed to have had the courage to stop and start his 
car; but as I remember it, all cars had to be cranked in those days, 
which is probably the reason." 

The next day, the city went about its business as if nothing had 
happened, but there was no joking. It was two years or more before 
you dared treat the breaking of the dam lightly. And even now, twenty 
years after, there are a few persons, like Dr. Mallory, who will shut 
up like a clam if you mention the Afternoon of the Great Run. 



W&Ssu 



CHAPTER FOUR 



THE NIGHT THE GHOST GOT IN 



The ghost that got into our house on the night of November 17, 1915, 
raised such a hullabaloo of misunderstandings that I am sorry I didn't 
just let it keep on walking, and go to bed. Its advent caused my mother 
to throw a shoe through a window of the house next door and ended 
up with my grandfather shooting a patrolman. I am sorry, therefore, 
as I have said, that I ever paid any attention to the footsteps. 

They began about a quarter past one o'clock in the morning, a 
rhythmic, quick-cadenced walking around the dining-room table. My 
mother was asleep in one room upstairs, my brother Herman in 
another; grandfather was in the attic, in the old walnut bed, which, as 
you will remember, once fell on my father. I had just stepped out 
of the bathtub and was busily rubbing myself with a towel when I 
heard the steps. They were the steps of a man walking rapidly around 
the dining-room table downstairs. The light from the bathroom shone 
down the back steps, which dropped directly into the dining-room; I 
could see the faint shine of plates on the plate-rail; I couldn't see 
the table. The steps kept going round and round the table; at regular 
intervals a board creaked, when it was trod upon. I supposed at first 
that it was my father or my brother Roy, who had gone to Indianapolis 
but were expected home at any time. I suspected next that it was a 
burglar. It did not enter my mind until later that it was a ghost. 

After the walking had gone on for perhaps three minutes, I tiptoed 
to Herman's room. "Psst!" I hissed, in the dark, shaking him. "Awp," 
he said, in the low, hopeless tone of a despondent beagle — he always 
half suspected that something would "get him" in the night. I told him 
who I was. "There's something downstairs!" I said. He got up and 
followed me to the head of the back staircase. We listened together. 

316 



JAMES THURBER 317 

There was no sound. The steps had ceased. Herman looked at me 
in some alarm: I had only the bath towel around my waist. He wanted 
to go back to bed, but I gripped his arm. "There's something down 
there!" I said. Instantly the steps began again, circled the dining-room 
table like a man running, and started up the stairs toward us, heavily, 
two at a time. The light still shone palely down the stairs; we saw 
nothing coming; we only heard the steps. Herman rushed to his room 
and slammed the door. I slammed shut the door at the stairs top and 
held my knee against it. After a long minute, I slowly opened it again. 
There was nothing there. There was no sound. None of us ever 
heard the ghost again. 

The slamming of the doors had aroused mother: she peered out 
of her room. "What on earth are you boys doing?" she demanded. 
Herman ventured out of his room. "Nothing," he said gruffly, but he 
was, in color, a light green. "What was all that running around down- 
stairs?" said mother. So she had heard the steps, too! We just looked 
at her. "Burglars!" she shouted, intuitively. I tried to quiet her by 
starting lightly downstairs. 

"Come on, Herman," I said. 

"I'll stay with mother," he said. "She's all excited." 

I stepped back onto the landing. 

"Don't either of you go a step," said mother. "We'll call the police." 
Since the phone was downstairs, I didn't see how we were going to 
call the police — nor did I want the police — but mother made one of 
her quick, incomparable decisions. She flung up a window of her 
bedroom which faced the bedroom windows of the house of a neigh- 
bor, picked up a shoe, and whammed it through a pane of glass across 
the narrow space that separated the two houses. Glass tinkled into 
the bedroom occupied by a retired engraver named Bodwell and his 
wife. Bodwell had been for some years in rather a bad way and was 
subject to mild "attacks." Most everybody we knew or lived near had 
some kind of attacks. 

It was now about two o'clock of a moonless night; clouds hung 
black and low. Bodwell was at the window in a minute, shouting, 
frothing a little, shaking his fist. "We'll sell the house and go back 
to Peoria," we could hear Mrs. Bodwell saying. It was some time 



318 READING I'VE LIKED 

before mother "got through" to Bodwell. "Burglars!" she shouted. 
"Burglars in the house!" Herman and I hadn't dared to tell her that 
it was not burglars but ghosts, for she was even more afraid of ghosts 
than of burglars. Bodwell at first thought that she meant there were 
burglars in his house, but finally he quieted down and called the 
police for us over an extension phone by his bed. After he had dis- 
appeared from the window, mother suddenly made as if to throw 
another shoe, not because there was further need of it but, as she 
later explained, because the thrill of heaving a shoe through a window 
glass had enormously taken her fancy. I prevented her. 

The police were on hand in a commendably short time: a Ford sedan 
full of them, two on motorcycles, and a patrol wagon with about eight 
in it and a few reporters. They began banging at our front door. 
Flashlights shot streaks of gleam up and down the walls, across the 
yard, down the walk between our house and Bodwell's. "Open up!" 
cried a hoarse voice. "We're men from Headquarters!" I wanted to 
go down and let them in, since there they were, but mother wouldn't 
hear of it. "You haven't a stitch on," she pointed out. "You'd catch 
your death." I wound the towel around me again. Finally the cops 
put their shoulders to our big heavy front door with its thick beveled 
glass and broke it in: I could hear a rending of wood and a splash of 
glass on the floor of the hall. Their lights played all over the living- 
room and crisscrossed nervously in the dining-room, stabbed into 
hallways, shot up the front stairs and finally up the back. They caught 
me standing in my towel at the top. A heavy policeman bounded up 
the steps. "Who are you?" he demanded. "I live here," I said. "Well, 
whattsa matta, ya hot?" he asked. It was, as a matter of fact, cold; 
I went to my room and pulled on some trousers. On my way out, a 
cop stuck a gun into my ribs. "Whatta you doin' here?" he demanded. 
"I live here," I said. 

The officer in charge reported to mother. "No sign of nobody, lady," 
he said. "Musta got away — whatt'd he look like?" "There were two 
or three of them," mother said, "whooping and carrying on and slam- 
ming doors." "Funny," said the cop. "All ya windows and doors was 
locked on the inside tight as a tick." 

Downstairs, we could hear the tromping of the other police. Police 



JAMES THURBER 319 

were all over the place; doors were yanked open, drawers were yanked 
open, windows were shot up and pulled down, furniture fell with dull 
thumps. A half-dozen policemen emerged out of the darkness of the 
front hallway upstairs. They began to ransack the floor: pulled beds 
away from walls, tore clothes off hooks in the closets, pulled suitcases 
and boxes off shelves. One of them found an old zither that Roy had 
won in a pool tournament. "Looky here, Joe," he said, strumming it 
with a big paw. The cop named Joe took it and turned it over. "What 
is it?" he asked me. "It's an old zither our guinea pig used to sleep 
on," I said. It was true that a pet guinea pig we once had would never 
sleep anywhere except on the zither, but I should never have said so. 
Joe and the other cop looked at me a long time. They put the zither 
back on a shelf. 

"No sign o' nuthin'," said the cop who had first spoken to mother. 
"This guy," he explained to the others, jerking a thumb at me, "was 
nekked. The lady seems historical." They all nodded, but said noth- 
ing; just looked at me. In the small silence we all heard a creaking in 
the attic. Grandfather was turning over in bed. "What's 'at?" snapped 
Joe. Five or six cops sprang for the attic door before I could inter- 
vene or explain. I realized that it would be bad if they burst in on 
grandfather unannounced, or even announced. He was going through 
a phase in which he believed that General Meade's men, under steady 
hammering by Stonewall Jackson, were beginning to retreat and even 
desert. 

When I got to the attic, things were pretty confused. Grandfather 
had evidently jumped to the conclusion that the police were deserters 
from Meade's army, trying to hide away in his attic. He bounded out 
of bed wearing a long flannel nightgown over long woolen underwear, 
a nightcap, and a leather jacket around his chest. The cops must have 
realized at once that the indignant white-haired old man belonged in 
the house, but they had no chance to say so. "Back, ye cowardly dogs!" 
roared grandfather. "Back t' the lines, ye goddam lily-livered cattle!" 
With that, he fetched the officer who found the zither a flat-handed 
smack alongside his head that sent him sprawling. The others beat 
a retreat, but not fast enough; grandfather grabbed Zither's gun from 
its holster and let fly. The report seemed to crack the rafters; smoke 



320 READING I'VE LIKED 

filled the attic. A cop cursed and shot his hand to his shoulder. Some- 
how, we all finally got downstairs again and locked the door against 
the old gentleman. He fired once or twice more in the darkness and 
then went back to bed. "That was grandfather," I explained to Joe, out 
of breath. "He thinks you're deserters." "I'll say he does," said Joe. 

The cops were reluctant to leave without getting their hands on 
somebody besides grandfather; the night had been distinctly a defeat 
for them. Furthermore, they obviously didn't like the "layout"; some- 
thing looked — and I can see their viewpoint — phony. They began to 
poke into things again. A reporter, a thin-faced, wispy man, came up 
to me. I had put on one of mother's blouses, not being able to find 
anything else. The reporter looked at me with mingled suspicion and 
interest. "Just what the hell is the real lowdown here, Bud?" he asked. 
I decided to be frank with him. "We had ghosts," I said. He gazed at 
me a long time as if I were a slot machine into which he had, without 
results, dropped a nickel. Then he walked away. The cops followed 
him, the one grandfather shot holding his now-bandaged arm, cursing 
and blaspheming. "I'm gonna get my gun back from that old bird," 
said the zither-cop. "Yeh," said Joe. "You — and who else?" I told them 
I would bring it to the station house the next day. 

"What was the matter with that one policeman?" mother asked, 
after they had gone. "Grandfather shot him," I said. "What for?" she 
demanded. I told her he was a deserter. "Of all things!" said mother. 
"He was such a nice-looking young man." 

Grandfather was fresh as a daisy and full of jokes at breakfast next 
morning. We thought at first he had forgotten all about what had 
happened, but he hadn't. Over his third cup of coffee, he glared at 
Herman and me. "What was the idee of all them cops tarryhootin' 
round the house last night?" he demanded. He had us there. 



CHAPTER FIVE 



MORE ALARMS AT NIGHT 



One o£ the incidents that I always think of first when I cast back over 
my youth is what happened the night that my father "threatened to 
get Buck." This, as you will see, is not precisely a fair or accurate de- 
scription of what actually occurred, but it is the way in which I and 
the other members of my family invariably allude to the occasion. We 
were living at the time in an old house at 77 Lexington Avenue, in 
Columbus, Ohio. In the early years of the nineteenth century, Colum- 
bus won out, as state capital, by only one vote over Lancaster, and 
ever since then has had the hallucination that it is being followed, a 
curious municipal state of mind which affects, in some way or other, 
all those who live there. Columbus is a town in which almost anything 
is likely to happen and in which almost everything has. 

My father was sleeping in the. front room on the second floor next 
to that of my brother Roy, who was then about sixteen. Father was 
usually in bed by nine-thirty and up again by ten-thirty to protest 
bitterly against a Victrola record we three boys were in the habit of 
playing over and over, namely, "No News, or What Killed the Dog," 
a recitation by Nat Wills. The record had been played so many times 
that its grooves were deeply cut and the needle often kept revolving 
in the same groove, repeating over and over the same words. Thus: 
"ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt 
hoss flesh." It was this reiteration that generally got father out of bed. 

On the night in question, however, we had all gone to bed at about 
the same time, without much fuss. Roy, as a matter of fact, had been 
in bed all day with a kind of mild fever. It wasn't severe enough to 
cause delirium and my brother was the last person in the world to 

321 



322 READING I'VE LIKED 

give way to delirium. Nevertheless, he had warned father when father 
went to bed that he might become delirious. 

About three o'clock in the morning, Roy, who was wakeful, decided 
to pretend that delirium was on him, in order to have, as he later ex- 
plained it, some "fun." He got out of bed and, going to my father's 
room, shook him and said, "Buck, your time has come!'.' My father's 
name was not Buck but Charles, nor had he ever been called Buck. 
He was a tall, mildly nervous, peaceable gentleman, given to quiet 
pleasures, and eager that everything should run smoothly. "Hmm?" 
he said, with drowsy bewilderment. "Get up, Buck," said my brother, 
coldly, but with a certain gleam in his eyes. My father leaped out of 
bed, on the side away from his son, rushed from the room, locked the 
door behind him, and shouted us all up. 

We were naturally enough reluctant to believe that Roy, who was 
quiet and self-contained, had threatened his father with any such 
abracadabra as father said he had. My older brother, Herman, went 
back to bed without any comment. "You've had a bad dream," mv 
mother said. This vexed my father. "I tell you he called me Buck and 
told me my time had come," he said. We went to the door of his 
room, unlocked it, and tiptoed through it to Roy's room. He lay in 
his bed, breathing easily, as if he were fast asleep. It was apparent at a 
glance that he did not have a high fever. My mother gave my father 
a look. "I tell you he did," whispered father. 

Our presence in the room finally seemed to awaken Roy and he was 
(or rather, as we found out long afterward, pretended to be) aston- 
ished and bewildered. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Nothing," 
said my mother. "Just your father had a nightmare." "I did not have 
a nightmare," said father, slowly and firmly. He wore an old-fash- 
ioned, "side-slit" nightgown which looked rather odd on his tall, spare 
figure. The situation, before we let it drop and everybody went back 
to bed again, became, as such situations in our family usually did, 
rather more complicated than ironed out. Rov demanded to know 
what had happened, and my mother told him, in considerably garbled 
fashion, what father had told her. At this a light dawned in Roy's 
eyes. "Dad's got it backward," he said. He then explained that he had 
heard father get out of bed and had called to him. "I'll handle this," 



JAMES THURBER 323 

his father had answered. "Buck is downstairs." "Who is this Buck?" 
my mother demanded of father. "I don't know any Buck and I never 
said that," father contended, irritably. None of us (except Roy, of 
course) believed him. "You had a dream," said mother. "People have 
these dreams." "I did not have a dream," father said. He was pretty 
well nettled by this time, and he stood in front of a bureau mirror, 
brushing his hair with a pair of military brushes; it always seemed to 
calm father to brush his hair. My mother declared that it was "a sin 
and a shame" for a grown man to wake up a sick boy simply because 
he (the grown man : father) had got on his back and had a bad dream. 
My father, as a matter of fact, had been known to have nightmares, 
usually about Lillian Russell and President Cleveland, who chased 
him. 

We argued the thing for perhaps another half-hour, after which 
mother made father sleep in her room. "You're all safe now, boys," she 
said, firmly, as she shut her door. I could hear father grumbling for a 
long time, with an occasional monosyllable of doubt from mother. 

It was some six months after this that father went through a similar 
experience with me. He was at that time sleeping in the room next to 
mine. I had been trying all afternoon, in vain, to think of the name 
Perth Amboy. It seems now like a very simple name to recall and yet 
on the day in question I thought of every other town in the country, 
as well as such words and names and phrases as terra cotta, Walla- 
Walla, bill of lading, vice versa, hoity-toity, Pall Mall, Bodley Head, 
Schumann-Heink, etc., without even coming close to Perth Amboy. I 
suppose terra cotta was the closest I came although it was not very 
close. 

Long after I had gone to bed, I was struggling with the problem. I 
began to indulge in the wildest fancies as I lay there in the dark, such 
as that there was no such town, and even that there was no such state 
as New Jersey. I fell to repeating the word "Jersey" over and over 
again, until it became idiotic and meaningless. If you have ever lain 
awake at night and repeated one word over and over, thousands and 
millions and hundreds of thousands of millions of times, you know the 
disturbing mental state you can get into. I got to thinking that there 
was nobody else in the world but me, and various other wild imagin- 



324 READING I'VE LIKED 

ings of that nature. Eventually, lying there thinking these outlandish 
thoughts, I grew slightly alarmed. I began to suspect that one might 
lose one's mind over some such trivial mental tic as a futile search for 
terra firma Piggly Wiggly Gorgonzola Prester John Arc de Triomphe 
Holy Moses Lares and Penates. I began to feel the imperative neces- 
sity of human contact. This silly and alarming tangle of thought and 
fancy had gone far enough. I might get into some kind of mental 
aberrancy unless I found out the name of that Jersey town and could 
go to sleep. Therefore, I got out of bed, walked into the room where 
father was sleeping, and shook him. "Um?" he mumbled. I shook him 
more fiercely and he finally woke up, with a glaze of dream and ap- 
prehension in his eyes. "What's matter?" he asked, thickly. I must, in- 
deed, have been rather wild of eye, and my hair, which is unruly, be- 
comes monstrously tousled and snarled at night. "Wha's it?" said my 
father, sitting up, in readiness to spring out of bed on the far side. 
The thought must have been going through his mind that all his sons 
were crazy, or on the verge of going crazy. I see that now, but I didn't 
then, for I had forgotten the Buck incident and did not realize how 
similar my appearance must have been to Roy's the night he called 
father Buck and told him his time had come. "Listen," I said. "Name 
some towns in New Jersey quick!" It must have been around three in 
the morning. Father got up, keeping the bed between him and me, 
and started to pull his trousers on. "Don't bother about dressing," I 
said. "Just name some towns in New Jersey." While he hastily pulled 
on his clothes — I remember he left his socks off and put his shoes on 
his bare feet — father began to name, in a shaky voice, various New 
Jersey cities. I can still see him reaching for his coat without taking his 
eyes oft me. "Newark," he said, "Jersey City, Atlantic City, Elizabeth, 
Paterson, Passaic, Trenton, Jersey City, Trenton, Paterson — " "It has 
two names," I snapped. "Elizabeth and Paterson," he said. "No, no!" 
I told him, irritably. "This is one town with one name, but there are 
two words in it, like helter-skelter." "Helter-skelter," said my father, 
moving slowly toward the bedroom door and smiling in a faint, 
strained way which I understand now — but didn't then — was meant to 
humor me. When he was within a few paces of the door, he fairly 
leaped for it and ran out into the hall, his coat-tails and shoelaces fly- 



JAMES THURBER 325 

ing. The exit stunned me. I had no notion that he thought I had gone 
out of my senses; I could only believe that he had gone out of his or 
that, only partially awake, he was engaged in some form of running 
in his sleep. I ran after him and I caught him at the door of mother's 
room and grabbed him, in order to reason with him. I shook him a 
little, thinking to wake him completely. "Mary! Roy! Herman!" he 
shouted. I, too, began to shout for my brothers and my mother. My 
mother opened her door instantly, and there we were at 3:30 in the 
morning grappling and shouting, father partly dressed, but without 
socks or shirt, and I in pajamas. 

''Now, what?" demanded my mother, grimly, pulling us apart. She 
was capable, fortunately, of handling any two of us and she never in 
her life was alarmed by the words or actions of any one of us. 

"Look out for Jamie!" said father. (He always called me Jamie when 
excited.) My mother looked at me. 

"What's the matter with your father?" she demanded. I said I didn't 
know; I said he had got up suddenly and dressed and ran out of the 
room. 

"Where did you think you were going?" mother asked him, coolly. 
He looked at me. We looked at each other, breathing hard, but some- 
what calmer. 

"He was babbling about New Jersey at this infernal hour of the 
night," said father. "He came to my room and asked me to name 
towns in New Jersey." Mother looked at me. 

"I just asked him," I said. "I was trying to think of one and couldn't 
sleep." 

"You see?" said father, triumphantly. Mother didn't look at him. 

"Get to bed, both of you," she said. "I don't want to hear any more 
out of you tonight. Dressing and tearing up and down the hall at 
this hour in the morning!" She went back into the room and shut her 
door. Father and I went back to bed. "Are you all right?" he called to 
me. "Are you?" I asked. "Well, good night," he said. "Good night," 
I said. 

Mother would not let the rest of us discuss the affair next morning 
at breakfast. Herman asked what the hell had been the matter. "We'll 
go on to something more elevating," said mother. 






Tip <~\¥T t 



CHAPTER SIX 



A SEQUENCE OF SERVANTS 



When I look back on the long line of servants my mother hired dur- 
ing the years I lived at home, I remember clearly ten or twelve of 
them (we had about a hundred and sixty-two, all told, but few of 
them were memorable) . There was, among the immortals, Dora Gedd, 
a quiet, mousy girl of thirty-two who one night shot at a man in her 
room, throwing our household into an uproar that was equalled per- 
haps only by the goings-on the night the ghost got in. Nobody knew 
how her lover, a morose garage man, got into the house, but every- 
body for two blocks knew how he got out. Dora had dressed up in 
a lavender evening gown for the occasion and she wore a mass of jew- 
elry, some of which was my mother's. She kept shouting something 
from Shakespeare after the shooting — I forget just what — and pursued 
the gentleman downstairs from her attic room. When he got to the 
second floor he rushed into my father's room. It was this entrance, and 
not the shot or the shouting, that aroused father, a deep sleeper always. 
"Get me out of here!" shouted the victim. This situation rapidly de- 
veloped, from then on, into one of those bewildering involvements for 
which my family had, I am afraid, a kind of unhappy genius. When 
the cops arrived Dora was shooting out the Welsbach gas mantles in 
the living room, and her gentleman friend had fled. By dawn every- 
thing was quiet once more. 

There were others. Gertie Straub: big, genial, and ruddy, a collector 
of pints of rye (we learned after she was gone), who came in after 
two o'clock one night from a dancing party at Buckeye Lake and 
awakened us by bumping into and knocking over furniture. "Who's 
down there?" called mother from upstairs. "It's me, dearie," said 

326 



JAMES THURBER 327 

Gertie, "Gertie Straub." "What are you doing?" demanded mother. 
"Dusting," said Gertie. 

Juanemma Kramer was one of my favorites. Her mother loved the 
name Juanita so dearly that she had worked the first part of it into 
the names of all her daughters — they were (in addition to a Juanita) 
Juanemma, Juanhelen, and Juangrace. Juanemma was a thin, nervous 
maid who lived in constant dread of being hypnotized. Nor were her 
fears unfounded, for she was so extremely susceptible to hypnotic sug- 
gestion that one evening at B. F. Keith's theatre when a man on the 
stage was hypnotized, Juanemma, in the audience, was hypnotized 
too and floundered out into the aisle making the same cheeping sound 
that the subject on the stage, who had been told he was a chicken, 
was making. The act was abandoned and some xylophone players 
were brought on to restore order. One night, when our house was deep 
in quiet slumber, Juanemma became hypnotized in her sleep. She 
dreamed that a man "put her under" and then disappeared without 
"bringing her out." This was explained when, at last, a police surgeon 
whom we called in — he was the only doctor we could persuade to come 
out at three in the morning — slapped her into consciousness. It got so 
finally that any buzzing or whirring sound or any flashing object 
would put Juanemma under, and we had to let her go. I was reminded 
of her recently when, at a performance of the movie "Rasputin and 
the Empress," there came the scene in which Lionel Barrymore as the 
unholy priest hypnotizes the Czarevitch by spinning before his eyes a 
glittering watch. If Juanemma sat in any theatre and witnessed that 
scene she must, I am sure, have gone under instantly. Happily, she 
seems to have missed the picture, for otherwise Mr. Barrymore might 
have had to dress up again as Rasputin (which God forbid) and jour- 
ney across the country to get her out of it — excellent publicity but a 
great bother. 

Before I go on to Vashti, whose last name I forget, I will look in 
passing at another of our white maids (Vashti was colored). Belle 
Giddin distinguished herself by one gesture which fortunately did not 
result in the bedlam occasioned by Juanemma's hypnotic states or Dora 
Gedd's shooting spree. Belle burned her finger grievously, and pur- 
posely, one afternoon in the steam of a boiling kettle so that she could 






328 READING I'VE LIKED 

find out whether the pain-killer she had bought one night at a tent- 
show for fifty cents was any good. It was only fair. 

Vashti turned out, in the end, to be partly legendary. She was a 
comely and sombre negress who was always able to find things my 
mother lost. "I don't know what's become of my garnet brooch," my 
mother said one day. "Yassum," said Vashti. In half an hour she had 
found it. "Where in the world was it?" asked mother. "In de yahd," 
said Vashti. "De dog mussa drug it out." 

Vashti was in love with a young colored chauffeur named Charley, 
but she was also desired by her stepfather, whom none of us had ever 
seen but who was, she said, a handsome but messin' round gentleman 
from Georgia who had come north and married Vashti's mother just 
so he could be near Vashti. Charley, her fiance, was for killing the 
stepfather but we counselled flight to another city. Vashti, however, 
would burst into tears and hymns and vow she'd never leave us; she 
got a certain pleasure out of bearing her cross. Thus we all lived in 
jeopardy, for the possibility that Vashti, Charley, and her stepfather 
might fight it out some night in our kitchen did not, at times, seem 
remote. Once I went into the kitchen at midnight to make some cof- 
fee. Charley was standing at a window looking out into the backyard; 
Vashti was rolling her eyes. "Heah he come! Heah he come!" she 
moaned. The stepfather didn't show up, however. 

Charley finally saved up twenty-seven dollars toward taking Vashti 
away but one day he impulsively bought a .22 revolver with a mother- 
of-pearl handle and demanded that Vashti tell him where her mother 
and stepfather lived. "Doan go up dere, doan go up dere!" said Vashti. 
"Mah mothah is just as rarin' as he is!" Charley, however, insisted. It 
came out then that Vashti didn't have any stepfather; there was no 
such person. Charley threw her over for a yellow gal named Nancy: 
he never forgave Vashti for the vanishing from his life of a menace 
that had come to mean more to him than Vashti herself. Afterwards, 
if you asked Vashti about her stepfather or about Charley she would 
say, proudly, and with a woman-of-the-world air, "Neither one ob 'em 
is messin' round me any mo'." 

Mrs. Doody, a huge, middle-aged woman with a religious taint, 
came into and went out of our house like a comet. The second night 



JAMES THURBER 329 

she was there she went berserk while doing the dishes and, under the 
impression that father was the Antichrist, pursued him several times 
up the backstairs and down the front. He had been sitting quietly 
over his coffee in the living room when she burst in from the kitchen 
waving a bread knife. My brother Herman finally felled her with a 
piece of Libby's cut-glass that had been a wedding present of moth- 
er's. Mother, I remember, was in the attic at the time, trying to find 
some old things, and, appearing on the scene in the midst of it all, got 
the quick and mistaken impression that father was chasing Mrs. 
Doody. 

Mrs. Robertson, a fat and mumbly old colored woman, who might 
have been sixty and who might have been a hundred, gave us more 
than one turn during the many years that she did our washing. She 
had been a slave down South and she remembered having seen the 
troops marching — "a mess o' blue, den a mess o' gray." "What," my 
mother asked her once, "were they fighting about?" "Dat," said Mrs. 
Robertson, "Ah don't know." She had a feeling, at all times, that 
something wa^ going to happen. I can see her now, staggering up 
from the basement with a basketful of clothes and coming abruptly 
to a halt in the middle of the kitchen. "Hahk!" she would say, in a 
deep, guttural voice. We would all hark; there was never anything to 
be heard. Neither, when she shouted "Look yondah!" and pointed a 
trembling hand at a window, was there ever anything to be seen. 
Father protested time and again that he couldn't stand Mrs. Robertson 
around, but mother always refused to let her go. It seems that she was 
a jewel. Once she walked unbidden, a dishpan full of wrung-out 
clothes under her arm, into father's study, where he was- engrossed in 
some figures. Father looked up. She regarded him for a moment in 
silence. Then — "Look out!" she said, and withdrew. Another time, a 
murky winter afternoon, she came flubbering up the cellar stairs and 
bounced, out of breath, into the kitchen. Father was in the kitchen 
sipping some black coffee; he was in a jittery state of nerves from the 
effects of having had a tooth out, and had been in bed most of the 
day. "Dey is a death watch downstaihs!" rumbled the old colored 
lady. It developed that she had heard a strange "chipping" noise back 
of the furnace. "That was a cricket," said father. "Um-k," said Mrs. 



330 READING I'VE LIKED 

Robertson. "Dat was uh death watch!" With that she put on her hat 
and went home, poising just long enough at the back door to observe 
darkly to father, "Dey ain't no way!" It upset him for days. 

Mrs. Robertson had only one great hour that I can think of — Jack 
Johnson's victory over Mistah Jeffries on the Fourth of July, 1910. She 
took a prominent part in the colored parade through the South End 
that night, playing a Spanish fandango on a banjo. The procession was 
led by the pastor of her church who, Mrs. Robertson later told us, had 
'splained that the victory of Jack over Mistah Jeffries proved "de 'spe- 
riority ob de race." "What," asked my mother, "did he mean by that?" 
"Dat," said Mrs. Robertson, "Ah don't know." 

Our other servants I don't remember so clearly, except the one who 
set the house on fire (her name eludes me), and Edda Millmoss. 
Edda was always slightly morose, but she had gone along for months, 
all the time she was with us, quietly and efficiently attending to her 
work, until the night we had Carson Blair and F. R. Gardiner to dinner 
— both men of importance to my father's ambitions. Then suddenly, 
while serving the entree, Edda dropped everything and, pointing a 
quivering finger at father, accused him in a long rigmarole of having 
done her out of her rights to the land on which Trinity Church in 
New York stands. Mr. Gardiner had one of his "attacks" and the 
whole evening turned out miserably. 



y&yp- 



CHAPTER SEVEN 



THE DOG THAT BIT PEOPLE 



Probably no one man should have as many dogs in his life as I have 
had, but there was more pleasure than distress in them for me except 
in the case of an Airedale named Muggs. He gave me more trouble 
than all the other fifty-four or five put together, although my moment 
of keenest embarrassment was the time a Scotch terrier named Jeannie, 
who had just had six puppies in the clothes closet of a fourth floor 
apartment in New York, had the unexpected seventh and last at the 
corner of Eleventh Street and Fifth Avenue during a walk she had 
insisted on taking. Then, too, there was the prize-winning French 
poodle, a great big black poodle — none of your little, untroublesome 
white miniatures — who got sick riding in the rumble seat of a car with 
me on her way to the Greenwich Dog Show. She had a red rubber 
bib tucked around her throat and, since a rain storm came up when 
we were half way through the Bronx, I had to hold over her a small 
green umbrella, really more of a parasol. The rain beat down fearfully 
and suddenly the driver of the car drove into a big garage, filled with 
mechanics. It happened so quickly that I forgot to put the umbrella 
down and I will always remember, with sickening distress, the look 
of incredulity mixed with hatred that came over the face of the par- 
ticular hardened garage man that came over to see what we wanted, 
when he took a look at me and the poodle. All garage men, and peo- 
ple of that intolerant stripe, hate poodles with their curious hair cut, 
especially the pom-poms that you have got to leave on their hips if you 
expect the dogs to win a prize. 

But the Airedale, as I have said, was the worst of all my dogs. He 
really wasn't my dog, as a matter of fact: I came home from a vaca- 
tion one summer to find that my brother Roy had bought him while 

331 



332 READING I'VE LIKED 

I was away. A big, burly, choleric dog, he always acted as if he thought 
I wasn't one of the family. There was a slight advantage in being one 
of the family, for he didn't bite the family as often as he bit strangers. 
Still, in the years that we had him he bit everybody but mother, and 
he made a pass at her once but missed. That was during the month 
when we suddenly had mice, and Muggs refused to do anything 
about them. Nobody ever had mice exactly like the mice we had that 
month. They acted like pet mice, almost like mice somebody had 
trained. They were so friendly that one night when mother enter- 
tained at dinner the Friraliras, a club she and my father had belonged 
to for twenty years, she put down a lot of little dishes with food in 
them on the pantry floor so that the mice would be satisfied with that 
and wouldn't come into the dining room. Muggs stayed out in the 
pantry with the mice, lying on the floor, growling to himself — not at 
the mice, but about all the people in the next room that he would 
have liked to get at. Mother slipped out into the pantry once to see 
how everything was going. Everything was going fine. It made her 
so mad to see Muggs lying there, oblivious of the mice — they came 
running up to her — that she slapped him and he slashed at her, but 
didn't make it. He was sorry immediately, mother said. He was al- 
ways sorry, .she said, after he bit someone, but we could not under- 
stand how she figured this out. He didn't act sorry. 

Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people 
the Airedale bit. The list finally contained forty or more names. No- 
body could understand why we didn't get rid of the dog. I didn't 
understand it very well myself, but we didn't get rid of him. I think 
that one or two people tried to poison Muggs — he acted poisoned once 
in a while — and old Major Moberly fired at him once with his service 
revolver near the Seneca Hotel in East Broad Street — but Muggs lived 
to be almost eleven years old and even when he could hardly get 
around he bit a Congressman who had called to see my father on 
business. My mother had never liked the Congressman — she said the 
signs of his horoscope showed he couldn't be trusted (he was Saturn 
with the moon in Virgo) — but she sent him a box of candy that 
Christmas. He sent it right back, probably because he suspected it 
was trick candy. Mother persuaded herself it was all for the best 



JAMES THURBER 333 

that the dog had bitten him, even though father lost an important 
business association because of it. "I wouldn't be associated with such 
a man," mother said. "Muggs could read him like a book." 

We used to take turns feeding Muggs to be on his good side, but 
that didn't always work. He was never in a very good humor, even 
after a meal. Nobody knew exactly what was the matter with him, 
but whatever it was it made him irascible, especially in the mornings. 
Roy never felt very well in the morning, either, especially before 
breakfast, and once when he came downstairs and found that Muggs 
had moodily chewed up the morning paper he hit him in the face with 
a grapefruit and then jumped up on the dining room table, scattering 
dishes and silverware and spilling the coffee. Muggs' first free leap 
carried him all the way across the table and into a brass fire screen in 
front of the gas grate but he was back on his feet in a moment and in 
the end he got Roy and gave him a pretty vicious bite in the leg. Then 
he was all over it; he never bit anyone more than once at a time. 
Mother always mentioned that as an argument in his favor; she said 
he had a quick temper but that he didn't hold a grudge. She was 
forever defending him. I think she liked him because he wasn't well. 
"He's not strong," she would say, pityingly, but that was inaccurate; 
he may not have been well but he was terribly strong. 

One time my mother went to the Chittenden Hotel to call on a 
woman mental healer who was lecturing in Columbus on the subject 
of "Harmonious Vibrations." She wanted to find out if it was pos- 
sible to get harmonious vibrations into a dog. "He's a large tan-colored 
Airedale," mother explained. The woman said that she had never 
treated a dog but she advised my mother to hold the thought that he 
did not bite and would not bite. Mother was holding the thought the 
very next morning when Muggs got the iceman but she blamed that 
slip-up on the iceman. "If you didn't think he would bite you, he 
wouldn't," mother told him. He stomped out of the house in a ter- 
rible jangle of vibrations. 

One morning when Muggs bit me slightly, more or less in passing, 
I reached down and grabbed his short stumpy tail and hoisted him 
into the air. It was a foolhardy thing to do and the last time I saw 
my mother, about six months ago, she said she didn't know what pos- 



334 READING I'VE LIKED 

sessed me. I don't either, except that I was pretty mad. As long as I 
held the dog off the floor by his tail he couldn't get at me, but he 
twisted and jerked so, snarling all the time, that I realized I couldn't 
hold him that way very long. I carried him to the kitchen and flung 
him onto the floor and shut the door on him just as he crashed 
against it. But I forgot about the backstairs. Muggs went up the back- 
stairs and down the frontstairs and had me cornered in the living 
room. I managed to get up onto the mantelpiece above the fireplace, 
but it gave way and came down with a tremendous crash throwing 
a large marble clock, several vases, and myself heavily to the floor. 
Muggs was so alarmed by the racket that when I picked myself up 
he had disappeared. We couldn't find him anywhere, although we 
whistled and shouted, until old Mrs. Detweiler called after dinner 
that night. Muggs had bitten her once, in the leg, and she came into 
the living room only after we assured her that Muggs had run away. 
She had just seated herself when, with a great growling and scratch- 
ing of claws, Muggs emerged from under a davenport where he had 
been quietly hiding all the time, and bit her again. Mother examined 
the bite and put arnica on it and told Mrs. Detweiler that it was only 
a bruise. "He just bumped you," she said. But Mrs. Detweiler left the 
house in a nasty state of mind. 

Lots of people reported our Airedale to the police but my father 
held a municipal office at the time and was on friendly terms with 
the police. Even so, the cops had been out a couple of times — once 
when Muggs bit Mrs. Rufus Sturtevant and again when he bit Lieu- 
tenant-Governor Malloy — but mother told them that it hadn't been 
Muggs' fault but the fault of the people who were bitten. "When he 
starts for them, they scream," she explained, "and that excites him." 
The cops suggested that it might be a good idea to tie the dog up, 
but mother said that it mortified him to be tied up and that he 
wouldn't eat when he was tied up. 

Muggs at his meals was an unusual sight. Because of the fact that if 
you reached toward the floor he would bite you, we usually put his 
food plate on top of an old kitchen table with a bench alongside the 
table. Muggs would stand on the bench and eat. I remember that my 
mother's Uncle Horatio, who boasted that he was the third man up 



JAMES THURBER 335 

Missionary Ridge, was splutteringly indignant when he found out 
that we fed the dog on a table because we were afraid to put his plate 
on the floor. He said he wasn't afraid of any dog that ever lived and 
that he would put the dog's plate on the floor if we would give it to 
him. Roy said that if Uncle Horatio had fed Muggs on the ground 
just before the battle he would have been the first man up Missionary 
Ridge. Uncle Horatio was furious. "Bring him in! Bring him in 

now!" he shouted. "I'll feed the on the floor!" Roy was all for 

giving him a chance, but my father wouldn't hear of it. He said that 
Muggs had already been fed. "I'll feed him again!" bawled Uncle 
Horatio. We had quite a time quieting him. 

In his last year Muggs used to spend practically all of his time out- 
doors. He didn't like to stay in the house for some reason or other — 
perhaps it held too many unpleasant memories for him. Anyway, it 
was hard to get him to come in and as a result the garbage man, the 
iceman, and the laundryman wouldn't come near the house. We had 
to haul the garbage down to the corner, take the laundry out and 
bring it back, and meet the iceman a block from home. After this 
had gone on for some time we hit on an ingenious arrangement for 
getting the dog in the house so that we could lock him up while the 
gas meter was read, and so on. Muggs was afraid of only one thing, 
an electrical storm. Thunder and lightning frightened him out of his 
senses (I think he thought a storm had broken the day the mantel- 
piece fell). He would rush into the house and hide under a bed or in 
a clothes closet. So we fixed up a thunder machine out of a long nar- 
row piece of sheet iron with a wooden handle on one end. Mother 
would shake this vigorously when she wanted to get Muggs into the 
house. It made an excellent imitation of thunder, but I suppose it was 
the most roundabout system for running a household that was ever 
devised. It took a lot out of mother. 

A few months before Muggs died, he got to "seeing things." He 
would rise slowly from the floor, growling low, and stalk stiff-legged 
and menacing toward nothing at all. Sometimes the Thing would be 
just a little to the right or left of a visitor. Once a Fuller Brush sales- 
man got hysterics. Muggs came wandering into the room like Hamlet 
following his father's ghost.* His eyes were fixed on a spot just to the 



336 READING I'VE LIKED 

left of the Fuller Brush man, who stood it until Muggs was about 
three slow, creeping paces from him. Then he shouted. Muggs wav- 
ered on past him into the hallway grumbling to himself but the 
Fuller man went on shouting. I think mother had to throw a pan of 
cold water on him before he stopped. That was the way she used to 
stop us boys when we got into fights. 

Muggs died quite suddenly one night. Mother wanted to bury him 
in the family lot under a marble stone with some such inscription as 
"Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" but we persuaded her it was 
against the law. In the end we just put up a smooth board above his 
grave along a lonely road. On the board I wrote with an indelible 
pencil "Cave Canem." Mother was quite pleased with the simple 
classic dignity of the old Latin epitaph. 






CHAPTER EIGHT 



UNIVERSITY DAYS 



I passed all the other courses that I took at my University, but I could 
never pass botany. This was because all botany students had to spend 
several hours a week in a laboratory looking through a microscope at 
plant cells, and I could never see through a microscope. I never once 
saw a cell through a microscope. This used to enrage my instructor. 
He would wander around the laboratory pleased with the progress 
all the students were making in drawing the involved and, so I am 
told, interesting structure of flower cells, until he came to me. I would 
just be standing there. "I can't see anything," I would say. He would 
begin patiently enough, explaining how anybody can see through a 
microscope, but he would always end up in fury, claiming that I could 
too see through a microscope but just pretended that I couldn't. "It 
takes away from the beauty of flowers anyway," I used to tell him. 
"We are not concerned with beauty in this course," he would say. "We 
are concerned solely with what I may call the mechanics of flars." 
"Well," I'd say, "I can't see anything." "Try it just once again," he'd 
say, and I would put my eye to the microscope and see nothing at all, 
except now and again a nebulous milky substance — a phenomenon of 
maladjustment. You were supposed to see a vivid, restless clockwork 
of sharply defined plant cells. "I see what looks like a lot of milk," I 
would tell him. This, he claimed, was the result of my not having ad- 
justed the microscope properly, so he would readjust it for me, or 
rather, for himself. And I would look again and see milk. 

I finally took a deferred pass, as they called it, and waited a year and 
tried again. (You had to pass one of the biological sciences or you 
couldn't graduate.) The professor had come back from vacation brown 
as a berry, bright-eyed, and eager to explain cell-structure again to his 

337 



338 READING I'VE LIKED 

classes. "Well," he said to me, cheerily, when we met in the first lab- 
oratory hour of the semester, "we're going to see cells this time, aren't 
we?" "Yes, sir," I said. Students to right of me and to left of me and 
in front of me were seeing cells; what's more, they were quietly draw- 
ing pictures of them in their notebooks. Of course, I didn't see any- 
thing. 

"We'll try it," the professor said to me, grimly, "with every adjust- 
ment of the microscope known to man. As God is my witness, I'll 
arrange this glass so that you see cells through it or I'll give up teach- 
ing. In twenty-two years of botany, I — " He cut off abruptly for he 
was beginning to quiver all over, like Lionel Barrymore, and he genu- 
inely wished to hold onto his temper; his scenes with me had taken a 
great deal out of him. 

So we tried it with every adjustment of the microscope known to 
man. With only one of them did I see anything but blackness or the 
familiar lacteal opacity, and that time I saw, to my pleasure and 
amazement, a variegated constellation of flecks, specks, and dots. 
These I hastily drew. The instructor, noting my activity, came back 
from an adjoining desk, a smile on his lips and his eyebrows high in 
hope. He looked at my cell drawing. "What's that?" he demanded, 
with a hint of a squeal in his voice. "That's what I saw," I said. "You 
didn't, you didn't, you didnW" he screamed, losing control of his 
temper instantly, and he bent over and squinted into the microscope. 
His head snapped up. "That's your eye!" he shouted. "You've fixed 
the lens so that it reflects! You've drawn your eye!" 

Another course that I didn't like, but somehow managed to pass, 
was economics. I went to that class straight from the botany class, 
which didn't help me any in understanding either subject. I used to 
get them mixed up. But not as mixed up as another student in my 
economics class who came there direct from a physics laboratory. He 
was a tackle on the football team, named Bolenciecwcz. At that time 
Ohio State University had one of the best football teams in the coun- 
try, and Bolenciecwcz was one of its outstanding stars. In order to be 
eligible to play it was necessary for him to keep up in his studies, a 
very difficult matter, for while he was not dumber than an ox he was 
not any smarter. Most of his professors were lenient and helped him 



JAMES THURBER 339 

along. None gave him more hints, in answering questions, or asked 
him simpler ones than the economics professor, a thin, timid man 
named Bassum. One day when we were on the subject of transporta- 
tion and distribution, it came Bolenciecwcz's turn to answer a question. 
"Name one means of transportation," the professor said to him. No 
light came into the big tackle's eyes. "Just any means of transporta- 
tion," said the professor. Bolenciecwcz sat staring at him. "That is," 
pursued the professor, "any medium, agency, or method of going from 
one place to another." Bolenciecwcz had the look of a man who is 
being led into a trap. "You may choose among steam, horse-drawn, or 
electrically propelled vehicles," said the instructor. "I might suggest the 
one which we commonly take in making long journeys across land." 
There was a profound silence in which everybody stirred uneasily, in- 
cluding Bolenciecwcz and Mr. Bassum. Mr. Bassum abruptly broke 
this silence in an amazing manner. "Choo-choo-choo," he said, in a 
low voice, and turned instantly scarlet. He glanced appealingly around 
the room. All of us, of course, shared Mr. Bassum's desire that Bolen- 
ciecwcz should stay abreast of the class in economics, for the Illinois 
game, one of the hardest and most important of the season, was only a 
week off. "Toot, toot, too-tooooooot!" some student with a deep voice 
moaned, and we all looked encouragingly at Bolenciecwcz. Somebody 
else gave a fine imitation of a locomotive letting off steam. Mr. Bassum 
himself rounded off the little show. "Ding, dong, ding, dong," he said, 
hopefully. Bolenciecwcz was staring at the floor now, trying to think, 
his great brow furrowed, his huge hands rubbing together, his face red. 

"How did you come to college this year, Mr. Bolenciecwcz?" asked 
the professor. "Chufia. chuffa, chufia. chuflfa." 

"M'father sent me," said the football player. 

"What on?" asked Bassum. 

"I git an 'lowance," said the tackle, in a low, husky voice, obviously 
embarrassed. 

"No, no," said Bassum. "Name a means of transportation. What did 
you ride here on?" 

"Train," said Bolenciecwcz. 

"Quite right," said the professor. "Now, Mr. Nugent, will you tell 
us " 



340 READING I'VE LIKED 

If I went through anguish in botany and economics — for different 
reasons — gymnasium work was even worse. I don't even like to think 
about it. They wouldn't let you play games or join in the exercises 
with your glasses on and I couldn't see with mine off. I bumped into 
professors, horizontal bars, agricultural students, and swinging iron 
rings. Not being able to see, I could take it but I couldn't dish it out. 
Also, in order to pass gymnasium (and you had to pass it to graduate) 
you had to learn to swim if you didn't know how. I didn't like the 
swimming pool, I didn't like swimming, and I didn't like the swim- 
ming instructor, and after all these years I still don't. I never swam 
but I passed my gym work anyway, by having another student give 
my gymnasium number (978) and swim across the pool in my place. 
He was a quiet, amiable blond youth, number 473, and he would 
have seen through a microscope for me if we could have got away 
with it, but we couldn't get away with it. Another thing I didn't like 
about gymnasium work was that they made you strip the day you 
registered. It is impossible for me to be happy when I am stripped and 
being asked a lot of questions. Still, I did better than a lanky agricul- 
tural student who was cross-examined just before I was. They asked 
each student what college he was in — that is, whether Arts, Engineer- 
ing, Commerce, or Agriculture. "What college are you in?" the in- 
structor snapped at the youth in front of me. "Ohio State University," 
he said promptly. 

It wasn't that agricultural student but it was another a whole lot 
like him who decided to take up journalism, possibly on the ground 
that when farming went to hell he could fall back on newspaper work. 
He didn't realize, of course, that that would be very much like falling 
back full-length on a kit of carpenter's tools. Haskins didn't seem cut 
out for journalism, being too embarrassed to talk to anybody and un- 
able to use a typewriter, but the editor of the college paper assigned 
him to the cow barns, the sheep house, the horse pavilion, and the 
animal husbandry department generally. This was a genuinely big 
"beat," for it took up five times as much ground and got ten times as 
great a legislative appropriation as the College of Liberal Arts. The 
agricultural student knew animals, but nevertheless his stories were 



JAMES THURBER 341 

dull and colorlessly written. He took all afternoon on each of them, 
on account of having to hunt for each letter on the typewriter. Once 
in a while he had to ask somebody to help him hunt. "C" and "L," in 
particular, were hard letters for him to find. His editor finally got 
pretty much annoyed at the farmer-journalist because his pieces were 
so uninteresting. "See here, Haskins," he snapped at him one day. 
"Why is it we never have anything hot from you on the horse pavil- 
ion ? Here we have two hundred head of horses on this campus — more 
than any other university in the Western Conference except Purdue — 
and yet you never get any real lowdown on them. Now shoot over 
to the horse barns and dig up something lively." Haskins shambled out 
and came back in about an hour; he said he had something. "Well, 
start it off snappily," said the editor. "Something people will read." 
Haskins set to work and in a couple of hours brought a sheet of type- 
written paper to the desk; it was a two-hundred- word story about 
some disease that had broken out among the horses. Its opening sen- 
tence was simple but arresting. It read: "Who has noticed the sores on 
the tops of the horses in the animal husbandry building?" 

Ohio State was a land grant university and therefore two years of 
military drill was compulsory. We drilled with old Springfield rifles 
and studied the tactics of the Civil War even though the World War 
was going on at the time. At n o'clock each morning thousands of 
freshmen and sophomores used to deploy over the campus, moodily 
creeping up on the old chemistry building. It was good training for 
the kind of warfare that was waged at Shiloh but it had no connection 
with what was going on in Europe. Some people used to think there 
was German money behind it, but they didn't dare say so or they 
would have been thrown in jail as German spies. It was a period of 
muddy thought and marked, I believe, the decline of higher educa- 
tion in the Middle West. 

As a soldier I was never any good at all. Most of the cadets were 
glumly indifferent soldiers, but I was no good at all. Once General 
Littlefield, who was commandant of the cadet corps, popped up in 
front of me during regimental drill and snapped, "You are the main 
trouble with this university!" I think he meant that my type was the 



342 READING I'VE LIKED 

main trouble with the university, out ne may have meant me indi- 
vidually. I was mediocre at drill, certainly — that is, until my senior 
year. By that time I had drilled longer than anybody else in the West- 
ern Conference, having failed at military at the end of each preceding 
year so that I had to do it all over again. I was the only senior still in 
uniform. The uniform which, when new, had made me look like an 
interurban railwav conductor, now that it had become faded and too 
tight made me look like Bert Williams in his bell-boy act. This had a 
definitely bad effect on my morale. Even so, I had become by sheer 
practise little short of wonderful at squad manoeuvres. 

One day General Littlefield picked our company out of the whole 
regiment and tried to get it mixed up by putting it through one move- 
ment after another as fast as we could execute them: squads right, 
squads left, squads on right into line, squads right about, squads left 
front into line, etc. In about three minutes one hundred and nine men 
were marching in one direction and I was marching away from them 
at an angle of forty degrees, all alone. "Company, halt!" shouted Gen- 
eral Littlefield. "That man is the only man who has it right!" I was 
made a corporal for my achievement. 

The next day General Littlefield summoned me to his office. He was 
swatting flies when I went in. I was silent and he was silent too, for 
a long time. I don't think he remembered me or why he had sent for 
me, but he didn't want to admit it. He swatted some more flies, keep- 
ing his eyes on them narrowly before he let go with the swatter. "But- 
ton your coat!" he snapped. Looking back on it now I can see that he 
meant me although he was looking at a fly, but I just stood there. An- 
other fly came to rest on a paper in front of the general and began 
rubbing its hind legs together. The general lifted the swatter cau- 
tiously. I moved restlessly and the fly flew away. "You startled him!" 
barked General Littlefield, looking at me severely. I said I was sorry. 
"That won't help the situation!" snapped the General, with cold 
military logic. I didn't sec what I could do except ofTer to chase some 
more flies toward his desk, but I didn't say anything. He stared out 
the window at the faraway figures of co-eds crossing the campus to- 
ward the library. Finally, he told me I could go. So I went. Lie either 



JAMES THURBER 343 

didn't know which cadet I was or else he forgot what he wanted to 
see me about. It may have been that he wished to apologize for having 
called me the main trouble with the university; or maybe he had de- 
cided to compliment me on my brilliant drilling of the day before and 
then at the last minute decided not to. I don't know. I don't think 
about it much any more. 



CHAPTER NINE 



DRAFT BOARD NIGHTS 



I left the University in June, 191 8, but I couldn't get into the army 
on account of my sight, just as grandfather couldn't get in on account 
of his age. He applied several times and each time he took off his coat 
and threatened to whip the men who said he was too old. The disap- 
pointment of not getting to Germany (he saw no sense in everybody 
going to France) and the strain of running around town seeing influ- 
ential officials finally got him down in bed. He had wanted to lead a 
division and his chagrin at not even being able to enlist as a private 
was too much for him. His brother Jake, some fifteen years younger 
than he was, sat up at night with him after he took to bed, because we 
were afraid he might leave the house without even putting on his 
clothes. Grandfather was against the idea of Jake watching over him — 
he thought it was a lot of tomfoolery — but Jake hadn't been able to 
sleep at night for twenty-eight years, so he was the perfect person for 
such a vigil. 

On the third night, grandfather was wakeful. He would open his 
eyes, look at Jake, and close them again, frowning. He never an- 
swered any question Jake asked him. About four o'clock that morn- 
ing, he caught his brother sound asleep in the big leather chair beside 
the bed. When once Jake did fall asleep he slept deeply, so that grand- 
father was able to get up, dress himself, undress Jake, and put him in 
bed without waking him. When my Aunt Florence came into the 
room at seven o'clock, grandfather was sitting in the chair reading the 
Memoirs of U. S. Grant and Jake was sleeping in the bed. "He watched 
while I slept," said grandfather, "so now I'm watchin' while he 
sleeps." It seemed fair enough. 

One reason we didn't want grandfather to roam around at night 

" 34-4 



JAMES THURBER 345 

was that he had said something once or twice about going over to Lan- 
caster, his old home town, and putting his problem up to "Cump" — 
that is, General William Tecumseh Sherman, also an old Lancaster 
boy. We knew that his inability to find Sherman would be bad for him 
and we were afraid that he might try to get there in the little electric 
runabout that had been bought for my grandmother. She had become, 
surprisingly enough, quite skilful at getting around town in it. 
Grandfather was astonished and a little indignant when he saw her 
get into the contraption and drive off smoothly and easily. It was her 
first vehicular triumph over him in almost fifty years of married life 
and he determined to learn to drive the thing himself. A famous old 
horseman, he approached it as he might have approached a wild colt. 
His brow would darken and he would begin to curse. He always 
leaped into it quickly, as if it might pull out from under him if he 
didn't get into the seat fast enough. The first few times he tried to run 
the electric, he went swiftly around in a small circle, drove over the 
curb, across the sidewalk, and up onto the lawn. We all tried to per- 
suade him to give up, but his spirit was aroused. "Git that goddam 
buggy back in the road!" he would say, imperiously. So we would 
manoeuver it back into the street and he would try again. Pulling too 
savagely on the guiding-bar — to teach the electric a lesson — was what 
took him around in a circle, and it was difficult to make him under- 
stand that it was best to relax and not get mad. He had the notion 
that if you didn't hold her, she would throw you. And a man who (or 
so he often told us) had driven a four-horse McCormick reaper when 
he was five years old did not intend to be thrown by an electric run- 
about. 

Since there was no way of getting him to give up learning to operate 
the electric, we would take him out to Franklin Park, where the road- 
ways were wide and unfrequented, and spend an hour or so trying to 
explain the differences between driving a horse and carriage and driv- 
ing an electric. He would keep muttering all the time; he never got 
it out of his head that when he took the driver's seat the machine flat- 
tened its ears on him, so to speak. After a few weeks, nevertheless, he 
got so he could run the electric for a hundred yards or so along a fairly 
straight line. But whenever he took a curve, he invariably pulled or 



346 READING I'VE LIKED 

pushed the bar too quickly and too hard and headed for a tree or a 
flower bed. Someone was always with him and we would never let him 
take the car out of the park. 

One morning when grandmother was all ready to go to market, she 
called the garage and told them to send the electric around. They said 
that grandfather had already been there and taken it out. There was a 
tremendous to-do. We telephoned Uncle Will and he got out his 
Lozier and we started oft to hunt for grandfather. It was not yet seven 
o'clock and there was fortunately little traffic. We headed for Franklin 
Park, figuring that he might have gone out there to try to break the 
car's spirit. One or two early pedestrians had seen a tall old gentleman 
with a white beard driving a little electric and cussing as he drove. We 
followed a tortuous trail and found them finally on Nelson Road, 
about four miles from the town of Shepard. Grandfather was standing 
in the road shouting, and the back wheels of the electric were deeply 
entangled in a barbed-wire fence. Two workmen and a farmhand were 
trying to get the thing loose. Grandfather was in a state of high wrath 
about the electric. "The backed up on me!" he told us. 

But to get back to the war. The Columbus draft board never called 
grandfather for service, which was a lucky thing for them because 
they would have had to take him. There were stories that several old 
men of eighty or ninety had been summoned in the confusion, but 
somehow or other grandfather was missed. He waited every day for 
the call, but it never came. My own experience was quite different. I 
was called almost every week, even though I had been exempted from 
service the first time I went before the medical examiners. Either they 
were never convinced that it was me or else there was some clerical 
error in the records which was never cleared up. Anyway, there was 
usually a letter for me on Monday ordering me to report for examina- 
tion on the second floor of Memorial Hall the following Wednesday 
at 9 p.m. The second time I went up, I tried to explain to one of the 
doctors that I had already been exempted. "You're just a blur to me," 
I said, taking ofT my glasses. "You're absolutely nothing to me," he 
snapped, sharply. 

I had to take oft all my clothes each time and jog around the hall 



JAMES THURBER 347 

with a lot of porters and bank presidents' sons and clerks and poets. 
Our hearts and lungs would be examined, and then our feet; and 
finally our eyes. That always came last. When the eye specialist got 
around to me, he would always say, "Why, you couldn't get into the 
service with sight like that!" "I know," I would say. Then a week or 
two later I would be summoned again and go through the same rig- 
marole. The ninth or tenth time I was called, I happened to pick up 
one of several stethoscopes that were lying on a table and suddenly, 
instead of finding myself in the line of draft men, I found myself in 
the line of examiners. "Hello, doctor," said one of them nodding. 
"Hello," I said. That, of course, was before I took my clothes ofif; I 
might have managed it naked, but I doubt it. I was assigned, or rather 
drifted, to the chest-and-lung section, where I began to examine every 
other man, thus cutting old Dr. Ridgeway's work in two. "I'm glad to 
have you here, doctor," he said. 

I passed most of the men that came to me, but now and then I 
would exempt one just to be on the safe side. I began by making each 
of them hold his breath and then say "mi, mi, mi, mi," until I no- 
ticed Ridgeway looking at me curiously. He, I discovered, simply 
made them say "ah," and sometimes he didn't make them say any- 
thing. Once I got hold of a man who, it came out later, had swallowed 
a watch — to make the doctors believe there was something wrong with 
him inside (it was a common subterfuge: men swallowed nails, hair- 
pins, ink, etc., in an effort to be let out). Since I didn't know what you 
were supposed to hear through a stethoscope, the ticking of the watch 
at first didn't surprise me, but I decided to call Dr. Ridgeway into 
consultation, because nobody else had ticked. "This man seems to 
tick," I said to him. He looked at me in surprise but didn't say any- 
thing. Then he thumped the man, laid his ear to his chest, and finally 
tried the stethoscope. "Sound as a dollar," he said. "Listen lower 
down," I told him. The man indicated his stomach. Ridgeway gave 
him a haughty, indignant look. "That is for the abdominal men to 
worry about," he said, and moved of?. A few minutes later, Dr. Blythe 
Ballomy got around to the man and listened, but he didn't blink an 
eye; his grim expression never changed. "You have swallowed a watch, 
my man," he said, crisply. The draftee reddened in embarrassment 



348 READING I'VE LIKED 

and uncertainty. "On purpose?" he asked. "That I can't say," the doc- 
tor told him, and went on. 

I served with the draft board for about four months. Until the sum- 
monses ceased, I couldn't leave town and as long as I stayed and ap- 
peared promptly for examination, even though I did the examining, I 
felt that technically I could not be convicted of evasion. During the 
daytime, I worked as publicity agent for an amusement park, the man- 
ager of which was a tall, unexpected young man named Byron Landis. 
Some years before, he had dynamited the men's lounge in the state- 
house annex for a prank; he enjoyed pouring buckets of water on 
sleeping persons, and once he had barely escaped arrest for jumping 
off the top of the old Columbus Transfer Company building with a 
homemade parachute. 

He asked me one morning if I would like to take a ride in the new 
Scarlet Tornado, a steep and wavy roller-coaster. I didn't want to but 
I was afraid he would think I was afraid, so I went along. It was about 
ten o'clock and there was nobody at the park except workmen and at- 
tendants and concessionaires in their shirtsleeves. We climbed into one 
of the long gondolas of the roller-coaster and while I was looking 
around for the man who was going to run it, we began to move off. 
Landis, I discovered, was running it himself. But it was too late to get 
out; we had begun to climb, clickety-clockety, up the first steep incline, 
down the other side of which we careened at eighty miles an hour. 
"I didn't know you could run this thing!" I bawled at my companion, 
as we catapulted up a sixty-degree arch and looped headlong into 
space. "I didn't either!" he bawled back. The racket and the rush of 
air were terrific as we roared into the pitch-black Cave of Darkness 
and came out and down Monohan's Leap, so called because a work- 
man named Monohan had been forced to jump from it when caught 
between two approaching experimental cars while it was being com- 
pleted. That trip, although it ended safely, made a lasting impression 
on me. It is not too much to say that it has flavored my life. It is the 
reason I shout in my sleep, refuse to ride on the elevated, keep jerking 
the emergency brake in cars other people are driving, have the sensa- 



JAMES THURBER 349 

tion of flying like a bird wlien I first lie down, and in certain months 
can't keep anything on my stomach. 

During my last few trips to the draft board, I went again as a draft 
prospect, having grown tired of being an examiner. None of the doc- 
tors who had been my colleagues for so long recognized me, not even 
Dr. Ridgeway. When he examined my chest for the last time, I asked 
him if there hadn't been another doctor helping him. He said there 
had been. "Did he look anything like me?" I asked. Dr. Ridgeway 
looked at me. "I don't think so," he said, "he was taller." (I had my 
shoes oif while he was examining me.) "A good pulmonary man," 
added Ridgeway. "Relative of yours?" I said yes. He sent me on to Dr. 
Quimby, the specialist who had examined my eyes twelve or fifteen 
times before. He gave me some simple reading tests. "You could never 
get into the army with eyes like that," he said. "I know," I told him. 

Late one morning, shortly after my last examination, I was awak- 
ened by the sound of bells ringing and whistles blowing. It grew 
louder and more insistent and wilder. It was the Armistice. 






A NOTE AT THE END 



The hard times of my middle years I pass over, leaving the ringing 
bells of 1918, with all their false promise, to mark the end of a special 
sequence. The sharp edges of old reticences are softened in the auto- 
biographer by the passing of time — a man does not pull the pillow 
over his head when he wakes in the morning because he suddenly re- 
members some awful thing that happened to him fifteen or twenty 
years ago, but the confusions and the panics of last year and the year 
before are too close for contentment. Until a man can quit talking 
loudly to himself in order to shout down the memories of blunderings 
and gropings, he is in no shape for the painstaking examination of 
distress and the careful ordering of event so necessary to a calm and 
balanced exposition of what, exactly, was the matter. The time I fell 
out of the gun room in Mr. James Stanley's house in Green Lake, 
New York, is, for instance, much too near for me to go into with any 
peace of mind, although it happened in 1925, the ill-fated year of 
"Horses, Horses, Horses" and "Valencia." There is now, I under- 
stand, a porch to walk out onto when you open the door I opened 
that night, but there wasn't then. 

The mistaken exits and entrances of my thirties have moved me sev- 
eral times to some thought of spending the rest of my days wandering 
aimlessly around the South Seas, like a character out of Conrad, silent 
and inscrutable. But the necessity for frequent visits to my oculist and 
dentist has prevented this. You can't be running back from Singapore 
every few months to get your lenses changed and still retain the 
proper mood for wandering. Furthermore, my horn-rimmed glasses 
and my Ohio accent betray me, even when I sit on the terrasses of 
little tropical cafes, wearing a pith helmet, staring straight ahead, and 
twitching a muscle in my jaw. I found this out when I tried wandering 
around the West Indies one summer. Instead of being followed by 

550 



JAMES THURBER 351 

the whispers of men and the glances of women, I was followed by 
bead salesmen and native women with postcards. Nor did any dark 
girl, looking at all like Tondeleyo in "White Cargo," come forward 
and offer to go to pieces with me. They tried to sell me baskets. 

Under these circumstances it is impossible to be inscrutable and a 
wanderer who isn't inscrutable might just as well be back at Broad 
and High Streets in Columbus sitting in the Baltimore Dairy Lunch. 
Nobody from Columbus has ever made a first rate wanderer in the 
Conradean tradition. Some of them have been fairly good at disap- 
pearing fur a few days to turn up in a hotel in Louisville with a bad 
headache and no recollection of how they got there, but they always 
scurry back to their wives with some cock-and-bull story of having lost 
their memory or having gone away to attend the annual convention 
of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. 

There was, of course, even for Conrad's Lord Jim, no running away. 
The cloud of his special discomfiture followed him like a pup, no 
matter what ships he took or what wilderness he entered. In the path- 
ways between office and home and home and the houses of settled peo- 
ple there are always, ready to snap at you, the little perils of routine 
living, but there is no escape in the unplanned tangent, the sudden 
turn. In Martinique, when the whistle blew for the tourists to get back 
on the ship, I had a quick, wild, and lovely moment when I decided I 
wouldn't get back on the ship. I did, though. And I found that some- 
body had stolen the pants to my dinner jacket. 



R. B. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM 



COMMENTARY 



Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, who died in 10.36 at the age 
oi eighty-iour, could have been almost anything he pleased, had he 
wanted to. The essence oi his Hie and character lies in the iact that 
he did not want to. He might have been a successiul politician— 
with Keir Hardie he founded the Scottish Labor Party in 1890, and 
later served in Parliament. He might have been a notable explorer— 
in 1898, disguised as a Turkish doctor, he penetrated the mysterious 
fastnesses of Morocco. His ancestry, some say, made him the legiti- 
mate King of Scotland, but he never even cared to become the au- 
thentic grand laird appropriate to his station. He might have de- 
veloped into a leading socialist revolutionary— he spent two months 
in prison on a charge of attacking the police during the Bloody Sun- 
day riots in Trafalgar Square in November of 1887. And, finally, he 
might have become a great writer, had he devoted himself to the 
fob. 

But Cunninghame Graham, called by Conrad "the periection oi 
scorn, yy was the hidalgo type, holding a certain offhand amateurism 
the mark of true nobility of soul. In his life he did many things be- 
sides those I have listed. He was a rancher in the Argentine, a horse- 
trader for the British government, a fencing master in Mexico, a 
gentleman farmer in Scotland, and (what here concerns us) a vol- 
uminous writer oi essays, sketches, short stories, travel books, and 
biographies, most oi them on South American and Spanish themes. 

His Erst book came out when he was forty-three, and thereaiter 
he wrote only to please himself. His subjects were not popular and 
he was never widely read. This doubtless pleased him, as readers oi 
the essay which iollows will perceive. With what arrogant finality he 
writes, "Success, which touches nothing that it does not vulgarize, 
should be its own reward. In iact, rewards oi any kind are but vul- 
garities/ 7 This attitude he preserved all his liic. In London, during 
the great days oi The Saturday Review, he would occasionally turn 

352 



R. B. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM 353 

in a piece so brilliant that writers like George Bernard Shaw were 
glad that Cunninghame Graham's contributions were so infrequent, 
for had he put his mind to it he might have outshone all his col- 
leagues. 

But Cunninghame Graham preferred loneliness, a kind of noble 
melancholy, and the acquaintance of his own soul to pre-eminence in 
any of the fields he entered. He wanted to be Cunninghame Graham, 
not a writer, or a politician, or a farmer. He expressed himself pri- 
marily in action. Words, though he handled them so superbly, were 
a by-product. He belongs with Englishmen like Doughty, Richard 
Burton, T. E. Lawrence— solitary creatures, flawed artists, geniuses 
of adventure. His spiritual affiliations were largely with the Spanish 
conquistadores whose lives he studied so carefully. He was indeed 
more Spanish than Scottish. His grandmother was Spanish and he 
spoke Castilian before he learned English. But he acted Castilian 
all his life. 

The piece I have chosen for this collection shows him at his 
most characteristic. It is a successful attack on success, the perfect 
expression of quixotism and the immortal charm of dead causes. As 
a piece of writing it seems to me marvelously effective, muscular with 
magnificent phrases (' l the stolid Georges . . . sunk in their pudding 
and prosperity," "the prosperous Elizabeth, after a life of honours 
unwillingly surrendering her cosmetics up to death in a state bed"). 
Its picture of the deserted Cuban beach and the skeleton of the 
Spanish general has the grandeur of all truly chosen symbols. The 
prose has the ring of steel. 



W~* n±r n±r o±r o±r n±r air a$r Of/ 1 



^£_y^$_ Ji& .^\.Jt^^ j^^ji^^ji^ i^ j2v j2\. 



success 

BY 

R. B. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM 



Success, which touches nothing that it does not vulgarize, should be 
its own reward. In fact, rewards of any kind are but vulgarities. 

We applaud successful folk, and straight forget them, as we do 
ballet-dancers, actors, and orators. They strut their little hour, and then 
are relegated to peerages, to baronetcies, to books of landed gentry, 
and the like. 

Quick triumphs make short public memories. Triumph itself only 
endures the time the triumphal car sways through the street. Your nine 
days' wonder is a sort of five-legged calf, or a two-headed nightingale, 
and of the nature of a calculating boy — a seven months' prodigy, born 
out of time to his own undoing and a mere wonderment for gaping 
dullards who dislocate their jaws in ecstasy of admiration and then 
start out to seek new idols to adore. We feel that after all the successful 
man is fortune's wanton, and that good luck and he have but been 
equal to two common men. Poverty, many can endure with dignity. 
Success, how few can carry oft", even with decency and without baring 
their innermost infirmities before the public gaze. 

Caricatures in bronze and marble, and titles made ridiculous by their 
exotic style we shower upon all those who have succeeded, in war, in 
literature, or art; we give them money, and for a season no African 
Lucullus in Park Lane can dine without them. Then having given, 
feel that we have paid for service rendered, and generally withhold 
respect. 

For those who fail, for those who have sunk still battling beneath 
the muddy waves of life, we keep our love, and that curiosity about 

354 



R. B. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM 355 

their lives which makes their memories green when the cheap gold is 
dusted over, which once we gave success. 

How few successful men are interesting! Hannibal, Alcibiades, with 
Raleigh, Mithridates, and Napoleon, who would compare them for a 
moment with their mere conquerors? 

The unlucky Stuarts, from the first poet king slain at the ball play, 
to the poor mildewed Cardinal of York, with all their faults, they leave 
the stolid Georges millions of miles behind, sunk in their pudding and 
prosperity. The prosperous Elizabeth, after a life of honours unwill- 
ingly surrendering her cosmetics up to death in a state bed, and Mary 
laying her head upon the block at Fotheringay after the nine and forty 
years of failure of her life (failure except of love), how many million 
miles, unfathomable seas, and sierras upon sierras separate them? 

And so of nations, causes and events. Nations there are as inter- 
esting in decadence, as others in their ten-percentish apogee are dull 
and commonplace. Causes, lost almost from the beginning of the 
world, but hardly yet despaired of, as the long struggle betwixt rich 
and poor, which dullards think eternal, but which will one day be re- 
solved, either by the absorption of the rich into the legions of the poor, 
or vice versa, still remain interesting, and will do so whilst the unequal 
combat yet endures. 

Causes gone out of vogue, which have become almost as ludicrous 
as is a hat from Paris of ten years ago; causes which hang in monu- 
mental mockery quite out of fashion, as that of Poland, still are more 
interesting than is the struggle between the English and the Germans, 
which shall sell gin and gunpowder to negroes on the Coast. 

Even events long passed, and which right-thinking men have years 
ago dismissed to gather dust in the waste spaces of their minds, may 
interest or repel according as they may make for failure or success. 

Failure alone can interest speculative minds. Success is for the mil- 
lions of the working world, who see the engine in eight hours arrive 
in Edinburgh from London, and marvel at the last improvement in 
its wheels. The real interest in the matters being the forgotten efforts 
of some alchemist who, with the majesty of law ever awake to burn 
him as a witch, with the hoarse laughter of the practical and business 



356 READING I'VE LIKED 

men still ringing in his ears, made his rude model o£ a steam engine, 
and perhaps lost his eyesight when it burst. 

On a deserted beach in Cuba, not far from El Caney, some travellers 
not long ago came on a skeleton. Seated in a rough chair, it sat and 
gazed upon the sea. The gulls had roosted on the collar bones, and 
round the feet sea-wreck and dulse had formed a sort of wreath. A 
tattered Spanish uniform still fluttered from the bones, and a cigar- 
box set beside the chair held papers showing that the man had been 
an officer of rank. One of these gave the password of the day when he 
had lost his life, and as the travellers gazed upon the bones, a land 
crab peeped out of a hole just underneath the chair. 

All up and down the coast were strewn the remnants of the pomp 
and circumstance of glorious war. Rifles with rusty barrels, the stocks 
set thick with barnacles, steel scabbards with bent swords wasted to 
scrap iron, fragments of uniforms and belts, ends of brass chains and 
bones of horses reft from their wind-swept prairies to undergo the 
agonies of transport in a ship, packed close as sardines in a box, and 
then left to die wounded with the vultures picking out their eyes. All, 
all, was there, fairly spread out as in a kindergarten, to point the lesson 
to the fools who write of war, if they had wit to see. Gun carriages 
half silted up with sand, and rusted broken Maxims, gave an air of 
ruin, as is the case wherever Titan man has been at play, broken his 
toys, and then set out to kill his brother fools. 

Withal nothing of dignity about the scene; a stage unskilfully set 
out with properties all go up on the cheap; even the ribs and trucks of 
the decaying ships of what once had been Admiral Cervera's fleet stood 
roasting in the sun, their port-holes just awash, as they once roasted in 
the flames which burned them and their crews. Nothing but desolation 
in the scene, and yet a desolation of a paltry kind, not caused by time, 
by famine, pestilence, or anything which could impart an air of "trag- 
edy, only the desolation made by those who had respectively sent their 
poor helots out to fight, staying themselves smug and secure at home, 
well within reach of the quotations of the Stock Exchange. 

So in his mouldering chair the general sat, his password antiquated 
and become as much the property of the first passer-bv as an advertise- 
ment of "liver pills." His uniform, no doubt his pride, all rags; his 



R. B. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM \ 357 

sword (bought at some outfitter's) long stolen away and sold for 
drink by him who filched it; but yet the sun-dried bones, which once 
had been a man, were of themselves more interesting than were his 
living conquerors with their cheap air of insincere success. 

The world goes out to greet the conqueror with flowers and with 
shouts, but first he has to conquer, and so draw down upon himself 
the acclamations of the crowd, who do not know that hundreds such 
as the man they stultify with noise have gloriously failed, and that the 
odium of success is hard enough to bear, without the added ignominy 
of popular applause. Who with a spark of humour in his soul can bear 
success without some irritation in his mind? But for good luck he 
might have been one of the shouters who run sweating by his car; 
doubts must assail him, if success has not already made him pachyder- 
matous to praise, that sublimate which wears away the angles of our 
self-respect, and leaves us smooth to catch the mud our fellows fling 
at us, in their fond adoration of accomplished facts. Success is but the 
recognition (chiefly by yourself) that you are better than your fellows 
are. A paltry feeling, nearly allied to the base scheme of punishments 
and of rewards which has made most faiths arid, and rendered actions 
noble in themselves mere huckstering affairs of fire insurance. 

If a man put his life in peril for the Victoria Cross, or pass laborious 
days in laboratories tormenting dogs, only to be a baronet at last, a 
plague of courage and laborious days. Arts, sciences, and literature, 
with all the other trifles in which hard-working idle men make occu- 
pations for themselves, when they lead to material success, spoil their 
professor, and degrade themselves to piecework at so many pounds 
an hour. 

Nothing can stand against success and yet keep fresh. Nations as 
well as individuals feel its vulgarizing power. Throughout all Europe, 
Spain alone still rears its head, the unspoiled race, content in philo- 
sophic guise to fail in all she does, and thus preserve the individual 
independence of her sons. Successful nations have to be content with 
their success, their citizens cannot be interesting. So many hundred 
feet of sanitary tubes a minute or an hour, so many wage-saving appli- 
cations of machinery, so many men grow rich; fancy a poet rich 
through rhyming, or a philosopher choked in banknotes, whilst writ- 



358 READING I'VE LIKED 

ing his last scheme of wise philosophy. Yet those who fail, no matter 
how ingloriously, have their revenge on the successful few, by having 
kept themselves free from vulgarity, or by having died unknown. 

A miner choked with firedamp in a pit, dead in the vain attempt to 
save some beer-mused comrade left behind entombed, cannot be vul- 
gar, even if when alive he was a thief. Your crass successful man who 
has his statue set up in our streets (apparently to scare away the 
crows), and when he dies his column and a half in penny cyclopaedias, 
turns interest to ashes by his apotheosis in the vulgar eye. 

But the forgotten general sitting in his chair, his fleshless feet just 
lapping in the waves, his whitening bones fast mouldering into dust, 
nothing can vulgarize him; no fool will crown him with a tin-foiled 
laurel wreath, no poetaster sing his praise in maudlin ode or halting 
threnody, for he has passed into the realm of those who by misfortune 
claim the sympathy of writers who are dumb. 

Let him sit on and rest, looking out on the sea, where his last vision 
saw the loss of his doomed country's fleet. 

An archetype of those who fail, let him still sit watching the gulls 
fly screaming through the air, and mark the fish spring and fall back 
again with a loud crash, in the still waters of the tropic beach. 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 

COMMENTARY 



On April 2, 1941, Virginia Woolf, fifty-nine years of age, left a note 
for her household and disappeared forever. Her suicide passed almost 
unremarked at a time when more momentous events were taking 
place every minute of the day. These events themselves may have 
helped her to her last exit, for her temperament, all delicate balance 
and vibration, was ill-adapted to the rough crash and strain of war. 
E. M. Forster said of her that she worked in a storm of atoms and 
seconds. But this is the Bomb Age. The atoms of personality, the 
seconds our individual hearts tick out, are crushed and dispersed 
under the impact of history being made too fast. 

Perhaps Virginia Woolf, author of a sheaf of essays and a scattered 
half-dozen novels, had completed her work. With her vanishing the 
Bloomsbury school she helped to make transiently famous may be 
said to have closed its gates. The best writers of her generation- 
Lawrence, Joyce, Strachey — are dead; a marriage has been arranged 
between Aldous Huxley and Hollywood; E. M. Forster, the Enest of 
living English novelists, is silent. Virginia Woolf's era is Enished — 
a stupid, shallow way of saying that at the moment critics and readers 
are not paying much attention to it. Perhaps it is no more and no 
less Enished than the preceding Edwardian era, which the essay 
here reprinted attacks with such charm and wit, if with only partial 
cogency. 

Literary essays are usually a kind of dead language, kept in circula- 
tion by the determined efforts of a minority group. They do not 
seem to be written for people, but are communications, often of 
high permanent value, from one specialist to another. When a writer 
breaks through this formal mold and speaks of literature not as if it 
were a "subject," like paleography, but a passion, like love or hunger, 
the result is an essay like Virginia Woolf s "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. 
Brown." Its references may date, but its ideas, presented without 

359 



360 READING I'VE LIKED 

benefit of literary jargon, do not. It still seems to me a sound ex- 
planation of why novelists are interested in people, what interests 
them, and how they make you interested. All novels begin, as Vir- 
ginia Woolf says, with an old lady in the corner opposite— the old 
lady she calls Mrs. Brown. 

The Bennetts, the Wellses, and the Galsworthys, she thinks, forget 
all about Mrs. Brown. It may he that she is too hard on them. It is 
true that their reputations have declined, that they overstuff their 
hooks, that they edify and prophesy as much as they create character. 
Yet The Old Wives' Tale, J think, will he read for many years, 
despite its upholstery, and the Wells who wrote The History of Mr. 
Polly has created character as freshly as, if more simply than, did 
any Bloomshurian. 

This does not controvert Virginia Woolf's thesis, of course, which 
stands even though she was a trifle unfair to her predecessors and 
perhaps a little rash in her confidence in her own generation. That 
great age of English literature on the verge of which she thought we 
were trembling in 1924 has not yet shown its head. Right now it 
looks as though it were indefinitely postponed. 

Her work, like that of D. H. Lawrence and Lytton Strachey, has 
fallen into eclipse. I think it is too delicate and febrile to last; her 
sensibility was so great as often to obscure the sense, except for 
initiates. She used a private language, which is merely a barrier to be 
overcome if, as in the case of James Joyce, the private language 
expresses a large and generous sense of life. I do not feel this to be 
the case in her own novels, but my own obtuseness may be at fault. 
At any rate, her novels are not read as much as once they were, but 
her literary comments, of which "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown' is 
one of the Enest, remain as fresh and pertinent as ever. 



Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown 

BY 

VIRGINIA WOOLF 



It seems to me possible, perhaps desirable, that I may be the only 
person in this room # who has committed the folly of writing, trying to 
write, or failing to write, a novel. And when I asked myself, as your 
invitation to speak to you about modern fiction made me ask myself, 
what demon whispered in my ear and urged me to my doom, a little 
figure rose before me — the figure of a man, or of a woman, who said, 
"My name is Brown. Catch me if you can." 

Most novelists have the same experience. Some Brown, Smith, or 
Jones comes before them and says in the most seductive and charming 
way in the world, "Come and catch me if you can." And so, led on by 
this will-o'-the-wisp, they flounder through volume after volume, 
spending the best years of their lives in the pursuit, and receiving for 
the most part very little cash in exchange. Few catch the phantom; 
most have to be content with a scrap of her dress or a wisp of her hair. 

My belief that men and women write novels because they are lured 
on to create some character which has thus imposed itself upon them 
has the sanction of Mr. Arnold Bennett. In an article from which I 
will quote he says : "The foundation of good fiction is character-creating 
and nothing else. . . . Style counts; plot counts; originality of outlook 
counts. But none of these counts anything like so much as the con- 
vincingness of the characters. If the characters are real the novel will 
have a chance; if they are not, oblivion will be its portion. . . ." And 
he goes on to draw the conclusion that we have no young novelists of 

*This essay was originally read before the Heretics club at Cambridge, May 18, 
1924.— C. F. 

361 



362 READING I'VE LIKED 

first-rate importance at the present moment, because they are unable 
to create characters that are real, true, and convincing. 

These are the questions that I want with greater boldness than dis- 
cretion to discuss to-night. I want to make out what we mean when 
we talk about "character" in fiction; to say something about the ques- 
tion of reality which Mr. Bennett raises; and to suggest some reasons 
why the younger novelists fail to create characters, if, as Mr. Bennett 
asserts, it is true that fail they do. This will lead me, I am well aware, 
to make some very sweeping and some very vague assertions. For the 
question is an extremely difficult one. Think how little we know about 
character — think how little we know about art. But, to make a clear- 
ance before I begin, I will suggest that we range Edwardians and 
Georgians into two camps; Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Gals- 
worthy I will call the Edwardians; Mr. Forster, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. 
Strachey, Mr. Joyce, and Mr. Eliot I will call the Georgians. And if I 
speak in the first person, with intolerable egotism, I will ask you to 
excuse me. I do not want to attribute to the world at large the opinions 
of one solitary, ill-informed, and misguided individual. 

My first assertion is one that I think you will grant — that every one 
in this room is a judge of character. Indeed it would be impossible to 
live for a year without disaster unless one practised character-reading 
and had some skill in the art. Our marriages, our friendships depend 
on it; our business largely depends on it; every day questions arise 
which can only be solved by its help. And now I will hazard a second 
assertion, which is more disputable perhaps, to the effect that on or 
about December, 1910, human character changed. 

I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and 
there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The 
change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, 
nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the 
year 1910. The first signs of it are recorded in the books of Samuel 
Butler, in The Way of All Flesh in particular; the plays of Bernard 
Shaw continue to record it. In life one can see the change, if I may use 
a homely illustration, in the character of one's cook. The Victorian 
cook lived like a leviathan in the lower depths, formidable, silent, ob- 
scure, inscrutable; the Georgian cook is a creature of sunshine and 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 363 

fresh air; in and out of the drawing-room, now to borrow The Daily 
Herald, now to ask advice about a hat. Do you ask for more solemn 
instances of the power of the human race to change? Read the Aga- 
memnon, and see whether, in process of time, your sympathies are not 
almost entirely with Clytemnestra. Or consider the married life of the 
Carlyles, and bewail the waste, the futility, for him and for her, of the 
horrible domestic tradition which made it seemly for a woman of 
genius to spend her time chasing beetles, scouring saucepans, instead 
of writing books. All human relations have shifted — those between 
masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And 
when human relations change there is at the same time a change in 
religion, conduct, politics, and literature. Let us agree to place one of 
these changes about the year 1910. 

I have said that people have to acquire a good deal of skill in char- 
acter-reading if they are to live a single year of life without disaster. 
But it is the art of the young. In middle age and in old age the art is 
practised mostly for its uses, and friendships and other adventures and 
experiments in the art of reading character are seldom made. But nov- 
elists differ from the rest of the world because they do not cease to be 
interested in character when they have learnt enough about it for 
practical purposes. They go a step further; they feel that there is some- 
thing permanently interesting in character in itself. When all the prac- 
tical business of life has been discharged, there is something about 
people which continues to seem to them of overwhelming importance, 
in spite of the fact that it has no bearing whatever upon their happi- 
ness, comfort, or income. The study of character becomes to them an 
absorbing pursuit; to impart character an obsession. Ajid this I find it 
very difficult to explain: what novelists mean when they talk about 
character, what the impulse is that urges them so powerfully every 
now and then to embody their view in writing. 

So, if you will allow me, instead of analyzing and abstracting, I will 
tell you a simple story which, however pointless, has the merit of being 
true, of a journey from Richmond to Waterloo, in the hope that I may 
show you what I mean by character in itself; that you may realize the 
different aspects it can wear; and the hideous perils that beset you 
directly you try to describe it in words. 



364 READING I'VE LIKED 

One night some weeks ago, then, I was late for the train and 
jumped into the first carriage I came to. As I sat down I had the 
strange and uncomfortable feeling that I was interrupting a conversa- 
tion between two people who were already sitting there. Not that they 
were young or happy. Far from it. They were both elderly, the woman 
over sixty, the man well over forty. They were sitting opposite each 
other, and the man, who had been leaning over and talking emphati- 
cally to judge by his attitude and the flush on his face, sat back and 
became silent. I had disturbed him, and he was annoyed. The elderly 
lady, however, whom I will call Mrs. Brown, seemed rather relieved. 
She was one of those clean, threadbare old ladies whose extreme tidi- 
ness — everything buttoned, fastened, tied together, mended and brushed 
up — suggests more extreme poverty than rags and dirt. There was 
something pinched about her — a look of suffering, of apprehension, 
and, in addition, she was extremely small. Her feet, in their clean little 
boots, scarcely touched the floor. I felt that she had nobody to support 
her; that she had to make up her mind for herself; that, having been 
deserted, or left a widow, years ago, she had led an anxious, harried 
life, bringing up an only son, perhaps, who, as likely as not, was by 
this time beginning to go to the bad. All this shot through my mind 
as I sat down, being uncomfortable, like most people, at travelling with 
fellow passengers unless I have somehow or other accounted for them. 
Then I looked at the man. He was no relation of Mrs. Brown's I felt 
sure; he was of a bigger, burlier, less refined type. He was a man of 
business, I imagined, very likely a respectable corn-chandler from the 
North, dressed in good blue serge with a pocket-knife and a silk hand- 
kerchief, and a stout leather bag. Obviously, however, he had an un- 
pleasant business to settle with Mrs. Brown; a secret, perhaps sinister 
business, which they did not intend to discuss in my presence. 

"Yes, the Crofts have had very bad luck with their servants,". Mr. 
Smith (as I will call him) said in a considering way, going back to 
some earlier topic, with a view to keeping up appearances. 

"Ah, poor people," said Mrs. Brown, a trifle condescendingly. "My 
grandmother had a maid who came when she was fifteen and stayed 
till she was eighty" (this was said with a kind of hurt and aggressive 
pride to impress us both perhaps). 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 365 

"One doesn't often come across that sort of thing nowadays," said 
Mr. Smith in conciliatory tones. 

Then they were silent. 

"It's odd they don't start a golf club there — I should have thought 
one of the young fellows would," said Mr. Smith, for the silence obvi- 
ously made him uneasy. 

Mrs. Brown hardly took the trouble to answer. 

"What changes they're making in this part of the world," said Mr. 
Smith looking out of the window, and looking furtively at me as 
he did so. 

It was plain, from Mrs. Brown's silence, from the uneasy affability 
with which Mr. Smith spoke, that he had some power over her which 
he was exerting disagreeably. It might have been her son's downfall, 
or some painful episode in her past life, or her daughter's. Perhaps she 
was going to London to sign some document to make over some prop- 
erty. Obviously against her will she was in Mr. Smith's hands. I was 
beginning to feel a great deal of pity for her, when she said, suddenly 
and inconsequently, 

"Can you tell me if an oak-tree dies when the leaves have been eaten 
for two years in succession by caterpillars?" 

She spoke quite brightly, and rather precisely, in a cultivated, in- 
quisitive voice. 

Mr. Smith was startled, but relieved to have a safe topic of conver- 
sation given him. He told her a great deal very quickly about plagues 
of insects. He told her that he had a brother who kept a fruit farm in 
Kent. He told her what fruit farmers do every year in Kent, and so on, 
and so on. While he talked a very odd thing happened. Mrs. Brown 
took out her little white handkerchief and began to dab her eyes. She 
was crying. But she went on listening quite composedly to what he 
was saying, and he went on talking, a little louder, a little angrily, as 
if he had seen her cry often before; as if it were a painful habit. At last 
it got on his nerves. He stopped abruptly, looked out of the window, 
then leant towards her as he had been doing when I got in, and said 
in a bullying, menacing way, as if he would not stand any more non- 
sense, 



366 READING I'VE LIKED 

"So about that matter we were discussing. It'll be all right? George 
will be there on Tuesday?" 

"We shan't be late," said Mrs. Brown, gathering herself together 
with superb dignity. 

Mr. Smith said nothing. He got up, buttoned his coat, reached his 
bag down, and jumped out of the train before it had stopped at Clap- 
ham Junction. He had got what he wanted, but he was ashamed of 
himself; he was glad to get out of the old lady's sight. 

Mrs. Brown and I were left alone together. She sat in her corner 
opposite, very clean, very small, rather queer, and suffering intensely. 
The impression she made was overwhelming. It came pouring out like 
a draught, like a smell of burning. What was it composed of — that 
overwhelming and peculiar impression? Myriads of irrelevant and in- 
congruous ideas crowd into one's head on such occasions; one sees the 
person, one sees Mrs. Brown, in the centre of all sorts of different 
scenes. I thought of her in a seaside house, among queer ornaments: 
sea-urchins, models of ships in glass cases. Her husband's medals were 
on the mantelpiece. She popped in and out of the room, perching on 
the edges of chairs, picking meals out of saucers, indulging in long, 
silent stares. The caterpillars and the oak-trees seemed to imply all that. 
And then, into this fantastic and secluded life, broke Mr. Smith. I saw 
him blowing in, so to speak, on a windy day. He banged, he slammed. 
His dripping umbrella made a pool in the hall. They sat closeted 
together. 

And then Mrs. Brown faced the dreadful revelation. She took her 
heroic decision. Early, before dawn, she packed her bag and carried it 
herself to the station. She would not let Smith touch it. She was 
wounded in her pride, unmoored from her anchorage; she came of 
gentlefolks who kept servants — but details could wait. The important 
thing was to realize her character, to steep oneself in her atmosphere. 
I had no time to explain why I felt it somewhat tragic, heroic, yet with 
a dash of the flighty, and fantastic, before the train stopped, and I 
watched her disappear, carrying her bag, into the vast blazing station. 
She looked very small, very tenacious; at once very frail and very 
heroic. And I have never seen her again, and I shall never know what 
became of her. 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 367 

The story ends without any point to it. But I have not told you this 
anecdote to illustrate either my own ingenuity or the pleasure of travel- 
ling from Richmond to Waterloo. What I want you to see in it is this. 
Here is a character imposing itself upon another person. Here is Mrs. 
Brown making someone begin almost automatically to write a novel 
about her. I believe that all novels begin with an old lady in the corner 
opposite. I believe that all novels, that is to say, deal with character, 
and that it is to express character — not to preach doctrines, sing songs, 
or celebrate the glories of the British Empire, that the form of the 
novel, so clumsy, verbose, and undramatic, so rich, elastic, and alive, 
has been evolved. To express character, I have said; but you will at 
once reflect that the very widest interpretation can be put upon those 
words. For example, old Mrs. Brown's character will strike you very 
differently according to the age and country in which you happen to 
be born. It would be easy enough to write three different versions of 
that incident in the train, an English, a French, and a Russian. The 
English writer would make the old lady into a "character"; he would 
bring out her oddities and mannerisms; her buttons and wrinkles; her 
ribbons and warts. Her personality would dominate the book. A French 
writer would rub out all that; he would sacrifice the individual Mrs. 
Brown to give a more general view of human nature; to make a more 
abstract, proportioned, and harmonious whole. The Russian would 
pierce through the flesh; would reveal the soul — the soul alone, wan- 
dering out into the Waterloo Road, asking of life some tremendous 
question which would sound on and on in our ears after the book was 
finished. And then besides age and country there is the writer's tem- 
perament to be considered. You see one thing in character, and I an- 
other. You say it means this, and I that. And when it comes to writing 
each makes a further selection on principles of his own. Thus Mrs. 
Brown can be treated in an infinite variety of ways, according to the 
age, country, and temperament of the writer. 

But now I must recall what Mr. Arnold Bennett says. He says that 
it is only if the characters are real that the novel has any chance of 
surviving. Otherwise, die it must. But, I ask myself, what is reality? 
And who are the judges of reality? A character may be real to Mr. 
Bennett and quite unreal to me. For instance, in this article he says 



368 READING I'VE LIKED 

that Dr. Watson in Sherloc\ Holmes is real to him: to me Dr. Watson 
is a sack stuffed with straw, a dummy, a figure of fun. And so it is 
with character after character — in book after book. There is nothing 
that people differ about more than the reality of characters, especially 
in contemporary books. But if you take a larger view I think that Mr. 
Bennett is perfectly right. If, that is, you think of the novels which 
seem to you great novels — War and Peace, Vanity Fair, Tristram 
Shandy, Madame Bovary, Pride and Prejudice, The Mayor of Caster- 
bridge, Villette — if you think of these books, you do at once think of 
some character who has seemed to you so real (I do not by that mean 
so lifelike) that it has the power to make you think not merely of it 
itself, but of all sorts of things through its eyes — of religion, of love, 
of war, of peace, of family life, of balls in county towns, of sunsets, 
moonrises, the immortality of the soul. There is hardly any subject of 
human experience that is left out of War and Peace it seems to me. 
And in all these novels all these great novelists have brought us to see 
whatever they wish us to see through some character. Otherwise, they 
would not be novelists; but poets, historians, or pamphleteers. 

But now let us examine what Mr. Bennett went on to say — he said 
that there was no great novelist among the Georgian writers because 
they cannot create characters who are real, true, and convincing. And 
there I cannot agree. There are reasons, excuses, possibilities which I 
think put a different colour upon the case. It seems so to me at least, 
but I am well aware that this is a matter about which I am likely to be 
prejudiced, sanguine, and near-sighted. I will put my view before you 
in the hope that you will make it impartial, judicial, and broad-minded. 
Why, then, is it so hard for novelists at present to create characters 
which seem real, not only to Mr. Bennett, but to the world at large? 
Why, when October comes round, do the publishers always fail to 
supply us with a masterpiece? 

Surely one reason is that the men and women who began writing 
novels in 1910 or thereabouts had this great difficulty to face — that there 
was no English novelist living from whom they could learn their busi- 
ness. Mr. Conrad is a Pole; which sets him apart, and makes him, 
however admirable, not very helpful. Mr. Hardy has written no novel 
since 1895. The most prominent and successful novelists in the year 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 369 

1910 were, I suppose, Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy. 
Now it seems to me that to go to these men and ask them to teach you 
how to write a novel — how to create characters that are real — is pre- 
cisely like going to a bootmaker and asking him to teach you how to 
make a watch. Do not let me give you the impression that I do not 
admire and enjoy their books. They seem to me of great value, and 
indeed of great necessity. There are seasons when it is more important 
to have boots than to have watches. To drop metaphor, I think that 
after the creative activity of the Victorian age it was quite necessary, 
not only for literature but for life, that someone should write the books 
that Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy have written. Yet 
what odd books they are! Sometimes I wonder if we are right to call 
them books at all. For they leave one with so strange a feeling of in- 
completeness and dissatisfaction. In order to complete them it seems 
necessary to do something — to join a society, or, more desperately, to 
write a cheque. That done, the restlessness is laid, the book finished; 
it can be put upon the shelf, and need never be read again. But with 
the work of other novelists it is different. Tristram Shandy or Pride 
and Prejudice is complete in itself; it is self-contained; it leaves one 
with no desire to do anything, except indeed to read the book again, 
and to understand it better. The difference perhaps is that both Sterne 
and Jane Austen were interested in things in themselves; in character 
in itself; in the book in itself. Therefore everything was inside the 
book, nothing outside. But the Edwardians were never interested in 
character in itself; or in the book in itself. They were interested in 
something outside. Their books, then, were incomplete as books, and 
required that the reader should finish them, actively and practically, 
for himself. 

Perhaps we can make this clearer if we take the liberty of imagining 
a little party in the railway carriage — Mr. Wells, Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. 
Bennett are travelling to Waterloo with Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Brown, I 
have said, was poorly dressed and very small. She had an anxious, 
harassed look. I doubt whether she was what you call an educated 
woman. Seizing upon all these symptoms of the unsatisfactory condi- 
tion of our primary schools with a rapidity to which I can do no jus- 
tice, Mr. Wells would instantly project upon the windowpane a vision 



370 READING I'VE LIKED 

of a better, breezier, jollier, happier, more adventurous and gallant 
world, where these musty railway carnages and fusty old women do 
not exist; where miraculous barges bring tropical fruit to Camberwell 
by eight o'clock in the morning; where there are public nurseries, foun- 
tains, and libraries, dining-rooms, drawing-rooms, and marriages; 
where every citizen is generous and candid, manly and magnificent, 
and rather like Mr. Wells himself. But nobody is in the least like Mrs. 
Brown. There are no Mrs. Browns in Utopia. Indeed I do not think 
that Mr. Wells, in his passion to make her what she ought to be, 
would waste a thought upon her as she is. And what would Mr. Gals- 
worthy see? Can we doubt that the walls of Doulton's factory would 
take his fancy? There are women in that factory who make twenty- 
five dozen earthenware pots every day. There are mothers in the Mile 
End Road who depend upon the farthings which those women earn. 
But there are employers in Surrey who are even now smoking rich 
cigars while the nightingale sings. Burning with indignation, stuffed 
with information, arraigning civilization, Mr. Galsworthy would only 
see in Mrs. Brown a pot broken on the wheel and thrown into the 
corner. Mr. Bennett, alone of the Edwardians, would keep his eyes in 
the carriage. He, indeed, would observe every detail with immense 
care. He would notice the advertisements; the pictures of Swanage and 
Portsmouth; the way in which the cushion bulged between the but- 
tons; how Mrs. Brown wore a brooch which had cost three-and-ten- 
three at Whitworth's bazaar; and had mended both gloves — indeed 
the thumb of the left-hand glove had been replaced. And he would 
observe, at length, how this was the non-stop train from Windsor 
which calls at Richmond for the convenience of middle-class residents, 
who can afTord to go to the theatre but have not reached the social 
rank which can afTord motor-cars, though it is true, there are occasions 
(he would tell us what), when they hire them from a company (he 
would tell us which). And so he would gradually sidle sedately to- 
wards Mrs. Brown, and would remark how she had been left a little 
copyhold, not freehold, property at Datchet, which, however, was 
mortgaged to Mr. Bungay the solicitor — but why should I presume to 
invent Mr. Bennett? Does not Mr. Bennett write novels himself? I 
will open the first book that chance puts in my way — Hilda Lessways. 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 371 

Let us see how he makes us feel that Hilda is real, true, and convinc- 
ing, as a novelist should. She shut the door in a soft, controlled way, 
which showed the constraint of her relations with her mother. She was 
fond of reading Maud; she was endowed with the power to feel in- 
tensely. So far, so good; in his leisurely, sure-footed way Mr. Bennett 
is trying in these first pages, where every touch is important, to show 
us the kind of girl she was. 

But then he begins to describe, not Hilda Lessways, but the view 
from her bedroom window, the excuse being that Mr. Skellorn, the 
man who collects rents, is coming along that way. Mr. Bennett pro- 
ceeds : 

"The bailiwick of Turnhill lay behind her; and all the murky dis- 
trict of the Five Towns, of which Turnhill is the northern outpost, 
lay to the south. At the foot of Chatterley Wood the canal wound in 
large curves on its way towards the undefiled plains of Cheshire and 
the sea. On the canal-side, exactly opposite to Hilda's window, was a 
flour-mill, that sometimes made nearly as much smoke as the kilns 
and the chimneys closing the prospect on either hand. From the flour- 
mill a bricked path, which separated a considerable row of new cot- 
tages from their appurtenant gardens, led straight into Lessways 
Street, in front of Mrs. Lessways' house. By this path Mr. Skellorn 
should have arrived, for he inhabited the farthest of the cottages." 

One line of insight would have done more than all those lines of 
description; but let them pass as the necessary drudgery of the novelist. 
And now — where is Hilda ? Alas. Hilda is still looking out of the win- 
dow. Passionate and dissatisfied as she was, she was a girl with an eye 
for houses. She often compared this old Mr. Skellorn with the villas 
she saw from her bedroom window. Therefore the villas must be de- 
scribed. Mr. Bennett proceeds: 

"The row was called Freehold Villas: a consciously proud name in 
a district where much of the land was copyhold and could only change 
owners subject to the payment of 'fines,' and to the feudal consent of 
a 'court' presided over by the agent of a lord of the manor. Most of 
the dwellings were owned by their occupiers, who, each an absolute 
monarch of the soil, niggled in his sooty garden of an evening amid 
the flutter of drying shirts and towels. Freehold Villas symbolized the 



372 READING I'VE LIKED 

final triumph of Victorian economics, the apotheosis of the prudent 
and industrious artisan. It corresponded with a Building Society Secre- 
tary's dream of paradise. And indeed it was a very real achievement. 
Nevertheless, Hilda's irrational contempt would not admit this." 

Heaven be praised, we cry! At last we are coming to Hilda herself. 
But not so fast. Hilda may have been this, that, and the other; but 
Hilda not only looked at houses, and thought of houses; Hilda lived 
in a house. And what sort of a house did Hilda live in? Mr. Bennett 
proceeds: 

"It was one of the two middle houses of a detached terrace of four 
houses built by her grandfather Lessways, the tea-pot manufacturer; 
it was the chief of the four, obviously the habitation of the proprietor 
of the terrace. One of the corner houses comprised a grocer's shop, and 
this house had been robbed of its just proportion of garden so that the 
seigneurial garden-plot might be triningly larger than the other. The 
terrace was not a terrace of cottages, but of houses rated at from twenty- 
six to thirty-six pounds a year; beyond the means of artisans and petty 
insurance agents and rent-collectors. And further, it was well built, 
generously built; and its architecture, though debased, showed some 
faint traces of Georgian amenity. It was admittedly the best row of 
houses in that newly settled quarter of the town. In coming to it out 
of Freehold Villas Mr. Skellorn obviously came to something superior, 
wider, more liberal. Suddenly Hilda heard her mother's voice. . . ." 

But we cannot hear her mother's voice, or Hilda's voice; we can 
only hear Mr. Bennett's voice telling us facts about rents and freeholds 
and copyholds and fines. What can Mr. Bennett be about? I have 
formed my own opinion of what Mr. Bennett is about — he is trying 
to make us imagine for him; he is trying to hypnotize us into the be- 
lief that, because he has made a house, there must be a person living 
there. With all his powers of observation, which are marvellous, with 
all his sympathy and humanity, which are great, Mr. Bennett has never 
once looked at Mrs. Brown in her corner. There she sits in the corner 
of the carriage — that carriage which is travelling, not from Richmond 
to Waterloo, but from one age of English literature to the next, for 
Mrs. Brown is eternal, Mrs. Brown is human nature, Mrs. Brown 
changes only on the surface, it is the novelists who get in and out — 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 373 

there she sits and not one of the Edwardian writers had so much as 
looked at her. They have looked very powerfully, searchingly, and 
sympathetically out of the window; at factories, at Utopias, even at the 
decoration and upholstery of the carriage; but never at her, never at 
life, never at human nature. And so they have developed a technique 
of novel-writing which suits their purpose; they have made tools and 
established conventions which do their business. But those tools are not 
our tools, and that business is not our business. For us those conven- 
tions are ruin, those tools are death. 

You may well complain of the vagueness of my language. What is 
a convention, a tool, you may ask, and what do you mean by saying 
that Mr. Bennett's and Mr. Wells's and Mr. Galsworthy's conventions 
are the wrong conventions for the Georgians ? The question is difficult : 
I will attempt a short cut. A convention in writing is not much differ- 
ent from a convention in manners. Both in life and in literature it is 
necessary to have some means of bridging the gulf between the hostess 
and her unknown guest on the one hand, the writer and his unknown 
reader on the other. The hostess bethinks her of the weather, for gen- 
erations of hostesses have established the fact that this is a subject of 
universal interest in which we all believe. She begins by saying that 
we are having a wretched May, and, having thus got into touch with 
her unknown guest, proceeds to matters of greater interest. So it is 
in literature. The writer must get into touch with his reader by putting 
before him something which he recognizes, which therefore stimulates 
his imagination, and makes him willing to cooperate in the far more 
difficult business of intimacy. And it is of the highest importance that 
this common meeting-place should be reached easily, almost instinc- 
tively, in the dark, with one's eyes shut. Here is Mr. Bennett making 
use of this common ground in the passage which I have quoted. The 
problem before him was to make us believe in the reality of Hilda 
Lessways. So he began, being an Edwardian, by describing accurately 
and minutely the sort of house Hilda lived in, and the sort of house 
she saw from the window. House property was the common ground 
from which the Edwardians found it easy to proceed to intimacy. In- 
direct as it seems to us, the convention worked admirably, and thou- 
sands of Hilda Lessways were launched upon the world by this 



374 READING I'VE LIKED 

means. For that age and generation, the convention was a good one. 

But now, if you will allow me to pull my own anecdote to pieces, 
you will see how keenly I felt the lack of a convention, and how seri- 
ous a matter it is when the tools of one generation are useless for the 
next. The incident had made a great impression on me. But how was 
I to transmit it to you? All I could do was to report as accurately as I 
could what was said, to describe in detail what was worn, to say, de- 
spairingly, that all sorts of scenes rushed into my mind, to proceed to 
tumble them out pell-mell, and to describe this vivid, this overmaster- 
ing impression by likening it to a draught or a smell of burning. To 
tell you the truth, I was also strongly tempted to manufacture a three- 
volume novel about the old lady's son, and his adventures crossing the 
Atlantic, and her daughter, and how she kept a milliner's shop in 
Westminster, the past life of Smith himself, and his house at Sheffield, 
though such stories seem to me the most dreary, irrelevant, and hum- 
bugging affairs in the world. 

But if I had done that I should have escaped the appalling effort of 
saying what I meant. And to have got at what I meant I should have 
had to go back and back and back; to experiment with one thing and 
another; to try this sentence and that, referring each word to my vision, 
matching it as exactly as possible, and knowing that somehow I had to 
find a common ground between us, a convention which would not 
seem to you too odd, unreal, and far-fetched to believe in. I admit that 
I shirked that arduous undertaking. I let my Mrs. Brown slip through 
my fingers. I have told you nothing whatever about her. But that is 
partly the great Edwardians' fault. I asked them — they are my elders 
and betters — How shall I begin to describe this woman's character? 
And they said, "Begin by saying that her father kept a shop in Har- 
rogate. Ascertain the rent. Ascertain the wages of shop assistants in the 
year 1878. Discover what her mother died of. Describe cancer. De- 
scribe calico. Describe — " But I cried, "Stop! Stop!" And I regret to 
say that I threw that ugly, that clumsy, that incongruous tool out of 
the window, for I knew that if I began describing the cancer and the 
calico, my Mrs. Brown, that vision to which I cling though I know no 
way of imparting it to you, would have been dulled and tarnished and 
vanished for ever. 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 375 

That is what I meant by saying that the Edwardian tools are the 
wrong ones for us to use. They have laid an enormous stress upon the 
fabric of things. They have given us a house in the hope that we may 
be able to deduce the human beings who live there. To give them their 
due, they have made that house much better worth living in. But if 
you hold that novels are in the first place about people, and only in the 
second about the houses they live in, that is the wrong way to set about 
it. Therefore, you see, the Georgian writer had to begin by throwing 
away the method that was in use at the moment. He was left alone 
there facing Mrs. Brown without any method of conveying her to the 
reader. But that is inaccurate. A writer is never alone. There is always 
the public with him — if not on the same seat, at least in the compart- 
ment next door. Now the public is a strange travelling companion. In 
England it is a very suggestive and docile creature, which, once you 
get it to attend, will believe implicitly what it is told for a certain 
number of years. If you say to the public with sufficient conviction, 
"All women have tails, and all men humps," it will actually learn to 
see women with tails and men with humps, and will think it very revo- 
lutionary and probably improper if you say "Nonsense. Monkeys have 
tails and camels humps. But men and women have brains, and they 
have hearts; they think and they feel," — that will seem to it a bad 
joke, and an improper one into the bargain. 

But to return. Here is the British public sitting by the writer's side 
and saying in its vast and unanimous way, "Old women have houses. 
They have fathers. They have incomes. They have servants. They have 
hot water bottles. That is how we know that they are old women. Mr. 
Wells and Mr. Bennett and Mr. Galsworthy have always taught us 
that this is the way to recognize them. But now with your Mrs. Brown 
— how are we to believe in her? We do not even know whether her 
villa was called Albert or Balmoral; what she paid for her gloves; or 
whether her mother died of cancer or of consumption. How can she be 
alive? No; she is a mere figment of your imagination." 

And old women of course ought to be made of freehold villas and 
copyhold estates, not of imagination. 

The Georgian novelist, therefore, was in an awkward predicament. 
There was Mrs. Brown protesting that she was different, quite differ- 



376 READING I'VE LIKED 

ent, from what people made out, and luring the novelist to her rescue 
by the most fascinating if fleeting glimpse of her charms; there were 
the Edwardians handing out tools appropriate to house building and 
house breaking; and there was the British public asseverating that they 
must see the hot water bottle first. Meanwhile the train was rushing 
to that station where we must all get out. 

Such, I think, was the predicament in which the young Georgians 
found themselves about the year 1910. Many of thern — I am thinking 
of Mr. Forster and Mr. Lawrence in particular — spoilt their early work 
because, instead of throwing away those tools, they tried to use them. 
They tried to compromise. They tried to combine their own direct 
sense of the oddity and significance of some character with Mr. Gals- 
worthy's knowledge of the Factory Acts, and Mr. Bennett's knowledge 
of the Five Towns. They tried it, but they had too keen, too overpow- 
ering a sense of Mrs. Brown and her peculiarities to go on trying it 
much longer. Something had to be done. At whatever cost of life, limb, 
and damage to valuable property Mrs. Brown must be rescued, ex- 
pressed, and set in her high relations to the world before the train 
stopped and she disappeared for ever. And so the smashing and the 
crashing began. Thus it is that we hear all round us, in poems and 
novels and biographies, even in newspaper articles and essays, the 
sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction. It is the pre- 
vailing sound of the Georgian age — rather a melancholy one if you 
think what melodious days there have been in the past, if you think 
of Shakespeare and Milton and Keats or even of Jane Austen and 
Thackeray and Dickens; if you think of the language, and the heights 
to which it can soar when free, and see the same eagle captive, bald, 
and croaking. 

In view of these facts — with these sounds in my ears and these fancies 
in my brain — I am not going to deny that Mr. Bennett has some reason 
when he complains that our Georgian writers are unable to make us 
believe that our characters are real. I am forced to agree that they do 
not pour out three immortal masterpieces with Victorian regularity 
every autumn. But instead of being gloomy, I am sanguine. For this 
state of things is, I think, inevitable whenever from hoar old age or 
callow youth the convention ceases to be a means of communication 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 377 

between writer and reader, and becomes instead an obstacle and an 
impediment. At the present moment we are suffering, not from decay, 
but from having no code of manners which writers and readers accept 
as a prelude to the more exciting intercourse of friendship. The literary 
convention of the time is so artificial — you have to talk about the 
weather and nothing but the weather throughout the entire visit — that, 
naturally, the feeble are tempted to outrage, and the strong are led to 
destroy the very foundations and rules of literary society. Signs of this 
are everywhere apparent. Grammar is violated; syntax disintegrated; 
as a boy staying with an aunt for the week-end rolls in the geranium 
bed out of sheer desperation as the solemnities of the Sabbath wear on. 
The more adult writers do not, of course, indulge in such wanton ex- 
hibitions of spleen. Their sincerity is desperate, and their courage tre- 
mendous; it is only that they do not know which to use, a fork or their 
fingers. Thus, if you read Mr. Joyce and Mr. Eliot you will be struck 
by the indecency of the one, and the obscurity of the other. Mr. Joyce's 
indecency in Ulysses seems to me the conscious and calculated inde- 
cency of a desperate man who feels that in order to breathe he must 
break the windows. At moments, when the window is broken, he is 
magnificent. But what a waste of energy! And, after all, how dull in- 
decency is, when it is not the overflowing of a super-abundant energy 
or savagery, but the determined and public-spirited act of a man who 
needs fresh air! Again, with the obscurity of Mr. Eliot. I think that 
Mr. Eliot has written some of the loveliest single lines in modern 
poetry. But how intolerant he is of the old usages and politenesses of 
society — respect for the weak, consideration for the dull! As I sun my- 
self upon the intense and ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and re- 
flect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next, and so 
on from line to line, like an acrobat flying precariously from bar to 
bar, I cry out, I confess, for the old decorums, and envy the indolence 
of my ancestors who, instead of spinning madly through mid-air, 
dreamt quietly in the shade with a book. Again, in Mr. Strachey's 
books, Eminent Victorians and Queen Victoria, the eflort and strain 
of writing against the grain and current of the times is visible too. It 
is much less visible, of course, for not only is he dealing with facts, 
which are stubborn things, but he has fabricated, chiefly from eight- 



378 READING I'VE LIKED 

eenth-century material, a very discreet code of manners of his own, 
which allows him to sit at table with the highest in the land and to 
say a great many things under cover of that exquisite apparel which, 
had they gone naked, would have been chased by the men-servants 
from the room. Still, if you compare Imminent Victorians with some of 
Lord Macaulay's essays, though you will feel that Lord Macaulay is 
always wrong, and Mr. Strachey always right, you will also feel a body, 
a sweep, a richness in Lord Macaulay's essays which show that his age 
was behind him; all his strength went straight into his work; none 
was used for purposes of concealment or of conversion. But Mr. 
Strachey has had to open our eyes before he made us see; he has had 
to search out and sew together a very artful manner of speech; and 
the effort, beautifully though it is concealed, has robbed his work of 
some of the force that should have gone into it, and limited his scope. 

For these reasons, then, we must reconcile ourselves to a season of 
failures and fragments. We must reflect that where so much strength 
is spent on finding a way of telling the truth the truth itself is bound 
to reach us in rather an exhausted and chaotic condition. Ulysses, 
Queen Victoria, Mr. Prufrock — to give Mrs. Brown some of the names 
she has made famous lately — is a little pale and dishevelled by the time 
her rescuers reach her. And it is the sound of their axes that we hear 
— a vigorous and stimulating sound in my ears — unless of course you 
wish to sleep, when, in the bounty of his concern, Providence has pro- 
vided a host of writers anxious and able to satisfy your needs. 

Thus I have tried, at tedious length, I fear, to answer some of the 
questions which I began by asking. I have given an account of some 
of the difficulties which in my view beset the Georgian writer in all 
his forms. I have sought to excuse him. May I end by venturing to 
remind you of the duties and responsibilities that are yours as partners 
in this business of writing books, as companions in the railway car- 
riage, as fellow-travellers with Mrs. Brown P For she is just as visible to 
you who remain silent as to us who tell stories about her. In the course 
of your daily life this past week you have had far stranger and more 
interesting experiences than the one I have tried to describe. You have 
overheard scraps of talk that filled you with amazement. You have 
gone to bed at night bewildered by the complexity of your feelings. 



VIRGINIA WOOLF 379 

In one day thousands of ideas have coursed through your brains; thou- 
sands of emotions have met, collided, and disappeared in astonishing 
disorder. Nevertheless, you allow the writers to palm off upon you a 
version of all this, an image of Mrs. Brown, which has no likeness to 
that surprising apparition whatsoever. In your modesty you seem to 
consider that writers are of different blood and bone from yourselves; 
that they know more of Mrs. Brown than you do. Never was there a 
more fatal mistake. It is this division between reader and writer, this 
humility on your part, these professional airs and graces on ours, that 
corrupt and emasculate the books which should be the healthy off- 
spring of a close and equal alliance between us. Hence spring those 
sleek, smooth novels, those portentous and ridiculous biographies, that 
milk-and-watery criticism, those poems melodiously celebrating the in- 
nocence of roses and sheep which pass so plausibly for literature at the 
present time. 

Your part is to insist that writers shall come down off their plinths 
and pedestals, and describe beautifully if possible, truthfully at any rate, 
our Mrs. Brown. You should insist that she is an old lady of unlimited 
capacity and infinite variety; capable of appearing in any place; wear- 
ing any dress; saying anything and doing heaven knows what. But the 
things she says and the things she does and her eyes and her nose and 
her speech and her silence have an overwhelming fascination, for she 
is, of course, the spirit we live by, life itself. 

But do not expect just at present a complete and satisfactory pre- 
sentment of her. Tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, 
the failure. Your help is invoked in a good cause. For I will make one 
final and surpassingly rash prediction — we are trembling on the verge 
of one of the great ages of English literature. But it can only be reached 
if we are determined never, never to desert Mrs. Brown. 



HON. JOHN M. WOOLSEY 



COMMENTARY 



James Joyce dedicated his first play, now lost, to his own soul. The 
gesture, marrying arrogance to humility, is the trademark of his 
career, recently ended. At twenty he left his countrymen— " the most 
belated race in Europe, 7 ' he overhitterly called them— and came 
home, as it were, to the Continent. At twenty, armed with the only 
weapons he permitted himself to use— ''silence, exile, and cunning" 
— he began his pilgrimage. 

I should think that James Joyce suffered more and longer than 
any other important artist of our time. Through it all, undetectable, 
he kept intact his obligations to his own genius. He was a romantic 
artist of a type now going out of fashion, one who admitted no 
values more imperative than those of his own creative drive. His life 
was one of poverty, discouragement, constant literary setbacks, mis- 
understanding, physical pain, and near-blindness. All this he bore, 
and out of it came Ulysses, several great short stories, Finnegans 
Wake (which I confess baffles me), and a personal influence that 
helped to revolutionize the literatures of half a dozen countries. 

For twelve years the customs authorities of our country refused to 
permit the entry of Ulysses, thus protecting you and me from the 
moral contamination that comes of contact with a masterpiece. 
Finally, on December 6, 1933, the ban was lifted by a decision of the 
United States District Court, the Honorable John M. Woolsey pre- 
siding. So at last we could all buy and read a long, difficult book 
which, from the point of view of the guardians of our morality, dif- 
fered dangerously from other books in that it contained a half-dozen 
monosyllables of all work which English-speaking men, women, and 
most children at the two extremes of society have been using with 
unthinking casualncss ever since the days of Henry VIII. So at last 
we could read this book, a whole literature in itself, the best and 
longest anecdote ever told about a Jew and an Irishman. 

The decision in which the government of this country sustained 
a glorious defeat at the hands of Judge Woolsey is classic. Its final 

380 



HON. JOHN M. WOOLSEY 381 

statement— "Ulysses may, therefore, be admitted into the United 
States"— is a declaration of historic importance, even though it only 
deals with a hook most people will never read. The Peter Zenger case 
at the time seemed unimportant, hut in retrospect we now realize it 
to he part of the charter of our liberties, for it established the prin- 
ciple of a free press. 

It is not usual for novelists to take judges seriously in their novels. 
It is even rarer for judges to take novelists seriously in their deci- 
sions. Judge Woolsey based his opinion not on narrow legalistic 
grounds but on literary ones. The principle underlying his decision— 
though he does not so enunciate it, for it is an esthetic and not a 
juridical principle— is that a great work of art cannot be pornography. 
The important part of his comment is that in which he demonstrates 
Ulysses to be a work of art. The description of Joyce's aims and 
method— you will find it in Section IV of the decision — is high-grade 
literary analysis which puts us professional boys to shame, so clear, 
just, and perceptive is it. I also call your attention to the fact that 
the judge is not without his moments of sly humor. In fact, the en- 
tire decision deserves to be called a piece of literature, and that is 
why I have included it here. 

The whole question of literary censorship will sooner or later be 
settled in one of two ways. A completely repressive government, such 
as that of Germany, will consider literature only in terms of its use- 
fulness to the power of the state. That means a censorship so rigid 
as to achieve in the end the slow death of literature itself. A com- 
pletely democratic government, which our grandchildren may live 
to see, will impose no restrictions at all. The legal definition of the 
word "obscene"— printed matter which tends "to stir the sex im- 
pulses"— is obviously ludicrous. The sex impulses of men and women 
are stirred daily by casual stimuli and suggestions that are far beyond 
the control of any regulating authority. .It will take a long time, but 
the human race will sooner or later reach the conclusion that it is no 
more vicious or unnatural to possess stirrable sex impulses than it is 
to possess a normal appetite for food and drink. When that day 
comes there will be no more Ulysses cases. The path to that future day 
is pointed out to us in our own time by such men as Judge Woolsey. 






dS-^Sl.. 






A Decision of the United States District Court 

Rendered December 6, 1933, by Hon. John M. 

Woolsey Lifting the Ban on "Ulysses" 



UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 

SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK 

United States of America, 

Libelant 

v. 

One Book Called "Ulysses" 

Random House, Inc., 

Claimant 



OPINION 

a. 110-59 



On cross motions for a decree in a libel of confiscation, supplemented 
by a stipulation — hereinafter described — brought by the United States 
against the boo\ "Ulysses" by fames Joyce, under Section 305 of the 
Tariff Act of 1930, Title 19 United States Code, Section 1305, on the 
ground that the boo\ is obscene within the meaning of that Section, 
and, hence, is not importable into the United States, but is subject to 
seizure, forfeiture and confiscation and destruction. 

United States Attorney — by Samuel C. Coleman, Esq., and Nicholas 
Atlas, Esq., of counsel — for the United States, in support of motion for 
a decree of forfeiture, and in opposition to motion for a decree dismiss- 
ing the libel. 

Messrs. Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst— by Morris L. Ernst, Esq., and 
Alexander Lindey, Esq., of counsel — attorneys for claimant Random 
House, Inc., in support of motion for a decree dismissing the libel, and 
in opposition to motion for a decree of forfeiture. 

382 



HON. JOHN M. WOOLSEY 383 

WOOLSEY, J: 

The motion for a decree dismissing the libel herein is granted, and, 
consequently, of course, the Government's motion for a decree of for- 
feiture and destruction is denied. 

Accordingly a decree dismissing the libel without costs may be en- 
tered herein. 

I. The practice followed in this case is in accordance with the sug- 
gestion made by me in the case of United States v. One Boo\ Entitled 
"Contraception" , 51 F. (2d) 525, and is as follows: 

After issue was joined by the filing of the claimant's answer to the 
libel for forfeiture against "Ulysses", a stipulation was made between 
the United States Attorney's office and the attorneys for the claimant 
providing: 

1. That the book "Ulysses" should be deemed to have been an- 
nexed to and to have become part of the libel just as if it had been 
incorporated in its entirety therein. 

2. That the parties waived their right to a trial by jury. 

3. That each party agreed to move for decree in its favor. 

4. That on such cross motions the Court might decide all the ques- 
tions of law and fact involved and render a general finding thereon. 

5. That on the decision of such motions the decree of the Court 
might be entered as if it were a decree after trial. 

It seems to me that a procedure of this kind is highly appropriate 
in libels for the confiscation of books such as this. It is an especially 
advantageous procedure in the instant case because on account of the 
length of "Ulysses" and the difficulty of reading it, a jury trial would 
have been an extremely unsatisfactory, if not an almost impossible, 
method of dealing with it. 

II. I have read "Ulysses" once in its entirety and I have read those 
passages of which the Government particularly complains several times. 
In fact, for many weeks, my spare time has been devoted to the con- 
sideration of the decision which my duty would require me to make 
in this matter. 

"Ulysses" is not an easy book to read or to understand. But there 



384 READING I'VE LIKED 

has been much written about it, and in order properly to approach the 
consideration of it it is advisable to read a number of other books 
which have now become its satellites. The study of "Ulysses" is, there- 
fore, a heavy task. 

III. The reputation of "Ulysses" in the literary world, however, war- 
ranted my taking such time as was necessary to enable me to satisfy 
myself as to the intent with which the book was written, for, of course, 
in any case where a book is claimed to be obscene it must first be de- 
termined, whether the intent with which it was written was what is 
called, according to the usual phrase, pornographic, — that is, written 
for the purpose of exploiting obscenity. 

If the conclusion is that the book is pornographic that is the end of 
the inquiry and forfeiture must follow. 

But in "Ulysses", in spite of its unusual frankness, I do not detect 
anywhere the leer of the sensualist. I hold, therefore, that it is not por- 
nographic. 

IV. In writing "Ulysses", Joyce sought to make a serious experiment 
in a new, if not wholly novel, literary genre. He takes persons of the 
lower middle class living in Dublin in 1904 and seeks not only to de- 
scribe what they did on a certain day early in June of that year as they 
went about the City bent on their usual occupations, but also to tell 
what many of them thought about the while. 

Joyce has attempted — it seems to me, with astonishing success — to 
show how the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleido- 
scopic impressions carries, as it were on a plastic palimpsest, not only 
what is in the focus of each man's observation of the actual things 
about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, 
some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of 
the subconscious. He shows how each of these impressions afTects the 
life and behavior of the character which he is describing. 

What he seeks to get is not unlike the result of a double or, if that is 
possible, a multiple exposure on a cinema film which would give a 
clear foreground with a background visible but somewhat blurred and 
out of focus in varying degrees. 



HON. JOHN M. WOOLSEY 385 

To convey by words an effect which obviously lends itself more ap- 
propriately to a graphic technique, accounts, it seems to me, for much 
of the obscurity which meets a reader of "Ulysses". And it also explains 
another aspect of the book, which I have further to consider, namely, 
Joyce's sincerity and his honest effort to show exactly how the minds 
of his characters operate. 

If Joyce did not attempt to be honest in developing the technique 
which he has adopted in "Ulysses" the result would be psychologically 
misleading and thus unfaithful to his chosen technique. Such an atti- 
tude would be artistically inexcusable. 

It is because Joyce has been loyal to his technique and has not funked 
its necessary implications, but has honestly attempted to tell fully what 
his characters think about, that he has been the subject of so many at- 
tacks and that his purpose has been so often misunderstood and mis- 
represented. For his attempt sincerely and honestly to realize his ob- 
jective has required him incidentally to use certain words which are 
generally considered dirty words and has led at times to what many 
think is a too poignant preoccupation with sex in the thoughts of his 
characters. 

The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known 
to almost all men and, I venture, to many women, and are such words 
as would be naturally and habitually used, I believe, by the types of 
folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe. In 
respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of 
his characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic 
and his season Spring. 

Whether or not one enjoys such a technique as Joyce uses is a matter 
of taste on which disagreement or argument is futile, but to subject 
that technique to the standards of some other technique seems to me 
to be little short of absurd. 

Accordingly, I hold that "Ulysses" is a sincere and honest book and 
I think that the criticisms of it are entirely disposed of by its rationale. 

V. Furthermore, "Ulysses" is an amazing tour de force when one 
considers the success which has been in the main achieved with such 
a difficult objective as Joyce set for himself. As I have stated, "Ulysses" 



386 READING I'VE LIKED 

is not an easy book to read. It is brilliant and dull, intelligible and ob- 
scure by turns. In many places it seems to me to be disgusting, but 
although it contains, as I have mentioned above, many words usually 
considered dirty, I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt 
for dirt's sake. Each word of the book contributes like a bit of mosaic 
to the detail of the picture which Joyce is seeking to construct for his 
readers. 

If one does not wish to associate with such folk as Joyce describes, 
that is one's own choice. In order to avoid indirect contact with them 
one may not wish to read "Ulysses"; that is quite understandable. But 
when such a real artist in words, as Joyce undoubtedly is, seeks to draw 
a true picture of the lower middle class in a European city, ought it to 
be impossible for the American public legally to see that picture? 

To answer this question it is not sufficient merely to find, as I have 
found above, that Joyce did not write "Ulysses" with what is com- 
monly called pornographic intent, I must endeavor to apply a more 
objective standard to his book in order to determine its effect in the 
result, irrespective of the intent with which it was written. 

VI. The statute under which the libel is filed only denounces, in so 
far as we are here concerned, the importation into the United States 
from any foreign country of "any obscene book". Section 305 of the 
Tariff Act of 1930, Title 19 United States Code, Section 1305. It does 
not marshal against books the spectrum of condemnatory adjectives 
found, commonly, in laws dealing with matters of this kind. I am, 
therefore, only required to determine whether "Ulysses" is obscene 
within the legal definition of that word. 

The meaning of the word "obscene" as legally defined by the Courts 
is: tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure and 
lustful thoughts. Dunlop v. United States, 165 U. S. 486, 501; United 
States v. One Boo\ Entitled "Married Love" , 48 F. (2d) 821, 824; 
United States v. One Boo\ Entitled "Contraception" , 51 F. (2d) 525, 
528; and compare Dysart v. United States, 272 U. S. 655, 657; Swear- 
ingen v. United States, 161 U. S. 446, 450; United States v. Dennett, 
39 F. (2d) 564, 568 (C. C. A. 2); People v. Wendling, 258 N. Y. 451, 

453- 



HON. JOHN M. WOOLSEY 387 

Whether a particular book would tend to excite such impulses and 
thoughts must be tested by the Court's opinion as to its effect on a 
person with average sex instincts — what the French would call I'homme 
moyen sensuel — who plays, in this branch of legal inquiry, the same 
role of hypothetical reagent as does the "reasonable man" in the law of 
torts and "the man learned in the art" on questions of invention in 
patent law. 

The risk involved in the use of such a reagent arises from the in- 
herent tendency of the trier of facts, however fair he may intend to 
be, to make his reagent too much subservient to his own idiosyncra- 
sies. Here, I have attempted to avoid this, if possible, and to make my 
reagent herein more objective than he might otherwise be, by adopt- 
ing the following course: 

After I had made my decision in regard to the aspect of "Ulysses", 
now under consideration, I checked my impressions with two friends 
of mine who in my opinion answered to the above stated require- 
ment for my reagent. 

These literary assessors — as I might properly describe them — were 
called on separately, and neither knew that I was consulting the 
other. They are men whose opinion on literature and on life I value 
most highly. They had both read "Ulysses", and, of course, were 
wholly unconnected with this cause. 

Without letting either of my assessors know what my decision was, 
I gave to each of them the legal definition of obscene and asked each 
whether in his opinion "Ulysses" was obscene within that definition. 

I was interested to find that they both agreed with my opinion: 
that reading "Ulysses" in its entirety, as a book must be read on such 
a test as this, did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts 
but that its net effect on them was only that of a somewhat tragic and 
very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women. 

It is only with the normal person that the law is concerned. Such 
a test as I have described, therefore, is the only proper test of obscenity 
in the case of a book like "Ulysses" which is a sincere and serious at- 
tempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and descrip- 
tion of mankind. 

I am quite aware that owing to some of its scenes "Ulysses" is a 



388 READING I'VE LIKED 

rather strong draught to ask some sensitive, though normal, persons 
to take. But my considered opinion, after long reflection, is that 
whilst in many places the effect of "Ulysses" on the reader undoubt- 
edly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac. 
"Ulysses" may, therefore, be admitted into the United States. 

WOOLSEY 

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 

December 6, 193] 



E. M. FORSTER 



COMMENTARY 



Of all the members of that fading Bloomsbury group of which Vir- 
ginia Woolf was a prized ornament, it is E. M. Forster, to my mind, 
who has received the least attention and deserves the most. Some 
of the neglect allotted him is doubtless due to his own hypertrophied 
talent for privacy. Some of it results from his infertility. Mere pro- 
ductivity — witness the case of the pullulating Mr. Saroyan, the Mrs. 
Dionne of literature— often aids a writer to secure a reputation. The 
interval between Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India 
(1924) was so long that one forgot all about Forster, and there has 
been no novel from him since 1924. Finally, his work is so unaggres- 
sive that its voice is lost amid the general clamor. 

Sooner or later such Forster books as A Room with a View and 
Howards End will be rediscovered and it will be found that they 
are no more dated than Pride and Prejudice. It will then also be 
found that, though the Forster universe is extremely limited— his 
people, if their unearned incomes disappeared, would simply dis- 
appear themselves— it is as truly and wittily pictured as the universe 
of any English novelist of our time. His style is as lucid, unobtrusive, 
and satisfying as a glass of water— and if more young American nov- 
elists studied him and fewer studied Thomas Wolfe, the quality of 
our literature would at once be improved. 

E. M. Forster's mind is not easy to describe. It is indirect, it 
glances off things, it seems never to grasp firmly the object of its 
attention. Yet when it has finished its work, the object is there, 
caught cleanly, all ready for your inspection. His humor, too, is 
oblique, and needs careful watching lest it escape one. I could not 
hope to make his talent clear except by reprinting one of his novels 
complete, which is impossible. His short stories are not to my taste, 
for in them he surrenders to one of his few vices, a taste for the 
sentimentally fanciful. 

But here are two pieces of light satire, very E. M. Forster. One of 

389 



390 READING I'VE LIKED 

them, "The Consolations of History/' is conceived in his charac- 
teristically subtle, satiric vein, and exposes some of the pitiful wots 
that lie beneath our appreciation of the past. The other, "My Own 
Centenary," is an amiable but nonetheless pointed bit of mockery 
in which English self-satisfaction is once more taken for a ride. The 
novelty lies not in the content of the satire but in the vehicle Forster 
has chosen, for offhand I do not remember that any other writer ever 
wrote his own centenary address. The irony of the piece is under- 
lined, I think, by its partial truth. For it is a fact that "his contem- 
poraries did not recognize the greatness of Forster." 



My Own Centenary 

(from "the times" of a.d. 2027) 

BY 

E. M. FORSTER 



It is a hundred years ago today since Forster died; we celebrate his 
centenary indeed within a few months of the bicentenary of Beethoven, 
within a few weeks of that of Blake. What special tribute shall we 
bring him? The question is not easy to answer, and were he himself still 
alive he would no doubt reply, "My work is my truest memorial." It 
is the reply that a great artist can always be trusted to make. Conscious 
of his lofty mission, endowed with the divine gift of self-expression, 
he may rest content, he is at peace, doubly at peace. But we, we who 
are not great artists, only the recipients of their bounty — what shall we 
say about Fosster? What can we say that has not already been said 
about Beethoven, about Blake? Whatever shall we say? 

The Dean of Dulborough, preaching last Sunday in his own beau- 
tiful cathedral, struck perhaps the truest note. Taking as his text that 
profound verse in Ecclesiasticus, "Let us now praise famous men," he 
took it word by word, paused when he came to the word "famous," 
and, slowly raising his voice, said: "He whose hundredth anniversary 
we celebrate on Thursday next is famous, and why?" No answer was 
needed, none came. The lofty Gothic nave, the great western windows, 
the silent congregation — they gave answer sufficient, and passing on to 
the final word of his text, "men," the Dean expatiated upon what is per- 
haps the most mysterious characteristic of genius, its tendency to appear 
among members of the human race. Why this is, why, since it is, it is 
not accompanied by some definite outward sign through which it might 
be recognized easily, are questions not lightly to be raised. There can 
be no doubt that his contemporaries did not recognize the greatness of 

391 



392 READING I'VE LIKED 

Forster. Immersed in their own little affairs, they either ignored him, 
or forgot him, or confused him, or, strangest of all, discussed him as if 
he was their equal. We may smile at their blindness, but for him it can 
have been no laughing matter, he must have had much to bear, and 
indeed he could scarcely have endured to put forth masterpiece after 
masterpiece had he not felt assured of the verdict of posterity. 

Sir Vincent Edwards, when broadcasting last night, voiced that verdict 
not uncertainly, and was fortunately able to employ more wealth of 
illustration than had been appropriate in Dulborough Minster for the 
Dean. The point he very properly stressed was our writer's loftiness of 
aim. "It would be impossible," he said, "to quote a single sentence that 
was not written from the very loftiest motive," and he drew from this 
a sharp and salutary lesson for the so-called writers of today. As per- 
manent head of the Ministry of Edification, Sir Vincent has, we be- 
lieve, frequently come into contact with the younger generation, and 
has checked with the kindliness of which he is a past-master their self- 
styled individualism — an individualism which is the precise antithesis 
of true genius. They confuse violence with strength, cynicism with 
open-mindedness, frivolity with joyousness — mistakes never made by 
Forster who was never gay until he had earned a right to be so, and 
only criticized the religious and social institutions of h^s time because 
they were notoriously corrupt. We know what the twentieth century 
was. We know the sort of men who were in power under George V. 
We know what the State was, what were the churches. We can as 
easily conceive of Beethoven as a Privy Councillor or of Blake as, for- 
sooth, an Archbishop as of this burning and sensitive soul acquiescing 
in the deadening conditions of his age. What he worked for — what all 
great men work for — was for a New Jerusalem, a vitalized State, a pu- 
rified Church; and the offertory at Dulborough last Sunday, like the 
success of Sir Edward's appeal for voluntary workers under the Min- 
istry, show that he did not labour in vain. 

The official ceremony is for this morning. This afternoon Lady Tur- 
ton will unveil Mr. Boston Jack's charming statue in Kensington 
Gardens, and so illustrate another aspect of our national hero: his love 
of little children. It had originally been Mr. Boston Jack's intention to 
represent him as pursuing an ideal. Since, however, the Gardens are 



E. M. FORSTER 393 

largely frequented by the young and their immediate supervisors, it 
was felt that something more whimsical would be in place, and a but- 
terfly was substituted. The change is certainly for the better. It is true 
that we cannot have too many ideals. On the other hand, we must not 
have too much of them too soon, nor, attached as it will be to a long 
copper wire, can the butterfly be confused with any existing species and 
regarded as an incentive to immature collectors. Lady Turton will 
couple her remarks with an appeal for the Imperial Daisy Chain, of 
which she is the energetic Vice-President, and simultaneously there 
will be a flag collection throughout the provinces. 

Dulborough, the Ministry of Edification, the official ceremony, 
Kensington Gardens! What more could be said? Not a little. Yet 
enough has been said to remind the public of its heritage, and to em- 
phasize and define the central essence of these immortal works. And 
what is that essence? Need we say? Not their greatness — they are ob- 
viously great. Not their profundity — they are admittedly profound. 'It 
is something more precious than either: their nobility. Noble works, 
nobly conceived, nobly executed, nobler than the Ninth Symphony or 
the Songs of Innocence. Here is no small praise, yet it can be given, we 
are in the presence of the very loftiest, we need not spare or mince our 
words, nay, we will add one more word, a word that has been implicit 
in all that have gone before: like Beethoven, like Blake, Forster was 
essentially English, and in commemorating him we can yet again 
celebrate what is best and most permanent in ourselves. 



The Consolations of History 

BY 

E. M. FORSTER 



It is pleasant to be transferred from an office where one is afraid of 
a sergeant-major into an office where one can intimidate generals, and 
perhaps this is why History is so attractive to the more timid amongst 
us. We can recover self-confidence by snubbing the dead. The captains 
and the kings depart at our slightest censure, while as for the "hosts of 
minor officials" who cumber court and camp, we heed them not, al- 
though in actual life they entirely block our social horizon. We cannot 
visit either the great or the rich when they are our contemporaries, 
but by a fortunate arrangement the palaces of Ujjain and the ware- 
houses of Ormus are open for ever, and we can even behave outrage- 
ously in them without being expelled. The King of Ujjain, we an- 
nounce, is extravagant, the merchants of Ormus unspeakably licentious 
. . . and sure enough Ormus is a desert now and Ujjain a jungle. Diffi- 
cult to realize that the past was once the present, and that, transferred 
to it, one would be just the same little worm as today, unimportant, 
parasitic, nervous, occupied with trifles, unable to go anywhere or alter 
anything, friendly only with the obscure, and only at ease with the 
dead; while up on the heights the figures and forces who make His- 
tory would contend in their habitual fashion, with incomprehensible 
noises or in ominous quiet. "There is money in my house . . . there is 
no money ... no house." That is all that our sort can ever know 
about doom. The extravagant king, the licentious merchants — they 
escape, knowing the ropes. 

If only the sense of actuality can be lulled — and it sleeps for ever in 
most historians — there is no passion that cannot be gratified in the past. 
The past is devoid of all dangers, social and moral, and one can meet 

394 



E. M. FORSTER 395 

with perfect ease not only kings, but people who are even rarer on 
one's visiting list. We are alluding to courtesans. It is seemly and de- 
cent to meditate upon dead courtesans. Some, like Aspasia, are in 
themselves a liberal education, and turning from these as almost too 
awful one can still converse unblamed with their sisters. There is no 
objection, for instance, against recalling the arrangements of the six- 
teenth-century Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar. The courtesans of 
Vijayanagar were beautiful and rich — one of them left over ,£32,000. 
They were highly esteemed, which also seems right; some were house- 
maids, others cooks, and live hundred were attached on a peace basis 
to the army, "all great musicians, dancers and acrobats, and very quick 
and nimble at their performances." In war the number was increased; 
indeed, the king sent the entire of the personable population into the 
field, judging that its presence would enhearten the troops. So many 
ladies hampered his strategy, it is true, but the opposing army was 
equally hampered, and when its soldiers ran away, its ladies sat still, 
and accrued to the victors. With existence as it threatens today — a 
draggled mass of elderly people and barbed wire — it is agreeable to 
glance back at those enchanted carnages, and to croon over conditions 
that we now subscribe to exterminate. Tight little faces from Oxford, 
fish-shaped faces from Cambridge — we cannot help having our dreams. 
Was life then warm and tremendous? Did the Vijayanagar Govern- 
ment really succeed in adjusting the balance between society and sex? 
— a task that has baffled even Mrs. Humphry Ward. We cannot tell; 
we can only be certain that it acted with circumspection and pom- 
posity, and that most of its subjects did not know what it was up to. 
The myriads of nonentities who thronged its courts and camps, and 
were allotted inferior courtesans or none at all — alas! it is with these 
alone that readers of my pages can claim kinship. 

Yet sweet though it is to dally with the past, one returns to the finer 
pleasures of morality in the end. The schoolmaster in each of us 
awakes, examines the facts of History, and marks them on the result of 
the examination. Not all the marks need be bad. Some incidents, like 
the Risorgimento, get excellent as a matter of course, while others, such 
as the character of Queen Elizabeth, get excellent in the long run. Nor 
must events be marked at their face value. Why was it right of Drake 



396 READING I'VE LIKED 

to play bowls when he heard the Armada was approaching, but wrong 
of Charles II to catch moths when he heard that the Dutch Fleet had 
entered the Medway? The answer is "Because Drake won." Why was 
it right of Alexander the Great to throw away water when his army 
was perishing, but wrong of Marie Antoinette to say "Let them eat 
cake"? The answer is "Because Marie Antoinette was executed." Why 
was George Washington right because he would not tell a lie, and 
Jael right because she told nothing else? Answers on similar lines. 
We must take a larger view of the past than of the present, because 
when examining the present we can never be sure what is going to pay. 
As a general rule, anything that ends abruptly must be given bad 
marks; for instance, the fourth century b.c. at Athens, the year 1492 in 
Italy, and the summer of 1914 everywhere. A civilization that passes 
quickly must be decadent, therefore let us censure those epochs that 
thought themselves so bright, let us show that their joys were hectic 
and their pleasures vile, and clouded by the premonition of doom. On 
the other hand, a civilization that does not pass, like the Chinese, must 
be stagnant, and is to be censured on that account. Nor can one ap- 
prove anarchy. What then survives? Oh, a greater purpose, the slow 
evolution of Good through the centuries — an evolution less slow than 
it seems, because a thousand years are as yesterday, and consequently 
Christianity was only, so to speak, established on Wednesday last. And 
if this argument should seem flimsy (it is the Bishop of London's, not 
our own — he put it into his Christmas sermon) one can at all events 
return to an indubitable triumph of evolution — oneself, sitting un- 
touched and untouchable in the professorial chair, and giving marks 
to men. 

Sweet then is dalliance, censure sweeter. Yet sweetest of all is pity, 
because it subtly combines the pleasures of the other two. To pity the 
dead because they are dead is to experience an exquisite pleasure, iden- 
tical with the agreeable heat that comes to the eyes in a churchyard. The 
heat has nothing to do with sorrow, it has no connection with anything 
that one has personally known and held dear. It is half a sensuous de- 
light, half gratified vanity, and Shakespeare knew what he was about 
when he ascribed such a sensation to the fantastical Armado. They had 
been laughing at Hector, and Armado, with every appearance of gen- 



E. M. FORSTER 397 

erosity, exclaims: "The sweet war-man is dead and rotten; sweet 
chucks, beat not the bones of the buried; when he breathed he was 
a man." It was his happiest moment; he had never felt more certain 
either that he was alive himself, or that he was Hector. And it is a 
happiness that we can all experience until the sense of actuality breaks in. 
Pity wraps the student of the past in an ambrosial cloud, and washes 
his limbs with eternal youth. "Dear dead women with such hair too," 
but not "I feel chilly and grown old." That comes with the awakening. 



04 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 



COMMENTARY 



Willa Cather, in her fine preface to the Mayflower Edition of the 
Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, writes: "If I were asked to name 
three American hooks which have the possibility of a long, long life, 
I would say at once, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The 
Country of the Pointed Firs. J can think of no others that confront 
time and change so serenely. The latter hook seems to me fairly to 
shine with the reflection of its long, joyous future." I do not suppose 
many would agree that Sarah Orne Jewett belongs in the company of 
Mark Twain and Hawthorne, but there is something in her tender 
genre work, a Vermeer quality, that may perhaps keep her memory 
quietly alive after many more vigorous talents have been forgotten. 

Sarah Orne Jewett died years ago, in 1909. Her stories of old New 
England, a New England long since vanished, are also of long ago. 
She cultivated well and truly a tiny patch of ground. I read her first 
twenty years back; I have now reread her, and nothing seems lost. 

The inclusion of one of her stories may be put down to a whim. 
I thought it might be interesting to confront my readers with a tale 
so old-fashioned, so sentimental, so simple as this, for most of the 
reading in this book is not old-fashioned or sentimental or simple. 
Perhaps the minds of writers like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Kath- 
erine Anne Porter, so patently of our own time, will appear in sharper 
relief when set against the mind of a writer like Sarah Omc Jewett. 

But quite candidly I doubt that many readers will care for this 
story. I suppose some will laugh at it, if good-naturedly. This is a fine 
time of day, one can hear them saying, to ask us to read a tale about 
a cow, a little girl, an old lady, a young man who hunts birds, a pine 
tree, and a white heron. Understanding their skepticism, I cannot 
share it. True, the materials of "The White Heron" arc ordinary 
enough. Yet I hope that for some these ordinary materials will add 
up to something, to a kind of New England fairy talc, moral, like 
all fairy talcs, and carrying with it, over the gulf of more than fifty 
years, the scent of beauty. 

398 



3H&X 



A White Heron 



BY 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 



The woods were already filled with shadows one June evening, just 
before eight o'clock, though a bright sunset still glimmered faintly 
among the trunks of the trees. A little girl was driving home her cow, 
a plodding, dilatory, provoking creature in her behavior, but a valued 
companion for all that. They were going away from the western light, 
and striking deep into the dark woods, but their feet were familiar 
.with the path, and it was no matter whether their eyes could see it or 
not. 

There was hardly a night the summer through when the old cow 
could be found waiting at the pasture bars; on the contrary, it was her 
greatest pleasure to hide herself away among the high huckleberry 
bushes, and though she wore a loud bell she had made the discovery 
that if one stood perfectly still it would not ring. So Sylvia had to hunt 
for her until she found her, and call Co'! Co'! with never an answer- 
ing Moo, until her childish patience was quite spent. If the creature 
had not given good milk and plenty of it, the case would have seemed 
very different to her owners. Besides, Sylvia had all the time there was, 
and very little use to make of it. Sometimes in pleasant weather it was 
a consolation to look upon the cow's pranks as an intelligent attempt 
to play hide and seek, and as the child had no playmates she lent her- 
self to this amusement with a good deal of zest. Though this chase had 
been so long that the wary animal herself had given an unusual signal 
of her whereabouts, Sylvia had only laughed when she came upon Mis- 
tress Moolly at the swamp-side, and urged her affectionately home- 
ward with a twig of birch leaves. The old cow was not inclined to 
wander farther, she even turned in the right direction for once as they 
left the pasture, and stepped along the road at a good pace. She was 

399 



400 READING I'VE LIKED 

quite ready to be milked now, and seldom stopped to browse. Sylvia 
wondered what her grandmother would say because they were so late. 
It was a great while since she had left home at half past five o'clock, 
but everybody knew the difficulty of making this errand a short one. 
Mrs. Tilley had chased the horned torment too many summer evenings 
herself to blame any one else for lingering, and was only thankful as 
she waited that she had Sylvia, nowadays, to give such valuable as- 
sistance. The good woman suspected that Sylvia loitered occasionally 
on her own account; there never was such a child for straying about 
out-of-doors since the world was made! Everybody said that it was a 
good change for a little maid who had tried to grow for eight years in 
a crowded manufacturing town, but, as for Sylvia herself, it seemed as 
if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm. 
She thought often with wistful compassion of a wretched dry gera- 
nium that belonged to a town neighbor. 

" 'Afraid of folks,' " old Mrs. Tilley said to herself, with a smile, after 
she had made the unlikely choice of Sylvia from her daughter's house- 
ful of children, and was returning to the farm. " 'Afraid of folks,' they 
said! I guess she won't be troubled no great with 'em up to the old 
place!" When they reached the door of the lonely house and stopped 
to unlock it, and the cat came to purr loudly, and rub against them, 
a deserted pussy, indeed, but fat with young robins, Sylvia whispered 
that this was a beautiful place to live in, and she never should wish to 
go home. 

The companions followed the shady wood-road, the cow taking slow 
steps, and the child very fast ones. The cow stopped long at the brook 
to drink, as if the pasture were not half a swamp, and Sylvia stood still 
and waited, letting her bare feet cool themselves in the shoal water, 
while the great twilight moths struck softly against her. She waded 
on through the brook as the cow moved away, and listened to the 
thrushes with a heart that beat fast with pleasure. There was a stir- 
ring in the great boughs overhead. They were full of little birds and 
beasts that seemed to be wide-awake, and going about their world, or 
else saying good-night to each other in sleepy twitters. Sylvia herself 
felt sleepy as she walked along. However, it was not much farther to 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 401 

the house, and the air was soft and sweet. She was not often in the 
woods so late as this, and it made her feel as if she were a part of the 
gray shadows and the moving leaves. She was just thinking how long 
it seemed since she first came to the farm a year ago, and wondering 
if everything went on in the noisy town just the same as when she was 
there; the thought of the great red-faced boy who used to chase and 
frighten her made her hurry along the path to escape from the shadow 
of the trees. 

Suddenly this little woods-girl is horror-stricken to hear a clear whis- 
tle not very far away. Not a bird's whistle, which would have a sort 
of friendliness, but a boy's whistle, determined, and somewhat aggres- 
sive. Sylvia left the cow to whatever sad fate might await her, and 
stepped discreetly aside into the bushes, but she was just too late. The 
enemy had discovered her, and called out in a very cheerful and per- 
suasive tone, "Halloa, little girl, how far is it to the road?" and trem- 
bling Sylvia answered almost inaudibly, "A good ways." 

She did not dare to look boldly at the tall young man, who carried 
a gun over his shoulder, but she came out of her bush and again fol- 
lowed the cow, while he walked alongside. 

"I have been hunting for some birds," the stranger said kindly, "and 
I have lost my way, and need a friend very much. Don't be afraid," he 
added gallantly. "Speak up and tell me what your name is, and 
whether you think I can spend the night at your house, and go out 
gunning early in the morning." 

Sylvia was more alarmed than before. Would not her grandmother 
consider her much to blame? But who could have foreseen such an 
accident as this? It did not appear to be her fault, and she hung her 
head as if the stem of it were broken, but managed to answer "Sylvy," 
with much effort when her companion again asked her name. 

Mrs. Tilley was standing in the doorway when the trio came into 
view. The cow gave a loud moo by way of explanation. 

"Yes, you'd better speak up for yourself, you old trial! Where 'd she 
tucked herself away this time, Sylvy?" Sylvia kept an awed silence; 
she knew by instinct that her grandmother did not comprehend the 
gravity of the situation. She must be mistaking the stranger for one of 
the farmer-lads of the region. 



402 READING I'VE LIKED 

The young man stood his gun beside the door, and dropped a heavy 
game-bag beside it; then he bade Mrs. Tilley good-evening, and re- 
peated his wayfarer's story, and asked if he could have a night's lodg- 
ing. 

'Tut me anywhere you like," he said. "I must be of! early in the 
morning, before day; but I am very hungry, indeed. You can give me 
some milk at any rate, that's plain." 

"Dear sakes, yes," responded the hostess, whose long slumbering hos- 
pitality seemed to be easily awakened. "You might fare better if vou 
went out on the main road a mile or so, but you're welcome to what 
we've got. I'll milk right off, and you make yourself at home. You can 
sleep on husks or feathers," she profTered graciously. "I raised them all 
myself. There's good pasturing for geese just below here towards the 
ma'sh. Now step round and set a plate for the gentleman, Sylvy!" And 
Sylvia promptly stepped. She was glad to have something to do, and 
she was hungry herself. 

It was a surprise to find so clean and comfortable a little dwelling 
in this New England wilderness. The young man had known the hor- 
rors of its most primitive housekeeping, and the dreary squalor of that 
level of society which does not rebel at the companionship of hens. 
This was the best thrift of an old-fashioned farmstead, though on such 
a small scale that it seemed like a hermitage. He listened eagerly to 
the old woman's quaint talk, he watched Sylvia's pale face and shin- 
ing gray eyes with ever growing enthusiasm, and insisted that this was 
the best supper he had eaten for a month; then, afterward, the new- 
made friends sat down in the doorway together while the moon came 
up. 

Soon it would be berry-time, and Sylvia was a great help at picking. 
The cow was a good milker, though a plaguy thing to keep track of, 
the hostess gossiped frankly, adding presently that she had buried four 
children, so that Sylvia's mother, and a son (who might be dead) in 
California were all the children she had left. "Dan, my boy, was a 
great hand to go gunning," she explained sadly. "I never wanted for 
pa'tridges or gray squer'ls while he was to home. He's been a areat 
wand'rer, I expect, and he's no hand to write letters. There, I don't 
blame him. I'd ha' seen the world mvself if it had been so I could. 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 403 

"Sylvia takes after him," the grandmother continued affectionately, 
after a minute's pause. "There ain't a foot o' ground she don't know 
her way over, and the wild creatur's counts her one o' themselves. 
Squer'ls she'll tame to come an' feed right out o' her hands, and all 
sorts o' birds. Last winter she got the jay-birds to bangeing here, and 
I believe she'd 'a' scanted herself of her own meals to have plenty to 
throw out amongst 'em, if I hadn't kep' watch. Anything but crows, 
I tell her, I'm willin' to help support, — though Dan he went an' tamed 
one o' them that did seem to have reason same as folks. It was round 
here a good spell after he went away. Dan an' his father they didn't 
hitch, — but he never held up his head ag'in after Dan had dared him 
an' gone off." 

The guest did not notice this hint of family sorrows in his eager in- 
terest in something else. 

"So Sylvy knows all about birds, does she?" he exclaimed, as he 
looked round at the little girl who sat, very demure but increasingly 
sleepy, in the moonlight. "I am making a collection of birds myself. I 
have been at it ever since I was a boy." (Mrs. Tilley smiled.) "There 
are two or three very rare ones I have been hunting for these five years. 
I mean to get them on my own ground if they can be found." 

"Do you cage 'em up?" asked Mrs. Tilley doubtfully, in response to 
this enthusiastic announcement. 

"Oh, no, they're stuffed and preserved, dozens and dozens of them," 
said the ornithologist, "and I have shot or snared every one myself. I 
caught a glimpse of a white heron three miles from here on Saturday, 
and I have followed it in this direction. They have never been found 
in this district at all. The little white heron, it is," and he turned again 
to look at Sylvia with the hope of discovering that the rare bird was 
one of her acquaintances. 

But Sylvia was watching a hop-toad in the narrow footpath. 

"You would know the heron if you saw it," the stranger continued 
eagerly. "A queer tall white bird with soft feathers and long thin legs. 
And it would have a nest perhaps in the top of a high tree, made of 
sticks, something like a hawk's nest." 

Sylvia's heart gave a wild beat; she knew that strange white bird, 
and had once stolen softly near where it stood in some bright green 



404 READING I'VE LIKED 

swamp grass, away over at the other side o£ the woods. There was an 
open place where the sunshine always seemed strangely yellow and 
hot, where tall, nodding rushes grew, and her grandmother had 
warned her that she might sink in the soft black mud underneath and 
never be heard of more. Not far beyond were the salt marshes and be- 
yond those was the sea, the sea which Sylvia wondered and dreamed 
about, but never had looked upon, though its great voice could often 
be heard above the noise of the woods on stormy nights. 

"I can't think of anything I should like so much as to find that 
heron's nest," the handsome stranger was saying. "I would give ten 
dollars to anybody who could show it to me," he added desperately, 
"and I mean to spend my whole vacation hunting for it if need be. 
Perhaps it was only migrating, or had been chased out of its own 
region by some bird of prey." 

Mrs. Tilley gave amazed attention to all this, but Sylvia still watched 
the toad, not divining, as she might have done at some calmer time, 
that the creature wished to get to its hole under the doorstep, and was 
much hindered by the unusual spectators at that hour of the evening. 
No amount of thought, that night, could decide how many wished-for 
treasures the ten dollars, so lightly spoken of, would buy. 

The next day the young sportsman hovered about the woods, and 
Sylvia kept him company, having lost her first fear of the friendly lad, 
who proved to be most kind and sympathetic. He told her many things 
about the birds and what they knew and where they lived and what 
they did with themselves. And he gave her a jack-knife, which she 
thought as great a treasure as if she were a desert-islander. All day 
long he did not once make her troubled or afraid except when he 
brought down some unsuspecting singing creature from its bough. 
Sylvia would have liked him vastly better without his gun; she could 
not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much. 
But as the day waned, Sylvia still watched the young man with loving 
admiration. She had never seen anybody so charming and delightful; 
the woman's heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream 
of love. Some premonition of that great power stirred and swayed 
these young foresters who traversed the solemn woodlands with soft- 
footed silent care. They stopped to listen to a bird's song; they pressed 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 405 

forward again eagerly, parting the branches, — speaking to each other 
rarely and in whispers; the young man going first and Sylvia follow- 
ing, fascinated, a few steps behind, with her gray eyes dark with 
excitement. 

She grieved because the longed-for white heron was elusive, but she 
did not lead the guest, she only followed, and there was no such thing 
as speaking first. The sound of her own unquestioned voice would 
have terrified her, — it was hard enough to answer yes or no when 
there was need of that. At last evening began to fall, and they drove 
the cow home together, and Sylvia smiled with pleasure when they 
came to the place where she heard the whistle and was afraid only the 
night before. 

II 

Half a mile from home, at the farther edge of the woods, where the 
land was highest, a great pine-tree stood, the last of its generation. 
Whether it was left for a boundary mark, or for what reason, no one 
could say; the woodchoppers who had felled its mates were dead and 
gone long ago, and a whole forest of sturdy trees, pines and oaks and 
maples, had grown again. But the stately head of this old pine towered 
above them all and made a landmark for sea and shore miles and 
miles away. Sylvia knew it well. She had always believed that who- 
ever climbed to the top of it could see the ocean; and the little girl had 
often laid her hand on the great rough trunk and looked up wistfully 
at those dark boughs that the wind always stirred, no matter how hot and 
still the air might be below. Now she thought of the tree with a new ex- 
citement, for why, if one climbed it at break of day, could not one see 
all the world, and easily discover whence the white heron flew, and 
mark the place, and find the hidden nest? 

What a spirit of adventure, what wild ambition! What fancied tri- 
umph and delight and glory for the later morning when she could 
make known the secret! It was almost too real and too great for the 
childish heart to bear. 

All night the door of the little house stood open, and the whippoor- 
wills came and sang upon the very step. The young sportsman and his 



406 READING I'VE LIKED 

old hostess were sound asleep, but Sylvia's great design kept her broad 
awake and watching. She forgot to think of sleep. The short summer 
night seemed as long as the winter darkness, and at last when the 
whippoorwills ceased, and she was afraid the morning would after all 
come too soon, she stole out of the house and followed the pasture 
path through the woods, hastening toward the open ground beyond, 
listening with a sense of comfort and companionship to the drowsy 
twitter of a half-awakened bird, whose perch she had jarred in passing. 
Alas, if the great wave of human interest which flooded for the first 
time this dull little life should sweep away the satisfactions of an ex- 
istence heart to heart with nature and the dumb life of the forest! 

There was the huge tree asleep yet in the paling moonlight, and 
small and hopeful Sylvia began with utmost bravery to mount to the 
top of it, with tingling, eager blood coursing the channels of her whole 
frame, with her bare feet and fingers, that pinched and held like bird's 
claws to the monstrous ladder reaching up, up, almost to the sky itself. 
First she must mount the white oak tree that grew alongside, where 
she was almost lost among the dark branches and the green leaves 
heavy and wet with dew; a bird fluttered off its nest, and a red squir- 
rel ran to and fro and scolded pettishly at the harmless housebreaker. 
Sylvia felt her way easily. She had often climbed there, and knew that 
higher still one of the oak's upper branches chafed against the pine 
trunk, just where its lower boughs were set close together. There, 
when she made the dangerous pass from one tree to the other, the 
great enterprise would really begin. 

She crept out along the swaying oak limb at last, and took the dar- 
ing step across into the old pine-tree. The way was harder than she 
thought; she must reach far and hold fast, the sharp dry twigs caught 
and held her and scratched her like angry talons, the pitch made her 
thin little fingers clumsy and stiff as she went round and round the 
tree's great stem, higher and higher upward. The sparrows and robins 
in the woods below were beginning to wake and twitter to the dawn, 
yet it seemed much lighter there aloft in the pine-tree, and the child 
knew that she must hurry if her project were to be of any use. 

The tree seemed to lengthen itself out as she went up, and to reach 
farther and farther upward. It was like a great main-mast to the voyag- 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 407 

ing earth; it must truly have been amazed that morning through all 
its ponderous frame as it felt this determined spark of human spirit 
creeping and climbing from higher branch to branch. Who knows how 
steadily the least twigs held themselves to advantage this light, weak 
creature on her way! The old pine must have loved his new dependent. 
More than all the hawks, and bats, and moths, and even the sweet- 
voiced thrushes, was the brave, beating heart of the solitary gray-eyed 
child. And the tree stood still and held away the winds that June 
morning while the dawn grew bright in the east. 

Sylvia's face was like a pale star, if one had seen it from the ground, 
when the last thorny bough was past, and she stood trembling and 
tired but wholly triumphant, high in the tree-top. Yes, there was the 
sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward 
that glorious east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions. How 
low they looked in the air from that height when before one had only 
seen them far up, and dark against the blue sky. Their gray feathers 
were as soft as moths; they seemed only a little way from the tree, 
and Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds. 
Westward, the woodlands and farms reached miles and miles into 
the distance; here and there were church steeples, and white villages; 
truly it was a vast and awesome world. 

The birds sang louder and louder. At last the sun came up bewil- 
deringly bright. Sylvia could see the white sails of ships out at sea, 
and the clouds that were purple and rose-colored and yellow at first 
began to fade away. Where was the white heron's nest in the sea of 
green branches, and was this wonderful sight and pageant of the world 
the only reward for having climbed to such a giddy height? Now 
look down again, Sylvia, where the green marsh is set among the 
shining birches and dark hemlocks; there where you saw the white 
heron once you will see him again; look, look! a white spot of him 
like a single floating feather comes up from the dead hemlock and 
grows larger, and rises, and comes close at last, and goes by the land- 
mark pine with steady sweep of wing and outstretched slender neck 
and crested head. And wait! wait! do not move a foot or a finger, 
little girl, do not send an arrow of light and consciousness from your 
two eager eyes, for the heron has perched on a pine bough not far 



408 READING I'VE LIKED 

beyond yours, and cries back to his mate on the nest, and plumes his 
feathers for the new day! 

The child gives a long sigh a minute later when a company of 
shouting cat-birds comes also to the tree, and vexed by their fluttering 
and lawlessness the solemn heron goes away. She knows his secret 
now, the wild, light, slender bird that floats and wavers, and goes back 
like an arrow presently to his home in the green world beneath. Then 
Sylvia, well satisfied, makes her perilous way down again, not daring 
to look far below the branch she stands on, ready to cry sometimes 
because her fingers ache and her lamed feet slip. Wondering over and 
over again what the stranger would say to her, and what he would 
think when she told him how to find his way straight to the heron's 
nest. 

"Sylvy, Sylvy!" called the busy old grandmother again and again, 
but nobody answered, and the small husk bed was empty, and Sylvia 
had disappeared. 

The guest waked from a dream, and remembering his day's pleasure 
hurried to dress himself that it might sooner begin. He was sure 
from the way the shy little girl looked once or twice yesterday that 
she had at least seen the white heron, and now she must really be 
persuaded to tell. Here she comes now, paler than ever, and her worn 
old frock is torn and tattered, and smeared with pine pitch. The 
grandmother and the sportsman stand in the door together and ques- 
tion her, and the splendid moment has come to speak of the dead 
hemlock-tree by the green marsh. 

But Sylvia does not speak after all, though the old grandmother 
fretfully rebukes her, and the young man's kind appealing eyes are 
looking straight into her own. He can make them rich with money; 
he has promised it, and they are poor now. He is so well worth making 
happy, and he waits to hear the story she can tell. 

No, she must keep silence! What is it that suddenly forbids her and 
makes her dumb? Has she been nine years growing, and now, when 
the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she 
thrust it aside for a bird's sake? The murmur of the pine's green 
branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came 



SARAH ORNE JEWETT 409 

flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and 
the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the 
heron's secret and give its life away. 

Dear loyalty, that suffered a sharp pang as the guest went away dis- 
appointed later in the day, that could have served and followed him 
and loved him as a dog loves! Many a night Sylvia heard the echo 
of his whistle haunting the pasture path as she came home with the 
loitering cow. She forgot even her sorrow at the sharp report of his 
gun and the piteous sight of thrushes and sparrows dropping silent to 
the ground, their songs hushed and their pretty feathers stained and 
wet with blood. Were the birds better friends than their hunter 
might have been, — who can tell? Whatever treasures were lost to 
her, woodlands and summer-time, remember! Bring your gifts and 
graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country child! 



RING LARDNER 



COMMENTARY 



Ring Lardner spent most of his adult life among ballplayers, prize 
fighters, Great White Highwaymen, songwriters, wealthy Long 
Islanders, and upper-class bridge- and golf-players. He saw these peo- 
ple at their worst, during the Boom Decade, during which our na- 
tional behavior hit a record low. Though he never left them, he didnt 
like them, and his short stories are the record of that dislike. The 
odd thing is that when he wanted to be just funny, he could shut off 
his irritation and write pieces that still make you laugh. But oftener 
you End yourself laughing on the wrong side of your face. 

William Bolitho divided Lardner s population into fools and swine. 
That's a little offhand, but there's much truth in it. Lardner went a 
long way on sheer dislike alone. I don't think he even cared much 
for himself, but he was wrong there, because his work, though he 
may never have realized it, projects a picture of an extraordinarily 
honest, intelligent, charming person, if also an unhappy one. 

It's hard to remember half a dozen sympathetic Lardner charac- 
ters. Somewhere he refers to u this special police dog," which "was 
like most of them and hated everybody." Lardner himself was a sort 
of police dog, but his hatred was not mere crabbedness. It was an 
expression of his insight into American life on certain levels as it re- 
vealed itself during a sordid era. 

Lardner's aim is deadly because he is cold. There is almost no emo- 
tion. His satire is negative; that is why it never caused a revolution in 
American manners, as Main Street did. No one is uneasy under 
the whiplash of Lardner s scorn, for he is not really worked up about 
anything. Paradoxically that is one of the reasons that enabled this 
complete misanthrope to appear in the most popular and genial of 
our weekly magazines. He never rails at the crowd because he has 
passed beyond raillery. 

He has a uniform method of attack. He takes some national trait 
which is ordinarily treated with good-natured humor and reduces it 

410 



RING LARDNER 411 

to its basic viciousness. Pullman-washroom sociability is revealed as 
a vulgar garrulity which conceals a brutal egotism ("Sun Cured"). 
Simple boy-and-girl calf love is shown to have its wots in colossal 
selfishness ("Some Like Them Cold"). The practical joker, that stand- 
by of amiable American humor, turns out to be cruel and heartless 
("Haircut" "The Maysville Minstrel"). The wife who is proud of her 
husband's achievements betrays herself as a witless bore ("Who 
Dealt?"). The lavish hospitality which members of the American 
upper strata are supposed to extend to each other is analyzed and 
found to conceal nosiness, lack of imagination, possessiveness, and, 
if you go deep enough, actual antagonism ("Liberty Hall"). 

Lardner is best-natured in his baseball stories, for he really loved 
the game. But his love never prevented him from seeing through it. 
He had a press-bench eye. He saw baseball, as he saw all American 
sport, as a focal point drawing together bonehead and sharper. For 
entertainment purposes he chooses to devote most of his attention 
to the bonehead ("You Know Me Al"), but when he elects to attack a 
professionalized sport without any gloves on, we get "Champion." 
The direct, vicious hatred that animates "Champion" is far removed 
from the reined-in fascination underlying a fight yarn like Heming- 
way s "Fifty Grand." The two stories are equally effective, but one 
feels that Lardner is far closer to the facts of American sport than is 
Hemingway. He does not inject himself into the story, hie has his eye 
coldly fixed on the object, whereas Hemingway, despite the famous 
lean, pared style, is lyrical. 

Lardner is a great master of mimicry, catching to the life our flat, 
democratic speech. The effect of "Lardner s Ringlish" is often humor- 
ous but more often satiric. If the mind of a boob is fuzzy and banal, 
the best way to get it over is to make the boob open his mouth and 
talk. 

To see how instrumental is his style, note how he handles our tra- 
ditional humor of exaggeration. When Mark Twain exaggerates, it is 
to secure an effect of comic absurdity, but when Lardner says, "He 
give her a look that you could pour on a waffle/' the mad metaphor 
has the power to fill us with a distaste for all sentimental affection. 



412 READING I'VE LIKED 

Even a simple, forthright line like 'Trench trains run like they was 
on pogo sticks" conceals an undercurrent of exacerbation. 

One of Lardner s worlds is filled with soreheads and kickers; it is a 
land in a never-ending state of civil war. Any two Lardner characters, 
when they get together, are apt to quarrel about something. He is 
the epic recorder of hicker. 

This appears most clearly in his treatment of marriage. If his men 
are mainly niggling pewts garrulously trying to impress the world 
with their nonexistent virtues, his women are mainly egotists of the 
most predatory type, barren of glamor, charm, humor, and sexual at- 
tractiveness. His vision is narrow and distorted, but it is powerful. 
In his stories middle-class marriage is filled with hypocrisy, selfish- 
ness, and constant antagonism between husband and wife. For proof 
I suggest a rereading of "The Love Nest" which I have selected as a 
typical Lardner story. Passion, sentiment, generosity, sympathy, and 
humor are barred, leaving only the four components of comic-strip 
marital comedy: contentiousness, henpecking, gold-digging, and that 
peculiar, hopeless irony of the American male which for Lardner is 
his chief defense against the onslaughts of the female. 

In the face of Lardner s perfectly clear simon-pure, deliberate mis- 
anthropy it is a little difficult to understand how readers could ever 
have welcomed him as a standard, "popular" humorist. The world he 
shows us is a world of mental sadists, fourEushers, intolerable gos- 
sipers, meal-ticket females, interfering morons, brainless Eirts, liars, 
brutes, spiteful snobs, vulgar climbers, dishonest jockevs, selEsh chil- 
dren, dipsomaniacal chorus girls, senile chatterers, idiotically com- 
placent husbands, mean arrivistes, drunks, snoopers, poseurs, and 
bridge-players. Yet, despite his bitterness, he is a top-notch humorist 
on some occasions, as he is a great satirist on almost all. 



^^^w^W^w^wyT ST ST SC ST SI ST' 



The Love Nest 

BY 

RING LARDNER 



"I'll tell you what I'm going to do with you, Mr. Bartlett," said the 
great man. "I'm going to take you right out to my home and have you 
meet the wife and family; stay to dinner and all night. We've got 
plenty of room and extra pajamas, if you don't mind them silk. I mean 
that'll give you a chance to see us just as we are. I mean you can get 
more that way than if you sat here a whole week, asking me questions." 

"But I don't want to put you to a lot of trouble," said Bartlett. 

"Trouble!" The great man laughed. "There's no trouble about it. 
I've got a house that's like a hotel. I mean a big house with lots of 
servants. But anyway I'm always glad to do anything I can for a writ- 
ing man, especially a man that works for Ralph Doane. I'm very fond 
of Ralph. I mean I like him personally besides being a great editor. I 
mean I've known him for years and when there's anything I can do 
for him, I'm glad to do it. I mean it'll be a pleasure to have you. So if 
you want to notify your family " 

"I haven't any family," said Bartlett. 

"Well, I'm sorry for you! And I bet when you see mine, you'll wish 
you had one of your own. But I'm glad you can come and we'll start 
now so as to get there before the kiddies are put away for the night. 
I mean I want you to be sure and see the kiddies. I've got three." 

"I've seen their pictures," said Bartlett. "You must be very proud of 
them. They're all girls, aren't they?" 

"Yes, sir; three girls. I wouldn't have a boy. I mean I always wanted 
girls. I mean girls have got a lot more zip to them. I mean they're a 
lot zippier. But let's go! The Rolls is downstairs and if we start now 

413 



414 READING I'VE LIKED 

we'll get there before dark. I mean I want you to see the place while 
it's still daylight." 

The great man — Lou Gregg, president of Modern Pictures, Inc. — 
escorted his visitor from the magnificent office by a private door and 
down a private stairway to the avenue, where the glittering car with 
its glittering chaufTeur waited. 

"My wife was in town today," said Gregg as they glided northward, 
"and I hoped we could ride out together, but she called up about two 
and asked would I mind if she went on home in the Pierce. ^She was 
through with her shopping and she hates to be away from the house 
and the kiddies any longer than she can help. Celia's a great home 
girl. You'd never know she was the same girl now as the girl I mar- 
ried seven years ago. I mean she's different. I mean she's not the same. 
I mean her marriage and being a mother has developed her. Did you 
ever see her? I mean in pictures?" 

"I think I did once," replied Bartlett. "Didn't she play the young 
sister in 'The Cad'?" 

"Yes, with Harold Hodgson and Marie Blythe." 

"I thought I'd seen her. I remember her as very pretty and viva- 
cious." 

"She certainly was! And she is yet! I mean she's even prettier, but 
of course she ain't a kid, though she looks it. I mean she was only 
seventeen in that picture and that was ten years ago. I mean she's 
twenty-seven years old now. But I never met a girl with as much zip 
as she had in those days. It's remarkable how marriage changes them. 
I mean nobody would ever thought Celia Sayles would turn out to be 
a sit-by-the-fire. I mean she still likes a good time, but her home and 
kiddies come first. I mean her home and kiddies come first." 

"I see what you mean," said Bartlett. 

An hour's drive brought them to Ardsley-on-Hudson and the great 
man's home. 

"A wonderful place!" Bartlett exclaimed with a heroic semblance 
of enthusiasm as the car turned in at an arc de triomphe of a gateway 
and approached a white house that might have been mistaken for the 
Yale Bowl. 



RING LARDNER 415 

"It ought to be!" said Gregg. "I mean I've spent enough on it. I 
mean these things cost money." 

He indicated with a gesture the huge house and Urbanesque land- 
scaping. 

"But no amount of money is too much to spend on home. I mean 
it's a good investment if it tends to make your family proud and satis- 
fied with their home. I mean every nickel I've spent here is like so 
much insurance; it insures me of a happy wife and family. And what 
more can a man ask!" 

Bartlett didn't know, but the topic was forgotten in the business of 
leaving the resplendent Rolls and entering the even more resplendent 
reception hall. 

"Forbes will take your things," said Gregg. "And, Forbes, you may 
tell Dennis that Mr. Bartlett will spend the night." He faced the wide 
stairway and raised his voice. "Sweetheart!" he called. 

From above came the reply in contralto: "Hello, sweetheart!" 

"Come down, sweetheart. I've brought you a visitor." 

"All right, sweetheart, in just a minute." 

Gregg led Bartlett into a living-room that was five laps to the mile 
and suggestive of an Atlantic City auction sale. 

"Sit there," said the host, pointing to a balloon-stuffed easy chair, 
"and I'll see if we can get a drink. I've got some real old Bourbon that 
I'd like you to try. You know I come from Chicago and I always liked 
Bourbon better than Scotch. I mean I always preferred it to Scotch. 
Forbes," he addressed the servant, "we want a drink. You'll find a full 
bottle of that Bourbon in the cupboard." 

"It's only half full, sir," said Forbes. 

"Half full! That's funny! I mean I opened it last night and just took 
one drink. I mean it ought to be full." 

"It's only half full," repeated Forbes, and went to fetch it. 

"I'll have to investigate," Gregg told his guest. "I mean this ain't the 
first time lately that some of my good stuff has disappeared. When 
you keep so many servants, it's hard to get all honest ones. But here's 
Celia!" 

Bartlett rose to greet the striking brunette who at this moment made 



416 READING I'VE LIKED 

an entrance so Delsarte as to be almost painful. With never a glance 
at him, she minced across the room to her husband and took a half 
interest in a convincing kiss. 

"Well, sweetheart," she said when it was at last over. 

"This is Mr. Bartlett, sweetheart," said her husband. "Mr. Bartlett, 
meet Mrs. Gregg." 

Bartlett shook his hostess's proffered two fingers. 

"I'm so pleased!" said Celia in a voice reminiscent of Miss Claire's 
imitation of Miss Barrymore. 

"Mr. Bartlett," Gregg went on, "is with Mankind, Ralph Doane's 
magazine. He is going to write me up; I mean us." 

"No, you mean you," said Celia. "I'm sure the public is not interested 
in great men's wives." 

"I am sure you are mistaken, Mrs. Gregg," said Bartlett politely. 
"In this case at least. You are worth writing up aside from being a 
great man's wife." 

"I'm afraid you're a flatterer, Mr. Bartlett," she returned. "I have 
been out of the limelight so long that I doubt if anybody remembers 
me. I'm no longer an artist; merely a happy wife and mother." 

"And I claim, sweetheart," said Gregg, "that it takes an artist to 
be that." 

"Oh, no, sweetheart!" said Celia. "Not when they have you for 
a husband!" 

The exchange of hosannahs was interrupted by the arrival of Forbes 
with the tray. 

"Will you take yours straight or in a high-ball?" Gregg inquired 
of his guest. "Personally I like good whisky straight. I mean mixing 
it with water spoils the flavor. I mean whisky like this, it seems like 
a crime to mix it with water." 

"I'll have mine straight," said Bartlett, who would have preferred 
a high-ball. 

While the drinks were being prepared, he observed his hostess more 
closely and thought how much more charming she would be if she had 
used finesse in improving on nature. Her cheeks, her mouth, her eyes, 
and lashes had been, he guessed, far above the average in beauty 
before she had begun experimenting with them. And her experiments 



RING LARDNER 417 

had been clumsy. She was handsome in spite of her efforts to be hand- 
somer. 

"Listen, sweetheart," said her husband. "One of the servants has 
been helping himself to this Bourbon. I mean it was a full bottle last 
night and I only had one little drink out of it. And now it's less than 
half full. Who do you suppose has been at it?" 

"How do I know, sweetheart? Maybe the groceryman or the iceman 
or somebody." 

"But you and I and Forbes are the only ones that have a key. I 
mean it was locked up." 

"Maybe you forgot to lock it." 

"I never do. Well, anyway, Bartlett, here's a go