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J m J 

^tidJl-'Books by Karel Zapek 


(Recounted by Karel Capek) 

(Eighth Impression) 

(Second Impression) 

(Second Impression) 

With Josef Lapek 

A Comedy in Six Scenes 



Translated by 





All rights reserved 


880885 J M o 






SNOW 20 


MAPS 27 












A GAME WITH A PIGEON . . , . 67 










Intimate Things 




CATS 103 









MEN AND DOGS . . . . > . .134 




LIGHTS i 47 


BIG AND LITTLE . T . . . . 153 


A COLD J( j 







ORGIVE me if I start off with something quite 
other than literature, something from the days when 
I was a small boy. Your city boy is a kind of super-boy, 
a born sceptic, lord of the streets; and it is quite natural 
that he should have a huge contempt for hobble-de- 
hoys, nincompoops, bumpkins, and clod-hoppers, as 
he nicknames country boys. Your country boy looks 
down immeasurably and with justice on the city boys; 
for he is lord of the fields and forests; he knows all 
about horses, and is on friendly terms with the beasts 
of the field; he can crack a whip and has under his 
dominion all the treasures of the earth, from willow- 
switches to ripe poppy-heads. And even your boy 
from a small country town is by no means the least 
among worldly princes; for he includes in his circle 
more than any other mortal creature: he can watch 
all human activities at close quarters. 

When I was a boy in a little country town I saw at 
home how a doctor's business is run, and at my grand 
father's I could inspect the business of a miller and 
baker, which is ever so jolly and fine. And at my 
uncle's I saw what a farmer has to do; but if I once 
started on that I should never stop telling you all I 
learnt there, and all the things I got to know. Our 
nearest neighbour was the painter who stencilled the 

Intimate Things 

walls, 1 and that is a tremendously interesting job. 
Sometimes he used to let me mix him the colours in 
their little pots; and once, almost bursting with pride, 
I was allowed to smear one stencil pattern with the 
brush; it came out crooked, but otherwise most 
successfully. I shall never forget how that painter used 
to stride up and down the planks whistling, gloriously 
splashed with all the colours of the rainbow; and he 
stencilled in such miraculously straight lines, sometimes 
even painting in something freehand it might be an 
amazingly well-nourished rose the colour of stale liver, 
on the ceiling. It was my first revelation of the painter's 
art, and I lost my heart to it then, and have been in love 
with it ever since. And then I used to go every day 
and have a look at how the innkeeper runs his job, 
and see how they roll the casks down into the cellar and 
how they draw the beer and blow off the froth, and 
hear the wise tales the old gossips tell as they wipe 
the froth from their whiskers with the backs of their 
hands. Every day I used to look in on neighbour 
cobbler and watch in silence how he cut the leather 
and hammered it on his last and then put on the heel, 
and all manner of other things; for shoemaking is an 
intricate and delicate work, and if you have not seen 
leather in the cobbler's hands you know nothing about 
it at all, though you may wear shoes of Cordovan 
or even of celestial leather. Then there was neighbour 
hurdy-gurdy man, and I went to see him too, when he 
was at home, and was so surprised that he did not 

1 Most Czechoslovak houses have their rooms stencilled m 
colour-wash instead of being papered. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE, 


On Literature 

play his hurdy-gurdy at home, but sat and stared at 
one corner of the room till I felt quite uncomfortable. 
There was the mournful stone-mason who carved 
crosses and queer, short, dumpy angels on the grave 
stones; he would tap away all day and never say a 
single word, and I stood watching for perhaps an hour 
while he chipped away at the unseeing eye of a weeping 
angel. And then, ha ha ! yes ! there was die wheelwright 
with his beautiful wood throwing off sparks and his 
yard full of hastening wheels, as Homer says; and a 
wheel, you know, is a wonder in itself. Then there was 
the smith in his black smithy: I burst with pride when 
I was sometimes allowed to work the bellows for him 
while he heated the iron bar red-hot and hammered it, 
looking like a black Cyclops, till it sent out a shower 
of sparks; and when he put the shoe on the horse it 
smelt of burnt horn, and "the horse would turn his 
wise eyes on the smith as much as to say, "All right, 
go on, I shan't make a fuss." 

A little farther on lived Tona, the prostitute; I 
did not understand her business very well, and I 
used to pass her little house with a queer, dry feeling 
in my throat. Once I looked in through the window, 
but it was all empty just striped feather beds, and 
some consecrated willow catkins above the bed. I had 
a look at ,the mill owners' businesses, and watched 
them hurrying through their counting-houses, and 
collected foreign stamps out of their waste-paper 
baskets; and I watched the mill hands at the vats full 
of tow, and the weavers at the mysterious mechanical 
looms: I went into the red-hot hell of the jute-drying 


Intimate Things 

kilns and scorched myself beside the stokers at the 
boilers, wondering at their long shovels, which I 
could hardly lift. I would visit the butcher, eyeing him 
with interest to see if he would cut off a ringer. I would 
have a look in at the shopkeeper as he weighed and 
measured; stop at the tinsmith's, and go into the car- | 
penter's yard where everything was a-whirr and ^ 
a-clatter. I went to the poor-house to see what the ^ 
poor do with themselves, and went with them to their 
fair in the city on a Friday to learn how the business ^ 
of begging was carried on. . * 

Now I have got a profession of my own, and I work - 
at it the livelong day. But even if I were to sit in the 
porch with my work I don't think a single boy would 
come and watch my fingers standing on one bare 
foot and rubbing his calf with the other to see how 
a writer's business is done. I don't say that it is a bad 
or useless profession: but it is not one of the superla 
tively fine and striking ones, and the material used is 
of a strange sort you don't even see it. But I should 
like all the things that I used to see to be in it: the 
ringing hammer-strokes of the smith and the colours 
of the whistling house painter, the patience of the 
tailor, and the careful chipping of the stone-mason, the 
bustling of the baker, the humility of the poor, and all 
the lusty strength and skill which men of towering 
stature put into their work before the astonished and 
fascinated eyes of a child. 




JL HEY are called "Flowers," and in old-fashioned 

descriptions of nature we used to be told that "the 

(^artist Frost conjures up luxuriant and enchanted 

* blossoms." Well, I have had a careful look at them, 

^ and I have found that the inventive faculty of the artist 

^ Frost is really along the lines of a tinsmith; what he 

^has a special preference for conjuring up on our windows 

(flis rather like a barbed wire fence. As far as the vegetable 

flO kingdom is concerned, he restricts himself to forms 

akin to thistles, holly, thorn bushes, and prickly twigs. 

Or else you find a kind of pointed fern, prickly leaves, 

"serrated foliage with dreadfully sharp thorns, spiky 

* ^moss, slender pine needles, stinging nettles, in fact 

anything very sharp, thorny, and far removed from 

V flowers. A window grown over with frost flowers is 

not in the least like a blossom-covered arbour; it is 

A more like a cutting through a wood: a dreadful web of 

thorns with which we are surrounded as in a besieged 

<$fortress. A window is a hole in the wall; when the 

%first frost comes this hole is blocked up with a fantastic 

TDarricade of ice lances, daggers, and needles. It is not 

^"a blossoming and luxuriant pleasure garden, but a 

^blossoming and luxuriant blockade of terrible sparkling 

swords and bayonets. 

When fresh snow falls something miraculous 
happens: the streets suddenly look broader than they 


Intimate Things 

were before, and the houses are farther from each 
other than at other times, and the things in the world 
which seemed constricted and narrow find elbow 
room through this white overgrowth. All expanses 
are much broader; the world has suddenly a higher 
calibre, just as we speak of the calibre of a gun barrel. 
If I wanted to describe it properly I should have to 
write with the lines set farther apart from each other, 
leaving the nice white paper between them; and you 
who read this would have to pick your way with your 

eyes along the little streets which I have left you 
between the lines, just as when you trot delightedly 
through freshly fallen snow: 

It is not mere chance that on our thermometers we 
always use both systems, Fahrenheit and Centigrade. 
If I want to protest that my room is badly heated and 
that it is frightfully cold, I declare (using Centigrade) 
that it is "only fifteen degrees'*; if I said (using Fahren 
heit) that it was fifty-nine degrees, I should weaken the 
force of my protest. But if I want to make out that the 
room is dreadfully overheated, of course I say that it 
is sixty-eight degrees (Fahrenheit) and not twenty 
degrees (Centigrade). If I want to point out that there 


Frost Flowers 

is a terrible frost I measure it in Centigrade; but if I 
want to prove that it has got milder, I give the tempera 
ture in Fahrenheit. That is why it is quite right that 
(with humane consideration for our mortal need to 
exaggerate a little always) they manufacture thermo 
meters with two different systems of measurement. 

However, when there is snow on the ground the 
degree of frost might be measured still another way 
acoustically. If the temperature is only a little below 
zero the snow crunches underfoot with a nice deep 
sound; if it is five degrees below zero the snow begins 
to creak in a rather high voice; at ten degrees it squeaks 
and rings in a high, clear tone; but at fifteen degrees 
below zero (Centigrade, of course) it pipes and whines 
with a sound as terribly high as harmonics played on a 
violin. One might say, "To-day there are 'the second C 
above the stave' degrees of frost." Very severe frost is 
quite a shrill whistle like a knife scraped over a plate. 

The prettiest thing about the snow is that it gives 
the human earth back its virginity. In times of snow 
the most trodden of roads has moments when no foot 
has yet touched it, and when the first walker sets foot 
on it a little hesitatingly and reverently, like a mariner 
on a new and virgin continent. 

It is possible that the snow is white from some 
physical or chemical causes; but I would rather believe 
that it is white so that our northern nights should not 
be so terribly dark. Perhaps it is white simply because 
it is the frozen light of the longest nights. 


\L^NE of the stock questions with which we some 
times plague our fellow-creatures is: What is your 
favourite book? Like most trite questions it is most 
unprecise. More correctly it should run: Which is your 
favourite book for such and such an occasion? Cer 
tainly people will have one favourite book during 
the fortunate and epic state of being a boy just hesi 
tating whether to make himself a sling or to read Oliver 
Curwood; another when suffering from the confusion 
of puberty; another when head over ears in love; and 
still another for the greater and more serious part of 
life spent in hunting through the tresses with a comb 
for the first grey hair and its successors. That, of course, 
is an old story; it is only surprising that while books 
are published "for children" or "for adolescents/' they 
are not also published with the express designation 
that they are for young donkeys or old greybeards, 
divorced husbands or lonely misanthropists. Even 
.disregarding these differences of age, it is not every 
book, however good in itself, which suits every situa 
tion. For instance, the Bible is not particularly suitable 
as reading matter for a train journey. Poems are not 
usually put in dentists' waiting-rooms for patients to 
while away the time of waiting. A man does not 
envelop himself in Hugo's Les Mu&rallds with his 
morning coffee, but rather in the newspaper. 

I would go so far as to say that the morning is not 
the time for reading books; one feels that one is wasting 


For Bookworms 

time. It is only as the day progresses that the ability 
and need to read books slowly grows, culminating 
usually at night; on the whole your bookworm belongs 
among the creatures of the night; for that reason his 
crest is an owl and not a chicken or a duck, which 
would otherwise be an excellent emblem for the 
gluttony of book-lovers. Only the newspaper is made 
for the morning reader with his mouth full of roll 
or hanging to a strap in the tram. Newspapers are the 
sails under which we sail into the full day. Magazines 
on the other hand are best read after the midday meal, 
while books, like love or orgies, are mainly a nocturnal 

The matter becomes far more complicated as soon 
as we examine the various circumstances of life. If 
you are run down you choose- reading matter which 
is like a good slice of meat; you do not want to nibble 
at something dainty but to hack valiantly like a wood 
cutter at work; and you choose a fat novel with a good 
plot; if possible a thriller, but if not a thriller, then 
an adventure story, preferably seafaring. At a time of 
mild indisposition and when a prey to worry or over 
work, your preference is for exotic, historic, or Utopian - 
novels, mainly because these distant climes and ages 
do not really concern you. In the case of sudden ill 
ness you long for some extremely exciting and absorb 
ing reading which must not be sentimental and must 
end happiljf in other words, a detective story. If the 
illness be chronic you put aside detective novels and 
seek out something genial and hearty: probably it will 
be Dickens. A careful reader will note that Dickens 

B I? 

Intimate Things 

and Gogol are authors who arouse a taste for food. To 
what book one gives preference in the hour of death 
I have not yet investigated, but I am assured by a 
high authority on the subject that in gaol and when 
life is in danger Dostojevsky is not the author most 
easily digested; in car cere et catenis the most comfort 
ing books are said to be The Count of Monte Cristo, 
The Three Musketeers^ or Stendhal's Rouge et Noir. 

On Sunday people like to read essays because in this 
way they can be mildly bored in an odour of sanctity; 
or classical works, to read which is considered "the 
duty of every educated man"; Sunday reading, on the 
whole, is rather like the performance of some honour 
able deed while everyday reading resembles a pro 
fligate orgy. On summer holidays the best things to 
read are the old almanacks and annuals as far as they 
are to be found at one's country lodgings; when there 
are none one takes the local paper. In the autumn the 
best person to read is Anatole France, because of his 
peculiar mellowness; in winter readers will consume 
all possible sorts of fodder, and even put up with the 
bulky psychological novels which they markedly avoided 
in the summer. Very fat novels are for bad weather 
and snow-storms; the worse the weather, the fatter 
the novel. In bed one does not read poetry, but prose; 
poems one reads perching lightly somewhere like a 
bird on a twig. On a journey a man will read Baedeker, 
the newspaper, the current chapter of a serial story, and 
topical pamphlets. When he has toothache he likes 
romantic literature which he would scorn when he has 
a cold. When waiting for anything, let us say a letter 


For Bookworms 

or a visit, he prefers short stories, for instance Chekhov. 
Besides these there are a great multitude of books 
which I am at a loss to classify, nor can I say in what 
exceptional circumstances they are read; I have not 
been able to get to the bottom of the subject. 


i VERYONE says that we used to have more snow 
than we do now. Where the snow has gone I don't 
know, and the meteorologists have not so far been able 
to shed any light on the subject. But the fact remains 
that in past times snow used to be more plentiful. In 
Simon's etchings Prague is seen quite snowed under; 
in the old lithographs you see sledges driving through 
the streets of Prague; as boys we used to have snow 
balling every year, and long slides down the streets, 
and tobogganing, and we used to write our names 
and draw patterns in the snow, and build far more 
snow men than the present generation of boys. 
This fact is as indisputable as the decrease in 
floods, fires, and other natural phenomena which 
enlivened our childhood. What is the cause of it I 
do not know, but the long and the short of it is 
that times are not what they used to be. Not by any 

The other day I saw a snow man as a matter of 
fact I think it was at Brno and I stared at him in 
amazement, for the scales had fallen from my eyes. 
There was I, a couple of steps from the tram lines, 
suddenly face to face with a pagan idol, blood brother 
of some authentic stone monster of prehistoric times. 
Lusty, enormous, monumental, terrible, and dignified 
simply an idol, a snow god. The boys had forgotten 
the proper ceremonies: they did not bow down before 
the god, nor bring him human sacrifices; yet they had 



at least, from the depths of some unconscious atavism, 
set up an idol huge, godlike. 

A bit farther on there was an attempt at a slide it 
was about as long as three thumb-lengths and sprinkled 
with sand besides. Yet every urchin running along that 
way was trying (in vain) to have upon it the celestial 
delight of sliding. And a little farther still the street 
turned itself into something like a gentle slope; imme 
diately there were a fleet of toboggans, each with a 
boy on it lying on his tummy, struggling to get along 
at least a couple of inches. They really couldn't manage 
it; there was too little snow; it hardly covered the 
layer of frozen mud. But they dug into the ground, 
pushed themselves off, prised themselves forward a 
hand's breadth at a time in the eterrial hope that their 
toboggans would suddenly move forward and glide 
glide! Ah! isn't that the eternal dream of some means 
whereby man flies ? Of something which alone, without 
effort, by sheer magic power, will carry him from place 
to place? Is it not in its essence the age-old legend of 
the magic carpet, the seven league boots, or the winged 
horses, the prehistoric myth of glorious and enchanted 
flight ? To be carried away if not across seven moun 
tains and seven seas, at least over half a yard of street ! 
Instead of commonplace, prosaic walking, to be borne 
in some enchanted vehicle which glides along of itself, 
even if you do have to help it a bit laboriously! Boys 
have a hidden feeling for these things. To drag your 
cart or sled up the hill and then let it coast down is 
not so much an outcome of the modern craze for speed 
as the primitive delight in miracles, the atavistic dream 


Intimate Things 

of magical motion. Boys are mythology come alive; 
children are the pagan prehistory of mankind. The 
oldest tradition in the world is to be a real boy. 

Look! As soon as I began to attempt this deification 
of the snow the gods at once showed their approval; 
for flake by flake, while I have been writing, they 
have sent down the snow to cover the city. Real 
snow even if for the moment it is only a light, cold 
sprinkling. But the first sparrow on the opposite roof 
is hopping along on a snowy carpet right up the tiles. 
It would be hard, it is true, to make a proper snow 
man out of what has fallen, and still harder to glide in 
an enchanted chariot over the rough slope of the 
cobbled street. But at least this thin white blanket 
means that even in these poor, degenerate, and really 
gloomy times there is still a little room for the pagan 
forces of life, for the heathen elements, telluric traditions, 

enchantments, and wonders; that there still remains 

But no, nothing! I cannot finish what I was going 
to write; the snow has stopped, and it is all black and 
wet once more wherever you look. 

So there can be no doubt about it: we used to have 
more snow, and the snow we had was better, drier, 
with more body to it; not the slushy kind of stuff we 
get now. It is so true: Ob sont les neiges d'antan? 



, Y friend Frantisek Langer has written a story 
about a vendor of dreams. He is an old man who buys 
folks' dreams from them in the morning and sells them 
back to them at night, so that they have something to 
dream. These dreams are described as "very lovely, 
like rare fruit, such as even kings in the richest lands 
have not"; in them folk "wander in the gardens of 
paradise, walk beside the seas, listen to the most 
exquisite voices, love the fairest women, while blossoms 
shed their perfume around them and dancers dance. ..." 
The whole of literature abounds in beautiful dreams; 
dreams which fulfil every wish of the sleeper, lavish 
luxuries upon him, bringing him to enchanted gardens, 
overwhelming him with splendour, love, success, and 
all the rest of it. 

Now I maintain that it is not like that, and that the 
old man who bought and sold cast-off dreams came off 
very badly commercially. I maintain that in ninety-nine 
cases out of a hundred, dreams are odds and ends, 
rubbish, lumber, trash, worthless gleanings, refuse, and 
weeds> which are not worth a pipeful of tobacco. There 
are, it is true, virtuosos in dreams, like K. M. Capek- 
Chod, 1 who seems to make up his mind what he will 
dream when he goes to sleep and to make a concert 
programme of dreams in advance for the whole night; 
but all the rest of us can candidly say that only two or 

1 One of the most popular Czech writers of the last genera 
tion. He died in 1928. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


Intimate Things 

three dreams in the year are worth relating and worth 
remembering; for the rest we have dozens of tedious, 
commonplace, ridiculous, empty, grotesque, unpleasant, 
shameless, awkward, barren, and undignified dreams. 
And besides that we have confused, nonsensical, a 
hundred times repeated, torn, obscure, criminal, boring, 
incongruous, and unseemly ones. And over and above 
that stupid, hopeless, disgraceful, and humiliating 
ones, not nice for us at all. 

For example, I am ready to bet that very few of those 
who read these lines of mine dreamed last night 
of heavenly gardens, celestial perfumes, and beautiful 
women. You are more likely to have dreamed that in 
the sweat of your brow you have been plucked in your 
exam, for the twentieth or hundredth time, inexpres 
sibly perplexed by some utterly stupid question; or 
you dreamed that you were in the street or at a party 
or even at a dance, and suddenly you noticed with 
horror that you were only in your shirt and that every 
one was looking at you scandalized and that you were 
trying to hide yourself somewhere in a panic of shame 
and humiliation; or you dreamed that you were flying 
head foremost over some precipice at the bottom of 
which you were sure to be smashed like a squashy 
pear; in dreams like this you groan and cry out, and if 
anyone is sleeping with you they wake you up and - 
some unpleasant language comes hurtling across your 
nose. Or you dreamed that someone was chasing you: 
you rushed upstairs and then down again and along 
passages and upstairs again like a postman who's lost 
his way; or you dreamed of criminals or dead friends, 

On Dreams 

or that you had an audience with the President and 
committed a frightful impropriety, or that you were 
in love with an old crone or with some person for 
whom you would never dream of sighing, as they call 
it. In other words, your dreams were for the most 
part unpleasant, scandalous, and ignominious. You 
experienced a hundred times more disasters, follies, 
and frights than pleasant surprises. And other things that 
you dreamed were confused, trivial, more trivial than 
your work at your office, shop, or workshop. Yes, a 
dream is one immense confusion. And very rarely does 
it "take you to far-off climes." Usually you dream 
about exactly the same work as you have been doing 
all day. Before every first night in which I have a 
personal share I always dream that it has failed in an 
extraordinarily unpleasant and humiliating fashion. 
Each of us has dreams which recur perhaps every 
week; we know at the outset how they are going to 
turn out, but we cannot walk out as we should at the 
theatre when instead of giving a new opera they give 
us Dalibor 1 for about the twentieth time in the season; 
we must dream it out, entirely defenceless in the face 
of the recurring mania. And you know, the worst 
thing about dreams is that we have to remain so 
completely passive in them; by no force of will, by no 
. feat of intelligence or energy can we change the course 
of a dream, however unfavourably for ourselves it is 
turning out. And to have to be passive is the greatest 

1 An opera of Smetana's based on the legendary history of 
Prague castle and extremely popular in Prague. TRANSLATOR'S 

Intimate Things 

humiliation, at least for us men. Why, for instance, 
do we criticize a play or concert, except that, we have 
suffered from the passivity which was imposed on us 
for two or three hours? And our dreams we cannot 
even criticize because in the morning we have usually 
forgotten them. 

Yes, it is a great literary error to talk of the enchant 
ment of dreams. There certainly are some rare, strange, 
prophetic, and even poetic dreams, but very few of 
them, so few of them that you can count far more 
beautiful, strange, prophetic, and poetic occurrences in 
waking, real, ordinary, and everyday life. 

Waking is really more amusing than sleeping. It is 
richer, more absorbing, and more creative. I have had 
the most fantastic experiences in real life; I have 
experienced the greatest wonders and joys; I have 
seen the loveliest countries and the most mysterious 

Poetry and all art is rather like the Egypto-Chaldean 
Dream Book of waking reality: it interprets real things 
to us as Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams. 

That is the most significant task of art. 




JL HERE are some people who collect postage 

stamps, and others who store up all the picture post 
cards that they have ever been sent; and sometimes 
they rummage through them and say: "Let's see, 
that is the Boulevard de la Poissonntere, and here is 
Trajan's Column; and how did this card from Vaclavice 
get here? Here is Tarascon; in this one that little man 
always stands in front of the castle and stares at the 
camera; whom will that be? I should like to be there; 
Fd see if he's standing there still. Brno, Niirberg, 
Tcibor, and here's even a view of Alexandria/' 

And there are people who keep old railway time 
tables; and if they happen to be sad and don't know 
what to be at, they look up the connection for Oslo 
or Lisbon. For at Oslo or Lisbon in some strange way 
they find relief, because there is or was a connection 
there, and it is or was possible to leave everything 
behind them and go journeying on and on, farther and 
farther, to Oslo or to Lisbon. 

But best of all, better than picture postcards or rail 
way time-tables, are maps. Of course I don't mean those 
brightly coloured ones where there are merely red, 
yellow, and green States and black railway lines. But the 
maps where the lowlands are painted green like the 
loveliest meadow, in which a man can wade up to his 
eyes, and the hills are shown in a pale tawny colour 
like the young rye, making you think of sun-baked 
loam and the white gleam of ripening crops; and the 

Intimate Things 

higher mountains are brown, brown like rocks, russet 
like moss, and the still higher mountains are frowningly 
dark, the colour of bare stone, and right at the top are 
white points and expanses the eternal snows. And 
then there are little blue veins, which are rivers, and 
they wind about so that one must follow them; and 
azure lakes the colour of the sky, little mirrors in which 
not even one tiny cloudlet is reflected; and marshes 
sprinkled with blue commas; and eternally blue seas; 
and finally deserts all dotted over like the sand we used 
to play in when we were little. 

And you let your eyes wander about the map as 
though you were going on foot over the whole surface 
of the earth. Here a little green tongue of plain is digging 
its way into the purple-brown mountains. What a 
lovely walk through green meadows between high 
rocks! Foxgloves grow there, and verbena, and Our 
Lady's Tears, 1 and wild thyme; and farther down 
the meadow are forget-me-nots and alders, and little 
fawns stand trembling there, fascinated by the wolf. 
But come here to these golden, swelling hillocks which 
cross the green plains looking like ears of corn; here 
you wander along tawny paths, the sun burns the back 
of your neck, and a yellow brimstone butterfly flutters 
in sail-like flight over the shining ripples of corn. You 
see, too, the red walls of villages, for the towns have 
gone right down into the valleys and are stuck like 
bulging eyes on to the blue veins of the rivers. You 
wander from town to town; you find little out-of-the- 

1 A small, bright cerise-coloured single wild pink. TRANS 



way towns, hidden away like keepsakes at the back 
of a drawer; you read names that are never in the 
newspapers, for in them folk live a quiet and un 
eventful life; you find names that lure you on as if 
something beautiful and strange were waiting for 
you there. You pause below the wonderful ramparts of 
the mountains; you go along the bottom of the valleys 
and look up to where they are climbing the summits 
like wild goats; you discover valleys full of solitude, 
where there is not even a path but along which you 
long to thread your way, for who knows if you would 
not find there the loveliest place in the world? You 
are seeking for your path through mountains and men; 
you are seeking for a solitude, abandoned not by God 
but by men; or else for some distant express train which, 
with a roar in all the languages of earth, would have 
carried you off to some other life. Ah, to be able to start 
anew ! 

As I say, maps of the world are beautiful things, and 
full of secret signs. You would like to be everywhere; 
you would like to live all the lives there are in the 
world; you would like to know everything and stop 
at each place, satiated with effort and learning. But 
you do not manage even to go all over the map of the 
world and read all the names on it. Only sometimes 
you conquer a silent path across it with your eyes; and 
you see a multitude of things, like a pilgrim who has 
no goal but who does not journey in vain. 


FEW night ago, a fire broke out just opposite 
our office in Prague. A red glow flooded the sky above 
the roofs; servant girls who had gone to fetch the 
beer stood staring with mugs in their hands. In a 
minute or two the fire engine was there and a crowd 
of people, and then it was all over. But that moment 
was enough for a man to feel stirring at the bottom of 
his heart the old and ardent instinct of fire-worship. 

We each carry in us, willy nilly, the primordial 
pagan, the primitive cave-man; we are fascinated by 
fire. The man who has never stared into the glowing 
stove on a winter evening, who has never burned old 
papers squatting before the stove in the reverent attitude 
of a savage, who has never in his life made a bonfire 
in the fields and danced round it, is perhaps not 
descended from old Adam but from someone else; 
perhaps his ancestors were hatched from frog-spawn 
or fell down with the rain, like the ancestors of vege 
tarians, total abstainers, and other superhuman beings. 
And the man who has never made die mystical, fiery 
sign of eight with a burning match, has never felt an 
awful and felonious ecstasy when man's petty fire 
breaks its chain and flies up in a mighty blaze. 

It is part of us. A great fire wakes horror and wonder 
in us, a strange jollity, a wild passion for the flames. 
We forget all about night and sleep; we feel we want 
to camp about the fire and chat in an unexpected 
outburst of primitive comradeship; and when the 



firemen put it out we disperse unwillingly and with 
a certain disappointment that it is all over now and 
that it was not a bigger affair. We remember the fires 
which we have seen and experienced at one time or 
another as great and glorious events in our lives. "We 
envy the firemen and policemen and the superintendent 
of die Fire Brigade who can smile at the fire from so 
near, like priests before the altar, while we are crushed 
together behind the cordon like the faithful at the 
chancel rail. Ah, if they would at least let us hold the 
hose so that we might have some share in the Brother 
hood of Fire! As a boy I had a great, heroic ideal: I 
wanted to be a fireman, to stand on a ladder and play 
the water on to the lashing flames. The roof would fall 
in, a column of fire would shoot up into the night sky, 
but I would stand in the rain of sparks and not go one 
rung lower. 

We are Fire-worshippers in the dark depths of our 
nature; you can even see it in our metaphors. We 
speak of the "flame of passion" when we want to give a 
poetic name to a fatal infatuation for a woman; if we 
were to speak of a deluge of passion or an elementary 
catastrophe of passion, it would not sound so irre 
sistible. With the same partiality we speak of the 
"blaze of revolution"; if we announced a "flood of 
revolution" I don't think we should win many zealous 
followers. In the same way a man "flares up in righteous 
anger," although what righteous anger does as a rule 
is to cause an awful lot of talk. As you see, the cult of 
fire is deeply rooted in our imaginations. 

"In fifteen minutes the fire was got under control 

Intimate Things 

by the local Fire Brigade." That is all you read in the 
paper. The newspaper-man's hand would nearly have 
fallen off if he had written that "from among the 
leaping flames came the despairing cries of women and 
children"; that "the unhappy victims could be seen 
rushing to and fro wringing their hands"; then "Chief 
Fireman Rudolf Holub, swiftly making up his mind, 
flung himself into the flames and at the risk of his life 
carried out two children, after which he fell to the 
ground unconscious." Of course it is not true, but 
why should the papers only tell lies about politics? 
If they can invent something bad about the opposing 
party, why can't they invent something fine about 
Chief Fireman Rudolf Holub ? Why can't they invent 
Rudolf Holub altogether, swiftly rescuing children by 
the dozen? If I were a real journalist (for unfortunately 
I did not become a fireman), I would not let even a 
small fire out of my hands until I had wrung out of it 
great leaping flames, despairing cries for help, and 
heroic risking of lives; for all that belongs to the sacred 
cult of the fire. We have not learned to make a fiery 
festival out of the burning of a shed; and yet is that 
not a much more fantastic occurrence than the resigna 
tion of a Cabinet Minister? It is, after all, far more 
elemental than debates in Parliament. If the end of the 
world came the papers would publish a police report 
on it with the note that "the damage is to a large 
extent covered by insurance"; but here, again, there 
would be nothing about leaping flames or despairing 


MOMENT ago you were chatting and joking, 
interested and amused by all sorts of things. Now you 
are staring at the ground; you wish you could pray, 
but you do not know for what or to whom. Dispirited, 
tired, and indifferent, you find it strange that you could 
have been amused at anything a few minutes back, and 
still stranger that you will have to get up to-morrow 
and go about your business. And worst of all your 
throat feels constricted and you seem to have a load 
on your back and your eyes are like lead, so that you 
can hardly raise them from the ground. 

What has happened to you? Nothing, nothing 
really. Just one or two trifling mishaps. Something 
hindered me on the way, but it's hardly worth men 
tioning, something I wasn't expecting; something 
hurt me a little, I can't get it out of my mind; it's 
nothing, really, when you take it all together; if I 
were to add it all up it would not amount to even 
one decent reason for grief. It's nothing; but it's too 
much altogether, altogether it's not worth mention 
ing, really; but, you know, life is a terrible business. 

I am pretty sure that on the day when King Solomon 
wrote the creed of all the pessimists when he wrote, 
"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" that on that day 
nothing special had happened to him; his kingdom 
was not tottering, his favourite wife had not died, he 
had not felt the touch of death in his ailing body* It 
was nothing nothing serious. In truth, nothing had 

C 33 

Intimate Things 

happened to King Solomon that day: only, perhaps, he 
had read folly and guile in the eyes of his favourite 
wife, indifference in his friend, baseness in his body 
servant; something had slipped out of his hands, 
perhaps something unimportant; some enterprise of 
his failed, something had disappointed him; he saw 
things in just a slightly uglier light than usual, folk 
just a trifle more tiresome, life a little more difficult. 
Nothing, if you take it all together. But King Solomon 
on that day broke down under the weight of that 
nothing and shuddered; weary unto death, he set down 
in his book the vanity of things. 

For, look you, it is possible to be a hero in the face 
of the great blows of fate. Death, ruin, shipwreck, can 
be borne with a head unbowed, as they say; in the last 
resort one can struggle and perish. But it is not possible 
to be a hero in the face of pin-pricks. You can really 
overlook the pricking a couple of times; and then you 
can pretend a few times more that you did not notice 
it; but when it comes to the tenth or fifteenth prick, 
all your heroism leaves you. Man is powerless against 
small pains. He can feel a kind of pride in having 
broken his leg, but he can feel none in breaking a 
finger nail. He can bear the death of his wife with 
fortitude, but he cannot bear it heroically when she is 
stupidly mean to him. He has a certain catastrophic 
consolation if his house falls down, but he has no 
consolation if his house is hopelessly ugly. 

Melancholy, the severest grief of life, is a suffering 
from small causes. It is the severest because it does not 
give way before heroism; there are no heroic victims 



of melancholy. It is in any case a weakness, or rather 
a defencelessness in the face of petty ills. 

I might almost say that there is no modern tragedy. 
Take Ibsen: his modern tragedies (even including 
Ghosts} are really melancholy comedies; the tragedy 
of their heroes lies in the fact that they are pathetic 
creatures who inevitably put themselves in the wrong, 
and so are essentially ridiculous. Your classical hero 
broke himself against the divine order of things, which 
is tragic; your modern hero breaks himself against 
the human order of things, which is slightly comic, 
but mainly sad. Shakespeare's heroes always die; that 
saves them from unwilling absurdity. Modern heroes 
usually live on, which is both laughable and pathetic. 
If Othello had not stabbed himself, but had been 
found guilty of manslaughter with extenuating cir 
cumstances and spent his old age as a retired general 
on half-pay, he would have been a modern hero; that 
is to say, a melancholy semi-hero. That is why anyone 
who wants to write a real tragedy must end his play 
with a wholesale massacre. It is not that death is in 
itself tragic and sublime, but that after that your hero 
can do nothing to disfigure his heroism. 

To survive suffering is a melancholy thing. And 
if there is such a thing as modern heroism, then it 
must be not heroic death but heroic optimism. But 
modern drama has not yet got so far. 



JC? VERY winter at about the beginning of February, 
when the days are beginning to lengthen, I make up 
my mind and swear by all that is holy: No, this year 
I really will not forget to look out for it, and when 
it comes I will keep watch on it closely and carefully, 
like a detective. I will choose out one particular twig 
or shoot, I'll measure out a square yard of garden for 
myself, and I'll see how the spring comes. I will care 
fully study the first sticky, brittle sheath from which 
the bud is beginning to burst; I'll pore over the bud and 
find out about its tiny growth, its furry or sticky 
surface, its gradual swelling. I must be there when at 
last (with a gentle sigh) it opens, when the pale edge 
of the first little leaf pushes out, when it spreads out 
its little leaves, still folded up as if new born, when 
these little closed fans of leaves begin to unfold and 
expand, to turn into real leaves. Suddenly, instead 
of bare twigs there will be a green bush and I shall 
know all the details of how it happened. Yes, that's 
what I'll do. And besides keeping watch on the twig 
I'll look at my square yard of garden; suddenly before 
my eyes a tiny chimney will come pushing through, 
a thin finger will poke up, and I shall see how the first 
grass is putting its cool little tongue out of the earth, 
a short, merry little finger which shoots upwards and 
begins to spread out. I shall wait impatiently for its 
little brothers; I shall count them, and there shall 
not be one at whose exciting birth I have not been 

A Plan Frustrated 

in attendance. Why, perhaps at last my square of 
ground will throw up a strange shoot; it will come 
out under my eyes and reveal a lovely bud; perhaps 
it will be a crocus, a burdock, or some flower which 
has never been before, which I shall discover and call 
by my own name. Perhaps a pair of birds will nest on 
my twig and show me how eggs are made. Yes, this 
year I am really not going to let it just happen; I shall 
catch the spring inflagrantz; I shall look at his hands, 
right at his fingers, to see how he does it, and whether 
there is not some swindle, trick, or doubtful dealing. I 
will stop it, control it, observe it, examine it, investi 
gate it, spy on it; nothing shall escape me this year. 

Yes, with this firm and incorruptible resolve I go 
through each winter. Then come the days when the 
sun shines so; the ice melts and the seagulls come 
flying back, and then I decide that to-morrow or the 
day after I will begin to carry out my plan. And listen, 
people, it is so lovely when the sky turns blue and all 
that. Old women in the street are selling violets and 
cowslips; one. has a sudden longing to seize a switch 
and lash at sundry females. 1 Yes, now I'll just polish 
off this little job of work and that article, and a visit, 
two small errands and that letter, and then I shall be 
alone with the spring, and I will go and see how it is 
really done. And do you know what? I won't do any 
of those tasks and duties to-day at all; they can all go 

1 In the villages there used to be a spring festival at which 
the girls ran down the village street and die boys lashed at them 
with switches, while the next day the boys were lashed by 
the girls. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


Intimate Things 

hang; for to-day I must go and look if spring is begin 
ning yet. 

And why, bless me! it's happened already! The 
bushes are green and there in the young grass the 
flowers are out. By and by we can sit down in the shade, 
wipe the sweat from our foreheads, and buy a bag of 
early cherries. What, cherries over now? Then give 
me some autumn damsons. After all, it is beautiful in 
autumn, and one can still enjoy oneself. . . . Good 
gracious, my friend, have you been asleep ? It's Novem 
ber, the fire is lit in your room, and you seem to be 
another year older. You must leave it till next year, 
and when the beginning of February comes round 
make up your mind firmly that this time nothing 
shall escape you. But take care that the spring does 
not circumvent you by some trick, that he does not 
cheat you and steal a march on you. Take care, take 
great, great care next time! 


JL T is all over now, while we, numb and coughing 
mortals, are still waiting for our spring, the spring 
of pensioners and lovers and poets. But our cats have 
already been out on their great springtime adventure, 
and coming home again after their two or three weeks 
of love escapades, lean as straws, dirty as rags on the 
rubbish heap, they run first to their saucers and then 
straight into the arms of their masters; for with man 
they are as happy and safe as we Christians in the 
arms of God. After which they blink their golden 
eyes and purr softly: "I'll never do it again, Big Man, 
If you only knew what I've been through! I don't 
even want to think of that striped ne'er-do-well, 
that brute with a bitten-off tail, that faithless creature, 
that wild beast. . . . Ah! it's so lovely to be home 
again !" 

In this recent cat's springtime thousands of your 
pussies have had their kittens made for them, and now 
will prowl furtively through your rooms with swelling 
bodies, lackadaisically arching their backs. Only take 
care that when- their time comes they do not creep into 
your bed! And when they bring into the world two 
or three blind, squeaking kittens with little quivering 
tails, there begins the eternal spectacle of maternal 
love. Your cat overflowing with gentleness and 
dignity, lying on her side, curled round so that her 
whole body and all four paws are protecting her 
shivering offspring, and making herself their cave, 


Intimate Things 

home, and furry bed; and she will croon softly in 
answer to each of their squeaks in a voice which she 
only uses at these times, and she will give them her 
teats so wisely and devotedly that one marvels silently 
at the reason and inventive routine of feline mother 

And now I come to look at my little cat who has 
taken the very first opportunity to discard her youthful 
ignorance for it was her first adventure and her first 
experience of motherhood and has rather hurried 
into her first cat's spring. She has brought three squeak 
ing waggletails into the world, and before she has 
recovered from, the surprise the kittens are gone; her 
master has had them done away with. Well, now I 
ought to be able to describe the restlessness and grief 
of the mother cat, and to proceed from that to reflections 
on the mystery of maternal love; but the mystery 
which I observe is somewhat different. The cat is 
certainly restless, but I couldn't say that I notice any 
grief; instead of that she puts on a voice as if she still 
had kittens. She gives her crooning little purr at every 
sound, in a voice in which she never talked before, 
curled up on her side with her paws smooth and claws 
drawn in; after a little she grows restless and lies on her 
other side, obviously in order to reach the second 
row of unemployed empty teats. She does exactly 
as a cat would do surrounded by squeaking and suck 
ing kittens; I should have expected the absence of kittens 
to upset her, but that is not so. A passion for caresses 
breaks out in her; she besieges me with requests to 
be stroked, nursed, and fondled; her body likes to 


Cats in Spring 

have something touch it. She purrs in passionate ecstasy 
when I hold her in the curled-up position of the 
suckling mother cat. I mean that she plays at doing 
what in the natural order of things she would have 
had to carry out to a finish. She does something which 
does not correspond to the situation, but which corre 
sponds to an order established before that. One tends 
to think that the mother cat gives her crooning purr 
because she is talking to her kittens; whereas really 
she does it because it has been laid down for her in 
far-off ages how she is to behave in the period of 
kittening; it is as if a rolling-pin were pre-ordained to 
roll automatically. This foolish, striped, grey puss is 
not a crooning mother; in this gently purring mother 
cat is nature herself, a mother a million times older and 
more passionate than my puzzled pussy. Nowhere can 
the blind and consummate function of instinct be 
recognized so clearly as where its object has been 
removed; then its undeviating mechanism is suddenly 
evident. Nature does not trust the individual; therefore 
she lays down for each one, even to the most subtle 
details, how he is to act. She leaves nothing to initiative; 
the rule of instinct is set down with a definite and 
unchanging force. 

And we? We strange and often puzzled humans 
do not even know how and when we became estranged 
from this immeasurable web of instinct; a human 
mother must first find out the movement with which to 
cuddle her baby to her. Human beings have to learn 
everything for themselves, even motherhood and life 
itself. But if man were governed by instinct he would 

Intimate Things 

not be able to do or make anything new, not even to 
imagine or create anything which had not existed 
before. That which is creative in man is not instinctive; 
instinct is conservative, unvarying, impersonal, and 
eternally recurring, laid down from the beginning for 
the whole race. If in the world of men there is any real 
personal initiative, any real research and discovery, 
any real progress, it is the work of intellect. 

And art, too, is the work of intellect and conscious 
will. Get down, you silly puss! You and I don't 
understand each other any more ! 


O, I am not superstitious nor a believer in black 
magic; I do not believe the ladies who tell fortunes 
from cards nor the gentleman who reads my future 
in my palm; and I only lay the cards for myself when 
I have to decide very important things (I don't do it 
by counting my buttons because I cannot rely on my 
tailor). So I am not the least bit superstitious, and I 
only speak from my own experience. There are some 
signs which work out with fatal regularity. Of course 
I consider the fear of meeting an old lady (or an old 
crone) an insignificant, barbarous, and unenlightened 
superstition; but there are other hints which destiny 
sends along our path to warn us. 

If, for instance, I begin the day by seeing the tram 
sail away just before my nose; if die next car only 
arrives (by reason of some obscure and invariable 
hitch in the service) a good twenty minutes later, and 
then so full that the conductor won't let me on, and, 
obedient to Fate, swears at me into the bargain; it is an 
infallible sign that that day nothing, absolutely nothing, 
will go right with me at all. It is a sign that the tram 
which I have to change to will go without me, too; 
that it will be full and will break down; that I shall be 
elbowed, trampled, stifled, and sworn at; that I shall 
find my work encumbered with unforeseen obstacles; 
that I shall have a visitor; that the number will be 
engaged or the battery run down whenever I try 
to ring up; that I shall commit some frightful blunder 


Intimate Things 

or solecism; that I shall offend someone against whom 
I have not the smallest grievance; that my dinner will 
be spoilt; that I shall have to write something, though 
all my ten fingers cannot scratch a single idea out of 
my head; that I shall get wet through, arrive some 
where late, tread in a mess, spoil something, have 
some kind of setback, meet surly, obstinate, uncouth, 
glum, awkward people. In short, that I shall go through 
everything which would make an Alceste of the most 
good-natured of men; and that to wind up with I 
shall have dreadful dreams that night. That day is 
ordained by Fate to bring me bad luck, trouble, humili 
ation, disgrace, and failure. It will be inhospitable, 
malevolent, and nasty right till the evening; there will 
be no saving grace in it, no advantage nor honour. 

But the next day I shall set out from home with a 
light step and look! the tram comes hurrying along 
obligingly and welcomes me with pleasure into its 
empty interior; it sets a pretty girl down opposite me, 
and with a merry clatter rushes madly towards its 
goal. Hardly have I arrived than duties to be per 
formed come crowding in on me; and see, with a mere 
word, an authoritative wink, everything is solved, 
carried out, revealed, and everyone wonders at the 
wisdom of my judgment and the great quantity of 
things that I am doing all at once. And outside another 
tram is waiting for me, eager to carry me farther; 
there are extraordinarily nice people in it; people 
everywhere are obligingness itself to-day; they would 
certainly go out of their way to do me a favour. And 
my dinner is particularly nicely cooked, and when I 



sit down to work my thoughts come out as neatly as 
hazel nuts out of their shells, and can hardly wait for 
me to write them down. And then all sorts of other 
nice things happen to me; either I make a special hit 
with people or am particularly delighted by their 
friendliness or I see something beautiful, or I think 
out some nice plan; and finally I fall into a dignified, 
cheerful, and sound sleep, to be borne away into the 
pleasant realm of dreams. Yes, that was a day fore 
ordained to be pleasant, a day of gifts. 

I really am not superstitious, and I don't believe in 
telepathy or the number thirteen or bad luck on 
Fridays, but there are days predestined to be good 
or bad in a hundred different ways. You need not be 
superstitious; but be on your guard if the day begins 
badly, for misfortunes never come singly. I don't 
believe in portents, but it's the sacred truth about that 
tram ! Don't you find it so, too ? 




JL OU are the first blossoming thing that we have 
seen all through the winter, you little Eranthus flower, 
saffron , powdered willow-pussy. Before the first bud 
has burst or the first leaf is unfurled, the full-blown 
flower is here; before Nature begins to breathe, she is 
blossoming; love comes first. Everything else comes 
later: the urge of growth, the work of the roots, the 
fierce, silent battle for existence; but you, little catkin, 
do not come from anywhere but out of the plant's 
own self. The grey earth is still closed, the roots are 
not yet sucking the still sleeping ground; this first 
blossom is born of the plant's own essence. Because 
it has no other resources, it puts its own heart into 
the business of spring. It is well so. 

As for us men, little spring catkin, do not believe all 
the gossip you hear; this world of ours is not so bad. 
We too should like to have a paradise on earth and the 
peace of God and a Resurrection and eternal spring; 
but in the meantime we quarrel as to how to set it up 
and where to get the money from, and who is to do it 
and such like matters. It seems that the soil on which 
we are living has not yet thawed for the garden of 
paradise to begin to germinate, as the gardeners say. 
In other words, it won't work at present. But if we look 
very carefully we find folk here and there who put their 
hearts into this paradise business and draw the means 
fpr making this world of ours better out of their own 
selves. Love comes first. 


Forerunner of Spring 

But as for this first snow blossom (she has no other 
Christian name and she did her bit anonymously, for 
the honour and glory of her family) I can testify that 
it was a very brave thing to throw herself into the work 
of building spring. She had to bite her way through 
snow and ice, a regular little ice-breaker; she set out 
into her own springtime all on her own, taking the 
risk of night frosts and rime. Say what you will, such 
blossoming is not an idyll of sunny weather; it is a 
brave exploit of courage and adventure. Yon catkin is 
an outpost standing far ahead of the lines, waving a 
banner. A pioneer and settler. A first conqueror in an 
inhospitable land. A first white sail on the ocean. 

It is a courageous exploit and a thing which we 
quietly take for granted. It is well so. 

The sprouting is beginning in earnest now; here a 
plump bud, a sturdy closed bud, is pushing its way 
out of the earth; yonder a young leaf is unfurling, so 
beautifully green that nowhere else can you see any 
thing so bright. But that is not all; when you look 
more closely, you see that this tiny life is threading its 
way through the dust and rot of last year's autumn; 
that it is stuck up to the neck in the accumulated burial 
grounds of the vegetation of former years. Last year's 
leaf is only buried in the spring; it is only at the time 
of budding that it returns from the dust and ashes of 
last year. When we look closely we see that the spring 
earth is not covered with flowers, it is far more covered 
with dead leaves and the rot and decay of what was last 


Intimate Things 

year. Last year is only now being buried; only now does 
life return to the earth from which it fled. It is not a 
resurrection from the dead, but a resurrection among 
the dead. 

Wait, fresh little leaf among the rotting brushwood; 
what you come to tell us is the eternal co-existence of 
life and death. 



is true that I have seen some rather special birds. 
I have seen the kingfisher flash over a black pool; I 
have seen the kingly flight of the eagle over the snow 
capped mountains and the lovely swoop of seagulls 
above a sailing ship at sea; all of which are certainly 
among the most beautiful memories of my life. But I 
am thinking now of everyday birds and town birds. 
It seems that nature is getting less prolific and that 
birds are slowly dying out; there have actually been 
years when I have not seen a robin redbreast or a gold 
finch or even a titmouse; but sparrows -and blackbirds 
are not decreasing, nor are pigeons; these birds seem 
to have sized man up and said to themselves that man 
and his existence do not worry them at all. In the 
struggle for life only those creatures survive which 
can get on with man. 

Just take the case of the blackbirds. They are tame 
to the point of impudence and simply whistle at man; 
they would snap their fingers at him, if they had any, 
or make a long nose at him. They have their definite 
department in which they make the law; they have a 
feeling for the family and for posterity and also a sense 
of individual property. A blackbird in my garden is a 
proprietor of four plots of land, that is to say four 
gardens in which he has the exclusive right to extract 
the worms, dig up the flowers, and nip off the crocus 
buds, Being strictly bigamous, he lives most frequently 
& trots-, the third is a friend of the family, a one-year- 

D 49 

Intimate Things 

old philanderer whom in the spring the lawful husband 
manages to dismiss. In the springtime this blackbird 
gives expression to his wedded happiness in an ob 
trusive and even improper manner; he makes a hulla- 
balloo which would wake the dead, simply shouting 
with glee so that the whole world (and the expelled 
friend in particular) shall know about it; he babbles 
all over die place and behaves altogether with the 
typical, unabashed, uproarious egoism of the newly 
married. Naturally, when the eggs make dieir appearance 
even a blackbird grows more serious; he begins to 
call his wife "little mother," sits on the eggs himself 
at times, and feeds his downy young ones with 
exemplary care. He has his own feeling of family 
honour, he is industrious and on the whole faithful. 
He is a healthy egoist, a good father, a reckless oppor 
tunist, a bird who knows how to elbow his way through, 
if I may put it so. Apart from his family he knows no 

Quite different is the impudence of sparrows. The 
sparrow is the most human of birds. He has no personal 
property, he has for other sparrows a feeling of equality 
and comradeship; as a consequence of this he enjoys 
fighting and quarrelling with them. His society has no 
deeper organization; it is only a small group, some 
thing like the bunch of regular clients at a restaurant, 
held together by common ownership of a dung-heap, 
residence in the same neighbourhood, reciprocal 
exchange of jokes, sexual promiscuity, and innate love 
of chatter. Although he has no sense of property, he is 
a local patriot and flings himself with yells and curses 



on sparrows from a couple of streets away; he is foil 
of public interests, his world is the street; he hates to 
be alone, but is not capable of collective discipline or 
barrack life. He has a nest of his own, but his life is 
shared with his fellow-diners. He is too carefree to 
succeed in developing in himself a more logical egoism. 
If he shares every dung-heap with his comrades it is 
not from a feeling of duty but so as to have someone 
to chat with. 

Pigeons are gregarious birds too; they fly out in 
crowds to take exercise, and in crowds they fly back 
to the common dovecote. Their reciprocity is not a 
matter of chance; they are not a small group but a 
homogeneous whole. Apart from erotic relations they 
have no private life nor personal interests; the males 
will fight about a female but never for any other question 
of morals or opinion. Because they all have the same 
experience they have nothing to talk about or boast of. 
A pigeon is not even an individual, he is part of the 
flock. Perhaps that is why carrier pigeons find their 
way home with such miraculous certainty what 
should they do in a strange dovecote where they do 
not belong? In his own way the pigeon carries out a 
certain social ideal of unity; clearly he attains this 
through the fact that he is not the possessor of any 
thing, he is himself a possession. 



AM professedly an earthy creature; I have no 
prophetic dreams; I cannot read thoughts unless they 
are particularly stupid ones; nor have I ever in my life 
had success as a clairvoyant; and although there are 
three spiders in my room (a little spider under the bed, 
a daddy-longlegs behind the stove, and a great big, 
black, melancholy-looking fellow on the ceiling), I 
have not so far discovered that they have any con 
nection with my destiny. But in spite of this incapacity 
of mine in things transcendental, I do believe in certain 
Inner Voices. It is like this. I often think of something 
or say something, or conceive a plan which I wish to 
carry out. And suddenly an unpleasant, anxious feeling 
arises in me which without words and without proofs, 
without . sense and without reason simply says that 
what I said or thought will not do, and that it is no 
good; that it is stupid and vain and worthless, and 
that there is a catch in it somewhere. For the life 
of me I cannot find where the fault lies; I turn the 
whole thing over and over, I examine it, in vain; 
I can find nothing to go on. I think each one of 
you must know this disquieting and unreasonable 

Well now, suppose you turn your back on the Inner 
Voice and carry out your plan or persevere with your 
intention. It will turn out that die foreboding was 
not mistaken; there really was a catch in the scheme, 
and in one way or another it will work out to your 


The Inner Voice 

undoing. Or and this happens very often you 
begin to defend yourself against the voice from within. 
With great force and eloquence you prove to yourself 
and others that you are right, whatever anybody may 
say, you just are right. Tfo^ejs w noi^]^ 
more zealously and energetically than a doubtfuLtKVltii^ 
particularly to stifle 'that disquieting and painful mis 
giving that there is a catch; nothing on which one 
insists so stubbornly as things about which in one's 
heart one is not convinced. Honest, self-evident truths 
are to a man like his glands or his kidneys; he does 
not even know about them, but they function silently 
and without stopping. A man does not defend his 
kidneys; if he were attacked he would defend his life, 
not his kidneys. The man who believes does not fight 
for his belief but for his life. But if he admits into his 
being some thought which does not blend with it as 
reliably as the glands or kidneys, the organism defends 
itself by a feeling of misgiving and repudiation. There 
is no other way of expressing it: it is sheer physical 
reaction to wrongly functioning ideas. 

There are numbers of ideas knocking about the world 
whose validity lies entirely in exhaustive, fiery, in 
genious, or excited proofs. Jesus Christ did not prove 
anything; he said, "Verily, verily I say unto you," 
and that was enough. A conviction which needs to be 
"supported by proofs" is like a pillar which has to be 
supported by beams; if it were unsupported it would 
fall. But our inner man likes simple and reliable 
architecture; what stands must stand as an honest 
pillar, without beams and without proofs, and 


Intimate Things 

especially without words. The best truths are the 
most silent. 

There is still another kind of Inner Voice; it has such 
a bad reputation that I am ashamed to mention it; it 
is called "prejudice." I know that there are many bad, 
superfluous, and even harmful prejudices; but there 
are many which are as useful and sound as any other 
knowledge. An ordinary dog barks at every tramp from 
prejudice; but I once knew a fox terrier at a big country 
house who barked himself hoarse at an archbishop, and 
at temporal princes too, while he led tramps with joyful 
caperings right to the kitchen. Human prejudices are 
no less varied. 

"Prejudices" or "fixed ideas" are things which one 
can only have towards the relatively new or little known, 
with which one has had up to now nothing to do at 
close quarters, such as, for instance, a veal cutlet 
fried in oil or the theory of electrons. It follows 
from the nature of things that a prejudice is usually 
negative, distrustful, and full of antipathy. It is 
perfectly natural that one should distrust unknown 
things; for the unknown harbours as many bad 
possibilities as good. Where experience fails us, we 
have our prejudices to hand; rather anything than 

The drawback of prejudices is that we usually for 
mulate them as a self-conscious opinion. Instead of 
saying that we do not dare to eat a veal cutlet fried in 


The Inner Voice 

oil, we proclaim categorically that escaloppes de veau a 
r/iuile are not good to eat. A correct, philosophical, 
and understanding prejudice should only go so far 
as to say, "I do not like it because I do not yet 
know it." 




OME people are afflicted by a special malevolence 
of Fate; they are called clumsy, as if they could help 
it that in their hands things seem to come to life and 
exhibit a wilful and almost diabolical temperament. It 
should rather be said that they are magicians whose 
mere touch inspires lifeless things with an unaccount 
able exuberance. If I knock a nail into the wall the 
hammer comes alive in my hand with such strange and 
untamed life that either I break the wall or my finger 
or a window at the other side of the room. If I try to 
tie up a parcel, there bursts out in the string an abso 
lutely snake-like cunning; it writhes, jumps out of 
my hand, and finally performs its favourite trick of 
fastening my finger firmly to the parcel. A colleague of 
mine who dabbles so skilfully in high politics that 
everyone marvels at it aloud, simply does not dare to 
pull a cork out of a bottle; he knows that if he did 
the cork would remain in his hand while the bottle, 
with unexpected agility, would spring from his grasp 
and leap on to the floor. People are so silly; instead 
of appreciating this peculiar magic, they laugh at a 
man who has this life-giving relationship to objects 
and call him a duffer, butterfingers, mutton-head, 
hobbledehoy, awkward lout, bull in a china ship, or 
Clumsy Dick. 

In reality the whole difference is this, that the clumsy 
people unite with the inanimate things as if they were 
alive, that is to say wild, obstinate, and endowed with 

In Praise of Clumsy People 

a will of their own, while the neat-handed people unite 
with the inanimate things as if they were really lifeless 
and could be manipulated at will. A shop assistant does 
not handle a piece of string in a gingerly manner like 
a wild and writhing snake, but like an obedient and 
dead piece of string; one, two ! and it's done. A hammer 
in the hand of a mason is not a clumsy and obstinate 
duffer thrusting at just whatever it likes; it is a lifeless, 
passive instrument which falls where it is ordered. In 
the opinion of the awkward people all this taming of 
objects is really magic; but the dexterous people should 
recognize in the same way that clumsiness is magical 
and mysterious. 

I consider that stories about things which talk were 
.not invented by the skilful people but really by the 
magic-working clumsy ones. I believe that Hans 
Andersen once fell out of his chair or tipped over in 
it, and that this gave him the idea that a chair is some 
times alive and can talk. When Foolish Honza, 1 
greeted the bench and wished it much happiness, he 
was undoubtedly afraid that it might throw him 
into the stream; if he had been a member of the 
Czechoslovak Touring Club he would not have spoken 
to it, for he would have been certain that it was only 
put there for his convenience. Dexterous people 
disseminate in our world a heroic impression of un 
limited possibilities; but the clumsy introduce and 
sustain the epic and really fanciful conception of un 
bounded difficulties, adventures, obstacles, and opposi- 

1 A character resembling Thick Headed Jack who has a very 
important place in Czech folk-tales. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


Intimate Things 

tion. The story of the glass mountain which rises on 
the farther side of abysses, black lakes, and impene 
trable forests expresses the living experience of the 
unhandy that it is frightfully difficult to get anywhere 
or do anything, and that one may get drenched or 
bruised on the way. 

But it is not for their graphic gifts that I am praising 
the clumsy; their significance is greater; I wish I could 
tell all that they have done for the development and 
progress of the world. It was they who were the cause 
of die greatest inventions of humanity. It was your 
despised duffers who brought division of labour into 
the world. The first dreadful butterfingers had to be 
born for his defter fellow-cavemen to push him away 
from the mounting of a claw or the tanning of a hide, 
growling: "Get out of the way, you mutton-head, I'll 
do it for you !" It was the unhandy man who created 
the specialist. If all people were equally adaptable 
there would be no division of labour; the result of that 
would not be progress, While some of the cavemen 
were handy at mounting claws and others at killing 
mammoths and reindeer, there were some rare and 
advanced individuals who were handy at nothing. Or, 
perhaps, they knew something which was not quite 
valueless; one of them from boredom counted the 
stars; a second ne'er-do-well made all manner of sounds 
on a jaw bone, which the others first jeered at and then 
tried to imitate; a third began playing with coloured 
clay and scrawled in soot the first frescoes in the cave 
of Altamira. They were patently quite helpless and 
peculiar louts who could not even split a marrow bone. 

In Praise of Clumsy People 

The skilful ones discovered that it is possible to make 
a knife out of flint; but the unskilful ones made the 
further discovery that it is possible to leave this work 
to other people; they created a society which could 
not get on without them. The strong and the skilful 
ones saw that one must be a hunter and warrior in 
order to live; the unskilful ones, however, proved that 
a few hunters and warriors are enough in order for 
others to live too. Man ceased to be a mere hunter 
when individuals were born who were very bad hunters. 
If everyone could make boots there would be no 
cobblers. If it were not for us unhandy ones there 
would have been neither Prometheus nor Edison. 



source of interest is so inexhaustible as man; 
you can always find some new and unexpected way of 
looking at him. If you squeeze on to a tram you see 
that people consist mainly of shoulders and stomach, 
of well- and ill-proportioned bodies. If you look at 
humanity from the second or third floor you see that 
it is like confusedly running mushrooms consisting 
mainly of heads or hats. Another time you can devote 
yourself to endless wonder at the diversity of human 
noses; and again, you can look for blue eyes as you 
look for violets in spring. But the strangest of all is 
when you discover one time that people have legs 
and turn your attention to these amusing pendula 
with which nature has endowed us. If you notice the 
pedestrians in the street you will see in their rather 
swaying and rocking movements something startlingly 
antiquated and quite archaic, as if folk were still riding 
on horseback. Whether the pedestrian is meditating 
on his duty or on the progress of humanity, his legs 
make the same rather comic motion like a pair of 
scissors opening and shutting. For reasons as much 
technical as aesthetic man ought really to have wheels 
instead of legs. If man had invented Adam he would 
certainly have provided him below with wheels and 
not legs. Human technique is the technique of wheels; 
man would never have attempted to invent a machine 
with legs; while Nature has never tried to invent real 
revolving wheels. Nature has put into practice the ball 


and the cylinder; man has simplified the ball and the 
cylinder into the simple wheel. He is more or less made 
up of these two forms; his head is a ball, his body a 
cylinder. But only children playing roly-poly have the 
bright idea of using their bodies as a real cylinder; 
and only a boy turning a series of somersaults rises to 
the sublime technical notion of moving forward after 
the manner of a wheel* 

It is, of course, true that each human^being has his 
own characteristic legs which are specially suited to 
him; there are short legs and long, thin and fat, nimble 
and stiff, coarse and de luxe, vicious, rampant, gothic, 
baroque, and all sorts of others. But if man had wheels 
instead of legs, as he really should, they would be 
wheels just as individually formed as his legs or his 
face. A bank manager or a cabinet minister would 
move on fat, silent, perfectly sprung wheels obviously 
fitted with Goodyear or Dunlop tyres. Young girls 
would scurry along on slender carriage wheels, while 
old ladies, waddling along on thick, low, stage-coach 
wheels, would stare at them scandalized and say to 
each other: "Look how that shameless hussy is showing 
her wheels !" Young men would hurry past on bicycle 
wheels, while shopkeepers would jolt along on ordinary, 
rather creaky cab wheels. A workman would roll home 
from work on heavy rattling dray wheels with iron 
bands round them, while a farmer's wheels would 
creak and rattle like a dogcart; for farmers would 
probably be saving on the quiet. There would be tall 
English wheels for gentlemen, and female wheels that 
all the boys would look at sidelong; and poor broken- 


Intimate Things 

down beggars* wheels. Never think that man would 
succeed in standardizing himself, even if he were made 
with wheels. 

However ridiculous and antiquated though they 
be, man sticks to his old elevens. Though he has in 
vented better vehicles and wheels for himself, he 
remains a two-legged being; for, if legs are not the 
best method of transport on good roads, they are still 
the best on bad ones, such as a flight of stairs, Man 
might be more perfect technically if he had wheels 
instead of feet, but he would lose one thing: the ability 
to go where there is no path. All the inventions in the 
world are good under certain artificial circumstances, 
such as roads and tramlines; but set down amid wild 
nature, man finds his old-fashioned and primitive legs 
and possibly a good deal besides. 


E are always reading in the papers about one of 
these "firsts": the first woman lawyer or mayor of 
veterinary surgeon or geometrician or the first woman 
expert in some other strange male occupation. This 
either shows that male occupations are not very diffi 
cult, or that women can do the same as men if they 
once set themselves to; neither of which are very 
important discoveries. I believe that even I, if I had 
started in time, could have learnt to be a lawyer or a 
locksmith; but the interesting thing is precisely that 
I have not done so, that I work in a different medium 
from those who have, and that there are so many 
possibilities and activities open to each one of us. But 
women do not find it interesting to do something 
different from men; it seems to them more romantic 
to do the same as men. In so far as they do this from 
the need to earn money I have nothing to say; for 
each of us wants to live. But I protest that they act 
like this from a set idea, and maybe you think me 

Man is from innate foolishness a specialist; once 
he gets his teeth into his job or his passion, he looks 
neither to the right nor to the left; his destiny is to 
become an expert, be it in bacteriology or the pro 
duction of leather goods or literary history. His mind 
has a tendency to devour one thing and leave all the 
rest; he is interested only in his own bit of the world 
(and perhaps in politics besides), and that is why he 

Intimate Things 

now and then achieves something immense in his 
own field; just because of this narrow, one-sided, 
boyish, and passionate absorption. Now, if there were 
only men in the world, the desolation would be simply 
awful for innumerable reasons, but among others 
because the world would contain only experts who 
had nothing to say to each other. Each would be 
thinking of his own job and would not even be able to 
understand the experts in other subjects; for specializa 
tion is uncompanionable, non-cultural, frankly un 
sociable; it would mean definite isolation or restriction 
or differentiation of species. I grant you that a rabbit 
is interested in green stuff, but he is not interested in a 
giraffe or an eagle because he has nothing in common 
with them. Your true locksmith is interested in castles, 
but not in archeologists or lyric poets, because he, too, 
has nothing in common with them. So much for men's 

Woman from some innate waywardness is a 
universal, many-sided soul, not given to intense appli 
cation but full of surprising interests. You would be 
oddly put out if a lady were to tell you that she is not 
in the least interested in music or literature, or that 
she doesn't know what boxing is; she has to be 
interested in everything, to know something about 
everything, to be able to meet each one of our interests, 
and it is a sad thing if she has no more wit than to 
talk to a lyric poet about free trade or to an airman 
about Central European politics. You expect from a 
woman the many-sidedness and sociability which links 
you up with the ordinary currents of social life. It lies 


Woman and the Professions 

with her to help correct the one-sidedness of your pro 
fession, to carry herself and you beyond the narrow 
limits of your professional interests; in a word, to 
conserve social culture, or rather the sociability of 
culture, in the midst of you narrow and hardened 
specialists. I mentioned that your true locksmith is 
interested in castles but not in archeologists or lyric 
poets; well, it is quite accurate to say that his wife is 
less interested in castles but more in the archeologists 
or poets who may happen to live in the same street, 
and that she tells her locksmith husband between the 
soup and the meat that the archeologist's wife is going 
to have a baby, and that the poet is up to his eyes in 
debt; all this breaks through the narrow limits of the 
marital locksmithery and builds a bridge between his 
workshop and the world. You see, woman has some 
thing in common with everything that is going on 
around her; you are a witness how instinctively she 
understands her cultural and social vocation; just think 
what a universal interest she takes each morning in a 
more or less wide circle of human life around her. 
When all is said and done it is an honourable and 
important profession for which man is not too serious 
but too narrow-minded. 

This is a definite division of labour: the man goes out 
to earn the living, he is a specialist, an inventor, a 
business man, or something else practical; then he 
comes home and his wife tells him all the news, every 
thing she has heard, what the neighbours are doing, 
and all the rest of it. If the woman becomes a specialist, 
an inventor, or something practical, who will link her 

E 65 

Intifnate Things 

up with the universal interests of the world, and what 
will become of us ? 

Yes, what will become of us ? For don't forget that 
the so-called woman's question is of vital concern to 
men's interests. 




REMEMBER somewhat indistinctly (for memories 
from our schooldays are usually a trifle indistinct) this 
ethical anecdote. It was about St. John the Evangelist, 
I think, when his disciples and followers caught him 
playing with a little pigeon (or possibly it may have 
been a dove). Then his pupils and disciples marvelled 
that such a learned and dignified man should be playing 
with a pigeon. And the saint answered them, saying 
that to play with the little pigeon rested his spirit. 
"The bow which is ever bent loses its spring"; so spake 
St. John the Evangelist, they say. 

I remember that this little anecdote did not satisfy 
me. Firstly, I was rather annoyed at St. John for only 
playing with the pigeon to rest his spirit instead of 
doing it because it was great fun or because he was an 
enthusiastic pigeon fancier. Secondly, I was disturbed 
by the question whether it is really undignified for a 
saint to play with a pigeon, or with dogs and cats, 
lizards, frogs, and other beasts of the field. I ruminated 
that if saints had to be so dignified and serious as all 
that, then I wanted rather not to be a saint. And I 
have not become one, but I think for quite other 

To-day what interests me in the story is not so much 
St. John but rather those disciples and followers of 
his to whom it did not seem in keeping that such a 
famous and dignified man should play with pigeons. 
I think that in these days folk, even if they are neither 


Intimate Things 

saints nor aspirants to sainthood, make far less of a 
point of dignity than they did in olden times. No one 
would be surprised if the Rector of the University or 
the President of the Chamber of Commerce were to 
play with a pigeon. In these days the disciples and 
followers of St. John would be more likely to take 
snaps of him and publish them in the newspapers with 
the caption, "St. John the Evangelist with his favourite 
pigeon." And they would even send a man from 
Gaumont Graphic and let the topical and natural 
picture of St. John with his pigeons be shown at the 
cinemas. To-day we are not ashamed of playing with 
animals, children, or balls. So much the better for us, 
the children, and the animals. I think we have much 
less need of dignity than the cave man. I am sure we 
are much less serious and much more cheerful. The 
most dignified place is a small town because people 
get bored there. The bigger the town, the more play 
fulness and boyish high spirits you can see in people. 
In a small town people do not play; a village is for the 
most part deadly serious. Perhaps it needed all those 
machines and tricks of civilization to make us fond of 
anything as irrational and amusing as a dog. Perhaps we 
had to make this enormous circuit through many 
civilizations in order to find a bit of our childhood 
again. As for the far distant future, I believe that later 
people will know more than we and govern the world 
more wisely; but I cannot imagine them going about in 
long robes and making high-minded speeches as H. G. 
Wells describes them. I am more inclined to think that 
they will get down on all fours like Nebuchadnezzar 


A Game with a Pigeon 

to play with puppies or children, dance around, kick 
balls about, shout at the tops of their voices, and behave 
in as undignified a manner as possible. This further and 
endearing step in civilization is needed to free in us the 
carefree and rollicking animal that God made. 


N the first place, you must not think that it is per 
fectly easy to play the barrel organ; not only does it 
make your hand ache but you need a concentrated, 
coherent consciousness of aim, a sure delivery, and 
yes a certain feeling, that is the word. Like so many 
other things that I have tried, I had a try at learning 
to play the barrel organ, and it wasn't a success. It is 
true that the instrument remained whole, but the tune 
got broken, scattered, unstuck, and torn into dis 
connected rags; it was as if I were trying to cut out a 
dress suit or put a sewing machine together. For 
instance, while one is turning one must not stop or 
go faster or slower; the handle must move smoodily, 
roundly, and at a different pace for each tune; some 
times it is the proper thing to pull out the tremolo, at 
other times to strike the knob which makes a pause. 
In other words, there are a whole series of technical 
dodges and tricks in this trade as in any other. 

I am writing this because it just happens that to-day 
is barrel-organ day in our neighbourhood. For the 
last hour I have been hearing the old woman grinding 
the organ, now near at hand, now farther off. I should 
like to sing you all her tunes, for I know them all by 
heart. There is one of them that everyone must know: 
I start singing it and all the servant girls in the neigh 
bourhood sing it back, and the carpenter downstairs, 
and the cobbler's apprentices across the court at the 
back; our song even ascends to heaven, and God is 


The Barrel Organ 

pleased, because we are all singing together. Another 
one, an old-fashioned dance tune, has a mysterious 
power and makes you rock to and fro from the hips; 
during one particularly powerful melodic trill you 
waggle your behind in gamesome and old-world 
merriment; all of us within the reach of the organ 
grinder's hurdy-gurdy simultaneously make that move 
ment of delight, whether we are doing the ironing, or 
writing, or selling thread behind the counter. Another 
tune is The Orphan Child in a somewhat unusual 
setting, but each of the dwellers in my block is some 
times an orphan on one side or the other, someone or 
something is always raking our hair with the comb 
till the blood comes, 1 life bruises the feet of each of 
us on the sides of the tub, and each of us has after all 
somewhere to cry and something to cry for. So the 
barrel organ speaks to us orphan children and drives 
away our desolation. Then there are tunes which 
make you think of love, and tunes that you drink like 
wine; and some are like a merry girl and others like a 
consumptive seamstress. I tell you, there is something 
in each of them which is at least worth the biblical mite. 
There are steam-driven barrel organs, veritable 
gigantophones, roaring, clattering, and raving, a single 
sound-shower flooding the whole suburb; and there are 
toothless and asthmatic little barrel organs which utter 

1 The reference is to a folk-tale immortalized by the poet, 
J. Jaromir Erben, about a poor little girl whose step-mother hated 
her so much that she combed her hair with such a sharp comb 
that the blood came and when she washed the child's feet she 
bumped them against the sides of the tub. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 

7 1 

Intimate Things 

a quavering little coo by the roadside on Sundays; there 
are jubilant barrel organs, and hurdy-gurdies which 
sob passionately in superhuman grief. But all of them 
have one beauty, and that is the bass. No other music 
in the world has so many curls., such strange accentua 
tion, such amusing bass parts, such dark, disconnected 
accompaniments as a barrel organ. Sometimes it gives 
an unexpected moan, sometimes it seems to be making 
fun of you; sometimes it dodges about terribly, as if 
some unquiet spirit were shut up inside. Always listen 
for the second voice of things. 

I know you don't like barrel organs, for you are 
nervy, blas, and ungrateful folk. If the hurdy-gurdy 
assaults you at a turn of your Sunday walk, you growl 
something about beggars; if it comes and plays under 
your windows you go so far as to shut the window 
and you say something awful. And yet the quiet and 
self-evident assumption of every organ grinder is that 
he is causing you a certain pleasure, that he is selling 
you something as good as the lemonade vendor in the 
street; that your thirsty soul needs drink, your heart 
needs Orphean uplifting. And so he turns the handle 
to make, at the turn of the path or at the bottom of 
some utterly wretched court or alley, a little island of 
delight, a pleasure garden of music in the midst of a 
desert of rough and commonplace sounds. Even if his 
barrel organ pipes with only one whistle or drones and 
whines with no voice at all, the assumption persists 
that it must please you and that you will gladly give 
something in exchange for such a treat; that perhaps 
this magic music will cure you of your melancholy, 


The Band Organ 

will drive away the evil spirits, boredom, and grief, 
and give you something of worth. For my own part, 
I cannot help myself; when the old woman strikes up 
her barrel organ down below I lay down my pen and 
my book and listen politely till she has finished; for 
it is not fitting to refuse an ear to anything which applies 
to us for a hearing. 



AM not thinking of the odour of sanctity nor the 
steam of the wash tub nor the smell of babies' napkins. 
I live in a young suburb which is growing to the ringing 
of hammers, the clatter of girders, and the blows of the 
carpenter's axe; and if you blindfolded me and led me 
through the town I should be able to tell by the scent: 
this is an old street- these are new houses, some of them 
still untenanted; this is a new and still unplastered 
building; while here they are only digging the founda 
tions. Until a house smells of man it gives off the smell 
of the material from which it originates, and it will 
be a matter of decades before these smells settle down 
and become weathered in the dry, dusty, accumulated 
smell of a really old house. 

First of all there is the scent of the barren earth; 
from the deep trenches of the foundations there is 
wafted the chill, forlorn, almost grave-like breath 
from subterranean cavities. But round the building 
there are stacks of bricks, and well-baked bricks have 
a scent almost like bread, the acrid breath of the kiln 
is about them, they are covered with a warm, floury 
dust. Then comes the smoke as they slack the quick 
lime, making your eyes smart and your throat contract, 
and giving off the damp, cold, raw, smell of mortar; 
rough and acrid. The air of new buildings is chill and 
damp like the breath of caves, and it needs the cere 
mony of camp fires and eternal lamps to turn them into 
human abodes. 


The Smell of Home 

Then they bring planks and put up scaffolding so 
that the bricklayers can get up and so as to add another 
smell, for the odour of wood is good and trustworthy; 
it speaks of home and of ripeness, and its resinous, 
sun-drenched breath will overcome the acrid smell of 
plaster and the earthy smell of concrete. We must 
not forget the sour smell of iron girders and pipes and 
wires accompanied by the oily smell of paint; nor the 
pungent smell of the glowing coal with which they dry 
the walls. Now it is the turn of the carpenters and 
joiners; the rafters are tied, floors are laid, windows are 
put in, and doors hung; wood predominates and its 
resinous, balmy odour floats out from the noisy 
building. Added to it is the smell of turpentine, varnish, 
and oils, and the reek of glue and paint. And on the 
top of it all the freshly scrubbed house smells of soap 
and water like a schoolboy on Sunday; through the 
open windows it exhales the chill, the emptiness, and 
strange hollowness of newly erected buildings. 

And a new house does not lose this scent of its own 
all at once. Just as new clothes smell of cloth and new 
boots of leather, a house smells a long time of building 
materials. It is a long time before the people living in 
it smell the smell of home. At first the house surrounds 
them like some temporary building instead of growing 
on to them like a snail's shell; it juts out here and 
pinches there like a new suit. There has to take place 
in it a kind of decline before it can get accustomed to 
people; one might almost say that it takes some years 
to ripen. It only becomes really and completely a home 
when it ceases to be a new house; then it is no longer 


Intimate Things 

the handiwork of the builder but of the people living 
in it. From its cellars and wash-houses to its smoking 
chimneys it smells of humanity and warmth. And when 
one day there come folk with their oddities it at last 
smells a little like a mill, of flour, mellowness, and a 
peculiar dryness which recalls the scent of straw and 
decaying wood. 



\Jr NE of the most hoary and time-honoured jokes 
in the world is the one which says in diverse variations 
that women cannot keep a secret; tell them something 
under an oath of silence and to-morrow die whole, 
world will know of it, or so they say.] I do not know 
what is the real truth about this primeval calumny. 
Possibly prehistoric man invented it as a pretext so as 
not to have to tell their women the purely male jokes 
and funny stories that they told each other at their 
amphictyonic councils or other bearded gatherings 
and assemblies. Be that as it may, whoever considers 
these venerable jokes as an expression of primeval 
human experience would probably come to the con 
clusion that in this human world we men are full of 
mystery, that we are as silent as the grave about nothing 
at all, while women from some queer passion for 
publicity must out with everything which but for them 
would remain a secret; in other words, that women and 
secrets are mutually exclusive phenomena. Now the 
thinker who arrived at this verdict would fall into an 
error so profound that only a profound thinker could 
make it; for the thing is just the other way round. 
Women not only have a special inclination towards 
mystery but they produce it with astonishing fertility^ 
I believe that if there were no women there would 
be very few secrets in the world. Woman and 
discretion belong together. To blare a thing abroad 
from platform or street corner is a male function; 


Intimate Things 

tne half of the world which whispers things is the 

It is true that men I mean ordinary normal men 
do not tell each other secrets; but that is simply because 
they usually have not got any. Men among themselves 
cultivate on the whole very few mysteries; they do 
not stand in groups at alley-corners to whisper things 
to each other. Nature has endowed them with voices 
which are squeezed from them rather noisily; they are 
public by nature, if I may put it so. I have lived and 
worked for years with only men; during those years 
none of the doors was ever properly closed; every 
thing was discussed as loudly as if we had been 
quarrelling. In purely male society, like the army and 
the tavern, the only means of expression is a frightful 
yell which can be heard through a stone wall. A creature 
which expresses itself so noisily cannot be addicted to 

Contrariwise, where you have women together 
there is a whispering, a murmuring; I do not know 
what they are whispering about, but it must be some 
secret. Notice the way they hold their handbags, as 
if they were concealing something in them; it may be 
only a bag of sweets, but they hide it away quickly like 
like some secret and shameful thing. If they want to 
say something to you, they prefer to discuss it tete-a- 
tete, even if it is only for you to recommend them a 
cheaper glazier. A tete-a-tete in itself is unquestionably 
a feminine discovery; men get together more often 
in threes or fours, women in twos. Three men make 
the public; two women make a secret.} Men's secrets 



are collective; there are the secrets of conspirators, or 
freemasons, or cabinet ministers. Women's secrets are 
intimate: they are the secrets of Mr. X or Mrs. Y. 
Men's secrets are things that they are silent about 
except when they are gossiping about them at the tavern. 
Women's secrets are tilings that they whisper about with 
their heads close together. Women are capable of 
making a secret out of anything, even silk stockings. 
They can whisper mysteriously about servants or new 
clothes. They manage to ask you tete-a-tete what is 
your opinion of so-and-so's latest book. They shut the 
door discreetly to talk to you about things which 
would not interest a soul. It is not known whether this 
is fear of publicity or a positive love of confidences; 
but the simple fact is that without secrets women could 
not breathe. 

That is why women are wronged by the old saw 
which says that they cannot keep a secret. On the 
contrary, it is they alone who have a feeling for secrets; 
they do not shout them aloud as we do, but tell them 
in hushed voices, soberly and mysteriously; they never 
betray a secret publicly, but only in confidence. It is 
not true that they violate secrets, but it is true that they 
pass on the unviolated one leaving it the bloom and 
beauty of its mystery. And if secret diplomacy and 
secret conspiracies one day cease to be, it will be the 
women who keep secrecy from perishing altogether, 
for it is their intimate vocation. 



JL O-DAY I wanted to be idle; perhaps because it is 
so exceptionally lovely, or because the carpenter is 
working in the yard down below, or because the sun 
is shining, or for a thousand other reasons. I wanted 
to be idle. 

I did not want to go out for a walk, for walking is 
not idleness; nor to read or sleep, for neither the one 
nor the other is idleness; nor to amuse myself nor to 
rest, for idleness is neither amusement nor rest. Idle 
ness, sheer, perfect idleness, is neither pastime nor 
distraction; it is something negative; it is an absence 
from all the things which occupy, amuse, distract, 
interest, sadden, delight, impress, importune, bore, 
fascinate, attract, or disgust a man. It is a nothing, a 
negation, an aimlessness. It is something perfect and 

In the first place, idleness is not wasting time. I 
should be wasting time if, for instance, I were to draw 
water in a sieve. But when I am being idle that is just 
what I do not do; I do nothing unnecessary, for I do 
nothing at all. 

In the second place, idleness is not the mother of 
wickedness; it cannot be the mother of anything, being 
completely barren. Its affections do not go out to any 
one, for if they did it would not be idleness; it would 
be doing something, it would have an aim. 

In the third place, idleness is not laziness. To be lazy 
is to omit doing something that one ought to do and 


In Praise of Idleness 

to want to take it easy instead. To be idle is to 
do nothing at all and not to want anything while not 
doing it. 

To be idle is not even to rest. If you are resting you 
are doing something useful; you are preparing for 
further work. Idleness is without relation to any past 
or future work; it has no results and looks forward 
to nothing. 

Nor is idleness the enjoyment of repose. To bask in 
the sunshine, to blink blissful eyes, to purr like a cat, 
all this is an activity which serves some purpose, for 
it is at least enjoyable; and enjoyment for its own 
sake is something like an aim. Idleness is absolutely 
aimless; it seeks neither repose nor pleasure, absolutely 

Repose is a slowly and even flowing stream which 
silently bubbles and sways; rest is a dark and peaceful 
pool on which float the rubbish and foam of bad or 
violent moments; laziness is a creek covered with 
green weed, slime, and frog spawn; but idleness is 
stationary; it has neither rhythm nor sound; it does not 
move forward. It does not give life to weeds or slime 
or gnats. Its waters are dead and transparent. However 
long it stands it does not grow warm. It stands still 
and does not get grown over. It has neither direction 
nor contents nor taste. 

I wanted to be idle to-day; no, I wanted not to want 

I want what do I want, really? Nothing; for that 
really is idleness. To be like a stone, but without weight. 
To be like water, but without reflection. To be like a 

F 81 

Intimate Things 

cloud, but without movement. To be like an animal, 
but without hunger. To be like a man, but without 
thoughts. To gaze at the white paper, empty and 
smooth. To write nothing and to go on looking until 
(of its own accord) it covered itself with black writing, 
words, sentences, lines, from top to bottom; one page, 
and a second, and a third. And then then not have to 
read it; with the immense self-evidence of real, pro 
found idleness, not read it through at all but turn my 
eyes on the first fly of spring which is crawling across 
the window panes, and not to see it. And then but 
what does idleness want with a programme? Every 
where you can find something not to do, not to see, 
and not to look at. 

And when you have finished with being idle, you 
wake up and return as it were from another world. 
Everything is a little strange and far away, a trifle 
disagreeable and strained; and you feel so ... so queer 
that . . . well, you have to have a rest after your idle 
ness. Resting you have to yawn a little, and then laze 
about a bit, and then give yourself over to a certain 
repose; and only after that are you able to collect all 
your faculties and do something quite unnecessary. 



JL HE other day I saw a young mother taking her 
little boy of about four for a walk, and the boy had a 
circular toy. It was a cane circle, nicely covered with 
coloured paper and with a wooden handle within which 
it turned; and how that little man ran, pushing it in 
front of him ! And the circle turned, and that was all. 
For a long time I could not understand what it was all 
for, and suddenly I thought of it: a hoop! That is 
meant to be a hoop ! 

We boys in our time bowled hoops. But they were 
not tame circles sitting within wooden handles. They 
were well, they were real hoops, wild, romantic, 
elemental hoops, iron, rusty, heavy, and not offered 
for sale. A real hoop had first of all to be stolen. It 
had to be removed from a cask either at home or at 
some neighbour's, and a hoop like this, slanting in on 
one side, had an obstinate tendency to run round in a 
circle. It was, in fact, not easy to prevail upon it to 
run forwards; it needed a regular whacking with the 
hoop stick and a tremendous yell. A second, more 
sublime kind of hoop had to be stolen from the wheel 
wright opposite; these were heavy wheel bands from 
tractors or brewers' drays, which ran as straight and as 
crushingly as a railway engine. We were hardly strong 
enough to manage them and we bowled them with 
short strokes of the hoop stick until their glorious 
career ended between the legs of unsuspecting 
pedestrians at whom the hoops charged with the force 


Intimate Things 

of a tank attack. The hoops from casks charged in 
quite a different way, guilefully, on the flank, with 
inimitable cunning; they took it sideways, turned 
suddenly to right or left and darted in between the 
legs of anyone who happened to be passing, though 
it might be the parson or even the squire. A further 
requisite was the hoop stick to bowl with, and finally 
a sporting spirit; for the aim of the hoop-bowling was 
not merely to crush obstacles but to hold races. There 
were no motor races in those days, but we boys anti 
cipated them, as we did almost everything else. 

The mill owners' sons had cane hoops with proper 
hoop sticks, but they could not run on the roads, only 
on the gravel paths in the park behind the railings, and 
beside them our hoops were like the butcher's dog, 
Sultan or Nero, beside a bored and quivering flanked 
greyhound. Ours were, in fact, genuine hoops in their 
wild state; and we scorned the cane hoops both for 
their social and their sporting pretensions. And if 
anyone had shown us then one of these domesticated 
hoops with a wooden handle, a fettered hoop, held, 
so to speak, on a lead, tiny, slow, peace-loving, and 
pasted over with coloured tissue paper, we should 
have burst out into ribald laughter at such a foolish 

But to-day this tethered hoop is universal. We boys 
used to beat each other, abuse each other, knock each 
other over; to-day we let other people fight while we 
look on; and that is called sport. We look on while 
other men kick a ball about, run after it, beat each 
other, push each other over on the ground, and so 


The Taming of the Hoop 

forth. Sport is a substitute for our own pugnacity, our 
own rivalry, our own active fun. In Prague there are 
no balustrades for boys to slide down backwards, 
they had to put up a special arrangement for it and call 
it a shoot or toboggan or devil's wheel. Your 
mechanical entertainments are the domesticated hoop 
on a large scale. All your fun fairs and amusement 
parks are only a huge substitute for neglected, inhibited 
childishness. It has been ordained since the beginning 
of the world that man should sometimes slide down 
something backwards; if he is not able to satisfy this 
metaphysical need in his childhood, he will have to 
slide down shoots in later life. 

It is a strange phenomenon of civilization that every 
amusement has to be paid for. To-day one is hardly 
allowed to amuse oneself in one's own way; one has 
to be amused and one has to pay for admission to the 
amusement. Theatre, cinema, books, sport buy a 
pastime! for it stands to reason that among your 
nearest fellow-creatures you will not be able to amuse 
yourself, and it is in fact hardly respectable to provide 
your own entertainment among your own friends. So 
bring along your mechanical amusement devices, your 
professional entertainers, your commercial mass pro 
duction of fun ! When you want to laugh, you go to 
the mass-producer of laughter; you rest at a resting 
establishment; you will dream at a dream-factory; 
you will not dance before die Ark or in the morning 
dew; you will not dance anywhere but in the mecha 
nically revolving palais de dance. May you find it all to 
your taste ! 




DO not know whether it is an atmospheric or 
acoustic phenomenon or yet some other kind; but 
although I can never for the life of me be sure of the 
day or the date and have to verify it each day from the 
newspaper heading, on Sunday morning as soon as I 
wake I feel a peculiar oppression, a weariness of life, 
a distaste for getting up, a general weakness of will, 
and a thorough lack of enthusiasm for any kind of 
business or work; it might also be described as 
boredom, the blues, spleen, or the dumps. Usually I 
worry and puzzle over this sudden depression until 
I finally say to myself: "Ah, it must be Sunday!" 
And it's a fact, it is Sunday. 

Now, as I say, I do not know where this feeling comes 
from; perhaps it may be some extraordinary atmo 
spheric pressure or magnetic disturbance: possibly 
there is something in the universe which does not 
work on Sundays and holidays and in this way the 
eternal order of nature is upset. It might be scientifically 
ascertained whether trees and grass grow on Sundays 
and holidays; at the same time it is an empirical fact 
that on the red-letter days of the calendar it either rains 
more than other days or is hotter than other days, 
spiritual activity is at a low ebb, dogs smell worse than 
usual, and children are a nuisance; then it is windy, 
lots of people get drowned, and there are an excessive 
number of motor accidents, actors give a worse per 
formance, trains and trams have a bad service, digestions 



get upset and beer and literature are worse than at any 
other time. It is, therefore, possible that Sundays and 
holidays are based on some peculiar and periodical 
cosmic disturbance, and that on Sunday mornings I 
simply wake up with a physical foreboding that some 
thing is not as it should be. Hence this mysterious 

Or else it is an acoustic phenomenon. I wake up and 
do not hear the broad and distant murmur of human 
labour; consequently I miss something. It is as de 
pressing as when a mill stops. This explanation is 
simple and therefore inaccurate; for I wake on Sundays 
with a catastrophic foreboding even in perfectly strange 
cities, yes, even in the solitude of the mountains. And 
if a storm were to cast me up on a desert island with 
no Man Friday, I am sure that I should wake one 
morning with a dreadful feeling that something is 
wrong and that I am fed up with everything. "Ah," I 
should say to myself at last, "it must be Sunday." 
And it's a fact, it would be. 

I believe that week-ends, excursions, and human 
merry-makings are only a despairing flight from this 
Sunday depression. People think that they must tire 
themselves and wear themselves out to forget this 
crushing depression of holidays. Woe to them, for 
Sunday is at their heels^from Svatojansk6 Proudy to 
Karlstejn, from Divokd Sarka 1 to sinful Sparta. Those 
do better who confront Sunday face to face in the 
streets of the town or get over it at home lying down, 

1 These are all favourite places for excursions within easy 
distance of Prague. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


Intimate Things 

as they do the influenza. In town Sunday morning is 
more or less bearable; it has, after all, something a 
little festive, the girls are pretty, and besides that you 
can read the Sunday papers at a caf<6. It is only in the 
afternoon that an acute Sunday state breaks out; the 
town is overcome by an oppressive drowsiness, and 
there are people walking in the streets whom you never 
see at any other time. There are thousands of people 
who seem only to exist on Sundays: old maids, widows, 
and orphans, men with whiskers, uncles and aunts, 
nuns and old women, weird people who look as if 
they had been hung up in the cupboard thirty years 
ago and only came out on Sundays to avoid being 
eaten by moths. There are special faces only seen on 
Sundays: pale, with jutting noses, bearded, carroty 
haired, freckled, looking as if they were made of 
cream cheese, really wretched workmanship, but clean. 
There is something antiquated about them all, or rather 
timeless besides Sundays you meet faces and clothes 
like this still in the third class of the funicular railway. 
At about four or five o'clock whole families emerge, 
and a family is something which only exists publicly 
on Sundays; where on a week-day do you meet a 
human family with horrid boys who are shouted at 
at every step, little girls whose knickers are showing 
below their frocks, a mother who rocks like a sloop, 
and a father who smokes a cigar in a holder and 
criticizes the condition of the streets and the new 
buildings ? I tell you, this is Sunday humanity, which is 
exactly the same in Rome, Paris, and London, and 
which turns the whole world into that indestructible 



and dreadful thing: a small provincial town. The 
citizen of a large town does not flee on Sundays from 
the city and its roar but from its provinciality and 
pettiness, its slow hours and loitering confusion. This 
suppressed small-town element is hidden on week 
days in workshops, little shops, and homes; its Sundays 
and holidays are its own to come and take possession 
of our streets. It is not a Sunday walk, it is almost a 
demonstration: We are here! We, the old maids, the 
fathers and mothers, the uncles and aunts. We, the 
timeless. We, the eternal. 



JL HIS is my Man. I am not afraid of him. 

He is very strong for he eats a great deal; he is an 
Eater of All Things. What are you eating? Give me 

He is not beautiful, for he has no fur. Not having 
enough saliva, he has to wash himself with water. He 
miaows in a harsh voice and a great deal more than 
he need. Sometimes in his sleep he purrs. 

Open the door for me ! 

I do not know why he has made himself Master; 
perhaps he has eaten something sublime. 

He keeps my rooms clean for me. 

In his paws he carries a sharp black claw and he 
scratches with it on white sheets of paper. That is the 
only game he plays. He sleeps at night instead of by 
day, he cannot see in the dark, he has no pleasures. He 
never thinks of blood, never dreams of hunting or 
fighting; he never sings songs of love. 

Often at night when /can hear mysterious and magic 
voices, when I can see that the darkness is all alive, he 
sits at the table with bent head and goes on and on, 
scratching with his black claw on the white papers. 
Don't imagine that I am at all interested in you. I am 
only listening to the soft whispering of your claw. 
Sometimes the whispering is silent, the poor dull 
head does not know how to go on playing, and then 
I am sorry for him and I miaow softly in sweet and 
sharp discord. Then my Man picks me up and buries 


From the Laws of the Cats 

his hot face in my fur. At those times he divines for an 
instant a glimpse of a higher life, and he sighs with 
happiness and purrs something which can almost be 

But don't think that I am at all interested in you. 
You have warmed me, and now I will go out again and 
listen to the dark voices. 

9 1 


V V HIGH is the merrier, man or woman? We are 
in the habit of imagining that man is something 
awfully serious while woman is a smiling and playful 
creature. In reality woman is for the most part a 
terribly serious person, while man is an instrument for 
every kind of fun and frolic. This misunderstanding 
may have arisen from the fact that man has to earn his 
living by engaging in things which are mainly serious 
and gloomy, for instance politics, university lectures, 
the writing of leading articles, higher mathematics, 
engineering, and so on. That is true, but seriousness of 
occupation does not produce seriousness of character. 

Further, it really seems that a woman is fonder of 
amusing herself, that is to say of being amused, than a 
man. That is true; but does not this need of amusement 
just show her lack of native and personal merriment? 
On the other hand, I could overwhelm you with 
proofs of how few women humorists and comedians 
there are. One can say that humour is as exclusively 
masculine a preserve as philosophy, military science, 
and freemasonry. Let the psychologists explain it ah 
ovo or ab ovario; the fact is that the nature of man is 
fonder of cracking a joke, more fun-loving and up 
roarious, than the nature of woman. 

Wherever two or three men are gathered together 
fun breaks out. Men have a special inclination to be up 
to some lark, most probably from inborn filial respect 
for their father, Mr. Boy, since the child is father to 


Which is the Merrier? 

the man. I have not so far been made a Cabinet Minister 
and I hope I never shall; but in the depths of my soul 
I am convinced that at Cabinet meetings the Right 
Honourable gentlemen fasten the tails of each other's 
coats to the seats and flick ciphered messages across 
the table, and that when anyone goes out for a moment 
they stick love letters or hammy paper or the ten of 
diamonds into his ministerial portfolio; and if they 
don't, it must cost them a most awful effort not to. To 
tease someone, play at something, rig up some practical 
joke is one of the most devouring of male passions. 

Woman, on the other hand, is perhaps a more 
appreciative spectator of any kind of lark, but God 
save her from being its originator and perpetrator. 
In the first place she immensely dislikes being the 
victim of any joke; she entirely lacks the broad and 
good-natured grin with which the victim receives the 
joke played on him. Further now how on earth does 
it happen ? if a woman does have a rag with someone, 
it takes on an unpleasant and personal sharpness, do 
what you will. And in the third place it is utterly 
foreign to her, it is not in her, she cannot manage it at 
all. She has not the light-hearted aggressiveness or the 
heartiness, if you like to call it that: the superabundant 
and boisterous merriment. 

She laughs readily but she distrusts others' laughter; 
she avoids arousing laughter willingly and of her own 
accord; she is obviously afraid that it would endanger 
her dignity, which has always been her vulnerable point. 
A person who is afraid of being ridiculous can never 
be merry to the very core. What a woman can do is 


Intimate Things 

to laugh; but absolute fun, buffoonery for its own sake, 
eccentricity, the utter offering up of herself to the god 
of laughter that is not for her. 

Moreover, either from mutual solidarity or mutual 
distrust, women when they are alone together do not 
get up to any larks. If a woman carries out a piece of 
real roguery it is always on some man; if she makes 
anyone an April Fool, it is a man. (From which it is 
evident that women are more afraid of each other than 
of men.) But even that she only does in imitation of us 
boisterous fellows. In the business of life it is men who 
are the quickeners of mirth. 

No, woman is not a merry soul; and if she goes 
through life "with a smile on her lips, 3 ' it is a sham; 
the creature is as serious as death. It is we bearded and 
shaggy fellows, obstinate and ugly, who are the 
laughter of life. We know its value, and during our 
grave occupations, at our machines and our philosophy, 
in our professorial chairs and behind our ploughs, 
let us remember that beneath our skins we have the 
bones of the Eternal Jester, whom God created that 
there might be fun and joking in the world. For that 
was and is His wise will. 



, ND out of the ground the Lord God formed 
every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and 
brought them unto Adam to see what he would call 
them : and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, 
that was the name thereof. 

"And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl 
of the air, and to every beast of the field," (Gen. ii. 

It is set down in the Scripture; but what is not set 
down is the simple fact that from the moment when 
Adam gave names to all the beasts of the field he thought 
that he had some knowledge of them and knew them 
as he should. As long as anything has not a name 
man is dissatisfied; it looms before him, mysterious 
and closed, unapproachable and uncontrollable; but 
if it has a name then he feels immediately as if he knew 
it and need not be afraid of it; it falls into place among 
other things, known, and under control; he has finished 
with it. See what a potent and magic thing is a 

You go to the doctor with your ailment; he taps you 
all over, writes you out a prescription, and tells you to 
come back in a week. I will bet that you are definitely 
dissatisfied; you would have liked to hear from the 
doctor that you have got, let us say, hyperacidity of the 
dorsal rheostat, and that the drops which you are to 
take are glyceroamidomethylethyltoluol. Then your 
mind would have been at rest for you would have 


Intimate Things 

known what was the matter with you, what it will lead 
to, and what is the best thing for you to do. "He 
didn't even tell me what it is I've got/' I have often 
heard patients complain. Yes, indeed ! how can a fellow 
be ill with confidence if he doesn't know what his ill 
ness is called ? 

You are in the train and you see a perfectly lovely 
little baroque town with fish ponds round about it, 
a little red Bethlehem with a red church in the middle, 
and on the hill above a little red ruined castle. You 
shoot out of your drowsiness: how lovely that is! 
What is it called ? And instead of looking at the little 
red town you hunt for someone or something that 
will tell you the name. Finally a little station passes 
with the notice: Molln. "So that was Molln," you sigh 
with relief and you feel so nice, not because you have 
seen something pretty but because you know what 
it is called. 

You are wandering round a foreign city and you 
come to a halt in front of a Gothic church. You have a 
good look at it, you walk round it, somehow or other 
you cannot tear yourself away; can that great pile be 
a church? At last someone tells you that it is the church 
of, let us say, St. Egidias. That's all right; now you can 
turn your back on it; it's only the church of St. Egidias. 
If it had been the church of St. Panteleon, it would not 
have altered things; it's all right so long as there is a 
name to quiet your dislike of the nameless. 

You see a machine the like of which you never saw 
in your life before: it has a sort of what-do-you-call-it 
down below and goodness knows what up above, 


and a crank here and wheels there ; what in the name 
of all the saints is that? Why, says the expert, that's 
Riidner's rotating panteichostat (please don't look this 
name up in the encyclopaedia!) and at once you feel 
relieved. Fancy ! you say to yourself, that monster is a 
panteichostat. What it is used for is of minor im 
portance; if it has a name it certainly has some purpose 

When all is said and done, the feel of the unknown 
torments each one of us, whatever the unknown thing 
that we are faced with. A name, a mere sound, a mere 
word, suffices to range the unknown thing among the 
known. The Lord himself considered it most im 
portant for Adam first to give names to all the beasts, 
and only after that was there created from his ribs "an 
helpmeet for him." And when the Lord created Eve, 
Adam said quickly: "She shall be called woman, 
because she was taken out of man." So he first of all 
named Eve; then he ate the forbidden fruit and was 
driven out of Paradise; and it was only after that that 
"Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bare 
Cain." So Adam was at least at the beginning 
particularly thorough, and took trouble to know Eve 
his wife. In everyday life we usually content ourselves 
with a mere name. Only that which has a name exists 
for us fully and satisfactorily; nameless things are 
ghostly, for their reality is not ranged in the com 
fortable ranks of words. Unnamed things are unknown, 
that is natural. But that things which have been named 
should seem to us, ipso facto, known, is a testimony to 
the magic power of the word which we bow down to 

G 97 

Intimate Things 

exactly like savages, or like the Platonists of antiquity, 
or like Adam, who seized dominion over the earth by 
naming all the beasts of the field. And so it seems that 
we are more dominated by words than we ourselves 
dominate them. 


JL HE man who still retains a certain holy horror of 
the extensiveness of the world and sets out on a journey 
with the feeling that it is a great adventure, does not 
travel heedlessly, unconcernedly, and light-heartedly. 
He arrives at the station at least half an hour before the 
train is due to start; for waiting at the station is part 
of the business of travelling; it is part of the ceremony; 
it is a preparation for the unknown things which are to 

I am not thinking of your great, noisy, ugly, hurried 
stations where the wayfarer sits down in the bar, reads 
the paper, and occupies himself with something alto 
gether different from Mere Waiting. But there are little 
stations threaded on the lines like beads on a rosary; 
they stand in the solitude like a place of pilgrimage, 
far from the profane noises of the world; they are the 
real chapels dedicated to the silent ceremony of Waiting. 
They are led to as a rule by a country lane with a 
straggling row of trees; the longer it is the more 
profound and lasting is the silence which embraces the 
pilgrim who comes to the station to wait. There are 
some stations to which the township whose name they 
bear has laid down a horrid, new, dreadfully long road 
which is called Station Road and embodies in itself all 
the boredom, inhospitality, and ugliness in the world; 
but there are others which you can only reach by a 
footpath through the meadows, and when you get 
there you look at your watch and think: Thank 


Intimate Things 

God I have still an hour; at least I have not lost my 

And now you fall into the depths of wailing. Two 
or three or four pairs of rails gleam in the sun; nowhere 
does the sun come scorching down so whitely and 
nakedly as at a station. Some goods trucks are rusting 
in the farthest siding; two old boys push one empty, 
chalk-scrawled truck on to the last siding but one, 
probably to kill time a little. Between the lines two 
chickens are pecking among the shining grains of sand. 
There is a silence, an utter Sunday silence. Heavens, 
what is there to do ? 


That is written on each of the trucks: fi.s.D. C.S.D. 
You walk the whole length of the station and 
see what else there is to read. STATION MASTER. 

ING WATER. That is all. Ah, there is one more notice; 
you go and read the announcement NO SMOKING. That 
exhausts all the reading material. 

Why look, there are some hanging baskets with 
flowering cress; it is queer that station masters should 
like cress, when platelayers have an affection for sun 
flowers. It seems that railway officials have a mysterious 
inclination to cultivate flowers; nowhere do you find 
so many flowers as at country railway stations. A rail 
way bee is buzzing indefatigably round one of the 
flower-filled baskets. There, now she turns round and 
away she goes. Whatever is there to do ? 

1 Short for Ceskoslovensk Statnf Drahy, meaning Czecho 
slovak State Railways. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


Railway Stations 

The station master comes out of his office; he has a 
red cap, lustrous trousers, and hands clasped behind 
his back; all station masters have their hands clasped 
behind their backs as soon as they come out on to 
the platform; it must be necessary to their function. He 
stands still with legs astraddle, scratches his head under 
his cap, and because there is nothing happening, goes 
back briskly into the shadow of his office. 

We who are waiting shuffle from one foot to the 
other, and cough under our breath like worshippers 
in a chapel; we are dressed in clean clothes and de 
pressed in a Sunday sort of way. One old man's stick 
falls noisily on to the tiles; he picks it up quickly and 
uneasily, for we are all looking at him crossly as at a 
disturber. In the depths of the office the telegraphic 
apparatus clicks mysteriously. In the station there 
ensues an office-like silence. 

"Mummy!" says the piping voice of a little girl. 

"Be quiet," her mother reproves her in a whisper. 

"Mummy, when will the train come ?" 

Be quiet, little girl, we have to wait for the train to 
come. If you aren't as good as if you were in church, 
the train won't come, and we shan't go away in it to 
the ends of the earth. The chickens have crept away 
out of the heat under the trucks; a strange solitude, 
the solitude of infinity, lies on the four pairs of shining 
rails. It seems that time has stopped going; it will start 
moving again when half-past four comes. Sh ! sh ! we 
mustn't move. 

A sudden bimbimbim, bimbimbim, the metallic 
signal from the next station. You would not have been 


Intimate Things 

surprised if we had all knelt down and crossed our 
selves as they do when the bell rings in church. We do 
not kneel down, but we shake ourselves out of the 
depressing spell of waiting; we put ourselves straight 
and clutch our bundles. 

The station master comes hurrying out on to the 
platform and takes up his position so as to salute the 
train carelessly as it puffs in. One more disturbed and 
restless moment, and it is here. Rattling and puffing 
the train pulls into the station; the station master 
salutes carelessly; and we who have waited so gravely, 
hurl ourselves into the train with undignified haste 
beneath the hostile gaze of those who are already 
sitting there; and after these delays the whistle blows 
and the little train puffs away into the wide world. 

Just one last glance at the Station of Waiting: it is 
empty, the station master goes back into his office 
with bent head; the baskets of flowering cress do not 
even stir in the burning stillness. And look! at the 
first-floor window of the station a young woman is 
staring after the train. She is young, she is pretty, and 
she is bored, passionately, idly, and hotly bored with 
the infinite solitude of four pairs of rails. Ah, what a 
life ! God, what an unwritten novel ! 



ILL anyone explain to me why a cat gets so 
strangely excited if you whistle to her very shrill and 
high? I have tried it with English, Italian, and German 
cats; there is no geographical distinction. When puss 
hears you whistling (especially if you whistle Night 
of stars and night of love as high as you can), she 
begins to rub herself against you fascinated, jumps on 
to your knee, sniffs at your lips in surprise, and finally, 
in rapturous excitement, she bites passionately at your 
mouth and nose with an expression disfigured by 
voluptuousness; on which you, of course, stop, and 
she begins to purr hoarsely and energetically like a 
small motor. I have thought about it time and again, 
and I don't know to this day from what ancient instinct 
cats adore whistling; I do not believe that at any time 
in the primeval era there was an age when male cats 
whistled shrilly instead of yowling in metallic and 
strident alto as they do to-day. Perhaps in distant 
and savage times there lived some cat-gods who used 
to speak to their cat-worshippers by means of magical 
whistling; but this is a mere hypothesis, and the fasci 
nation of music is one of the riddles of the cat soul. 

Man thinks that he knows cats just as he thinks 
he knows people. A cat is a thing which sleeps .curled 
up in the arm-chair, sometimes prowls about its cat 
affairs, sometimes knocks over the ash tray, and spends 
the greater part of its life in passionate pursuit of 
warmth. But the secret essence of cathood I only 


Intimate Things 

realized in Rome; and that because I was looking not at 
one cat but at fifty cats at a whole herd of cats in the 
great cat basin round Trajan's Column. The old 
excavated Forum lies like a dry basin in the middle of 
the square; and at the bottom of this basin, among 
broken pillars and statues, lives the independent cat 
nation. It lives on fishes' heads which the kind-hearted 
Italians throw down from above, practises some cult 
of the moon, and beyond this it clearly does nothing. 
Now it was revealed to me there that a cat is not 
simply a cat but something enigmatic and impene 
trable; that a cat is a wild creature. If you see two 
dozen cats walking about it is suddenly revealed to you 
that a cat doesn't walk at all, she slinks. A cat among 
human beings is just a cat; a cat among cats is a skulking 
shadow in the jungle. Puss clearly trusts man; but she 
doesn't trust cats, because she knows them better than 
we. We say "cat and dog" as the example of social mis 
trust; now I have often seen very intimate friendship 
between cat and dog, but I have never seen an intimate 
friendship between two cats; this is, of course, not 
speaking of feline love-affairs. The cats in Trajan's 
Forum ignore each other most ostentatiously; if they 
sit on the same pillar, they sit with their backs toward 
each other and nervously twitch their tails to make it 
plain that they put up with the presence of these dis 
reputable neighbours against 'their will If cat looks at 
cat, she spits; if they meet, they do not look at each 
other; they never have a common aim; they never have 
anything to say to each other. At the best of times they 
tolerate each other in contemptuous and negative silence. 


But to you, a man, puss will talk; she purrs to you, 
looks up into your eyes, and says: "Man, please open 
this door for me. Much Eating One, do give me some 
of what you're eating. Stroke me. Talk to me. Let me 
come on to my arm-chair." With you she is not a wild, 
lone shadow; for you she is simply a domestic pussy 
cat, because she trusts you. A wild animal is an animal 
which is mistrustful. Domestication is simply a state of 

And you know, we human beings are only not wild 
as long as we trust each other. If when I left home in 
the morning I distrusted the first neighbour I met, I 
should edge near to him growling darkly, with every 
muscle in my thighs tense, ready to spring at his throat 
at the flicker of an eyelash. If I distrusted the people 
with whom I travel by tram, I should have to keep 
my back to the wall and spit like a cat to frighten 
them; instead of which I hang peacefully on to my 
strap and read the paper, offering them my unprotected 
back. When I walk along the street I am thinking 
of my work or of nothing at all, without giving a 
thought to what the passers-by might do to me; it 
would be awful if I had to eye them askance to see 
that they were not preparing to devour me. A state 
of mistrust is the original state of ,wildness; mistrust 
is the law of the jungle. 

A policy which thrives by stimulating mistrust is a 
policy of wildness. A cat who distrusts a man sees in 
him not a man but a wild animal; the man who dis 
trusts another man sees in him a wild animal too. The 
bond of mutual trust is older than all civilization 


Intimate Things 

and culture; and it is more important. You can destroy 
civilization, and humanity will still be humanity; but 
if you destroy the state of trust, the world of men 
becomes a beast-ridden earth. 

To show you now, I will go and stroke my own 
pussy cat. She is a great comfort to me because she 
trusts me, although she is only a little grey beast who 
has strayed in from God knows what corner of the 
unknown wilds of Prague's back alleys. She starts 
purring and looks up at me. "Man," she says, "do rub 
me behind my ears." 



UMAN nature is full of contradictions; look at 
the way most people love to get letters and hate to 
write them, though both are perforce linked together 
as cause and effect. There are, it is true, people who are 
indecently fond of writing letters, such as lovers and 
the people who sign themselves "One of many" or 
"A reader," and write to the papers attacking some 
article in yesterday's issue; but these are on the whole 
oddities, like the folk who adore listening to lectures, 
or those who will keep on chasing a buzz and rattle 
from station to station on their wireless all night, or 
those who like to move house often. Most people 
dislike moving, dislike letting other people talk, and in 
particular dislike answering letters. As regards the last 
it is safe to assume that an ordinary man only writes 
a letter when he wants to get an answer to it, a motive 
which regularly disappears if he receives a letter himself. 
The dislike of writing letters probably arises from 
general human laziness; but the craving to receive letters 
has, seemingly, deeper and more mysterious roots. 

A thousand times, when the bell rings in the morn 
ing, you have exulted, "Ah! there's the post!" and a 
thousand times your impatient hand has seized an 
advertisement, a bill, and a registered letter from the 
tax collector's office; none the less, to-morrow at the 
same time you will be waiting with beating heart for 
the postman's ring and you will exclaim delightedly, 
"Ah! there's the post!" It is not that you are waiting 


Intimate Things 

for anything special, anything that really matters, that 
you have set on foot or to which you might he getting 
an answer. At the bottom of your heart you are expect 
ing the morning post to bring you something unfore 
seen and unsuspected; you do not know at all what it 
may be; perhaps it will be a letter from heaven or an 
appointment as general of cavalry in the Portuguese 
army, or the notification that you have been awarded 
the Order of Merit. From somewhere or other some 
thing will come by post which will change your destiny, 
reward your virtues, open for you unexpected possi 
bilities, or fulfil your unconfessed desires. 

"Something is coming from somewhere." That is a 
mystic and unlimited possibility which, in spite of all 
experience, is daily opened by the postman's ring. In 
the olden days if a man went into the forest to cut 
wood mysterious possibilities were opened before him 
at each step ; he might find the goblin's treasure, meet 
the three Fates, see the golden ferns, or find a revolving 
house. If I go out into Jindfich Street I don't really 
expect to find the goblin's treasure on the trampled 
pavement, meet the three Fates in the tram, or find 
revolving houses in Jungmann Square. The field of 
unknown and unforeseen possibilities in the ordinary 
life of a man of to-day is strikingly narrow and sparse. 
No one thinks, when he gets up in the morning, that 
to-day he may suddenly achieve something unforeseen 
and surprising; and yet at the bottom of his heart is 
trembling the perpetual expectation that to-day some 
thing incalculable and great will happen, something 
will arrive from somewhere 


The Post 

Wait! there goes the bell. Ah! it's the post! You 
take in your letters, assuming a certain carelessness (a 
point of honour, this, to hide your secret tremors) and 
coolness (you are, of course, prepared for anything). 
You turn each letter over and over in your hand without 
hurrying, just as a man would not hurry if he were 
opening the door to the thirteenth chamber in an 
enchanted castle. At last, after a certain amount of 
hesitation, in deference to the importance of the 
moment, you open your letters. It is extraordinary 
how badly and with what careless haste they open 
letters on die stage or films; they tear open the envelopes 
before you can say knife and do not even sit down 
comfortably to do it. That's not the way it is done. 
When you have received a letter you first of all sit 
down; cutting open the envelope is done slowly and 
resolutely, as though diffidently raising the lid of an 
enchanted chest. Now everything will be altogether 
strangely enough, by an extraordinary chance this 
time again nothing unforeseen has come; it is only a 
bill from a bookseller and some confounded letter that 
you will have to answer. The gates of unlimited possi 
bility are closed again for to-day. Th great unknown 
event is put off till to-morrow. 

And most extraordinary of all is that this state of 
perpetual expectation persists in people who have 
nothing to look forward to at all, who have no uncle 
in America, who are not longing for something to come 
from somewhere to alter the course of their lives, and 
who would be scared if they had to accept a new 
appointment. In spite of this, when the postman rings 


Intimate Things 

there throbs in them a pale anxiety or hope that perhaps 
who knows? something will arrive out of this 
great strange world. . . , God be praised; it's only a 
leaflet offering to supply coal by the cartload or the 
sack. But man's eternal expectation of something 
unsuspected and miraculous is never finally and 
irrevocably disappointed. 



^EOPLE are usually divided into two kinds, and 
this under the most widely differing heads; for instance, 
those who have money and those who have not; or 
into thieves and honest men; or as in the Bible 
into those who put their mouths to the stream and 
those who drink out of their hands. I mean by this 
that from the time of Maccabaeus it has been the 
custom to divide folk into two classes. 

There are two types of people: those who throw 
away all their broken, useless, and worn-out things, 
and those who stow them somewhere, either for 
Uncle Chance or because they may some day do for 
something] but chiefly from a certain sentimentality 
and pity. They don't like to excommunicate anything 
from the circle of existing and, as it were, living things 
and throw it into the maw of the rubbish pit or the 
dustman's cart; and so they put these invalid objects 
away into the kind twilight of attics, drawers, and all 
sorts of corners where they slowly pile up: old nails, 
knotted pieces of string, letters, broken keys, broken 
crocks, screws without nuts, nuts without screws, 
burnt-out electric bulbs, wireless batteries, hooks 
bent out of shape, broken bits of furniture, ragged 
neckties, old tram tickets, incomplete series of maga 
zines, a piece of wire or a hoop, one galosh, a broken 
door handle, half a tape-measure, the most varied 

Intimate Things 

assortment of buttons and burnt-out cigarette holders, 
and on top of these a whole collection more of all those 
incomplete, unnecessary, and unclassified things which 
the alluvium of life deposits around each human being. 
I have never in my life seen anything among all this 
lumber laid by "in case" which could possibly be any 
use for anything; but perhaps that is not what matters; 
for there are folk who consider it rather unfeeling to 
throw a thing away simply because it is of no practical 
use any more. 

On the other hand, there are some severe and ener 
getic natures of a Spartan turn who jettison useless 
things without any compunction. There is an element 
of cleanliness and discipline in this; I envy such people, 
and I am always telling myself that I will only shove 
this burnt-out cigarette holder away in the cupboard 
just this once; in future I will not tolerate any old 
rubbish, broken crocks, lumber, or refuse in the 
house. It is one of my perennial good intentions. But 
in practice it is almost always as hard to throw away a 
chipped jug as to condemn an invalid aunt to death. 
Ordinarily I hide these crippled objects in all sorts of 
corners and drawers, till one day in a fit of energy and 
tidiness I throw about a third of them bodily away 
without looking to see what it is or was that I have 
flung out. 

There are two types of people: those who carefully 
untie all the knots and loops in the string when they 
undo a parcel, and those who cut the string through. 


7V0 Kinds of People 

These latter have the temperament of Alexander the 
Great; they can make their mark in the world but they 
are inclined to be feckless and inconsiderate; it's touch 
and go with them and devil take the hindmost. The 
former will break their nails on every tightly tied 
knot; the whole piece of string is not worth the 
trouble^ but it is a matter of principle with them, not 
to say a mania. For one thing, they are a bit close- 
fisted, miserly, and inclined to look nine ways at a 
penny before they spend it; besides that they are con 
siderate, and will patiently unravel each of Fate's knots 
and problems that they meet, instead of severing them 
by an Alexandrine gesture; thirdly, they are slow 
coaches, and will waste time which they could better 
spend in the conquest of the world or a career. The 
ones who cut the string are clearly more aggressive, 
and do not hesitate to clear all obstacles out of their 
way; they are active and industrious folk who do not 
waste time on unnecessary considerations, but go 
straight to the point; besides this they are impatient and 
hasty, and there is no relying on them. 

As for myself, it is a miracle each time that I do 
not tear my nails on the tangled knots of the wretchedest 
bit of string; but after half an hour I lose patience, 
snatch up a knife and snip ! I cut the string and all 
its knots to pieces. 

H 113 


COULD put down a whole series of great and 
gratifying joys of life, such as love, passing examina 
tions with honours, eating one's favourite food, a May 
day, success, a first prize, and a score of other good 
things. But if I took them thus at random I should 
certainly forget one glowing joy of life which each 
one of us can afford: the luxury of advising ou* 

Each of us (as far as I can judge by myself) simply 
adores to give advice. It is part and parcel of human 
nature to express our superiority with great readiness 
on every occasion by explaining to someone else what 
he ought to have done. Perhaps it is a sublimated 
and purified form of the malicious satisfaction which 
a normal man derives from the distress of his neigh 
bour. It is not quite clear whether he gives advice so 
as to raise himself above and morally triumph over the 
one whom he is advising, or whether he is led to do so 
by an impulse of comradeship and fellow-feeling. It is 
only certain that if he meets a motor stranded on a 
country road with a chauffeur feverishly at work on it, 
lying in the dust or with his head stuck into the bonnet, 
any sensible man will pause a minute, looking on at 
the work with peculiar satisfaction, and then remark 
sympathetically: "Man, you ought to get a couple of 
oxen to tow her to the town," or "I wouldn't have a 
great hulking thing like that as a gift!" On which the 
stricken chauffeur does not as a rule take your well- 


The Joys of Life 

meant advice, but turns on you with a fierce and 
negative growl. 

When a serious man is giving advice he does not 
say, "Look here, you do this 15 or "You do that"; he 
says, "If I were you I should do so and so." If I were 
you I should find some profitable occupation to keep 
the wolf from the door. If I were you I'd have the 
fellow up and make him pay through the nose. If ] 
were you I'd go to the Argentine and start a maize plan 
tation; and goodness knows Fd get rich! A mar 
usually knows with amazing clearness what he woulc 
do if he were someone else; while he is advising his 
neighbour all life and the whole world appear miracu 
lously simple, easy, promising, and well arranged 
Sometimes, when he is overwhelmed by the difficul 
problem whether to choose between brown clotl 
or blue for a suit, up comes an acquaintance anc 
announces without the slightest hesitation: "Fd hav< 
the brown." This abounding certitude is something 
that a man only has when settling someone else' 
affairs. The adviser overflows with energy, decision 
reason, confidence, and providence; but how we lad 
these gifts when we have only ourselves to advise ! 

If you do not want your advice to miss fire, couch i 
in terms as general as possible. For instance, a ma 
comes to you who wants a job and hasn't a bean t 
his name. As a rule you do not and cannot say to hirr 
"Go to such and such a place and they'll see after you. 
Instead you say something like, "Pull yourself togethe] 
man, and don't despair. Look out for some reguk 
job, and when you've got it, hang on to it. Why, 


Intimate Things 

man can make his mark in every trade. Keep your 
courage up and your eyes open !'* When we give advice 
like this we feel a peculiar satisfaction at our wisdom 
and experience of life. We do not really give advice 
for the sake of helping the other, but for the pure and 
honest delight of sheer advising. There are shy people 
who instead of general advice prefer to give the stricken 
one a few pence. These, I maintain, are denied the kindly 
consciousness that they have had a moral influence 
on the life and the whole future of their neighbour. Shy 
people are always at a disadvantage. 

Another kind of pleasure is advising a blacksmith 
how to shoe a horse or a Cabinet Minister what to do 
next. When it comes to that, each of us could tell any 
expert in the world how he ought to do the job. But 
though the world as a whole takes no heed of our 
counsels we have at least the satisfaction of seeing 
all the things happen to it that do happen to the world. 
If it is not managed as we think it should be, we can 
say it serves it right. It has only itself to thank, as people 
say when they are giving advice. 

From all of which it is evident that giving advice is a 
source of inexhaustible joy and comfort. 




CANNOT remember exactly how Sisyphus 
offended the gods that he should be condemned to 
roll a boulder eternally up a hill in Tartarus, and that 
when he had almost got it up to the top the stone 
would slip from his hands and roll down, so that 
Sisyphus had to begin pushing it up again. He must 
certainly have done something awful for the gods 
to lay upon him such an awful job. If he had been con 
demned to roll ten thousand boulders up the hill, and 
if he had only managed to get one of them up after ten 
thousand tries, even if it had rolled down again, it 
would have been, as you can see, a cruel task, but it 
would not have been an infernal penalty. The hellish 
penalty consisted not in the fact that Sisyphus had 
to do hard work but that he had to do useless and 
shoddy work. (Personally, I do not believe that he 
put up with it for long; I am convinced that one fine 
day he left the boulder to roll, turned to the gods, and 
declared that he was not going on like this and that he 
would rather break stones or build roads or do any 
thing that was some good. This the gods allowed 
him, and from that time onwards Sisyphus built road? 
in England and France and various other places, onlj 
not in Czechoslovakia. This is just by the way.) 

Whenever I have in my hand a poor piece of work 
manship, one of those wretched shoddy things, badb 
made out of bad materials and quickly coming toaba< 
end like all bad things, I think how disheartening an< 


Intimate Things 

depressing it must have been for the workman who had 
to make such a thing. He was badly paid and bad 
tempered; he did not whistle at his work, but grumbled 
at it and cursed; he did not call his work a job, he 
called it a rotten turn out; he did not joke while he was 
doing it, but got through it anyhow, and when the 
whistle blew, he chucked down his tools and went 
off without looking back; and even when he got home 
he still felt downhearted at the bondage and injustice 
of the whole world. 

I understand very well that workmen demand 
better wages for their work; but sometimes I am sur 
prised that they do not demand besides better wages, 
better work too. I should like, for example, to imagine 
such a dramatic social rising as the following scene: 

The office in a factory: the owner or manager is 
nervously gnawing his cigar, for there is a tragic 
feeling in the air, as there is before a strike. A knock 
at the door and the workers' delegates come in, dour 
and threatening. 

"Take a seat, gentlemen," says the man with the 
cigar with somewhat unnatural politeness. "And what 
can I do for you this time ?" 

But the delegation does not sit down; instead a very 
frowning man in overalls elbows his way to the front. 
"We've come here," he begins, "because, well, it's 
like this, me and my mates have been saying that we 
aren't going on like this and that's all there is to it." 

The group behind the speaker grunts approvingly. 

"And how aren't you going on?" asks the man with 
the cigar, forcing himself to speak in a careless tone. 


A Chan Job 

"We're not going to go on making such mucky 
stuff/' declares the man in overalls. "It's not a job 
worth doing. Me and my mates have been saying that 
we aren't going to put up with it any more, having 
to make such rotten stuff. It's just rubbish that we 
send out of the factory, stuff it's sheer robbery to sell, 
junk to be chucked away, that's all it is, and the fellow 
who buys it is just taken in, that's all. The material's 
worth nowt, the work's no good either, and the whole 
thing's just a swindle, just to sell cheap and make a 
big profit. So we've made up our minds that we're not 
going on with this rotten job. Unless it's made better, 
my mates have been saying, we're not on this show and 
that's that." (Hear, hear!) 

"But, gentlemen," bursts out the man with the 
cigar, "this is unheard of! I thought you only came 
for a rise in wages, not with impossible demands like 
this ! You'll pardon me, but in the first place our factory 
does not turn out stuff that it's robbery to sell, but 
inexpensive articles in general demand; and in the 
second place it's nothing to do with you because it 
is I who am responsible for the quality of my goods. 
Good morning !" 

"Come off it!" says the man in overalls. "We're just 
about fed up with it, I can tell you; this kind of work 
ain't no joke. It just about feeds a fellow up, making 
poor stuff when we could be making good. A workman 
with a bit of self-respect wants to do a decent job and 
not this rotten mess; it makes a fellow quite ashamed 
to turn it out. We want to enjoy our work and take a 
pride in it; a fellow feels quite different when he's got 


Intimate Things 

decent material in his hands and can make a first- 
class job of it. And we have a social right to it." 

"What kind of right?" shouts the man with the 

Ah, if I could prompt the spokesman in the overalls 
I would whisper to him quickly at this point: "The 
social right to be gentlemen." But the man with the 
cigar is not there, nor is the man in overalls, and 
moreover there is very little prospect of this dramatic 
scene from the social struggle being staged. 



JiL HERE are folk who do not believe in anything, 
not even that a flea on your hand means that you are 
going to get a letter. But even these most obdurate un 
believers believe in Fate. 

I know that Newton discovered that every object 
falls vertically to the ground, but it is not true. Every 
one knows that a collar stud never falls to the ground 
vertically but somehow sideways, and that it always 
lands under the bed or the chest of drawers. No science 
of physics nor law of gravitation has yet elucidated this 
fateful proclivity. It is an indisputable metaphysical 
phenomenon, a simple and mysterious law of Fate. 

There are hosts of laws like this. I will adduce, for 
instance, from thousandfold observation the well- 
known Law of Purpose. A thing which you don't need 
is always under your eyes; as soon as you need it, it's 
gone. You hunt for it methodically through all the 
cupboards and drawers; it is nowhere. Finally you 
resign yourself and get on somehow without it. At 
this moment the thing you are looking for appears, 
either in its proper place as large as life, or somewhere 
where it has no business to be and will irritate you 
until you need it again; then with amazing promptness 
it vanishes. Some people maintain that if they are 
waiting for a tram, tie only trams that come are going 
in the opposite direction. One friend of mine tried 
to outwit Fate by deliberately going to wait for the 
opposite-going tram. But Fate is inexorable: it got 


Intimate Things 

itself out of the tight place of course by causing a 
break in the electric current so that no trains of any 
line were running. There are countless cases like this. 
It is a simple law. 

Another phenomenon of this sort is the Law of the 
Third Solution. Usually we expect that a thing will 
turn out either one way or the other; and lo and 
behold, in the end it doesn't turn out either one way 
or the other, but somehow differently and in a way 
which no one could possibly have foreseen. Supposing 
I decide: either I shall have some money and then I'll 
buy a suit, or I shan't have any and then I won't buy it. 
In that case, of course, either (i) I do have some money 
but I don't buy a suit because I have to have the stove 
mended or pay my rent; or (2) I have no money but 
I buy a suit all the same, and am cheated into the bargain. 
Without fail. Inevitably. I think: either such and such 
a thing will happen and that will be all right; or it won't 
happen and it will be all wrong, God help me ! Well, in 
that case the thing does happen and it's all wrong, God 
help me ! Sheer Fate ! 

Still another law of destiny is the Law of Series. 
For a whole year you have not met Mr. X, and one 
day, bother the man, you meet him seven times. For 
a whole year you have no occasion to go through 
the Haymarket, and then all at once, do what you 
will, you find yourself there seven times in one day. 
No one ever sends you a hare as a present, and suddenly 
you receive four hares at once from four corners of 
the earth. Events have a curious and, if I may put it 
so, unpleasant tendency to come in crowds. Of course 


On the Threshold of Mysteries 

you always have all your bills to pay at once. Fate 
has a mania for repetition. When you have most work 
you have seven visitors one after the other. All your 
life you have hunted for golden ferns, and when you 
are least thinking of it you find golden ferns everywhere, 
till it's simply maddening and you are quite bothered 
about there being so many. There are said to be only 
six blue Mauritius stamps in the whole world; I bet 
you that one day I shall suddenly find three thousand 
of them and that they will all be fakes. That is the law 
of series. 

Human life is thus governed by higher laws which 
are beyond the sphere of natural order and scientific 
explanation. Why is it that just to-day I broke a boot 
lace three times? Why must I meet four people to 
whom I have promised things which I have not yet 
done? Why did I hunt for my tie with cursing and 
swearing for half an hour, and then, when I had put 
on another, find it calmly lying on the chest of drawers ? 
Believe me, even the smallest misfortune is obedient 
to the mysteries of Fate; so that it is fitting to conduct 
oneself towards Fate with consideration and respect. 
I know a lady who will have, say, a pair of scissors 
in her hand, and suddenly they vanish; after a despairing 
hunt for two days she discovers them by sitting on 
them. She sees in this the malicious work of sprites. I 
think she is indulging in idolatry and gross superstition. 
There are no malicious sprites. There are simply laws. 
The inscrutable and inexorable laws of Fate. 




HAVE looked into the matter closely, and I can 
pronounce on it with an almost authoritative assurance: 
a dog never plays when he is alone. Left to himself, 
he is serious in his doggy way; if he has nothing else 
to do he gazes, meditates, sleeps, catches his fleas, or 
chews something it may be a brush or your slipper 
but he does not play. So long as he is alone he will not 
chase his own tail nor scamper round in circles in the 
fields nor carry sticks in his mouth nor push a piece of 
stone along in front of him; for all this he needs a 
partner, a spectator, some participating being for 
whom he carries on his frantic sport. His games are 
an outburst of comradely joy. Just as he only wags his 
tail when he meets a kindred spirit, a man or another 
dog, so he only plays when someone plays with him 
or at least looks on at his game. There are sensitive 
dogs who will be bored by their play the moment you 
cease to watch them; it looks as if they only find their 
games amusing as long as you applaud. A dog needs 
the stimulating contact with a fellow-creature to make 
him play; this is part of his sociable nature. 

A cat will play at your instigation; but she can play 
alone as well. She plays for her own enjoyment, in a 
self-contained way, with no desire to share. Shut her 
up alone, and a ball, a fringe, or a looped piece of string 
is enough to make her give herself up to silent and 
graceful sport. While she is playing she does not say, 
"Man, Fm so awfully glad I've got you here 1" She will 


Cat and Dog 

play beside the bed of a corpse. She will play hide-and- 
seek with the border of its coverlet. A dog would not 
do a thing like that. Puss amuses herself on her own. A 
dog likes to amuse his companion. Puss is only interested 
in herself. A dog insists on other people being in 
terested in him. He lives fully and exuberantly only 
when he is in a pack and even two can make a pack. 
If he is chasing his tail, he will look out of the corner 
of one eye to see what you think of it. Puss would 
not do that: it is enough for her if she is amusing 
herself. Perhaps that is why she never gives herself 
up to her play wildly and passionately, to the point 
of perspiring self-forgetfulness, like a dog. It is always 
a little beneath her; she always seems to condescend 
benevolently and somewhat disdainfully when she 
plays. A dog plays with his whole heart, while a cat 
only does it lightly, out of caprice. 

Puss is of the race of the satirists who are sufficient 
to their own entertainment; they play with men and 
things, but only for their own inward and slightly 
scornfol pleasure. A dog is of the race of humorists; 
he is good-natured and vulgar, like a raconteur who 
would be bored to death without an audience. Out of 
sheer comradeship he treats you to himself; he is 
capable of tearing things up from sheer zeal, if it is a 
question of some game with you. A cat is satisfied 
with managing her own affairs; a dog wants to win your 
applause. Puss is a subjective creature; a dog lives 
in a social and therefore objective world. A cat is as 
mysterious as a wild beast; a dog is as open and frank 
as a man. Puss is something of an aesthete; a dog is 


Intimate Things 

like an ordinary man. But like a creative man. There is 
in him something which comes out to his fellow- 
creatures; to every fellow-creature. An actor cannot 
act merely before a mirror, a poet cannot write verse 
just for himself, a painter does not paint pictures simply 
to stand them with their faces to the wall. In everything 
at which we humans really play with our whole souls 
there is also this denial of self, demanding the interest 
and participation of all you others, the whole dear 
human pack. 

And we, too, can tear ourselves to pieces from sheer 



"Kind Reader." 

I don't really know why he is called "kind"; for I 
don't know whether he is kind any more than I know 
whether he is as red haired as the Emperor Barbarossa 
or as bald as a Roman Senator; I can make no clear 
picture of him, and I am sure he will remain a mystery 
to me to the end of my days. If you are a writer it 
sometimes happens that some well-dressed gentleman 
eomes up to you and says: "I'm Mr. So-and-So, and 
I have read your article about " The moment 
that you get to know your reader like this, you lose 
him; for this gentleman is not the mysterious kind 
reader, but Mr. So-and-So with definite opinions; he is 
an acquaintance. With every person whom you get to 
know, the mysterious reader recedes farther; he is 
not this man; for the Kind Reader is none of the 
people you know; he is the personification of the 
people you don't know. 

But if I were to sketch in the features of this unknown 
person I should find that I cannot imagine the Kind 
Reader as a particularly kind, smiling, and appreciative 
being; I rather picture him as some very precise and 
frowning person, carrying my article or book in his 
hand like a lawyer's brief. I think he has a long beard 
like Father Time. And the worst thing about him is 
that he knows everything there is to be known of 
whatever I write about, for he is of all professions; no 
mistake, lack of knowledge, howler, or stumble of mine 


'1'ntimme Things 

Scapes his eye; he catches me out at everything that I 
bungle or that he knows better than I. He says nothing.; 
only his eyebrows jerk with evil delight at having 
caught me: "Aha, my lad, you weretft up to that I" 
His knowledge is tremendous and probably infinite* If 
I confuse an Audion lamp with a Davy lamp, he notices 
it; it does not escape him if in my botanical innocence 
I confuse a raceme with an ament. You've no idea how 
scared of him I am ! Sometimes when I am writing I 
stop short and scratch out what I have just written, for 
I am not sure of myself before -the Kind Reader, He is 
terrible;, being unknown^ If he is called kind, it is from 
a strange fear ; one has to flatter him. 

A Meeting with Oneself. 

I am not thinking of a double but of my own picture 
in the mirror. It happened that I was left alone a moment 
at my tailor's to undress. While I was doing so with 
the complete absentmindedness which a man exhibits 
when undressing, I noticed in front of me a man in 
profile who was staring at nothingness and unbuttoning 
his waistcoat like myself. It struck me most unpleasantly, 
not because the fellow was undressing in front of me, 
but because his face seen in profile was absolutely 
strange and at the same time painfully familiar. I 
stood still and had a good look at him; he left off 
unbuttoning his waistcoat and stared in a fascinated 
manner at something which I could not see; I must 
say that he looked rather silly doing it. It was only 
when he took off his waistcoat simultaneously with 
me that I understood that it was I myself in the triple 


What We Do Not Know 

mirror. A mirror is the most perverse discovery in the 
world, for it tears away the veil of mystery with 
which man is concealed from himself. There is some 
thing unnatural about being able to see one's own nose 
in profile. It is ordained that man shall rather measure 
the height of the Himalayas than gaze on the lines 
of his own nose. If we do not see the ends of our 
noses it is not because we are short-sighted, but because 
the said noses are our own. So long as man does not 
see his own profile he remains to a certain extent un 
known and unknowable to himself; he carries in his 
face something of whose appearance he is not sure; he 
knows all sorts of things about himself, but the profound 
mystery of his nose, which every passer-by can see, is 
hidden from him. I have just been reading that with the 
help of microphones or loudspeakers one can hear 
one's own voice. I am sure that must be as painful as 
to see one's own profile. It is not I; that unknown 
person has no right to give himself out as me; he is an 
intruder who accompanies me everywhere and always 
keeps out of my sight. God knows how women can 
bear to sit before their triple mirrors and study that 
strange and unknown thing which is called one's own 
face. A man does not like to see himself, and if he 
wants to imagine Man he has to think of his neighbour. 



Chasing a Moth. 

A man is sitting with a book or newspaper in his 

hands; suddenly he raises his head and his eyes follow 

something in the air as if in an unseen photo. Then 

he gives a wild jump and makes a snatch with his 

hand, after which he falls on his knees and slaps the 

floor' with his palm. Again he jumps, snatching at 

emptiness with his hand; rushes into a corner clapping 

his hands; slaps the wall and looks carefully into his 

hand. Then he shakes his head in a disappointed way 

and goes and sits down again, looking suspiciously at 

the corner where he did the slapping just now. Three 

seconds later he leaps up again, springs into the air, 

smacks his hands together, flings himself on the 

ground, thumps the walls and the furniture, waves his 

arms about madly, dances about, twists his head round, 

and sits down again. Five seconds later he jumps up 

again and repeats the whole of the ceremonial dance. 

Chasing a Tram. 

For this task you need a tram which is just in the 
act of starting. A man walking to the tram-stop at that 
moment throws back his head and begins to move his 
legs faster with a scissor-like motion; after which he 
gives a playful little jump and changes into a trot, 
smiling slightly, as if he were doing it for fun. Then 
he hangs on to his hat with one hand and begins to run 
with all his might. The tram, which has really been 



waiting for this moment, now moves off at full speed. 
Its pursuer gives a few despairing leaps, while the tram 
clatters heedlessly away. At this moment the pursuer 
comes to the conclusion that he will not catch it; his 
zeal collapses and vanishes; he runs forward a little 
with a few feeble jumps, comes to a halt, and waves 
his hand after the departing tram, as much as to say, 
"I don't care, you can go to blazes, blast you ! I'll wait 
for another tram better than you 1" 

Taking a Dog for a Walk. 

A man taking his dog on a lead usually pretends 
that he is taking the dog and not the dog taking him. 
If the dog decides to sniff at something interesting, 
his master stops too, and regards the circumambient 
architecture or natural phenomena; and when the dog 
squats down in his notorious way, thereby lowering 
the dignity of his master, his commander proceeds to 
light a cigarette or otherwise indicate that he himself 
wanted to stop just here, that he is completely absorbed 
in something, and does not even know what his dog 
is doing the while. 

Tripping over Something. 

A man slips on something, makes a false step, 
or for some entirely external reason hurriedly changes 
the rhythm of his walk, purposely and with vigour. 
Usually he waves his arms in a surprised manner, 
as if he wanted to catch hold of someone, and with 
most undignified haste regains his lost equilibrium. 
But as soon as he has done so he proceeds on his walk 


Intimate Things 

with striking and energetic agility which says to all 
passers-by: "Well, what are you staring at? Thought 
I was stumbling, did you? Well, I wasn't, and what's it 
to do with you anyway ? Can't you see how Fm striding 

Avoiding a Puddle. 

A man wading through a pool of mud really does 
it like this. First he stands at the edge and looks for 
a way to get across dryshod; then he steps delicately 
like a cat, only touching the ground with the rips 
of his toes; after which he braces himself, jumps over 
a pool, changes his direction, advances with infinite 
care; and, when he is least expecting it, steps in the 
mud just where it is deepest and dirtiest. Then the 
man avoiding the mud will assume an expression as 
who should say "Ugh!"; he pauses a moment wearily, 
and then strikes out right through the deepest pool of 
mud. On long journeys, like the journey of life, this 
is called resignation. 

Chasing an Errant Hat. 

A man will usually lose a couple of precious 
seconds by feeling his head in a surprised way, as 
if to convince himself that it has not flown away too, 
and by creeping after his hat without undue haste, 
hoping for the best and feeling that there is no need 
to scare his mettlesome hat the more. Jt is only when 
it becomes evident that the hat is flying at a speed 
of ten yards per second that its master runs after it. 
But, not wishing to arouse the useless attention of the 



whole street, he runs smilingly and exuberantly, as 
if it were his favourite amusement or sport. He would 
lower his dignity very much if he ran swearing at 
the top of his voice or with a frightful frown. Chasing 
a hat must be done light-heartedly and merrily. It is 
only when you have caught your hat and are dusting 
it that you can softly call it all sorts of names, though 
even then your face must preserve an amused and 
whimsical expression. 



T is a current saying that a cat has on the whole 
a feminine character while a dog is by nature rather 
masculine. I maintain that this view is based on the 
peculiar natural fact that nearly all domestic cats are 
of the female sex, while the crushing majority of dogs 
with whom we have to do are male. Your tom-cat, 
a rather rare creature, is endowed with qualities as 
masculine as those of any man I know. If a she-cat 
is as false as a woman, a tom-cat is as false as a hundred- 
per-cent he-man only this time I want to talk about 

What a man values above all in dogs is the breed; 
at least, he pretends to understand it. "He has good 
paws," one man will say to another, "but I'm not 
sure that his ears are right." "What an idea," protests 
the other, "he has the finest ears you ever saw in your 
life; look how he's cocking the left one." A man's 
relationship to dogs is rather that of a stock-breeder, 
perhaps an atavistic survival from some primeval 
hunter. A woman chiefly values her dog's attachment 
to herself: "He's so fond of me!" she says, deeply 
touched; and she spoils her dog to a shocking extent, 
making him into a sensitive, capricious, disobedient 
creature, like all over-loved beings. It's no good your 
telling me that women can do everything; they cannot 
evolve philosophical systems, and they cannot bring 
up dogs. 

But the thing which we praise most in dogs is their 

J 34 

Men and Dogs 

intelligence. They only lack speech, we say of them, 
forgetting that they do really speak, only in a different 
language. I have, often heard a dog growl quite dis 
tinctly: "These blasted fleas!" At other times he is 
obviously calling "Get out!'* or "Help 1" and sometimes 
he swears rather coarsely. I believe that if a dog could 
speak as we often wish, he would express himself 
crudely, using rough and vulgar expressions. If he 
could talk he would be perfectly impossible. His char 
acter is human and frank; he is a good-hearted fellow, 
but he is not a gentleman. 

When you talk to him he looks into your eyes; 
it seems at times that he can almost understand what 
you say; in the end he opens his mouth from sheer 
attention. Last year I lost my way in the Bohemian 
Forest, looking for mushrooms; at last I found a 
little path which led me out of the forest to a game 
preserve. As I reached it there rushed out upon me 
an enormous St. Bernard, bigger than I, growling 
awfully. There was I with one large mushroom in 
one hand and two in the other, absolutely defenceless. 
So I addressed the dog and told him all about it: who 
I was and why I was there and how I really couldn't 
help it; but the dog swore at me like a madman. 
Perhaps he doesn't understand Czech, I thought 
suddenly, and I began to talk to him in German. 
I confess that I have never in my life spoken to anyone 
as politely as I did to that St. Bernard. I offered him 
peace, I overflowed with good intentions, I appealed 
for reason in our relations. When I had been going 
on for a bit I noticed that behind the fence all the 

Intimate Things 

inhabitants of the preserve were listening gravely; 
even the dog stopped barking to open his mouth 
with astonishment. It was the greatest rhetorical success 
of my life. 

There are folk who feel insulted when a dog barks 
at them; they will brandish a stick wildly or make as 
if they were going to throw a stone. Few people 
preserve their dignity if they are attacked by a small 
dog. In my judgment the best way is to try to come to 
a settlement with the dog in question; magical is the 
power of speech and reason; the most bristling little 
dog will soon tumble to the fact that he cannot out-bark 
a man. If dogs could talk, perhaps we should find it 
as hard to get on with them as we do with people. 




would be a nice map that faithfully caught the 
natural colours of our earth. It would have to give the 
blackish green of firs, the rich green of young pines, 
and the light green curliness of the leafy forests. 
But the greatest number of colours would be in the 
soil as we see it in the autumn, freshly ploughed, 
not yet weather-worn or bleached by frosts and drought. 
A map of this sort would coincide to some extent 
with a geological map, but it would not be so erudite; 
it would serve merely as a delight to the eyes. It would 
be beautifully painted and richly shaded, like the work 
of the painter who affectionately mixes on his palette 
these different earths, these durable, unfading colours. 
There is a whole scale of colours, from the white 
sands to the fat black of the richest loam. In some 
places the ploughed fields are whitish, light grey, as 
if made dusty and bleached by the drought; there are 
fields the colour of very weak cocoa, almost blue, or 
like milk with a dash of coffee. Then clayey-yellow 
in different shades of ochre and rust; flax-coloured 
and golden soil, tawny with shadings of Naples yellow, 
Indian yellow, and burnt ochre. The most extensive 
is the scale of browns, from light straw-colour to deep 
and rich tones of sepia, from loamy tints to intense 
reddish-brown like chocolate; coffee-brown, chestnut- 
brown, the brown of earthenware jugs or the warm, 
baked crust of loaves; the dry and bleached brown 
of shallow, stony fields or the rich shades of the deep 

Intimate Things 

marl and alluvial soil. Then there are soils of auburn, 
dark purple, from glowing rust to brilliant red, shading 
into violet; soil in all intensities of sienna, madder; 
soils the colour of bricks burnt in the kiln. There are 
rose-red districts and regions dark as blackening blood 
or blushing as if lit by an eternal sunset. District by 
district, almost village by village, there is a different 
colour predominating and a different intensity of tint. 
Now that the crops are harvested the coloured map of 
the tilled earth speaks to us to the full. 

All sorts of things are buried in it: lumps of lime 
and heaps of black manure, stubble and refuse and 
leaf-mould; it is extraordinary that hundreds and 
hundreds of years of work have not been able to 
change or dilute the native colour of the soil. For 
hundreds of years man has been manuring and turning 
over this thin crust of earth and covering it year after 
year with the artificial deposit of work; yet a red- 
brown soil remains a red-brown, and a yellow soil 
is still yellow; the earth cannot be dyed; even centuries 
do not alter its language and colour. It cannot be 
changed by tractor or hoe; through the reddish corn 
or the dark potato field the brown or yellow earth 
comes up again with its original tone. The soil will 
never be standardized; nations and cultures may 
change and succeed each other, but that on which they 
tread will not be carried away or interfered with. 
Perhaps that is why we are so fond of talking of our 
native soil; we want to hold fast to its durability. 
Just look, friends, what a solid and fast-dyed material 
our earth is I It will outlast us. 


When we are talking of the colours of autumn do 
not let us forget the lovely warm colours of the sods 
turned over by the plough. Here, too, we are wrapped 
by the blessing of the earth in a bright and changing 
garment. We are formed of all manner of samples of 
earth and all the geological centuries succeeded each 
other to prepare this little bit of clay. Only men with 
their different colourings and shades do not get on 
well together, perhaps because, speaking geologically, 
they were only made yesterday. It will be a long time 
before folk look on the coloured map of the nations 
and states with the same pleasure as they do on the 
coloured map of the earth. 



A T is golden, ruddy, violet, green. And again 
golden, russet, slate-blue, and brown with the brown 
of ochre, sienna, or sepia; red with vermilion, carmine, 
Venetian red, with the colour of Porphyry; cheese- 
yellow, chrome-yellow, Indian yellow, terra cotta, 
tawny; blue-green, yellow-green, blue, dark purple. 
You go by train through the Carpathian forests and 
you stare your eyes out at October's handiwork. 
When the sun shines on it, that whole poplar there 
glows yellow like a great flame; the beeches thrust 
out their small orange flamelets in all directions; a 
shrub I do not know shines out like a fiery red furnace. 
Golden, ruddy, violet, green. Holy, holy, holy! Our 
Father which art in Heaven, how beautiful it is ! 

It is sentimental, but I cannot help it. If man looks 
on Nature in her moments of glory, these other some 
what remote and highly coloured comparisons will 
occur to him. Certainly a ministry does not fall as 
beautifully as the leaves of the hazelnut bushes. When 
the Government falls it does not come with such a 
cheerful bang as when a chestnut falls from the tree 
and, bump! the red-brown eye peeps out from the 
green burr. And a currency does not fall so elegiacally 
and majestically as this lovely golden foliage. Golden, 
brown, orange, red. 

And you, beautiful affection for old things, give me 
your blessing. With your face to the face of Nature 
there are awaking in you, man (and don't deny it), 


The Golden Earth 

immensely conservative feelings. Praised be the 
constancy of old things and of eternal order. Praised 
be that in man which is not transitory or pioneering, 
of yesterday or to-morrow, but is eternal and un 
changing: youth and age, rest, love, a good table, 
religion, heroism, sleep, and sundry other old and wise 
things. Confronting you, fiery forests, literature 
does not satisfy me; but face to face with you I am 
content with my few white hairs, my fatigue, and my 
strength. For it is all in order as it has been through the 
ages. Golden and green, white and black. 

And listen, what is particularly pretty now in October 
is the villages. They are hidden in their yellow and red 
apple-trees, their yellow limes and chestnuts, like pretty 
little toys. Red roofs, grey roofs, and above them a 
little blue smoke. God! how thoroughly, how per 
fectly the year takes its way through these villages! 
How solidly and benevolently each season of the year 
is glorified. As for us in the cities, we hardly notice 
that something is happening, that there is a change. 
Spring and summer, autumn and winter; overcoats 
are put on and taken off, umbrellas are stood in the 
corner, gloves are taken off. That is all. We have not 
stopped Time at all, we have just shot at him on his 
way. Another year more of life; but it was not four 
seasons, it was just one year. 

Golden, ruddy, bluish, brown. Dry leaves. The 
enormous lavishness of Nature who formed, notched, 
curled, and fluted each of these pretty leaves and now is 
throwing them all away, trampling them and destroying 
them, to begin it all anew. And I, who shall not be 


Intimate Things 

begun anew, I too form and notch and curl and flute 
each one of my written pages; to throw them away and 
destroy them to-morrow. And then she' begins to 
create, notch, and flute something else. It is in order 
so. What follows in order is good. Green, yellow, and 
red. Dry leaves. 

There are still yellow and purple flowers in the fields, 
the slender, shivering fennel is still throwing out its 
perfume above the damp earth, the last apples are 
still blushing on the trees. Lord God, when I grow old, 
when I am quite old, grant me such persistence in 
flower and fruit. Grant me yellow and purple blossoms, 
let me flower with silent and clear stars; grant that I 
may bear plentiful hard, red apples which will last 
behind the windows through the winter. And when 
the new generation of fruit comes, when the cherries 
are ripening, these apples will live to see it all; they 
will be wrinkled, it is true, but they will live to see the 
new age, firm and red. Grant that I may bear a harvest 
of a few firm, red apples which will last through the 
winter till the next summer. Amen. 

Golden, scarlet, dappled brown. Lord God, I thank 
Thee for the lovely journey of the year. 



JO VERY season has its signs, not only in the 
heavens, but on earth, too. The sign of spring is cer 
tainly a bird, or, indeed, anything that flies; even the 
Eros of spring is winged, and each creature which 
announces the spring to us is a winged thing, be it 
lark, swallow, butterfly, or Eros himself. Summer 
is the season of the elements, sun, air, water, and earth; 
in the symbols of summer you find elemental creatures 
like fairies, water nymphs, mermen, salamanders, 
noontide witches, and leprachauns, beings for the most 
part hairless, without clothes, ethereal, and of such a 
kind that one cannot reasonably imagine them exposed 
to storms and bad weather. Autumn has as its token 
some shaggy creature covered with tawny fur, or brown 
like Spanish chestnut burrs, like autumn leaves and all 
ripe autumnal things; it is the season of deer, Fauns, 
boars, and foxes, the season when ijien leave off plaguing 
the wenches and set off hunting some fleet beast 
Finally All Souls' comes to remind us that the year 
has worn round to the signs of familiar things: the 
spirits of the dead, household brownies, the crackle 
of the fire, and books. 

I have never in my life shot an animal: but whenever 
I have been in the woods in October and have met a 
squirrel, a fox, or a stag with his hinds, I have had the 
feeling that I had suddenly crept into some quite 
different world, into their world. For October belongs 
to them in some mysterious way, far more than any 

Intimate Things 

other period of eternity. In summer you meet a young 
roe as you might meet a nice girl; and it's "Hullo, lass, 
you needn't be afraid of me !" But in autumn you meet 
a hind as you would meet a goddess, or something 
immemorially old; you hold your breath and stand still 
so as not to commit sacrilege; you are ashamed to call 
your astonishment by its real name, which is reverence. 

Every stag has something of St. Hubert's stag about 
him. When he stands with head erect, crowned with 
the glorious, branching arches of his antlers, hoofs 
planted wide apart, snorting in noble-minded distrust, 
then it is really as if there gleamed on his forehead 
something like a cross. Yes, if I were a holy man and 
a Christian it would certainly be a shining cross; but 
because I am a puzzled and sceptical man it is not a 
cross but some great and indistinct symbol. Do not 
aim at the deer's forehead, hunter, for that would be a 
sin; aim, aim at the heart and fire away with your own 
heart clutched by terror and desire! You will not 
disturb the crown on his head nor smash the token on 
his forehead; and when you hang his antlers on the 
wall you will do it like a conqueror who deposits in 
safety the stolen crown of a murdered king. For even 
a stolen crown is an object of quite special respect. 

I will tell you a story not about myself, for from 
men of my profession folk are apt to expect all sorts 
of things which seem either childish or exaggerated. 



This was a man well set up and rugged, keen as a sword 
and hard as a stone; few men made of human clay 
are baked as hard as he. Now it so happened that before 
his very eyes in a glade one October day there rose 
twenty, fifty, a hundred golden and peaceful deer, 
crowned with their royal antlers. And the man caught 
his breath and almost trembled with ecstasy and rever 
ence, and murmured that it was like something out of 
a myth, or from some primeval age. He stood so for 
a long, long time, and then he crept away more softly 
than he would ever have trodden in any chapel or 
holy place. And for a good hour after he had seen this 
thing he talked in a voice far softer than he ever had 
before. I quote this as evidence that in October animals 
carry some great and divine mystery within them. 

Perhaps that is the reason why, when hunters come 
back from stalking, they talk in exaggeratedly loud and 
ringing voices to shake off this terrible dumb enchant 
ment. "You should just have seen him !" they shout 
at the tops of their voices. "Coming towards me 
about a hundred and fifty yards away a beautiful 
stag. I stalked him an hour and didn't get within range. 
I tell you, folks, he was a beauty ! And half an hour 
later I found another I had hardly got to the spot 
when there he was crossing the glade. I got him in the 
heart at seventy paces; but he's not as fine as the other. 
Boys, I'm going to make a night of it ! God, why didn't 
I get that stag I saw yesterday?" 

Yes, but the finest stags are always those which keep 

K 145 

Intimate Things 

out of range of the hunter. I am certain that St. Hubert 
saw his finest stag, the stag with the cross, at a hundred 
and eighty paces; for you may be sure that otherwise 
he would have brought it down. Even with that 
flaming cross on its forehead. And right through the 



JcXIGHT to the horizon, as far as eye can reach, 
right to the line of the sky, goes that stretch thickly set 
with the lights of human streets and houses; when it 
lights up in the evening it looks like fireworks; in the 
peaceful night it is like a flowerbed of lights; but 
above all it is as changeable and alive as a human face 
or as nature itself. When nothing is happening in the 
whole universe, those lights softly and fixedly wink; 
but there are overcast nights when they quite distinctly 
turn and twinkle; and starrily vaulted nights when they 
tremble with a strange, disturbing flicker. In the 
bitter frosts they shine with a small, clear, and almost 
fierce gleam; in the autumn drizzle they shine like 
lighthouses; through a veil of mist they glow dully 
and redly, like dying sparks among the ashes. But they 
are loveliest of all when it is snowing and they blink 
softly as if shrouded in cotton wool; and in the south 
wind, heavy with rain and roaring damply, they flare 
up into the black night with a swift, pathetic passion, 
fire against water, and almost cry aloud. 

There are familiar light-scapes which look in at 
one through the window, or wait for one daily on the 
way home. The night has a different map from the day: 
a map written in shining points and little squares and 
lines, with a different population, different dead spots, 
and spaces differently filled. And sometimes in those 


Intimate Things 

lightscapes of ours we notice a new light, a light which 
was not there yesterday. Perhaps someone has moved 
house, or it is just a street lamp. 

No. It is a new star on earth. A new piece of the 

When you are passing at night through a large town 
the first things which come to meet you are strings of 
lights, branches of lights, claws of light flung out by 
the city into the desolate outer darkness. And each of 
these strings has a last lamp. The last lamp on the edge 
of the town. And after it what seems an abyss. It is 
as though you must reluctantly creep into the unknown. 
Certainly there is a road, there are trees and milestones 
leading out into the world; but that last light is a sad 
and frightening frontier. 

The last lamp on the edge of the town is stranger 
and more romantic than a desert, a forest, a mountain, 
or an unpeopled sea. 

As a rule one does not look in at people's windows 
with special interest; windows are there to be looked 
out of. But not at night. The lighted window is not for 
looking out now; it leads inwards; and the passer-by 
is impelled to look in. A lamp is hanging there, throwing 
a hot circle of light on to the ceiling, and perhaps people 
are sitting round the table they must be happy, living 
there, thinks the passer-by; it is enough that people 



are living there to make it seem pleasant. It would be 
nice to sit down, too, in that golden and quiet light. 

And when he is sitting at home under his own lamp, 
he does not remember that the light of his home is 
flinging a warm, golden square into the darkness. 



T that time Jesus said to His disciples" but 
just what the time was like, what hour of the day it 
was, and what season of the year, of that the Bible says 
nothing. And yet one would like to know how it really 
looked at least on one occasion "at that time." 

"At that time" was, perhaps, just such a grey Novem 
ber day as this. It was cold, three degrees above freezing- 
point, and the mist penetrated to the skin. One can 
imagine Simon called Zelotes with an awful cold, so 
that he kept on coughing raucously and thinking that 
he would rather be lying somewhere near the stove. 
But the Master walked at the head of His apostles, lost 
in thought, and said nothing; at times He quickened 
His pace so that they should the sooner reach their 
inn, and then again He would fall into meditation 
and forget everything. 

One can imagine John kicking a chestnut in front 
of him, a chestnut in a prickly burr, with the merry, 
shining kernel peeping out through a crack. He was 
not thinking of anything at all, and was simply bent 
on not losing his chestnut Peter was thinking of his 
wife and his children, and how there would be a fire 
burning at home, and how, perhaps, he might take a 
week off. When he thought of the fire throwing out 
a shower of sparks he rubbed his numbed hands 
together till they made a hissing sound. 

"Boys," said Bartholomew in a hushed voice, "do 
you know what I should like to-day? Mutton stewed 
with spice. It has a way of warming you up ** 

Autumn Picture 

"But it mustn't be fat," observed Mark 

"No/' said Bartholomew, "fat mutton is better 
roasted. It must be done at a quick fire " 

"And you add a little garlic," Andrew put in. 

"About three bunches," said Thomas. "My grand 
dad used to say that garlic drives out the nine sicknesses. 
But I don't believe it." 

"It's for when you have a chill," explained Andrew. 
"You make a garlic soup, sweat it out of you, and there 
it is." 

"Or wine with cinnamon," said Mark. "Very hot 
wine with a little honey. Get them to make it for you, 

Simon grunted something; he was feeling rotten. 

"A nicely roasted leg of mutton," Bartholomew 
went on softly. 

" maybe with peas, or cabbage," said Philip. 
"Nice hot vegetables. I like that." 

"Pea soup," murmured Matthew, as if in a dream. 
They were all silent. 

"I could fancy some millet pudding," pondered 
Peter. "When you put dried plums in it and scorch 
it a bit, you know. It's awfully good. And you keep 
on adding milk. My wife used to make it oh, at least 
once a week." 

"I like goose best," announced Judas. 

"Fattened?" asked Thaddaeus with interest. 

"No. Not like that smaller, you know. I don't 
like goose as the Jews do it. You should just roast it 
well in a pan . . . nice and brown." 

"Do you remember," exclaimed James the son of 
Alphaeus, "at that wedding ... in Cana of Galilee 

Intimate Things 

. . . that turkey we had ? Boys, I've never eaten such 
stuffing in all my life !" 

"It was made of chestnuts/' said Philip, "but you 
have to put in plenty of eggs." 

"Or such smoked tongue . . . with spinach/' said 
Matthew reminiscently. 

"You can't satisfy honest hunger on things like 
that/' objected Thaddaeus. "But goose giblets or fritters 
. . . they must be well greased . . . fritters . . . with 
goose fat." 

There ensued a thoughtful silence. The Master 
quickened His pace a little, hurrying into the damp, cold 
mist, and the twelve Apostles after Him. The light was 
dim, as though dusk were already falling, and it was cold. 

"My gosh !" Simon called Zelotes began to cough. 

"When I was little/' James the brother of Andrew 
said softly, "my mother . . . used to make batch 
cakes for me. Do you know what they are ? You put 
a cake . . . made of dough . . . into the oven after 
the loaves have come out, and you bake it lightly and 
take it out quite hot." 

"With a nice dollop of butter on it," added Andrew 
with a sigh. Then the Master paused and turned to 
the Apostles. 

"And a pinch of caraway seeds," He said thoughtfully. 
"They taste better with caraway seeds. My mother 
used to make them for me, too." 

Thus He spake at that time; then He turned and 
hastened on to redeem the world. 

I, a poor sinner, believe that it was more or less like 
this at that time. 


JL DO not know if anyone has yet explained why 
it is and how it happens; but it is the sacred truth that 
folk are particularly fond of small, tiny, and miniature 
things. If they happen to see a very tiny room, a white 
and intimate little cubby-hole, into which you could 
hardly squeeze one grown-up person, they begin to 
smile blissfully and exclaim rapturously what a nice 
little room it is. In the Spanish Hall 1 or the nave of 
St. Virus's Cathedral* no one smiles blissfully; instead 
they become enormously serious, and measure the 
huge proportions with respect. If a man finds a tiny 
cottage he smiles and thinks that life in it would be 
happy; but no one smiles tenderly at a museum or a 
barracks, obviously because they are large. One looks 
on with the kindest smile at a puppy at play, but with 
grave respect at a lion at play. Things which are small 
have an amusing and intimate air and arouse an un 
bridled tenderness in us; things which are very large 
are strikingly serious and at the same time a little 
frightening. No one would like to sleep in the Spanish 
Hall or live under the dome of St. Peter's. One would 
rather sleep in a watchman's box or live in a ginger 
bread cottage. I do not believe I could love an elephant 
and want to take him to bed and cuddle him. I do not 
think I should like to nurse the whales in the aquarium. 

1 A very large reception hall in Prague Castle. TRANSLATOR'S 
* The Cathedral at Prague. TRANSLATOR'S NOTES. 

Intimate Things 

If we breed goldfish it is not only because they are gold, 
but also because they are little. In the same way we 
should never keep singing cherubim in cages, because 
they are too big, but-we should certainly keep them if 
they were as small as canaries. As long as folk built 
streets to live in and stand about gossiping in, they 
built them narrow. If some king or bank-director were 
to build himself a bedroom as big as a station yard, 
we should say he was mad, and he probably would be. 
It is small things which appeal to our tenderness; 
big things only call forth our respect. 

Why it is that small things fill us with such special 
delight and comfort I do not really know; perhaps it 
is a survival from childhood, when everything little 
seemed to be childish and therefore ours. As a small 
boy, when I wanted to feel that I was in a world of 
my own, I crawled under the table or into a box. 
The shed did not do, because it was too big, so I built 
myself a tent in it out of old canvas. A pony appeared 
to me like a horse's little boy; the dog-kennel seemed 
to be a little house for children. Perhaps our liking for 
small things is a last remnant of childhood, but perhaps 
it is a last remnant of primitive man in us. Old Adam 
must obviously have been very much afraid of every 
thing larger than himself; he only felt safe with things 
whose size did not frighten him. One can imagine that 
he was more inclined to smile at the spectacle of a wild 
rabbit than at that of a wild bear. He certainly felt more 
at ease in a small cave than in the wild world. Small 
things are usually not dangerous. It is only within the 
small dimensions of safety and intimacy that the strange 

Big and Little 

blossom of tenderness is able to unfold its buds in man. 
Clearly he cherishes tenderness towards small things 
because it is only towards them that tenderness can be 
allowed. Big things somehow lack humour; if elephants 
were to play at being kittens, I think they would fill 
us with horror. If the Colossus of Memnon arose and 
began to play football it would be an almost apoca 
lyptic spectacle. Big things are condemned to terrible 

On the whole, it seems that if man is particularly 
fond of small things it is not because he is bigger and 
wiser than they but because in intercourse with them 
he becomes little too. When a man plays with a kitten 
he does not realize that he is as enormous as a mountain, 
he rather feels that he is as playful and trusting as the 
kitten. When he bends down to some tiny flower he 
makes himself small right to his soul, as he can in no 
other way. When we flee from the world sometimes, it 
does us good to be little; that is why we turn to small 
things for comfort. We feel rested among them; 
their smallness amuses us. We cannot say that the ocean 
amuses us, but an aquarium might. We escape from 
existence in a way by this diminuendo; life is easier 
and more playful in those moments when it is spent in 
something very small. It is free of tragedy and silence. 
The liberating beauty of small things lies in the fact 
that they are really invincibly comic. 

J 55 



T is said that, in contrast to the mature adult, a 
child is fidgety and changeable and always wanting 
something new. This may be true, but it is also true 
that in contrast to the child an adult is restless and 
fickle and always wanting something new. A child may 
be as jumpy as a flea, but when he comes to you for a 
story he wants to be told the same one that you told 
him yesterday and a score of times before that. You 
know, the one about the little hares who went hop, 
hop, hopitty, or the one about the doggie who went 
for a walk and met the pussy, and what happened then. 
And beware of disturbing this classic material by any 
additions or alterations; the child wants to hear exactly 
the same story that he enjoyed yesterday and the day 
before; he would feel cheated if the doggie didn't meet 
the pussy and everything didn't happen in order as it 
should. Then when he has heard his favourite story 
through to the end he takes himself off and hurries 
away to look for something new in the sand-heap or 
the coal-box. 

Now in contrast to the child, it is the adult who 
demands restlessly always to be told something new, 
and always about something different. It would be 
quite nice if I could repeat some article of mine which 
you like (I don't know which one it would be) word 
for word each week; if I sat down each Friday, shall 
we say, cheerfully rubbing my hands, and proceeded 
to write out again a column which would have already 

Something New 

appeared at least a score of times, and a score of times 
had met with praise from you; here and there I might 
perhaps make an improvement, use a different word or 
alter a sentence a little, but in such a way that you would 
not even notice. And from Friday onwards you would 
be looking forward to what I should say, and then 
you would read it aloud with lively satisfaction that it 
is always the same and always as nice as it was last 
time. And then well, then you would go off and 
look for something new among the intimate things of 
your own life. 

A grown-up person is unpleasantly restless: he wants 
a new article every day, a new leader, a new law report, 
new book reviews; he would think himself cheated 
if he were not told a new story every day. Either he 
must be told the same old story in different words, or 
he must keep on being told something new but always 
in the same words. Day after day he reads with interest 
that someone's overcoat has been stolen; only yester 
day it was stolen at the Cafe Slavia 1 , and to-day at 
the Cafe Union. A child is more consistent and con 
stant; if you were to tell him a story about a stolen 
overcoat thirty times over, it would have to happen 
thirty times at the Slavia and nowhere else. We grown 
ups want to read fresh results of fresh contests every 
day; but the child, in his strict confidence in the un 
changing order of things, has accepted once for all the 
result of the contest between Honza and the Dragon 
and demands by right that this result shall be strictly 

* The cafe where the literary figures of Prague meet. 


Intimate Things 

adhered to; if it had to turn out differently each day, 
or if Honza had to fight with someone different every 
day, it would be the end of the story. For, in contrast 
to reality, the kingdom of fairy-tales is not irresponsible 
and arbitrary, but consistent, reliable, and miraculously 
regular. That is why a story can be repeated unendingly; 
it is a place of unchanging values. Your real story must 
always begin in exactly the same way, just as Homer 
always had to begin with the words Menin aeide^ 
ikea\ if he sometimes began differently he would 
have lost his reputation entirely. You think that you 
are merely repeating a story to a child; but for the child 
the story is not being repeated; it is simply continuing; 
that is why it must not be altered. There are things 
which must always be the same prayers, for instance; 
their secret power lies in the fact that one returns with 
the same words to the same state of mind; it is really a 
special sense of security. A song must not be sung just 
as the fancy takes you; the person who sings it accepts 
its invariable order of melody and word; if he wanted 
to be always singing something different he would be 
said by everyone to sing very badly. That is why we 
are wrong in complaining that such and such a cele 
brated politician always sings the same song; if he were 
to sing a fresh one each time it would cease altogether 
to be a song for him and his hearers. If we really want 
to sing a song or tell a tale we must make up our minds 
to certain invariable elements; if we want to say 
something new every day we shall begin to say it 

Classical literature is the literature of which we do 


Something New 

not expect anything new. That is why we appreciate 
it so highly, and why we leave it unread. On the other 
hand we read modern literature as we read newspapers; 
we want it to tell us something new; as soon as it has 
told us we throw it aside like yesterday's paper. If we 
were to let it tell its tale three times over, we might 
find out what there is in it which is unchanging. But 
that is a luxury we leave to children. 

I 59 



wake one morning feeling rather queer; 
your head aches a little and your back; there is a scratch 
ing at the back of your throat and an itching in your 
nose, but that is all; only the whole day you are rather 
irritable and you swear at everything, even when you 
really have neither cause nor reason. But towards 
evening a ton weight descends on you from nowhere, 
all your joints go soft, all your flesh tingles sensitively; 
the patient sneezes wildly about a dozen times, and 
here it is ! With weeping eyes, crumpled up in a heap 
of misery, surrounded by wet handkerchiefs which 
are drying in every corner, the humiliated and streaming 
creature in slippers by the stove snorts, blows his nose, 
barks, drinks some infusion or other, sneezes and 
coughs, skulks about the room, avoids everybody. 
He has a slight temperature; instead of a head he has 
a heavy, painful ball; with limbs as though lamed 
and a handkerchief to his nose he is a dreadful sight. 
Creep away on tip-toe, all you who see this unhappy 
man; your noisy and happy gambols torture him; he 
needs solitude, extinction, and dry handkerchiefs. He 
would like to take off his head, hang it up by the chimney 
and dry it; he would like to take his humiliated body 
apart into its several members and set each piece down 
in a different place. He would like ... he would 
like . * . ah, if he at least knew what he wanted ! If 
there were anything worth wanting ! If only there were 
anywhere in the universe something warm and com- 


A Cold 

forting which would give this poor, heavy head the 
relief of forgetfulness. Sleep? Yes, if there were no 
chaotic and disagreeable dreams. Play patience? Yes, 
if it ever came out! Read? Yes, but what? And this 
pitiful human ruin gets up, turns round, and staggers 
to his bookshelves. 

Bookshelves, many-coloured rows of" a thousand 
backs, I want to find in you a little book which will 
comfort me, who am accursed. No, to-day, somehow 
I could not bear you, you fat, scientific book; for my 
brain is dull and stupid. I should like to read something 
which will not remind me of my dullness and slow- 
wittedness; something easy, amusing, to pass the time 
away. . . . Away with you, humorous tales, out of 
my sight ! To-day I could not bear the vulgar malice 
with which you hold up a stricken man to ridicule; 
I, too, am stricken by fate and I could not enjoy the 
spectacle of us unfortunates suffering from ridicule 
and exposed to the whim of the scoffers. And you, 
heroic romances, would you not carry me off to distant 
ages and epic times when there were no colds, among 
whole and glorious men, who slay a base rival in less 
time than I blow my nose? But the hand held out to 
the heroic book trembles weakly; I could not believe 
in great and magnificent deeds to-day; man is a small, 
weak creature, severely tried and loving peace. .. . . 
No, leave me in peace to-day, heroism and honour, 
noble sentiments and laurels of fame; away with you, 
amorous passions and intoxicating kisses of royal 
beauties. How can a man think of such things with a 
wet handkerchief to his nose? Good heavens, no, 
L 161 

Intimate Things 

that's not what I want. Give me a detective novel 
for me to sharpen my wits on; give me an absorbing 
shocker which will carry me breathlessly along the 
exciting trail of some dreadful secret No, that is not 
what I want, either; to-day I do not care for crimes 
and underground passages and evil people. Show me 
the gentler face of life, reveal people to me in their 
intimate everyday life. Only for God's sake no psy 
chology ! I have not the patience to linger over feelings 
and motives; for some obscure reason psychology is 
always rather painful and harrowing; as if we had not 
enough suffering of our own ! Why do people write 
books at all? 

And that one there it's too realistic for me; I 
want to forget life to-day. That one is sad and disil 
lusioned at bottom. That one is cruel towards humanity 
and demands all manner of self-torture and redemption. 
That one over there is superficial, pretentious, and 
clever away with it ! That one is too high up. And that 
yellow one is bitter and jaundiced. In each of them is 
something which hurts. Why are books almost all 
written by wicked and unhappy people ? 

The man with a cold hesitates in front of his many- 
coloured bookcase, shivering with chilliness and 
self-pity. Where can he find something * . . some 
thing really good . . . genial towards us unfortunates 
. . . and comforting? Something which does not 
wound in any way . . . does not hurt a man in his 
smallness and humiliation . . . ? 

And then he reaches to the end of the shelf and takes 
out a book which he has read at least a dozen times 


A Cold 

before when he was thus depressed by the suffering 
of body and mind, snuggles down in his arm-chair, 
takes a dry handkerchief, and heaves a sigh of relief 
before he begins to read. s 

What is the book? Perhaps our old friend Charles 



CAME one evening in the dark into a room in 
which it had once been my lot to spend many years. 
With infallible certainty I avoided my old bed, accu 
rately and clairvoyantly I dodged round my one-time 
table and, with one unerring movement of my hand, 
found the switch and put on the light. And my old 
bed was not there, nor my one-time table, but another 
table in a different place and another bed in a quite 
opposite corner. I cannot tell you what a shock it gave 
me. There was something awful about it 

"To feel at home*' is an enormously complicated 
feeling, and one cannot even calculate all there is in it: 
moral confidence and bodily comfort, poetical experi 
ence and practical motives, custom and a certain pagan 
mysticism; but one may put it briefly that "to feel at 
home" means to be able to find the switch in the dark 
at the first touch. I am not thinking only of the various 
physical and geographical advantages, such as, for 
instance, that you do not bark your shin against a 
chair on the way, or upset the pendulum clock, or bang 
your head against the corner of the wardrobe. I am 
thinking of the blind and mystical trust that the switch 
is where it is; that it is where it ought to be; that it is 
in its place and a particularly convenient one; that it 
is neither too high nor too low; that it is exactly where 
you stretch out your palm; that it is waiting for you 
and eagerly holding out its hand to you; that it leads 
you safely and does not leave you to grope your way 


The Switch 

in an abyss of uncertainties; that you do not find 
yourself suddenly in cosmic void where the infinite, 
the unknown, and other terrors of the darkness are 
lying in wait for you. In fine, it is a good and trusty 
switch, devoted and unfailing, a matchless domestic 

I am, like the ancient Gauls, a lover of novelty; but 
not even the most fanatical Gallic novelty-hunter 
would want to have his electric light switch, and let 
us say his bed, and five or six other fundamental objects 
of his life change their places daily on their own initia 
tive or moved by some diabolical will. Something of 
this sort probably happens in hell and belongs to the 
most grievous torments. We are all dreadfully con 
servative in regard to electric light switches and some 
few other indispensable possessions. A room in which 
I can find my way about in the dark is as much con 
tained in me as I am contained in it; but by all the gods, 
it is easier to change the place of a chair in the room 
than to change the idea of the chair in my brain; the 
chair does not put up too much of a defence, but the 
brain does. The brain wants to have the chair in its 
old place, firstly because it is accustomed to it, and 
secondly because it wants to be devoting its attention 
to something other than chairs and switches. Things 
function more smoothly and economically if they are 
in their proper places. From one point of view it is 
easier to try to alter the social system or the order of 
the universe than the order or disorder on one's writing- 
desk. Personally, I would rather reorganize the League 
of Nations, about which I have no ideas at all, than the 

Intimate Things 

contents of my desk drawers, about which I have only 
an indistinct idea. And I must own that wherever I 
have been in the world I have always looked for the 
electric light switch of my room in the dark; I have 
put my hand on it accurately to a hair, but it has not 
always been there, just as many other good things 
have not always been there. 

A man feels at home if he is surrounded by things 
which are in a specially real sense completely and 
firmly in their places, or, to put it another way, the idea 
of home is inevitably and incorrigibly conservative. 
I dare even assert that without a certain conserva- 
tiveness there can be no home; you are not at home 
if you are where nothing matters enough to you to be 
worth keeping in its place. I will go further and say 
that, when you get down to rock bottom, folk are all 
patriots at heart, because they are all conservative at 
heart, because they don't declare, for instance, that the 
Vltava is not in its place and that the Powder Tower 1 
ought to be moved over to where the Zizkov viaduct 
is; for these dreadful opinions would only disrupt 
the idea of home. I think that in our fixed, conservative 
ideas we should all be able to understand each other 
and get on together tremendously well. Folk will 
certainly quarrel violently as long as they exchange 
opinions on what new things the future will bring forth; 
but if they tried to work out which of the things from 
former times and the present day will remain in the 

1 A very beautiful late Gothic tower and archway in Prague 
at the entrance to the old part of the town. Zizkov is a slum to 
the north of the dry. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


The Switch 

future, I am sure that during their talk they would 
light the pipe of peace, so as to talk better. 

But above all it is necessary that a man should feel 
as much at home as possible in the place where he is; 
that at least some of the most essential things of life 
should seem to him to be in the right place. The whole 
joke of the political tendencies which call themselves 
revolutionary is that they repeat again and again that 
nothing, absolutely nothing, is in its right place. Which 
is the only really revolutionary and immoral conten 
tion in this world. 



ITH some people it happens on Christmas 
Eve, with others at the New Year; others have it on 
their birthdays; but each human being has his special day 
for making good resolutions. It comes on him all of 
a sudden like a cold or a revelation; first of all he feels 
rather foolish, then he feels morally sick, and after 
that he tells himself it is his own fault and that every 
thing might be different and better if he reformed his 
life in some way. That is the moment when the Good 
Resolution really looms before a man, and he forms the 
firm decision that from to-morrow, or from the New 
Year, onwards he will get up earlier; or that he will do 
dreadful and hygienic things for the sake of his health, 
like doing five minutes' exercises first thing every 
morning, or taking cold baths, or reading a couple of 
pages of Marcus Aurelius on an empty stomach; or he 
will smoke less, or will stop smoking altogether; or 
he will give up politics and drinking; or he will devote 
three hours daily to self-culture and meditation; or he 
will begin to put by money and pay his debts; or he 
will do something great. I believe that each one of us 
goes through this Hour of Good Resolutions at least 
once a year. I think that even the great ones of earth, 
such as Cabinet Ministers and saints, will at least once 
a year experience the awful temptation of Good Reso 
lutions. I firmly believe that there is no one who does 
not once in the course of a year wish to turn round 
and in some way or other start life anew. 

Good Resolutions 

Now when a man has made his good resolution he 
does not get up next day even five minutes earlier than 
he did the day before, he does not indulge in Mullet's 
system of physical jerks, nor begin to do anything great. 
It is not that he could not do it, on the contrary; but 
just this particular day it happens not to fit, and one has 
to get accustomed to it gradually, and besides, one can 
always begin to-morrow; yes, to-morrow for sure; 
and that settles the good resolution. It is settled but 
not spoiled; for the essence and significance of a good 
resolution is not to be carried out, but simply to be had. 

If in my Hour of Good Resolutions there arises in 
me an honourable and heroic determination to get up 
earlier from to-morrow onwards, it is a demonstration 
of the great and liberating fact that I can get up earlier, 
since it only depends upon me and is in my power. 
It would be awful if I believed that I simply was not 
able to get up and that it was not in my power at all. 
It would be dreadful if I thought I was getting up a 
little late from reasons of health or the inexorable 
pressure of habit. A good resolution proves that we 
can still go on changing our life or ourselves. It would be 
depressing if we arrived at the knowledge that it is too 
late to modify or change anything in ourselves or our 
daily life. While a man cherishes the heroic idea that he is 
going to begin getting up earlier in the mornings, he 
preserves in himself the wonderful possibility that he 
may begin to live anew, may see the sunrise or the 
glorious rise of himself. As long as he believes that he 
will do physical jerks in the mornings he leaves open the 
possibility that he will become as beautiful as an Olympic 

Intimate Things 

victor. As long as we cultivate good resolutions we 
deny that what we do we do under compulsion. Good 
resolutions are an untamed manifestation of a free will. 

As long as a man is capable of good intentions, life 
lies before him like a great, untried, and promising 
possibility. Good heavens ! what things I could write 
if I began to get up at six o'clock in the morning! 
And if on top of that I did physical jerks for a quarter 
of an hour and had a cold bath while reading Marcus 
Aurelius, and gave up two hours a day to cultivating 
my mind and instead of reading the newspapers did 
cabinet-making or dug up my garden and taught myself 
to play the concertina and ran across the fields for a 
couple of hours every day and steeped myself a little 
in Oriental philosophy and went about among people 
and mastered the elements of economics and read Plato 
in the original and rigged up a wireless station for 
myself and learned to ski magnificently and devoted 
myself diligendy to astronomy and practised oratory 
and cultivated the habit of going sight-seeing and made 
attempts to convert the heathen and raised pigeons 
and answered all my letters every day and meditated 
daily for several hours on the greatness of humanity 
and developed some extensive activity for the good of 
my fellow-creatures and knew everything that one 
ought to know and all the while never wasted a single 
moment of time for all this and more is among 
my good intentions. Life is an infinite and inexhaustible 
mine of wealth for our good intentions. 

I wish you many good intentions at the festival of 
Good Will. 



JL do not wish to interfere in the business of Mr. 
Simon, Mr. Stretti-Zamponi, and the other artists who 
make their living out of black-and-white sketches, 
etchings, aquatints, snow, tiles, the Charles Bridge, 
and other winter requisites. I only want to use the snow 
for one article; for, alas, I cannot now build whole 
snowmen as I used to. Snow castles were very beautiful, 
too; you poured water over the ramparts and left it 
to freeze overnight; then in the morning you made 
snowballs and a war broke out with sieges and terrific 
shouting and all the rest of it. We used to have particu 
larly heroic battles with the boys of the next village for 
territorial, legal, and social reasons. But to-day I cannot 
challenge even my greatest enemy, if I have one, to 
come and settle his quarrel with me by a gallant snow 
ball fight. And that is why I am just using the snow for 

my article. 

* * 

When the snow comes down, Prague at once 
becomes a little old-world town; overnight we go back 
fifty or a hundred years and it is suddenly all countrified 
and old-fashioned, all quaintly baroque, straddling, 
naive, and antique; for no reason at all one thinks of 
old women with seven petticoats, apples baked in their 
jackets, the smell of burning wood, old interiors, and 
flowered curtains. The folk in the street are happy, 
stamping their footprints in the snow, crunching it 


Intimate Things 

and waving their hands as they did a hundred years 
, ago^And it is so still! the stillness of a little country 
town. Even the Vltava does not move; the tram tinkles 
like a sledge, and one would not be a bit surprised 
if motor cars began sounding litde bells as sleighs used 
to once upon a time. Old world ! Suddenly it is a world 
of old things and old dimensions. The charm of the 
quaint little town. The weather which brings old times 

That is why, as you will understand, the only real 
snow is what we get on Mala Strana. 1 That is why it 
lasts there longer than in other places; and when it is 
all blown away from other parts of the town (because 
there it is nothing special, just idle and good-for- 
nothing) on Mala Strana, thank God, it still lies in 
banks and drifts just wherever it can. For here it has 
a special right, here and up yonder round the Castle. 

But there are things no artist could render: the 
charm of a flake of snow in a girl's hair, or the tracks 
left by blackbird and sparrow on a snow-covered 
roof. It looks for all the world like a poem written in 
Chinese or Cuneiform script. It is only one line, but 
it is a complete poem. I wish I knew how to translate it. 

* * 

Then when the moon shines on it all, what happens 

1 Mala Strana, "the small side," is the old, picturesque 
quarter of Prague running steeply down from the Castle to 
die river "Vltava. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. 


Prague in the Snow 

cannot even be expressed: Prague crouches down and 
makes herself quite little; she holds her breath; the 
snow rings like glass under-foot, the roofs press them 
selves down to the ground, everything huddles together 
icily, and it is so light, so strangely light, that you are 
startled at the darkness within you. 

And you, red fire in the stove, you emphasize by 
your tawny accompaniment the blue of the winter 
twilight. And added to it is the duet of silence and 
roaring ! 

In summer we see trees, clouds, water, and all manner 
of things; but in winter when the snow has fallen we 
see something which we have hardly noticed in summer 
the roofs. It is only when a roof is covered with snow 
that it becomes real, solid, and above all visible. It is 
only then that it becomes to the full a human framework. 
It is only in winter that we see that our living is a living 
under roofs. We build a framework over our heads. 

Praised be the snow which reveals to us the impor 
tance of our roofs. 



JL HE time hurries by so quickly between the 
morning lamp and the evening lamp; you have hardly 
sat down to work when the time has come for you to 
be called to supper. And the night comes, and you have 
not even time to grasp your muddled dreams; again 
you are lighting the lamp to begin another day, as 
short and as grey as yesterday. Before you realize it 
you are having to get accustomed to write a new date 
at the head of your letters. Time hurries by so quickly 
between the lamps on New Year's morning and the 
lamp on New Year's eve. 

I don't know how it comes about, but when I was 
young the day was longer. There is no doubt about it! 
While we were being swindled in every kind of way 
during the war, they must somehow have swindled 
us over the time as well; perhaps the earth is revolving 
more hurriedly and the clocks are ticking faster, but 
we know nothing about it because by evening we are 
just as tired as we used to be. I only know this much 
with complete certainty: the day used to be much 
longer. Why! when I was a boy it used to be simply 
endless! Those childish days were like a wide lake 
with unexplored shores; in the morning one put out 
on it with full sails, and it was not possible to calculate 
the hours, each one of them was so long and glorious. 
Each of those days was like a voyage across the ocean, 
a victorious campaign, a whole life-time of impressions, 
adventures, and undertakings; it was as far-flung as 


Those Grey Days 

Ilium, long as a year, rich and inexhaustible as the cave 

of the Forty Thieves. To-day I can understand all the 

joys and sorrows of those days, but I cannot understand 

how there was time for them. If I tried to go shooting 

with a bow and arrows again to-day, I know that 

midday wotrid catch me before I had fairly started; 

but there used to be time between breakfast and dinner 

for me to break a window-pane with my arrow, gorge 

myself on black plums, have several skirmishes with 

hostile clans, read The Secret Island sitting in a tree, 

smoke the pipe of peace in a shed, get a well-earned 

cuffing from someone, catch crickets in a matchbox, 

have a bathe on a forbidden spot, crawl through the 

fence, go round to all the neighbours at their businesses 

and have a look how they were getting on, and on top 

of all that to carry out a whole series of campaigns 

rich in spoils, discoveries, and the delights of power. 

No, there is no doubt about it: time used to be at least 

ten times as long as it is to-day. 

And when my follies and the sphere of my life 
grew with the years, the possibilities of a single day 
were immeasurable and inexhaustible. To sit at the feet 
of professors and suck wisdom from their breasts, to 
hurry under the windows of my first love, to write 
verse, to dream, stroll about, dance, stare in at the 
windows of a dozen curiosity shops, read like a wild 
thing, and waste time in a dozen different ways how 
is it possible that a single day was enough for so many 
absorbing things? I try to puzzle out this riddle; I 
think that I have not changed, it is time which has 

somehow shrunk. There, you see, it is getting 


Intimate Things 

dusk again already; it is time to light up the evening 
lamp. The day has finished again God knows where 
it goes to so quickly. It has given nothing new, it has 
brought forth nothing, and it has simply been no length 
at all. I might have been able to embark on this or that, 
go somewhere, enjoy myself a bit, see something; 
but somehow there has not been time.. 

As you see, the day has hurried by again and has 
left me nothing behind but this essay on my table. 
Another year has drifted by and left nothing behind 
it but no, wait; the day is short, but all the same you 
do get something done; the year is short, and yet you 
have got through a bit of work. You live less but you 
do more. And even if it was not worth much, it was 
work, and that is the thing which shortens life the most. 

You may think that you are wasting your days. 
Well, don't grumble. Perhaps you are not wasting 
them but distributing them.