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Full text of "The romance of the commonplace"





THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 
OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 



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THE ROMANCE OF 
THE COMMONPLACE 



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Now things there are that, upon him who sees, 
A strong vocation lay ; and strains there are 
'That whoso hears shall hear for evermore. 



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 



Cl&er ana jttorgan 



jfranct^co 



Copyright, 1902 
by GELETT BURGESS 

Entered at Stationer's Hall 
London 



AYLOH COMPANY, SAN FRANCISCO 



75 



Co 



48 

ENGLISH 



THE ROMANCE OF 
THE COMMONPLACE 

Contents 



Introduction . . . . . . . i 

April Essays . ... ... . . . 7 

Getting Acquainted . V . * . . . 13 

Dining Out . . . . . . . . . 17 

The Uncharted Sea . . . . . . .21 

The Art of Playing ....... 25 

The Use of Fools . . . . '. . . 3 1 

Absolute Age . . . . . . . . . 35 

The Manual Blessing . . . . . . . -39 

The Deserted Island ....... 43 

The Sense of Humour * ' . . . . . .48 

The Game of Correspondence . . . . . . 52 

The Caste of the Articulate . . . . . . .56 

The Tyranny of the Lares ...... 60 

Costume and Custom ........ 64 

Old Friends and New . . . . . . . 68 

A Defense of Slang ........ 72 

The Charms of Imperfection ...... 77 

"The Play's the Thing" 81 

Living Alone ......... 86 

Cartomania ......... 90 

The Science of Flattery ....... 94 

Romance en Route ........ 99 

At the Edge of the World 102 



THE ROMANCE OF 



The Diary Habit 

The Perfect Go-between . 

Growing Up 

A Pauper's Monologue . 

A Young Man's Fancy 

Where is Bohemia? 

The Bachelor's Advantage . 

The Confessions of an Ignoramus 

A Music-Box Recital . 

A Plea for the Precious 

Sub Rosa 



107 
in 

JI 5 
119 

123 
128 

'33 
136 
140 
144 
149 




THE COMMONPLACE 



fntrotjuctton 



TO let this book go from my hands without some one 
more personal note than the didactic paragraphs of these 
essays contained, has been, I must confess, a temptation 
too strong for me to resist. The observing reader will 
note that I have so re-written my theses that none of them begins 
with an " I " in big type, and though this preliminary chapter 
conforms to the rule also, it is for typographic rather than for any 
more modest reasons. Frankly, this page is by way of a flourish 
to my signature, and is the very impertinence of vanity. 

But this little course of philosophy lays my character and tem- 
perament, not to speak of my intellect, so bare that, finished and 
summed up for the printer, I am all of a shiver with shame. My 
nonsense gave, I conceit myself, no clue by which my real self might 
be discovered. My fiction I have been held somewhat responsible 
for, but escape for the story-teller is always easy. Even in poetry a 
man may so cloak himself in metaphor that he may hope to be well 
enough disguised. But the essay is the most compromising form of 
literature possible, and even such filmy confidences and trivial gaieties 
as these write me down for what I am. Were they even critical in 
character, I would have that best of excuses, a difference of taste, but 
here I have had the audacity to attempt a discussion of life itself, 
upon which every reader will believe himself to be a competent critic. 
By a queer sequence of circumstances, the essays, begun in the 
Lark t were continued in the ghteen, and, if you have read these 



THE ROMANCE OF 



two papers, you will know that one magazine is as 

remote in character from the other as San Francisco 

is from London. But each has happened to fare far 

afield in search of readers, and between them I may 

have converted some few to my optimistic view of 

every-day incident. To educate the British Matron and Young 

Person was, perhaps, no more difficult an undertaking than to open 

the eyes of the California Native Son. The fogs that fall over the 

Thames are not very different to the mists that drive in through the 

Golden Gate, after all ! 

Still, I would not have you think that these lessons were 
written with my tongue in my cheek. I have made believe so 
long that now I am quite sincere in my conviction that we can 
see pretty much whatever we look for ; which should prove the 
desirability of searching for amusement and profit rather than for 
boredom and disillusion. 

We are in the day of homespun philosophy and hand-made 
dogma. A kind of mental atavism has made science preposterous ; 
modern astrologers and palmists put old wine into new bottles, and 
the discussion of Psychomachy bids fair to revolutionize the Eternal 
Feminine. And so I, too, strike my attitude and apostrophize the 
Universe. As being, in part, a wholesome reaction from the prevail- 
ing cult, I might call my doctrine Pagan Science, for the type of my 
proselyte is the Bornese war chief peripatetic on Broadway the 
amused wonderer. But I shall not begin all my nouns with capitals, 
for it is my aim to write of romance with a small "r." Also my 
philosophy must not be thought a mere laissez fatre; it is an active, 
not a passive creed. We are here not to be entertained, but to 
entertain ourselves. 



THE COMMONPLACE 



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auction 



I might have called this book A Guide through 
Middle Age, for it is then that one needs enthusiasm 
the most. We stagger gaily through Youth, and by 
the time Old Age has come we have usually found a 
practicable working philosophy, but at forty one is 
likely to have a bitter hour at times, especially if one is still single. 
Or, so they tell me ; I shall never confess to that status, and shall 
leap boldly into a white beard. A kindly euphemism calls this 
horrid, half-way stage one's Prime. I have here endeavoured to 
justify the usage, though I am opposed by a thousand poets. 

If some of these essays seem but vaguely correlated to my 

major theme, you must think of them as being mere illustrations or 

practical solutions of the commonplace, solved by means of the 

theory I have developed and iterated. It was hard, indeed, to know 

when to stop, but, ragged as are my hints, I hope that in all 

essentials I have covered the ground and formulated 

the main rules of the Game of Living. One 

does not even have to be an expert 

to be able to do that! 




Romance of 
Commonplace 



THE ROMANCE OF 
THE COMMONPLACE 



THEY were begun in the April of my life, and though it 
is now well into mid-June, some of the glamour of the 
Spring yet inspires me, and I am still a-wondering. I 
have tried every charm to preserve my youth, and a drop 
of wine and a girl or two into the bargain, but the game is near 
played out. 

But what boots marbles and tops when one is initiated into the 
mysteries of billiards and chess? It has taken me all these years to 
find that there is sport for every season, and the rules vary. To 
make a bold play at life, then, without cheating (which is due only 
to a false conception of the reward), and with the progress, rather 
than the particular stage reached, in mind, is my aim. So I have 
tossed overboard all my fears and regrets, and gone in for the higher 
problems of maturity. 

Still, a few of the maxims I drew from my joys and sorrows in 
the few calmer moments of reverie persist ; and these all strengthen 
me in the romantic view of life. A man must take his work or his 
art seriously, and pursue it with a single intent ; he must fix upon 
the realities first of all, but there is room for imagination as well, and 
with this I have savoured my duties, as one puts sauce to pudding. 
Enough has been written upon the earnestness of motive, of sobriety 
and all the catalogue of virtues usually dignified with capital initials. 



THE ROMANCE OF 



I own allegiance to an empire beside all that 
another Forest of Arden the tinkle of whose 
laughter is a permanent sustained accompaniment to 
the more significant notes of man's sober industries. 

Must I be dubbed trifler then, because I make a 
game of life ? Every man of spirit and imagination must, I 
think, be a true sportsman. It is in the blood of genius to 
love play for its own sake, and whether one uses one's skill on 
thrones or women, swords or pens, gold or fame, the game 's the 
thing ! Surely, it is not only the reward that makes it worth 
while, it is the problem the study of each step on the way, 
the disentangling of the knotted cord of fate, the sequence and 
climax of move after move, the logical grasp of what is to come 
upon the chess-board. As it is in the great, then, may it not be in 
the small? To one of fancy and poetic vision, mere size is an 
accident, a personal element, a relative, not an absolute quality of 
things. The microscope reveals wonders to the scientist, as great 
and as important as does the telescope. To the poet, " a primrose 
by the river's brim" has the beauty of the Infinite. And so nothing 
is commonplace, or to be taken for granted. One needs only the 
fresh eye, the eagerness of interest, and this Universe of workaday 
things which, with the animals, we get " for a penny, plain," may be 
coloured with the twopence worth of mind by which we are richer 
than they. 

We have all passed through that phase of art-appreciation in 
which familiar objects are endowed with an extrinsic aesthetic value. 
The realist discovers a new sensation in a heap of refuse, the impres- 
sionist in the purple shadows of the hills. In weaker intellects the 
craving for this dignifying of the obvious leads to the gilding of the 

8 



THE COMMONPLACE 



rolling-pin or the decalcomanie decoration of the 
bean-pot. With something of each of these methods, 
I would practice upon every-day affairs, and make 
them picturesque. 

This is, perhaps, a characteristically Oriental 
point of view of life. Undoubtedly it is the Japanese pose, 
and it is well illustrated in their art. What by Korin would 
be thought too insignificant for portrayal? He had but to sep- 
arate an object, or a group of objects, from its environment and 
he beheld a design, with line, mass, colour and notan. Art 
was to him not a question of subject, but of composition. He 
held his frame before a tiny fragment of the visible world, any 
fragment, indeed, and, placing that in its true position, not in 
regard to its surroundings, but in regard to the frame, it became 
a pattern. May we not, for our diversion, do thus with Life? If 
we hold up our frame, disregarding the accidental shadows of 
tradition and establishment, we may see bits of a new world. 

It is thus that the man from Mars would view our life and 
manners. Unsophisticated, he would hold his frame in front of a 
man, and, cutting him off from his family, his neighbours, his position 
in Society, he would see a personage as real and as individual as 
" the Man with the Glove," or " the Unknown Woman " is to us. 
He would bring an uncorrupted eye and see strange pictures in the 
facts of our jaded routine. He would see in accustomed meetings 
and actions hidden possibilities and secret charms. He would 
witness this drab life of ours as a bewilderingly endless romance. 
Nothing would be presupposed, nothing foreseen, and each turn of 
the kaleidoscope would exhibit another of the infinitely various 
permutations of human relationship. 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Such is the philosophy of youth. It denies the 
conventional postulates of the Philistine. It will 
not accept the axioms of the unimaginative; two 
and two may prove to make five, upon due inves- 
tigation, seemingly parallel cases may widely diverge, 
and the greater may not always include the less, in this non- 
Euclidean Geometry of Life. It transmutes the prose of living into 
the poetry of idealization, as love transmutes the physical fact of 
osculation into the beatitude of a kiss. It makes mysteries of well- 
known occurrences, and it turns accepted marvels into simple truths, 
comprehensible and self-evident. 

Civilization refines and analyzes. It seeks the invisible rays of 
the spectrum and delights in overtones, subtle vibrations and delicate 
nuances of thought. So this neglected philosophy of enthusiasm 
also gleans the neglected and forgotten mysteries of humanity. Its 
virtue is in its economy; it wrings the last drop of sensation from 
experience. Like modern processes of manufacture it produces good 
from what was considered but waste and tailings. By a positive 
contribution to happiness it refutes the charge of trifling, for in the 
practice of this art one does but pick up what has been thrown away. 
All's fish that comes to its net. 

But it is more than a science ; it has more than an economic 
value for happiness it is a religion. The creed of hope bids one 
wonder and hope and rejoice, it teaches us to listen for the whispered 
voice, to see the spirit instead of the body of the facts of life. But 
it does more ; it is illuminating, and reveals a new conception of 
beauty. There is an apocryphal legend of the Christ that tells how 
He with His disciples were passing along a road, when they came 
upon the body of a dead dog. Those with Him shrank from 

10 



THE COMMONPLACE 



the pitiful sight with loathing, and drew away. 

But Jesus went calmly up to the decaying flesh and 

leaning over it, said gently, " How beautifully white 

are his teeth ! " The customary moral drawn from ^**t 

the story is one of gentleness and pity, the kindness 

and charity of looking at the good, rather than the evil that is 

present. But it has a more literal meaning, and teaches clearly 

the lesson of beauty. 

For it has come to this : that even in our pleasures we 
are influenced by prejudice and tradition. Some things are as 
empirically branded beautiful or ugly, as others are declared 
right or wrong, and to this dogma we conform. Korin, when he 
held his frame before a clothes-line fluttering with damp garments, 
saw not only an interesting design, but a beautiful one; yet the 
Monday's wash might be taken as something typically vulgar and 
ugly to the common mind. 

We Anglo-Saxons have debased many facts of life, once rightly 
thought of as exquisitely beautiful, into the category of the beast. 
Sexual passion is the great example, but there are myriads of lesser 
things which, viewed calmly, purely, as some strange god able to 
see clearly without passion or prejudice, might view them, would 
take on lovely aspects. When such situations approach the pathetic, 
as the sight of some forlorn half-naked mother nursing her child on 
a doorstep, or the housemaid, denied of the chance of seclusion, 
embracing her lover in the publicity of the park, this diviner phase 
of common human nature is patent to the casual observer. When 
they approach the comic, also, it is easier to believe that every scene 
may have its complimentary phase, and the most careless may read 
the joke between the lines. But much of the more subtle delight 

I I 



THE ROMANCE OF 



april 
Cssaps 



of life escapes us, like the tree-toad in the oak, 
because it is so much a part of its surroundings ; its 
charm is of so intrinsic a value that we do not notice 
it. We are used to finding our beauty within gilt 
rectangles, set off from other things not so denom- 
inated as especially worthy of regard ; we expect it to be labelled 
and highly coloured. 

Two things alone remain safe from this bias of custom 

Love and Youth. To the lover, the tying of a shoe-lace on 

his mistress's foot may be as sacred a rite and may contain as 

much sentiment as the most impassioned caress. To the child, 

the mud-pile has possibilities of infinite bliss. To the one 

comes eternal beauty, to the other eternal mystery. And so, to 

touch these forever, and to lose no intermediary sensation 

of charm, whether it be humour, romance, pathos 

or inspiration, to be bound by every link 

that connects Youth to Love, 

that was my April essay ! 



THE COMMONPLACE 



(getting acquainted 



TWO lives moving in mysterious orbits are drawn to- 
gether, and for an instant, or maybe for ever after, whirl 
side by side. We call the encounter an introduction, 
and we usually proceed to stifle the wonder of it by im- 
personal talk of art, books or the drama. It is an every-day affair 
and does not commonly stir the imagination. And yet to the con- 
noisseur in living the meeting may be an event as well as an epi- 
sode. He is a discoverer come to an unknown shore it may be 
the margent of a boundless sea or not, but of a certain it is swung 
by new tides and currents to be adventured and plumbed. 

How can we, supercivilized out of almost all real emotion, de- 
velop the potential charm of this first glimpse of a new personality ? 
It is guarded by conventionality; the shutters are down, the door is 
barricaded ; you may knock in vain with polite interrogations, and 
no one appears at the window. Must we perforce set the house afire, 
smite or shriek aloud to bring this stranger's soul to his eyes for one 
searching gaze, face to face ? The time is so short we must greet, 
and pass on to the next ; we exchange easy commonplaces, and so 
the chance vanishes. Why not defy custom and boldly snatch in 
that magic moment some satisfactory taste of warm human 
intercourse ? 

Curiously enough, this strangeness this lack of background in 
new acquaintances is one of the freshest charms of meeting. Who 
would not throw off all restraint and talk frankly with a man from 



THE ROMANCE OF 



the phmet Mars or Venus? Could we resurrect an 
inhabitant of Atlantis we could give him our whole 
(pitting confidence and even a South Sea Islander, were he 
intelligent, might be our confessor. Where then shall 
we draw the line of convention? Mars is some 
140,000,000 miles away San Francisco is but 9,000 the ratio is 
inadequate but there is a guarantee of candour in mere distance. 
May we not apply the same rule to nearer neighbours and look upon 
them in this interesting light? 

There is no such stimulating instant possible for old friends 
for they are bound by preconceived ideals of personality they are 
pigeon-holed as this or that circumscribed by mutual duty and sac- 
rifice ; they must reconcile present whims to past vagaries ; they are 
held to strict account of consistency with previous moods ; but on 
our first meeting with another we are free of all this constraint, and 
if we have courage may meet soul to soul without reserves. We 
may confess unreliable things in that moment, for there is no per- 
spective of formulated opinion into which the confidence must be fit- 
ted the little secret is safe alone in the new mind, and will not be 
held to intolerable account. We may even for this once state a 
brutal truth, for we are unpledged to distressing considerations. We 
may be in some few sacred thoughts more intimate with a stranger 
than with an old friend. Such is the divine franchise of this first 
sudden opportunity. No compact is yet sealed; you must take me 
as you find me, like me or not, it matters little, since it is for us to 
say whether or not we shall meet again. 

This play is, as Dickens says of melancholy, "one of the cheap- 
est and most accessible of luxuries," for the scene is always ready, 
set in the nearest drawing-room. Every stranger has a possible fas- 

14 



THE COMMONPLACE 



cination and comes like a prince incognito t , It is 
probably your own fault, not his, if the disguise is not 
dropped during the first impetuous flurry of talk. ^ 
Children do these things better, making friends not 
inch by inch, but by bold advances of genuine con- 
fidence, yet approaching each new mystery with respect. So we, too, 
like the child, must dress these our dolls, and put them into their 
first mental attitudes with sincerity and trust before they will come 
to life. We must put much feeling into the relation giving and 
taking so much that we cannot only confide our tenderest spiritual 
aspirations, but invest trifles with unaccustomed worth and signifi- 
cance. These are not impossible sensations even for such accidental 
fellowship, for nothing is too unimportant to reveal personality and 
orient one's point of view. But we must proceed from the inside, 
outward beginning with truths and thence to fancy. It is the apriori 
method ; not deducing the character of your neighbour from his visi- 
ble idiosyncracies of taste and habit, but boldly inducing a new con- 
ception, making him what you will, and varying the picture by 
successive approximations as his words and actions modify your 
theory. 

No one is too dull for the experiment, as no mummy is too com- 
mon to be unwrapped. Granted only that he is newly found, so that 
you have imagination, romance and sentiment on your palette, you 
may paint him as you will. The colours may wash, but for the 
while he is your puppet and must dance to your piping, if, indeed, 
you do not become his. 

There are those, of course, who will but cry "Oh! " and "Ah! " 
to your essays dolts with neither wits nor words nor worth, who 
take all and give nothing; no one can set such damp stuff afire. 

'5 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Well, after all, though you have unmasked, retreat is 
still possible. With how many duller friends have 
tn ^ you given your parole and cannot escape with honour ! 
acquaint** Indeed, it is not so desirable that we should al- 

ways win, as that the game itself be worth the playing. 
One must not expect to make a friend at each introduction. To 
make the most of the minute in this way, then, to strike while the 
iron is hot (and, better, to heat it yourself) this is the art of get- 
ting acquainted. It is the higher flirtation, not dependent upon sex 
or temperament, but of many subtler dimensions, and though it 
soon turns into the old familiar ruts, the first steps, made pictur- 
esque by a common fancy, shall never lose their glamour, and one 
shall remember to the very last how the first shots went home. 

But do not confound playing with playing a part. One may 

do all this sincerely, honestly giving good coin, and that is the only 

game worth while ; for of a sudden it may wake into new beauty like 

a dream come true, and you will find yourself in Arcady. No 

more fooling then, for the real you is walking by my side, hand 

in hand. We shall not be sorry either, shall we, that we 

hurried round the first corner into the open that we 

jumped a few hedges ? Surely we have an infinite 

friendship for our inaccessible goal, and though 

the first rush was exhilarating, there are 

more inspiring heights beyond ! 



16 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Btntnjj 






WHY human beings are so fond of eating together and 
making a ceremonial of the business it is hard to 
say. Man is almost the only animal who prefers to 
consume his food in company with his kind, for even 
sheep and cattle wander apart as they graze, seeking private delica- 
cies. Early in the morning, it is true, most cultivated persons are 
savages, preferring to breakfast in seclusion and dishabille ; lunch 
time finds them in a slightly barbarous state, and they tolerate com- 
pany; but by evening we all become gregarious and social, and we 
resent the absence of an expected companion at the table as of a 
course omitted. 

And so, whether we dine at home or abroad we call it a poor 
dinner where we have good things only to eat. The dullest, most 
provincial hostess has come to understand this, and each does what 
she can, in inviting guests, to form partnerships or combinations 
sympathetic and enlivening. There are, of course, always those im- 
possibles, poor relations or what-not, whom policy or politeness im- 
peratively demands, and every dinner-table is, in attempt at least, a 
conversational constellation of stars of the first magnitude separated 
by lesser lights. 

From these fixed stars radiate flashes of talk, and supplement- 
ing this, the laughter of the connecting circle should follow as punc- 
tually as thunder upon lightning. The hostess, like a beneficent sun, 
kindles and warms and sways her little system, while the servants 

17 



THE ROMANCE OF 



revolve about the table in their courses, like orderly 
planets. 

g u j. we m jght p us h the allegory a step farther. 

fiDUt Though the round of a score of dinners may exhibit 
no more unusual a cosmogony than this, yet at every 
thirty-third event, perhaps, we may encounter a comet ! There is no 
prognosticating his eccentric course ; he comes and goes according to 
a mysterious law, but wherever he appears, blazing with a new light, 
foreign to all our conventions, he is a compelling attraction, drawing 
the regular and steady orbs of fashion this way and that out of 
their orbits, shifting their axes, and upsetting social tides and seasons. 

To such an innovator a dinner is given not for food but for 
pastime, and it is a game of which he may change the rules as soon 
and as often as they hamper his enjoyment. It matters little to him 
that he is dressed for a feast of propriety. To him alone it is not 
a livery ; he is not the servant of custom. If it pleases him to settle 
a dispute out of hand, he will send the butler for the dictionary 
while the discussion is hot, or more likely go himself forthright. If 
he wishes to see a red rose in the hair of his host's daughter over 
against him, he will whip round two corners to her place, and adjust 
the decoration. And if it is necessary to his thesis that you, his 
shocked or amused partner, help him illustrate a Spanish jerabe, you 
too must up and help him in the pantomime if you would not have 
such fine enthusiasm wasted for a scruple. 

I knew one such once who retrieved an almost hopelessly mis- 
arranged dinner by his generalship, usurping the power of the 
hostess herself. The guests were distributed in a way to give the 
greatest possible discomfort to the greatest number, though from 
stupidity rather than from malice. Mr. Comet solved the problem 

18 



THE COMMONPLACE 



at a glance. He rose before the fish was served, with 
a wine-glass in one hand and his serviette in the other. 
"The gentlemen," he announced, "will all kindly 
move to the left four places." It was before the day 
of "progressive dinner parties," and the scheme was 
new. The ladies gasped at his audacity, but after this change of part- 
ners the function began to succeed. 

Your comet, then, must not only be a social anarchist but he 
must convert the whole company, or he presents merely the sorry 
spectacle of a man making a fool of himself, never a sight condu- 
cive to appetite or to refined amusement, except perhaps to the cynic. 
He must be able to swing the situation. He must believe, and con- 
vince others, that the true object of a dinner is to amuse, and if it 
should take all of the time devoted to the entree for him to show 
the pretty sculptress at his right how to model an angel out of bread, 
his observing hostess should feel no pang that he has neglected his 
brochette. After all, the elaborate supervision of the mtnu was un- 
dertaken, any modern hostess will acknowledge, only that, in the dire 
case her guests did not succeed in amusing each other, they might 
at least have good things to eat. Every dish untasted in the excite- 
ment of conversation, then, should be a tribute to her higher skill in 
experiments with human chemistry. 

If she can catch no comet, however, she must be contented with 
lesser meteoric wits who make up for real brilliancy by saying what 
they do say quickly and spontaneously ; with the punsters, in short, 
and such hair-trigger intellects. Failing these, the last class above 
the bores-positive are those well-meaning diners-out who load 
themselves with stories for a dinner as a soldier goes into an engage- 
ment with a belt full of cartridges. They may not get a chance for 

19 



THE ROMANCE OF 



SDfnins 
flDttt 



a shot very often, but, given an opening, their fire is 
accurate and deadly till the last round is gone, when 
they are at the mercy of a more inventive wit. Yet 
even these welter-weights have their place at the table, 
for we must have bread as well as wine. 

It was one of Lewis Carroll's pet fancies to have a dinner-table 
in the shape of a ring, and half the guests seated inside upon a plat- 
form which revolved slowly round the circle till each one had circum- 
navigated the orbit and passed opposite every guest seated on the 
outside of the table. But this would break up many of the little 
secret schemes for which the modern dinner is planned, and many a 
young man would suddenly find himself flirting with the wrong lady 
across the board. 

And this last hint carries me from the exoteric to the esoteric 

charms of the dinner. Here, however, you must guess your own 

way; I dare not tell you precisely what it means when Celestine 

shifts her glass from left to right of her plate, nor what I answer 

when I raise my serviette by one corner, for Celestine and I may 

dine with you some day, and you may remember our little code. 

You would better not invite me anyway, for, though I 

am no comet, yet I admit I would be mad 

enough to upset the claret purposely 

rather than have nothing 

exciting happen! 



2O 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cije 



A THERE'S the rub! If we could but forecast our 
dreams, who would care to keep awake? In that, we are 
no further advanced than in the times of Pythagoras ; 
still clumsy, ignorant amateurs in this most fascinating 
and mysterious game, played by every race and condition of men 
under the moon. There are some, maybe, who do not dream, poor 
half-made men and women, to whom a waking, literal prosaic life is 
the whole of existence. They stay idly at home, while you and I 
take ship upon the Unknown Sea and navigate uncharted waters 
every night. Then we are poets, dunces, philosophers, clowns or 
madcaps of sorts in a secret carnival, changing not only our cos- 
tumes, but often our very selves, doffing conscience, habit and taste, 
to play a new part at each performance. 

If we could but manage this raree-show, and not be mere mar- 
ionettes, wired to the finger of the Magician, what tremendous 
adventures might we not undertake ! We have rare glimpses of the 
Lesser Mysteries, but the inner secrets of that inconsequential empire 
are still undiscovered. The revels confound us ; we are whirled, in- 
toxicated or drugged, into a realm of confusion, and, out of touch 
with senses, reason and will, we cannot quite keep our heads clear. 
How many of us have tried to "dream true," like Peter Ibbetson, 
even to obeying the foolish formula he described, lying, hands under 
head, foot upon foot, murmuring his magic words? 

Try as we may, those of us who are true dreamers can never 

21 



THE ROMANCE OF 



quite accept the psychologist's explanation of dreams. 
Some cases may be easily understood, perhaps, such as 
tne pathological influence of a Welsh rarebit, a super- 
abundance of bed covers, or suggestive noises. We 
may account, too, for those absurd visions that appear 
so often on awakening, when one sense after another comes breaking 
into our consciousness, and when the mind, summoned suddenly to 
construct some reasonable relation between incongruous floating pic- 
tures, seizes upon any explanation, however ridiculous. But of 
deeper dreams, dreams logical or meaningful, dreams that recur or 
are shared by others, modern science does not give any satisfactory 
theory, and we are forced, willingly enough no doubt, to apply the 
hypotheses of mysticism. 

There are dreams, too, so progressive and educational that they 
seem to involve a new science unknown in this workaday world. 
So many of us have had experiences with levitation in our dream 
life that we are, so to speak, a cult. I myself began by jumping, 
timing each spring with the precise moment of alighting from a pre- 
vious leap, profiting by the rebound, and, after many experiments I 
am now able to float freely, even accomplishing that most dim- 
cult of all feats, rising in the air by a deliberate concentrated effort 
of will, even while lying on my back. Yet all of us, jumpers, fly- 
ers or floaters, must wait till that wonderful dream comes to us, 
after months maybe, to indulge in that most exhilarating pastime. 

Children's dreams are (until they are cruelly undeceived) quite 
as real as their waking moments, and it may be that we shall, in time, 
learn the forgotten art from them. It is dependent, no doubt, 
upon their power of visualizing imagined objects while their eyes are 
shut, but while still awake ; but this ability to call up the images of 

22 



THE COMMONPLACE 



anything at will is as soon lost as their belief in 
dreams. Though this habit fades and is forgotten in 
the growing reality of our outward life, it may not be 
impossible with practice to regain the proficiency, for 
at times of great physical fatigue and mental exalta- 
tion the power comes back, often intensified almost to the point of 
hallucination. If we could train our imagination then, and learn to 
see pictures when our eyes are shut, these might become more accu- 
rate and real, so that at the moment of sinking into unconsciousness, 
as we lose hold on tangible things, the vision would become one with 
the reality, and, still imagining and creating, we might pass over the 
footlights and dream true. To most of us there comes a recogniz- 
able moment when we know we are just at the border of sleep ; if 
we could then with our last effort of will keep control of the mov- 
ing pictures we might go wherever we wished. 

We might learn, too, to remember more of what happens in the 
night. We usually give what has passed in dream no more than an 
indulgent smile, and forget the strangeness of it all as soon as we 
are well awake. It is as if we had hurriedly turned the pages of an 
illustrated book. We recall, here and there, a few striking pictures, 
beautiful or comic, and the volume is replaced upon the shelves not 
to be taken down till the next evening. It is a book from which 
we learn little ; its contents are not even amusing to any one else, who 
has as fanciful tales in his own dreamland library. If we could, upon 
first awakening, impress our minds with the reality of our dreams, 
we might be able to recall more and more, and find that in spite of 
their incongruity there was some law which governed their visitation 
and some meaning in their grotesque patterns. 

To one who dreams frequently, bedtime cannot fail to be some- 



THE ROMANCE OF 



thing to look forward to, to hope and to prepare for 
with efforts to capture in the net of sleep some beau- 
tifol dream. May we not, sometime, find the proper 
bait, and lie down confident that we shall be duly en- 
chanted in some delightful way, according to our 
desires? Till then we must each buy our nightly ticket in Sleep's 
lottery, and draw a blank or a prize, as Morpheus wills. Some say 
that the most refreshing sleep is absolute unconsciousness of time 
that one should shut one's eyes, only to open them in the morning, 
with the night all unaccounted for. But no true dreamer will assent 
to this ; he knows it is not so. I was told in my youth, that if 
I turned the toes of my boots toward the bed, I should 
have a nightmare. I confess I have never dared 
try it. But, rather than not dream at all, I 
believe I should be tempted to haz- 
ard the experiment. 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cfje art of 



TIME was when we made our own toys; when a piece of 
twine, a spool, a few nails and a bit of imagination could 
keep us busy and happy all day long. There were no 
new-fangled iron toys " made in Germany," so tiresome 
in their inevitable little routine of performance, so easily got out of 
order, and so hard, metallic and realistic as to be hardly worth the 
purchase. A penny would, indeed, buy some funny carved wooden 
thing that aroused a half-hour's excitement, but it was never quite 
so alluring as when in the front window of the toy-shop. Such 
queer animals never became thoroughly acclimated to the nursery, 
and they lost their lustre in a half-holiday. The things that gave 
permanent satisfaction were home-made, crude and capable of trans- 
formation. A railway train might, with a small effort of the fancy, 
become a ship or a dragon. Are there such amateur toy-builders 
now, in this age when everything is perfect and literal, when even a 
box of building-blocks contains a book of plans to supply imagina- 
tive design to the modern child? Indeed, many children are nowa- 
years too lazy even to do their own playing. I have heard of one 
who was used to sit on a chair and order his nurse to align his nine- 
pins and bowl them down for him ! 

Perhaps one notices the lack of creative ability in children more 
in the city where ready-made toys are cheap and accessible, than in 
the country where the whole world is full of wonderful possibilities 
for entrancing pastime. Nature is the universal playmate, perpet- 



THE ROMANCE OF 



ually parodying herself in miniature for the benefit of 
those who love to amuse themselves with her toys. 
&ti Every brook is a little river, every pond an unfath- 
oma bi e sea> s ne plants tiny forests of fern and raises 
microscopic mountains in every sand-bank. Flowers 
and plants furnish provender for Lilliputian groceries, the oak showers 
acorn cups ; what wonder we believe, as long as we can, in fairies ? 

And yet, strange to say, it is the city more often than the coun- 
try child who feels the charm of these marvels. The freshness and 
the strangeness breed a fascinated wonder; it is, after flagged pave- 
ments and brick walls, almost too good to be true. The juvenile 
rustic is more familiar with Nature. It is his business to know when 
the flowers come, where berries ripen and birds nest. It is scarcely 
play to him, it is a science to be applied to his personal profit. The 
woods and rivulets are his familiar domain, to be forayed and hunted 
specifically for gain. And this, though it is delightful, is not play. 
For him, there is no glamour over the fields until long after, when 
his native countryside has become inaccessible. 

Perhaps the art of playing is, after all, a matter more of tem- 
perament than environment, for one sees, at times, good sport even 
in the city streets, though it is rare nowadays. I had my own full 
share of it, for my youth was an age of pure romance. My clan had 
its own code and its own traditions. Every man of us had his suit 
of wooden armour, his well-wrought weapons and his fiery steed. 
We were all for Scott. We had our Order, small, but well up in 
the technique of feudal ways, facile in sword-play, both with the thin, 
sinewy hard-pine rapier, and the huge, two-handed, double-hiked bat- 
tle-sword that should stand just as high as one's head. On the brick 
sidewalks we tilted on velocipedes, full in the view of the anxious 



THE COMMONPLACE 



passers-by. Cap-a-pie in pine sheathed with tin, with 

a shield blazoned with a tiger couchant, and inscribed 

with a Latin motto out of the back of the dictionary, 

many a long red. lance I shivered, and many a wheel I 

broke. On Warren Avenue I did it, opposite the 

church. What would I not give, now, to see such sights in town ! 

instead, I watch little boys smoking cigarettes upon the street 

corners, waiting for their girls. 

I knew a youngster, too, who organized in his town a postoffice 
department, established letter-boxes and a regular service of boy car- 
riers. He drew and coloured the stamps himself you will find them 
in few collections, though they should have enormous value from 
their rarity. Such games are consummate play, even though the 
sport goes awry all too soon ; it is too great to last ! 

It is the older brother who should give finesse to such sport. 
Without him, complications arise which accomplish at last the ruin of 
the game. Many of us do not truly learn to play until it is too 
late to do so with dignity, and to these, the appreciation of the young 
gives a fine excuse for prolonging the diversion. We fancy we can- 
not, when grown up, play imaginative games for the pure joy of it, 
as does the child ; we think we must have an ulterior motive. Yet 
the father, who whittles out a boat for his son, often gets more delight 
than the child, who would far rather do it himself, no matter how 
much more crudely accomplished. 

The theater is the typical play for grown-ups ; the name itself, 
"play," is significant of the unquenchable tendency of youth. And 
this reminds me of a most amusing case where two grown-ups dared 
to be absolutely ingenuous. It was upon a honeymoon, when if 
ever, adults have the right to yield to juvenile impulses. As the 



THE ROMANCE OF 



groom was titled and the bride fair, society took it ill 
that the two should retire to their country house and 
&tt j en y access to a u neighbours. One at last called, too 
Ot piaping i m p or tant to be denied admittance by the servants, and 
the astonished visitor discovered the happy pair 
stretched over the dining-room table, training flies whose wings had 
been clipped, to pull, in a harness of threads, little paper wagons ! 
This had been their absorbing occupation for ten blissful days ! 

An important element of play seems to be the doing of things 
in miniature. See Stevenson, for instance, prone upon the floor, in- 
volved in romantic campaigns, massing his troops of tin soldiers, oc- 
cupying strategic positions in hall and passage, skirmishing over the 
upstairs "roads of the Third Class, impassable for artillery," inter- 
cepting commissary trains labouring up from the Base of Operations 
in the kitchen, deploying cavalry-screens upon the rug, and 
out-manoeuvering the wily foe that defends the verandah, both 
being bound by the strict treaties of the play. There is your 
ideal big brother, and the game of toy soldiers is glorified into 
weeks of excitement! 

The Japanese, immortal children, carry the game of diminution 
to its extreme. The dwarfed trees and the excruciating carved ivo- 
ries are not the only symptoms of this delightful disease ; for the 
perfection of the spirit of play one must see their miniature gardens, 
often the life-employment of the owners. No matter how small the 
patch of ground employed, every inch is perfect. Pebble by pebble, 
almost grain by grain, the area is arranged, the tiny rivulet is guided 
between carefully curved banks, wee bridges span the shores, little 
lanterns and pagodas are artfully placed, plants and flowers are sown, 
trees planted, fishes are domiciled, till the garden is a replica of 

28 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Nature at her best. Each view is a toy landscape, and 
without a scale, as seen in a photograph, for instance, one 
might think it a garden of the gods. And yet, there 
is a sort of play where one may use infinite distances, 
macrocosms for microcosms, if one has the courage 
and the power of visualization. These games are purely mental, 
feats of the imagination, though not nearly so difficult as 
might be thought. I know a sober, workaday lawyer, for in- 
stance, who combines the two methods with extraordinary clev- 
erness. His income is not derived solely from his practice, I 
need hardly say. You will not catch him at his fascinating 
diversion, for his table is strewn with books and papers, and 
his playthings are not noticeable amongst the professional litter. 

I have known him to sit for hours gazing at the table, 
and, once in his confidence for there is a fraternity of 
players, and one must give the grip and prove fellowship he will 
tell you that he has shrunk to but an inch in height, so that, to 
him, his desk seems to be some three hundred feet long by a 
hundred feet wide, and its plateau is elevated some two hundred 
feet above the floor ; as high, that is, as a church. Assuming that he 
has, by some miraculous means shrunk to one-fiftieth of his stature, 
the size of everything visible is, of course, increased in a like propor- 
tion. His diverting occupation, under this queer state of things, 
is to explore his little domain, and exist as well as is possible. 
What adventures has he not had ! There was the terrific com- 
bat with a cockroach as big as a dragon, which he finally slew 
with a broken needle ! There was the dust storm, when the 
care-taker swept, and the huge snow crystals like white pie-plates, 
that came in when the window was opened. He had an enormous 

29 



THE ROMANCE OF 



difficulty in getting water from a glass tumbler, and 
he broke his teeth upon the crystals of sugar that, 
tt as a i awverj he had been thoughtful enough to 
strew U pon the table for the benefit of himself as an 
Inchling. I believe he is now attempting to escape 
to the floor by means of a spool of thread, if he cannot make up 
his mind to risk a descent by means of a paper parachute. It is 
a world of his own, as real to him as the child's toy paradise, 
a retreat immune from the cares of his daily life, a 
never-tiring playground, with perpetual discoveries 
possible. He, if any one, has discovered not 
only the art of playing, but has 
applied the science as well ! 



3 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cfje 



of jfoote 



WHAT a dull world it would be if everyone were modest, 
discreet and loyal to that conformity which is called 
good taste! if, in short, there were no fools to keep us 
amused. What would divert us from the deadly 
routine of seriousness ? What toy scandal would we have to discuss 
at dinner ? What would leaven this workaday world of common- 
places, if everyone were gifted with common sense? Is it not, 
when you stop to think of it, a bit inconsiderate to discountenance 
buffoonery and to resent innocently interesting impropriety ? Should 
we not rather encourage eccentricity with what flattering hypocrisies 
we may, so that we shall never be at a loss for things to smile at and 
talk about ? 

A fair sprinkling of fools in the world is as enlivening as a 
pinch of salt in a loaf of bread. They give a relish to life, and flavour 
with a brisk spicery of nonsense what would otherwise be oppres- 
sively flat. Civilized existence, if it were always cooked up and 
served to us by Mrs. Grundy herself, would be unpalatable enough ; 
but luckily her infallible recipes are not always carried out, and a 
few plums and cloves get into her pudding. 

We may not care to play the part of public jesters ourselves, 
but the least we can do is to be grateful to those who are willing to 
become absurd for our benefit. Patronize them daintily, therefore, 
lest they backslide into propriety ; remember that there is such a 
thing as enjoyment without ridicule. To make fun of a person 

3 1 



THE ROMANCE OF 



to his face is a brutal way of amusing one's self; be 

delicate and cunning, and keep your laugh in your 
, , r . ? 

sleeve, lest you frighten away your game. 

Of JT0010 g ut there w m doubtless always be enough who 

are willing to play the guy, whether we encourage 
or condemn. The fool is a persistent factor in society, and yet the 
common misconception of his status and economic function is silly 
and unfair. With the prig and the crank, the fool has been re- 
viled from time immemorial, and persecuted out of all reason. 
He is protected by no legislation ; your fool is always in season, 
and is the target for universal contempt. Instead of this perpetual 
fusillade of wits, there should be a "close season" for fools to allow 
them to propagate and grow fearless, after which we could make 
game of them in safety of a full supply. Since he is, in a way, 
the lubricator of the wheels of life, a coiner of smiles, he should 
be carefully bred to give the greatest possible amount of diversion. 
He should be trained like an actor that his best points may be 
brought out ; he should be paid a salary or kept in livery to amuse 
the public, with no need or excuse for sobriety. 

But, until the fool is properly appreciated and his place assured, 
we must put up with the amateurs that haunt the street and drawing- 
room. It is too much to hope for the sight of a zany every time we 
go out doors, but, when we do encounter one, what a ray of sunshine 
gleams athwart our strict fashions poor sober dun slaves to style 
and custom ! If we chance upon a woman who dares perpetrate her 
own radical theories of dress, who combines pink with red, or com- 
mits a gay indiscretion in millinery, how superbly she is distin- 
guished, for the moment, from the ruck and swarm of victims to 
good taste ! She is at once an event and a portent. The afternoon 



THE COMMONPLACE 



is quaintly illuminated with a phenomenon, and we 

scan with new interest and expectation the dull and 

, u TO* Wl&t 

sombre throng. "** *" v 

How small a deviation from the mode, indeed, * J"<M>W 
is necessary to provoke a revivifying smile ! Every 
such unconscious laughing-stock is a true benefactor, ministering 
to our sense of superiority. Were we never to see the freaks, we 
would not know how glorious is our own uncompromising regu- 
larity. Truly, if we have sufficient conceit, every one in the world, 
in a way of thinking, may be considered foolish relatively to our own 
criterion. "All the world is queer except thee and me," said the 
Quaker, " and even thee is a little queer !" 

Such praise of fools may seem extravagant or illogical, but if it 
is so, it must be not because the fool is not helpful and stimulating 
in society, but because, after all, he is not so easily identified as one 
might suppose. Celestine tells me she never calls a man a fool, but 
instead asks him why he does so, and in this way she often learns 
something. That is the most disagreeable trait of fools ; often, upon 
investigation, what appears to be genuine nonsense is but the consist- 
ent carrying out of a clever and original idea, whose novelty alone 
excites amusement. The fool thus cheats us of our due enjoyment 
by being in the right. It seems dishonest of a fool to instruct; it is 
beside the mark, and outside his proper sphere, and yet even 
Confucius is said to have learned politeness from the impolite. To 
see one's own faults and weaknesses caricatured spoils the laugh that 
should testify to the folly. 

We cannot be sure, either, that the ass who amuses us by 
his eccentric absurdities may not eventually cheat us of the final 
victory by proving to be but the vanguard of a new custom 

/5 O 

33 



THE ROMANCE OF 



to which we or our children must, perforce, in time 
succumb, and fall into line with him far behind, only 
dww tnen to coun t our present attitude foolish and old- 
01 jrOOlg fashioned. Let us therefore laugh while we may, for 
your fool is but a chameleon who refuses to change 
colour. What today is arrant silliness may tomorrow be good horse- 
sense, wherefore it is wise to watch fools carefully when you find 
them, lest the sport spoil overnight, and you yourself become ridicu- 
lous, while the fool takes your place as the amused philosopher. 

The word "fad," they say, was derived from the initial letters 
of the phrase "for a day." So we, the followers of the latest mode 
and mood, are, it would seem, the true ephemera, and the fools who 
defy the local custom are immortal. The fool is merely an anach- 
ronism. All inventors, most poets, and some statesmen have been 
honoured with the title, since we laugh chiefly at what we do not 
understand. There are more synonyms for "fool" than for any 
other word in the language ! 

So we must take our chances and smile at all and sundry, at 
men of one idea, hobby riders, cranks, poseurs, managing mammas 
and antic youths, blushing brides and fond parents, bounders, ped- 
ants, bigots and hens with their heads cut off. Laugh at them, 
the character parts in the comedy of life, for the show is amus- 
ing, but be not resentful if you find the privilege of laughing 
is a common right, and you in your turn become 
a victim. For, strange as it may seem, 
many of these actors may be so 
foolish as to think you 
the fool yourself! 



34 



THE COMMONPLACE 



absolute 



WHEN I was a child, I invented a game so simple and 
so passive, that its enjoyment was permitted even on 
the rigorous Sundays of my youth. Upon a slate I 
ruled vertical columns, and at the head of these I 
wrote: "Men, women, boys, girls, babies, horses, dogs." Then, 
seated at a window commanding the street, I made note of the 
passers-by, and as fast as they appeared in sight I made a mark for 
each in the appropriate column. The compilation of this petty 
census was a pleasing pastime, and, moreover, it seemed to me that 
my categories were obviously complete. There were, in my world, 
but men and women, boys, girls and babies what else, indeed ? 

But this primary classification of sex and years did not satisfy 
me long, and I discovered that my system must be amended if I 
would segregate mentally now the various types I encountered. 
There were, for instance, good persons and bad ones, men educated 
and ignorant, rich and poor, and I superimposed upon my first list 
one after another of these modifying conditions. But with a larger 
view of life these crude distinctions overlapped and became confused, 
and I saw that the whole system was but a rude makeshift. 

Yet until I could pigeon-hole a new acquaintance in my own 
mind and put him with others of his kind I was never quite satisfied. 
Up to a certain stage in development, what we are most struck with 
is the difference between persons, but after the first intellectual cli- 
macteric we begin to see resemblances, invisible before, that knit men 

35 



THE ROMANCE OF 



of different aspect together; and, that game of 
synthesis once begun, we must play it till we die. 
&D30lUtt Every new acquaintance is an element of our expe- 
*^* rience a new fact refuting or corroborating our 
theory of life, and, though we often may put the case 
into a separate compartment and label the specimen "unique," 
before long we shall probably have to reconsider the whole collection 
and devise a new system of arrangement for the complex charac- 
teristics of human nature. 

But what analysis can we adopt which shall prove universally 
satisfactory? If we rank men according to mental, moral or 
spiritual attributes, one quality is sure to contradict or affect the 
other, and it is hard to decide which trait is paramount. Friendship 
is dependent upon none of these things, and yet in our affections we 
recognize, almost unconsciously, grades and qualities of attraction 
and kinship. Of a bunch of letters at our breakfast plate, we are 
sure to open a special one first or last, as the expectation of pleasure 
may decide. We accept this nearness, this intimate relationship, 
without reasoning ; it is manifested in the first flash of recognition of 
the handwriting, at sight of a photograph, at the sound of a voice or 
a name. Some are indubitably of our own clan, and others, however 
their charm, or a temporary passion, may blind us for a time, are 
foreigners, and speak another language of the emotions. There are 
invisible groups of souls, mysteriously related, and the tie is indis- 
soluble. 

So I have come to adopt as the final classification what, for want 
of a better term, I must call Absolute Age age or condition, that 
is, not relative, not dependent upon the year of one's birth. No 
one, surely, has failed to observe children who seem to be older than 

3 6 



THE COMMONPLACE 



their parents in possibility of development. One 

knows that in a few years this child will have caught 

up to and passed his father or mother in soundness 

of judgment, in a sense of the relative importance of 

things, in the power to distinguish sham, convention 

and prejudice from things of vital import. This child is older in 

point of Absolute Age. When his soul has served its juvenile 

apprenticeship in the world of the senses he shall understand truths 

his parents never knew. 

This capacity for comprehending life does not seem to be 
dependent upon actual definite experience with the world. The 
villager may have this hidden wisdom as clearly as the man who 
has seen and done, who has fought, loved and travelled far and 
well. The mystics hold that we have all lived before, and that 
some have profited by their experiences in former lives and have 
attained a fairer conception of the very truth. But, though this 
illustrates what is meant by the term Absolute Age, it is by no 
means necessary to accept such an explanation of the effects we 
perceive. It is enough that we can definitely classify our friends by 
their emotions and desires, and by their point of view on life. In 
other words, some are philosophers and some are not. And even 
the philosophers are of varying sects. Some have a keen, childlike 
enthusiasm for the more obvious forms of excitement, for all that is 
new and strange and marvellous, while others are incapable of being 
shocked, surprised or embarrassed they have poise, and prefer the 
part of observer to that of actor in the game of life. 

And yet, too, there is a simplicity which comes from a greater 
Absolute Age, a relish for real things that persists with enthusiasm. 
It is by this simplicity one may distinguish the cult from those that 

37 



THE ROMANCE OF 



are merely blast or worldly wise. The joy in the 
taste of the fresh apple under the tongue, or in the 
abandon of the child at play, in the strength of youth 
and the grace of women, this is a joy that does not 
fade ; no, not even for those who would not trouble 
to go to the window if the king rode by ! As a man can learn 
much by travel without losing his capacity for enjoying his native 
town, so one can enjoy life intellectually to the utmost without ever 
losing one's grasp on one's self, without being intoxicated by excite- 
ment or blinded by egoism, and yet feel still the clean, sane joys of 
youth to the last. 

We have come to our Absolute Age by different paths. If we 
are of the same status, you and I, you may have learned one lesson 
and I another, yet the sum of our experience is the same. We 
are akin spiritually, although we have not had the same process of 
development. You, perhaps, have fought down hate and I have 
conquered dishonesty, but we are calmer and wiser, we think, 
than those whom we smile at quietly when we view their eager- 
ness for things that no longer concern us. We recognize, too, 
that there are others to whose attainments our own powers 
are infantile. But in either case the superiority is 
neither mental nor moral nor spiritual 
it is that mysterious inherent 
quality we call "caste." 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cfje Manual Blessing 



SURELY if there is one sharp, active sensation that, in this 
changeful life of ours, we never tire of, never outgrow, it is 
in the satisfaction of creative manual work. There is a con- 
servation of pleasure as there is a conservation of energy, 
and our taste is being continually transmuted and evolved. One by 
one we outlive the joys of youth, the delights of physical exercise, 
the zest of travel, the beatitude of emotion, the singing raptures of 
love, passing from each to a more mature appeal, a more refined ap- 
petite, a subtler demand of the intellect or of the spirit. The famil- 
iar games lose their savour, the dance gives way to the drama, travel 
to the calmer investigation of homely miracles. We tire of seeing 
and begin to read, feasting peacefully at the banquet of the arts that 
other men have spread. This is, for many of us, what age means 
a giving up of active for passive pleasures when the old games lose 
their charm. 

But the joy of creation does not fade, for in that lies our divin- 
ity and our claim to eternity. Each new product arouses the same 
thrill, the same spiritual excitement, the same pride of victory, and 
yet, strangely enough, though we think we work only for the final 
notch of accomplishment, it is not the completion but the construc- 
tion that holds us entranced. Not the last stroke, but every stroke 
brings victory! It is like the climbing of a mountain. Do we en- 
dure the toil merely for the sake of the view at the summit? No, 
but for the primitive passion of conflict, the inch-by-inch fight 

39 



THE ROMANCE OF 



against odds, the heaping of endeavour on endeavour, 
the continual measuring of what has been done with 
9panual what remains to do. The finishing climax is but 
25le00ing the exclamation point at the end of the sentence 
most of the sensation has been used up before we 
come to the full stop, and that point serves but to sum up our emo- 
tion in a visible emblem of success. 

Many of us believe we are debarred from the exercise of this 
divine birthright, the joy of creation. We have neither talent nor 
genius not even that variety which consists in the ability to take 
infinite pains. Are we not mistaken in this? I think we may each 
have our share of the immortal stimulus. 

To understand this, we must go back and back in the history 
of the race, and there we shall find that this satisfaction, this sane 
and virile delight in construction, was possible to the meanest mem- 
ber of the tribe. Its enjoyment came chiefly in the exercise of a la- 
borious persistency in little things. The combination or addition of 
the simplest elements achieved a positive pleasurable result. The 
neolithic man chipped and chipped at his flint until the arrow-head 
was perfected, and his joy, had he been able to analyze it, was not 
so much in the last stroke as in every stroke. Not so much that 
he had himself with his own hands made something, as that he had 
been making something of use and beauty, and the possibility of that 
joy abiding with him as long as he lived. The makers of ancient 
pottery repeated the same shapes and designs, or, if their fancy soared, 
dared new inventions, but the satisfaction was in the doing. The 
carvers and joiners of the Middle Ages worked as amateurs in cot- 
tage and hovel, and in their work lay their content ; no tyranny could 
wrest from them this well-spring of pleasure. Old age could but 

40 



THE COMMONPLACE 



weaken the hand ; I doubt if it could tame the im- 
memorial joy of creation. 

We cannot all be professional mechanics, for the 
division of labour has cast our lot more and more with 
the workers in intellectual pursuits. But we might 
make handicraft an avocation, if not a vocation, and that regimen 
would help our digestion, perhaps, more than pepsin or a course of 
the German baths. Were I a physician I should often recommend 
the craft cure a panacea for dyspepsia, ennui and nostalgia. 

Here is my modern health resort, my sanitorium for these most 
desperate of diseases ; a little hamlet of shops and tents on the foot- 
hills of the Coast Range in California, where as you work you can 
look across a green valley to the blue Pacific. Here in this new 
land nature calls fondly to your soul, and you may turn to the primi- 
tive delights of living and taste the tang of the dawn of civilization, 
fresh and wholesome as a wild berry. 

Here, squatting on the bare sun-parched ground, with an In- 
dian blanket over his shoulders, is a corpulent banker with a flint 
hammer battering a water-worn boulder. Thus, less than a hundred 
years ago, the Temecula Indians hollowed out their stone mortars on 
this very mesa, fhus they spent happy days, slept like bears, and 
were up with the birds, each morn a day younger than yesterday. In 
this lodge of deerskins, where the ground is spread with yellow pop- 
pies, sits an ex-secretary of legation, who has known everything, seen 
everything, done everything but this to cut with a knife of shell 
strange patterns upon a circular horn gorget. Finished, his wife 
might wear it with pride at the Court of St. James, yet it is but the 
reproduction of a prehistoric ornament, its figures smeared with 
ochre, cobalt and vermilion, and inlaid with lumps of virgin copper 

41 



THE ROMANCE OF 



by the mound-builders of the Mississippi Valley. 
In this open shelter of bamboo, a trysting-place 
for meadow-larks and song-sparrows, lies stretched 
Sirs 3 ing upon the ground an East India warehouseman, all his 
gout and lumbago forgotten in the rapturous delight 
of printing a pattern of checquered stripes with a carved wooden 
block upon a sheet of tapa which he himself unaided, mind you 
has pounded from the fibrous bark of the paper mulberry. His 
strenuous daughter, once world-worn and frozen, has left Nietsche, 
Brahms, and the cult of the symbolists, to sit cross-legged and 
weave the woolly zigzags of a Navajo blanket. It is the first thing 
she has made with her ten fingers since she baked mud pies in the 
sun ! Had she a scrap of mirror in her bungalow she could now 
face it without mortification. An open-air hand-loom is good for 
the complexion. 

But you need not journey to California. Rather make a pil- 
grimage to your own south attic. If you do but construct cardboard 
model houses with isinglass windows in your breakfast-room, you 
will perhaps find that more diverting than collecting cameos or first 
editions. If you can only compile a concordance to Alice in Won- 
derland you may achieve a hygienic and rejuvenative distraction. 
Can you cut, stamp, gild, paint, lacquer and emboss a leather belt ? 
Can you hammer jewelry out of soft virgin silver? No ? But 
you could, though, if you tried! Can you forget the imposi- 
tions of convention in the rapt glow of pride in sawing 
and nailing together a wooden box ? No matter 
how small it might be, how leaky of joint 
or loose of cover, it would hold 
all your worries ! 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cije Bescrtrti 



A FRIEND of mine is curiously hampered by a limitation 
precluding him from association with any one conversant 
with the details of the manufacture of cold-drawn wire. 
To show that this self-imposed abstinence may indicate 
a most charming devotion to an ideal, rarely shown by the common- 
place, is the object of this thesis, and that, too, despite the fact 
that an indiscriminating extension of the same principle would lead 
the radical to eschew the society of most of his acquaintances, as 
well as bar out the whole domain of didactic literature. 

When the day is done, and that entrancing hour is come for 
which some spend many of their waking hours in anticipation, 
to those blessed with fancy, the curtain of the dark arises, and within 
the theatre of the Night are played strange comedies. To a select 
performance I invite all uninitiated who have never enjoyed the 
drama of the Deserted Island the perfect and satisfactory employ- 
ment for the minutes that elapse after retiring and before the anchor 
is weighed and the voyage begun upon the Sea of Dreams. 

There are undoubtedly more than I am aware of who are happy 
enough to maintain deserted islands of their own many more, 
perhaps, than would confess to the possession. To some the history 
may be well under way ; they have long since discovered their island, 
and many improvements have already been successfully completed. 
Others, more adventurous, handicapped by stricter limitations and 
more meagre outfit, are still struggling with the primal demands of 

43 



THE ROMANCE OF 



food and shelter. But to those whose imaginations 
have never put so far out to sea, and would welcome 
tms modest diversion, I advise an expedition of 
discovery and exploration this very night. You have 
but to go to bed, close your eyes, and after a few 
preliminaries you are there ! 

Authorities differ as to the allowable equipment for the occu- 
pancy of the sequestered territory. I myself hold that it is 
manifestly unfair to be provided with tools of any kind ; to have a 
knife, now, I would call cheating. Surely the only legitimate 
beginning is to be vomited upon the beach stark naked from the sea, 
after some fearsome shipwreck in mid-ocean. Then, after years of 
occupancy, a man might taste the pride of his own resources, 
unfettered by any legacy inherited from civilization. Settle this point 
as you may, when the conditions of the game are once understood, 
the whole history of Science is to be re-enacted. 

I have a friend who arrived upon the scene in an open boat 
containing a keg of water, a crowbar, a pruning-knife, a red silk 
handkerchief and a woman's petticoat ; and with these promiscuous 
accessories has, in the course of years, transformed the place, which 
now boasts a stone castle, entirely inhabitable. His island is about 
two miles long and a half-mile wide much too narrow for comfort, 
I assert; the proportions should be about five miles by three, with 
one dominant hill from which the whole territory may be surveyed. 
But the owner of the other island he of the cold-drawn wire 
boldly asserts his right to a half-dozen labourers, presumably 
natives, and with this force at his disposal. he has done wonders with 
his fief. Glass has been manufactured, fabrics woven, ore smelted 
and fine roads constructed, so that there now remains nothing to be 

44 



THE COMMONPLACE 



desired but bicycles upon which he and his slaves 

may traverse the highways. But in vain his unskilled 

assistants look to him for advice ; rack his wits as he 

may, he can devise no adequate system of making 30Ian& 

cold-drawn wire, and he is beginning to lose caste 

with his followers. 

Now at first sight one might think it necessary for him only to 
consult an encyclopedia, or to visit on iron mill, yet this course is 
strictly barred out by the rules of the game, which compels one to use 
only such information as comes naturally to hand for one is likely to 
be cast ashore upon a desert island at any moment, and it is then too 
late for the research and education that has been before neglected. 
With any ingenious fellow who has his own amateur ideas on the 
subject, one may, of course, talk freely ; for he may represent one of 
the more intelligent of the natives ; but all they who really know 
whereof they speak are to be avoided. So the problem of the cold- 
drawn wire is still unsolved. 

I know of an artist, who, free on this enchanted spot, has 
turned his energies to those diverting pursuits for which his studio 
leaves no time, and he builds gigantic rock mosaics on the cliffs, 
selecting from the many coloured boulders on the beach. Luxuries 
are his only necessities even in his daily life, and the enormity of his 
trifling on this holiday playground is a thing to wonder at. His art, 
so used to a censorship of Nature, in his professional mimicries, here 
goes boldly forth and so mends, prunes and patches the aspect of 
his island, that the place is now, he says, absolutely perfect; a con- 
summation not altogether discreditable to a nude, near-sighted man, 
whose eye-glasses were washed off before he arrived on the spot ! 

But, taking the situation seriously, what will he be in the years 

45 



THE ROMANCE OF 



to come? By what gradations shall the lonely artist 
sink to low and lower levels, abandoned by the stimulus 
f th 6 outer world, the need for advance, and the strug- 
30 land gle for recognition ? How soon would he lose the 
desire to render, in the medium at hand, the lovely 
forms of nature about him, the subtle tones of the earth and air, 
lapsing by stages into ever cruder forms of expression, till the whole 
history of his development had been reversed, and he became content 
with rude squares, triangles and circles for his patterns, the barbarous 
effigies of the human form, and the primary colours that satisfy the 
savage ? 

And the sense of humour, too that universal solvent of all our 
miseries, the oil that lubricates the cumbrous machinery of life how 
soon would that go? Is it not, in the last analysis, dependent upon 
the by-play of the social relationship of men? The inconsistencies 
of our fellows must be first noticed before we can get the reflected 
light of ridicule upon our own grotesque actions. It would soon be 
lost in such a sojourn, our impatience would have no foil, we would 
take ourselves more and more seriously until the end came upon 
that day when we had at last forgotten how to laugh. 

But, after all, as this text of the hypothetical deserted island is 
better fitted for a romance than for a sermon, we may leave such 
forebodings and trace out only the rising curve of improvement. 
And so, too, interesting as it might be to experience, we may leave 
aside the moral speculations incident to the discussion of the case 
where the place becomes occupied by a man and a woman. The pos- 
sibilities of a shipwreck in company are not for such a brief memoir 
as this ; they offer consideration too intimate for these discreet pages, 
and are best left to the exclusion of a private audience. 



46 



THE COMMONPLACE 



But choose your company carefully, I entreat you, 
if you are not soberly minded to be shipwrecked alone. 
I know of persons with whom, were I cast ashore, there 
could be no end not tragic, albeit these are highly 30latt& 
respectable and praiseworthy individuals, who never 
did any harm except in that trick of manner by which we recog- 
nize the bore. I am often inclined to test the merits of others by 
mentally permitting them a short visit to my island, but the hazard 
is too great, and the thought of the possibility of their footprints 
upon the sand unnerves me. 

Yet, to a distant islet of this fantastic archipelago I seriously 
consider consigning certain impossible acquaintances, absolutely 
intolerable personalities, whose probable fate, forced to endure each 
other's society, interests me beyond words. Upon one side of this 
far-away retreat rises a steep cliff overhanging the sea, and here I 
behold in imagination one after another of these marooned unfortu- 
nates pushed headlong over the slope, as, unable to support the 
society of his companions, each has in turn, by some stratagem, lured 
his hated accomplice in misery to the summit of the bluff. 

But of one island I have not yet spoken. I can get no descrip- 
tion of it save that it lies sleeping in the summer sun, washed by 
the sapphire tides and fanned by the cool south winds, its olive 
slopes rising softly from the beach, marked by a grove of fruit trees 
at the crest. More the owner will not tell, for Celestine says there 

is no use for a deserted island after it is charted ; but by 
these signs I shall know the place, and my trees 
are felled and my sails are plaited 
that shall yet bear me over to- 
wards the southwest! 

47 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Cfje l^ense of Rumour 



MUCH as one may look through the small end of a 
telescope and find an unique and intrinsic charm in the 
spectacle there offered, so to certain eyes the whole vis- 
ible universe is humorous. From the apparition of this 
dignified little ball, rolling soberly through the starry field of the 
firmament, to the unwarrantable gravity of a neighbour's straw hat, 
macrocosm and microcosm may minister to the merriment of man. 
There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in the philos- 
ophy of the Realist. 

It is one attribute of a man of parts that he shall have, in his 
mental vision, what corresponds to the "accommodation" of his eye, 
a flexibility of observation that enables him to adapt his mind to the 
focus of humour. Myopia and strabismus we know; the dullard 
can point their analogies in the mental optics, but for this other 
misunderstood function we have no name ; and yet, failing that, we 
have dignified it as a sense apart the sense of humour. But no 
form of lens has been discovered to correct its aberration and trans- 
fer the message in pleasurable terms to the lagging brain ; and, unless 
we attempt hypnotism as a last resort, the prosiest must go purblind 
for life, missing all but the baldest jokes of existence. 

Is it not significant, that from the ancient terminology of leech- 
craft, this word "humour" has survived in modern medicine, to be 
applied only to the vitreous fluid of the eye? For humour is the 
medium through which all the phenomena of human intercourse may 



48 



THE COMMONPLACE 



be witnessed, and for those normal minds that possess 
it, tints this world with a rare colour like that of the 
mysterious ultra-violet rays of the spectrum. And g?ni0t Of 
indeed, to push further into modern science and spec- Rumour 
ulation, perhaps this ray does not undulate, but shoots 
forth undeviating as Truth itself, like that from the Cathode Pole. 
Or, does it not strike our mental retina from some secret Fourth 
Direction ? 

But this is mere verbiage ; similes, flattering to the elect, but 
unconvincing to the uninitiate. Yet, as I am resolved that humour 
is essentially a point of view, I would have a try at proselytizing for 
the doctrine. For here is a religion ready made to my hand ; I have 
but to raise my voice and become its prophet. The seeds are all 
sown, the Fraternity broods, hidden in hidden Chapters, guarding 
the Grand Hailing Sign; who knows but that a spark might not 
touch off this seasoned fuel, and the flame carry everything before it. 
O my readers, I give you the Philosophy of Mirth, the Cult of 
Laughter ! Yet it is an esoteric faith, mind you, unattainable by 
the multitude. Not of the "Te-he! Papa's dead!" school, nor of 
the giggling punster's are its devotees. No comic weekly shall be its 
organ. It must be hymned not by the hoarse guffaw, but in the 
quiet inward smile and for its ritual, I submit the invisible humour 
of the Commonplace. O Paradox! 

Brethren, from this flimsy pulpit, I assert with sincerity, that 
everything on two legs (and most on four) sleeping or awake, bow- 
legged or knock-kneed, has its humorous aspect. The curtain never 
falls on the diversion. You will tell me, no doubt, that here I ride 
too hard. Adam, you will say with reason, set aside in the beginning 
certain animals for our perpetual amusement to wit: the goose, the 

49 



THE ROMANCE OF 



monkey, the ostrich, the kangaroo, and, as a sublime 
afterthought symbol of the Eternal Feminine the 
Of hen. Civilization, you may admit, has added to these 
the goat but, save in rare moods of insanity, as when 
the puppy pursues the mad orbit of his tail, the sight 
of only the aforesaid beasts makes for risibility. The cat, you will 
say, is never ridiculous. But here again we must hark back to the 
major premise, unrecognized though it be by the science of ^Esthetic, 
that humour lies in the point of view. If I could prove it by mere 
iteration it would go without further saying that it is essentially sub- 
jective rather than objective. Surely there is no humour in insensate 
nature, as there is little enough in Art and Music. The bees, the 
trees, the fountains and the mountains take themselves seriously 
enough, and though, according to the minor poets, the fields and the 
brooks are at times moved to laughter, it is from a vegetable, point- 
less joy of life. Through the human wit alone, and that too rarely, 
the rays of thought are refracted in the angle of mirth, and split into 
whimsical rays of complementary sensations and contrasts. 

When we lay off the mantle of seriousness and relax the flexors 
and extensors, if we are well fed, healthy, and of a peaceful mood 
and capable of indolence, men and women, and even we ourselves, 
should become to our view players on the stage of life. And what 
then is comedy but tragedy seen backward or downside-up ? It is 
the negative or corollary of what is vital in this great game of life. 
The custom has been, however, to give it a place apart and unrelated 
to the .higher unities, as the newspapers assign their witticisms to iso- 
lated columns. Rather is it the subtle polarity induced by graver 
thought, the reading between the lines of the page. And as, to the 
vigorous intellect, rest does not come through inactivity so much as 

5 



THE COMMONPLACE 



by a change of occupation, the happy humourist is 
refreshed by the solace of impersonality. 

For, to the initiate, his own inconsistencies and &tn$t of 
indiscretions are no less diverting than those of his 
associates, and should frequently give rise to emotions 
that impel him to hurry into a corner and scream aloud with mirth. 
It is ever the situation that is absurd, and never the victim ; and in 
this lies the secret of his ability to appreciate a farce of which he 
himself is the hero. He must disincarnate himself as the whim blows, 
and hang in the air, a god for the time, gazing with amusement at the 
play of his own ridiculous failures. In some such way, perhaps, do 
the curious turn over the patterned fabric, to discover, on the reverse, 
the threads and stitches that explain the construction of the design. 
This faculty, then, gives one the stamp of caste by which one 
may know his brethren the world over, an Order of whose very exist- 
ence many shall never be aware, till, in some after life, some grinning 
god conducts them to the verge of the heavens, and, leaning over a 
cloud, bids them behold the spectacle of this little planet swarming 
with its absurdly near-sighted denizens. 

Oh6 la Renaissance! for this is to be the Age of Humour. We 
travail for the blithe rebirth of joy into the world. The Decadence, 
with its morbid personalities and accursed analysis of exotic emotion, 
is over, please God ; yet we may adopt its methods and refine the sim- 
plicity of primary impulse, thus increasing the whole sum of pleas- 
ure with the delicate nuances that amplify the waves 
of feeling. Hark, O my reader! Do you 
not hear them, rising like overtones 
and turning the melody into 
a divine harmony? 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Cije <ame of Correspondence 



THE receipt of a letter is no longer the event it was in 
the old stage-coach days; railways and the penny postage 
have robbed it of all excitement. One expects now 
one's little pile of white, blue and green envelopes 
beside one's plate at breakfast, along with one's toast and coffee, 
and one tastes its contents as one opens the matutinal egg. We 
have forgotten how to write interesting letters as we have forgotten 
how to fold and wafer a sheet of foolscap or sharpen a quill. 
Some of our missives are not even worth a cursory glance, many 
by no means deserve an answer, and most are speedily forgotten 
in the columns of the morning journal. 

Yet, at times, on red-letter days, we find one amongst the 
number which demands epicurean perusal ; it is not to be ripped 
open and devoured in haste, it insists on privacy and attention. 
This has a flavour which the salt of silence alone can bring out; 
a dash of interruption destroys its exquisite delicacy. More than 
this, it must be answered while it is still fresh and sparkling, after 
which, if it be of the true vintage, it can afford still another sip 
to inspire your postscript. 

To your room then with this, and lock the door, or else save 
it for a more impregnable leisure. Open it daintily and entertain 
it with distinction and respect ; efface any previous mood and hold 
yourself passive to its enchantment. It is no love message, and 
need depend upon no excited interest in the writer for its reception, 



THE COMMONPLACE 



for it has an intrinsic merit; it is the work of an artist; 
it is a fascinating move on the chess-board of the 
most alluring, most accessible game in the world. of C0tt* 

Though the fire of such a letter need have gpondtttC* 
neither the artificiality of flirtation nor the intensity 
of love, yet it must both light and warm the reader. It is not 
valuable for the news it brings, for if it be a work of art the tidings 
it bears are not so important as the telling of them. It must be 
sincere and alive, revealing and confessing, a letter more from the 
writer than to the reader, as if it were written in face of a mirror 
rather than before the photograph of the receiver ; and yet the com- 
munication must be spelled in the cypher of your friendship, to 
which only you have the key. We have our separate languages, 
each with the other, and there are emotions we cannot duplicate. 
This missive is for you, and for you only, or it ranks with a business 
communication. It is minted thought, invested, put out at loan for 
a time, bringing back interest to stimulate new speculations. There 
are no superfluous words, for the master strikes a clean sharp blow, 
forging his mood all of a single piece, welding your whim to his, and, 
fusing his sentences, there glows a spirit, a quality of style that bears 
no affectation ; it must not, of all things, become literary, it must be 
direct, not showing signs of operose polish. It must be writ in the 
native dialect of the heart. 

If it be a risk to write frankly, it is one that gains interest in 
the same proportion ; it makes the game the better sport. But after 
all, how many letters, so fearfully burned, so carefully hid away, but 
what, in after years, would seem innocuous ? You are seduced by 
the moment, and your mood seems, and impulses seem, dangerous, 
incendiary. You grow perfervid in your indiscretion, not knowing 

53 



THE ROMANCE OF 



that the whole world is stirred by the same reek- 
IE!)* C5amt lessness, and that each one is profoundly bored by 
Of Cottl' all save his own yearnings. Not many of our epistles 
0pOtldttlCl will bear the test of print on their own merit, expur- 
gate them as you will; you need only fear, rather, 
that the letter will grow dull even before it reaches its destination. 
The best of them, moreover, are written in sympathetic ink, and 
unless your correspondent has the proper reagent at hand, the sheets 
will be empty or incomprehensible even to him. Answer speedily 
as you may, too, it will be hard to overtake your correspondent's 
mood ; he has overburdened his mind, precipitated the solution, and 
is off to another experiment by the time his stamp is affixed. But 
you must do your best in return ; reflect enough of his ray to show 
him he has shot straight, and then flash your own colour back. 

There are virtues of omission and commission. It is not 
enough to answer questions; one must not add the active annoy- 
ance of apology to the passive offense of neglect. One must not 
hint at things untellable; one must give the crisp satisfaction of 
confidences wholly shared. Who has not received that dash of fem- 
inine inconsequence in the sentence, " I have just written you two 
long letters, and have torn them both up"? What letter could 
make up for such an exasperation ? Your master letter-writer 
does not fear to stop when he is done, either, and a blank page 
at the end of the folio does not threaten his conscience. 

If one has not the commonplace view of things, and escapes 
the obvious, it matters little whether one uses the telescope or the 
microscope. One may deal with the abstract or concrete, discuss 
philosophy and systems, or gild homely little common things till 
they shine and twinkle with joy. Indeed, the perfect letter- writer 

54 



THE COMMONPLACE 



must do both, and change from the intensely sub- 
jective to the intensely objective point of view. He 
must, as it were, look you in the eye and hold you pf 
by the hand. Two masters whose letters have recently gponlif ncc 
been printed may illustrate these two different phases of 
expression, though each could do both as well. And this first, from 
Browning's love letters, describes what the perfect letter should be : 

" I persisted in not reading my letter in the presence of my friend. . . . 
I kept the letter in my hand, and only read it with those sapient ends of the 
fingers which the mesmerists make so much ado about, and which really did 
seem to touch a little of what was inside. Not all, however, happily for me ! 
or my friend would have seen in my eyes what they did not see." 

To this, the twittering, delightful familiarities of Stevenson: 

" Two Sundays ago the sad word was brought that the sow was out 
again ; this time she had brought another in her flight. Moors and I and 
Fanny were strolling up to the garden, and there by the waterside we saw 
the black sow looking guilty. It seemed to me beyond words ; but Fanny's 
cri du cccur was delicious. ' G-r-r ! ' she cried ; nobody loves you ! ' ' 

It was the same art in big and little, for each stripped off 
pretense and boldly revealed his moment's personality. 

And yet, and yet, a letter does not depend upon any artistic 
quality or glib facility with words, for its interest. The one test of 
a letter is that it must bring the writer close to your side. You 
must fasten your mood on me, so that I shall be you for hours 
afterward. It sounds easy enough, but it is the most difficult 
thing in the world, to be one's self. " I long for you, I long for 
you so much that I thank God upon my knees that you 
are not here ! " There, now, is a letter that prom- 
ises well, but I dare not quote more of 
it, for the subject must be seen 
from another side. 

55 



THE ROMANCE OF 



CI)e Caste of tfje articulate 



FAIR or unfair though it be, I have come to accept a letter 
as the final test of the personality of a new acquaintance. 
Not of his or her intellect or moral worth, perhaps, but 
the register of that rare power which dominates all attri- 
butes that peculiar aroma, flavour, timbre, or colour which makes 
some of our friends eternally exceptional. "Who dares classify 
him and label him, sins against the Holy Ghost; I, for one, think 
I know him only inasmuch as I refuse to sum him up. I cannot 
find his name in the dictionary; I cannot make a map of him; I 
cannot write his epitaph." So writes Sonia of a friend with such 
a personality, and you will see by this that Sonia herself is of the 
caste of the Articulate. 

We are influenced first by sight, then by sound, and, lastly, by 
the written word. " She spoke, and lo ! her loveliness methought 
she damaged with her tongue ! " is the description of many a woman 
who appeals to the eye alone. And in something the same way 
many who fascinate us with their glamour while face to face, shock 
us by the dreary commonplaceness of their letters. 

It would seem that an interesting person must inevitably write 
an interesting letter, indeed, that should be a part of the definition 
of the term interesting. But many decent folk are gagged with con- 
straint and self-consciousness, and never seem to get free. 

"I wonder," says Little Sister, "whether these wordless folk 
may not, after all, really feel much more deeply than we who write?" 



THE COMMONPLACE 



That is a troublesome question, and in its very nature 

unanswerable, since the witnesses are dumb. No 

doubt they feel more simply and unquestioningly, for pf tl)f 

as soon as a thing is once said its opposite and contra- &rtictllat* 

dictory side, as true and as necessary, reacts upon us. 

But it seems to me that expression does not so much depend upon 

any spiritual insight, or even upon especial training, as it does upon 

the capacity for being one's self frankly and simply. That is the 

only thing necessary to make the humblest person interesting, and 

yet nothing is so difficult as to be one's self in this wild, whirling 

world. 

Expression is but another name for revelation. Unless one is 
willing to expose one's self like Lady Godiva, or protected only by 
such beauty and sincerity as hers, one can go but a little way in the 
direction of individuality. We must sacrifice ourselves at every 
turn, show good and bad alike, and laugh at ourselves too. " Would 
that mine enemy might write a book ! " is no insignificant curse, and 
yet there are tepid, colourless authors who might hazard it with safety; 
no one would ever discover the element of personality. 

"After our quarrel I felt as if I had a pebble in my shoe all 
day," Little Sister once wrote me. Let that be an example of the 
articulate manner, for by such vivid and homely metaphors she 
strews her pages. Did she reserve such phrases for her written 
words, I would feel bound to claim for letter-writing the distinction 
of being an art of itself, unrelated to any other faculty ; but no, she 
talks in the same way she is herself every moment. " My temper 
is violent and sudden, but it soon evaporates," she tells me ; " it is 
like milk spilt on a hot stove." 

The inspiration which impels one so to illustrate an abstract 

57 



THE ROMANCE OF 



statement with a concrete example, illuminating and 
Catft* convincing, is a spark of the divine fire of personality. 
Of t$t This is the crux of the articulate caste. An ounce of 
ftttiCttlatl illustration is worth a pound of proof. Rob poetry 
of metaphor and it would be but prose ; a simile, in 
verse, is usually merely ornament. The true purpose of tropes, 
however, is more virile and sustaining ; they should reinforce logic, 
not decorate it. See how agilely Perilla can compress the whole 
history of a flirtation into six lines, defying the old saying that " there 
is nothing so difficult to relight as a dead love." 

I thought I saw a stiffened form 

A-lyingin its shroud; 
I looked again and saw it was 

The love we once avowed. 
" They told me you were dead !" I cried. 

The corpse sat up and bowed! 

When one has a few such acquaintances as these, books are 
superfluous. Who would read a dead romance when one can have 
it warm and living, vibrant, human, coming like instalments of a 
serial story, a perpetual revelation of character ! Many pride them- 
selves upon their proficiency in matter and many in manner, there 
are those, even, who boast of mere quantity, but your professional 
writer is usually cool and calm, if not affected and pretentious. A 
letter, though, should be impregnate with living fire it should boil. 
It is a treat of exceptional human nature. If the sentences be not 
spontaneous and unstudied the pleasure is lost. One may write fiery 
nonsense, but one must mean it at the time. One's mind must, as 
Sonia says, be hospitable, keep open house, and have the knack of 
making one's friends at home, to throb with one's own delights and 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Caotc 
of tt)c 
articulate 

her letters, 
been sitting 



despairs. One must give every mood open-handed, 
and mention nothing one may not say outright with 
gusto. But it is not everyone who can "bathe in 
rich, young feeling, and steep at day-dawning in green 
bedewed grasses" like my little Sonia. If I were 
dead she could still strike sparks out of me with 

" Oh, if you could only see my new hat ! I've 
in fetish worship half the evening, and I'll never dare tell how 
much I paid for it. You never need be good-looking under such a 
hat as that, for no one will ever see you ! " Does not this quotation 
bring Little Sister very near to you, and make her very human and 
real ? Ah, Little Sister is not afraid to be herself! She knows that 
she can do nothing better. " It's a terrible handy thing to have a 
smashing adjective in your pocket," she confesses. Little Sister has 
a good aim, too ; she always hits my heart. And yet she acknowl- 
edges that " there are days when letters are blankly impossible." 

Such friends write the kind of letters that one keeps always, 
the kind that can be re-read without skipping. It is their own talk, 
their own lives, their own selves put up like fruit preserves of various 
flavours, moods and colours, warranted not to turn or spoil. 

And as for the gagged, wordless folk, it is my opinion that too 

much sensibility has been accredited to them. To any rich exotic 

nature expression must come as a demand not to be refused. It is 

feeling bubbling over into words. Other souls are compressed and 

silent; they have the possibilities of the bud something warm 

and inspiring may at any time make them expand 

and free them from the constraint but there 

is not much perfume until 

the flower blooms. 



59 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Cprannp of flje Hates 



NO, I have never been tainted with a mania for collecting. 
It has never particularly interested me, because I already 
happened to have two of a kind, to possess a third. I 
prefer things to be different rather than alike, and the few 
things I really care for I like for themselves alone, and not because 
they are one of a family, set or series. 

But there are so few things to be envious of, even then ! After 
one's necessities are provided for, there are not many things worth 
possessing, and fewer still worth the struggle of collecting. Acquisi- 
tion seems to rob most things of their intrinsic value, of the extreme 
desirability they seemed to possess, and yet it does not follow that 
the practice of collecting is not worth while. It is worth while for 
itself, but not for the things collected. It is like hunting. The en- 
joyment, to your true sportsman, does not depend entirely upon the 
game that is bagged. If the hunter went out solely for the purpose 
of obtaining food he would better go to the nearest poulterer. 

We have a habit of associating the idea of pleasure with the 
possession of certain objects, and we fancy such pleasure is perma- 
nent. But in nine cases out of ten the enjoyment is effervescent, 
and the thing must be gazed at, touched and admired while the 
charm is new. Then only can one feel the sharp joy of possession, 
and, even though its value remain as an object of art, we must after 
that enjoy it impersonally; its delight must be shared with other 
spectators. As far as the satisfaction of ownership is concerned the 

60 



THE COMMONPLACE 



thing is dead for us, and though we would not give it 
up, our greed gilds it but cheaply, after all. 

Of all things, pictures are most commonly re- ^granny Of 
garded as giving pleasure. A painting is universally tjje Hares 
regarded as a desirable possession of more or less 
value, according to personal appreciation. In fact, most men would 
say that a poor picture is better than none, since one of its recog- 
nized functions is to fill a space on the wall. And yet how few 
pictures are looked at once a day, or once a week. How many per- 
sons accept them only as decoration, as spots on the wall, and pass 
them by, in their familiarity, as unworthy of especial notice ! 

But the collection of a multitude of things is no great oppres- 
sion if one is permanently installed; they pad out the comforts of 
life, they create " atmosphere " ; they fill up spaces in the house as 
small talk fills up spaces in conversation. The first prospect of mov- 
ing, however, brings this horde of stupid, useless, dead things to life, 
and they appear in their proper guise to strike terror into the heart 
of the owner. Pictures that have never been regarded, curiosities 
that are only curious, books that no longer feed the brain, and the 
thousand little knickknacks that accumulate in one's domicile and 
multiply like parasites all the flotsam and jetsam of housekeeping 
must be individually attended to, and rejected or preserved piece- 
meal. 

But that exciting decision ! It is not till one has actually had 
the courage to destroy some once prized possession that one feels the 
first inspiring thrill of emancipation. Before, the Thing owned you ; 
it had to be protected in its useless life, kept intact with care and at- 
tention. You were pledged to forestall dust, rust and pillage. If 
you yourself selected it, it stood as a tangible evidence of your oil- 

61 



THE ROMANCE OF 



ture, an ornament endorsed as art. The Thing for- 
bade growth of taste or judgment, it became a 
Of changeless reproach. If it were a gift, it ruled you 
tfyt JL&VtQ with a subtle tyranny, compelling your hypocrisy, en- 
slaving you by chains of your very good nature. But 
if you do not falter, in one exquisite pang you are freed. The 
Thing is destroyed! Not given away, not hidden or disguised, 
but murdered outright. It is your sublime duty to yourself that 
demands the sacrifice. 

These horrid monsters once put out of your life, and all neces- 
sity for their care annulled, you have so much more space for the few 
things whose quality remains permanent. You will guard the en- 
trance to your domicile and jealously examine the qualifications of 
every article admitted. You will ask, "Is it absolutely necessary?" 
If so, then let it be as beautiful as possible, putting into its perfection 
of design the expense and care formerly bestowed on a dozen trifles- 
You will use gold instead of silver, linen instead of cotton, ivory in 
the place of celluloid; in short, whatever you use intimately and 
continually, whatever has a definite plausible excuse for existence, 
should be so beautiful that there is no need for objects which are 
merely ornamental. 

It was so before machinery made everything possible, common 
and cheap ; it has been so with every primitive civilization. To the 
unspoiled peasant, to all of sane and simple mind, ornaments have, 
in themselves, no reason for being. Pictures are unnecessary, because 
the true craftsman so elaborates and develops the constructive lines 
of his architecture that the decoration is organic and inherent. The 
many household utensils, vessels and implements of daily use were 
so appropriately formed, so graceful and elegant in their simplicity, 

6^ 



THE COMMONPLACE 



so cunning of line, so quaint of form and pleasant of 

colour, that they were objects of art, and there was no 

need for the extraneous display of meaningless adorn- <fl|>rannp Ot 

ment. tfj* a0 

Once you are possessed with this idea you will 
suddenly become aware of the tyranny of Things, and you will begin 
to dread becoming a slave to mere possessions. You may still enjoy 
and admire the possessions of others, but the ineffable bore of owner- 
ship will keep you content. The responsibility of proprietorship will 
strike you with terror, gifts will appal you, the opportunity of rid- 
ding yourself of one more unnecessary thing will be welcomed as 
another stroke for freedom. Your friends' houses will become your 
museums, and they the altruistic custodians, allowing you the un- 
alloyed sweets of appreciation with none of the bitter responsibilities 
of possession. 

For you, if you are of my kind, and would be free to fly light, 
flitting, gipsy fashion, wherever and whenever the whim calls, must 
not be anchored to an establishment. We must know and love our 
few possessions as a father knows his children. We must be able to 
pack them all in one box and follow them foot-loose. This is the 
new order of Friars Minor, modern Paulists who have renounced 

the possession of things, and by that vow of dis- 
inheritance, parting with the paltry delights 
of monopoly, have been given the 
roving privilege of the 
whole world! 



63 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Costume anto Custom 



A ^RIEND of mine has reduced his habit of dress to a 
system. Dressing has long been known to be a fine art, 
but this enthusiast's endeavour has been to make it a 
science as well to give his theories practical application 
to the routine of daily life. To do this, he has given his coats and 
jackets all Anglo-Saxon names. His frock is called Albert, for 
instance, his morning coat Cedric, a grey tweed jacket, Arthur, and 
so on. His waistcoats masquerade under more poetic pseudonyms. 
A white pique is known as Reginald, a spotted cashmere is Mont- 
morency, and I have seen this eccentric in a wonderful plaid vest 
hight Roulhac. His trousers and pantaloons are distinguished by 
family names; I need only mention such remarkable aliases as Brag- 
hampton, a striped cheviot garment, and a pair of tennis flannels 
denominated Smithers. His terminology includes also appellations 
by which he describes his neckwear simple prefixes, such as "de" 
or " von" or " Mac" or " Fitz," modifying the name of the waistcoat, 
and titles for his hats, varying from a simple " Sir" for a brown 
bowler to " Prince" for a silk topper of the season's block. 

Now, my mythical friend is not such a fool as you might think 
by this description of his mania, for he is moved to this fantastic 
procedure by a psychological theory. The gentleman is a private, 
if not a public, benefactor, the joy of his friends and delight of his 
whole acquaintance, for, never in the course of their experience, has 
he ever appeared twice in exactly the same costume. It may differ 



6 4 



THE COMMONPLACE 



from some previous habilitation only by the tint of his 
gloves, but the change is there with its subtile sugges- CoiEfttttltt 
tion of newness. Indeed, this sartorial dilettante and 
prides himself, not so much upon the fact that his CtttftOttt 
raiment is never duplicated in combination, as that the 
changes are so slight as not to be noticed without careful analysis. 
His maxim is that clothes should not call attention to themselves 
either by their splendour or their variety, but that the effect should 
be upon the emotions rather than upon the eye. He holds that it 
should never be particularly noticed whether a man dresses much or 
dresses well, but that the impression should be of an immortal fresh- 
ness, sustaining the confidence of his friends that his garb shall have 
a pleasing note of composition. 

It is to accomplish this that he has adopted the mnemonic sys- 
tem by which to remember his changing combinations. He has but to 
say to his valet : " Muggins, this morning you may introduce Earl 
Edgar von Courtenay Blenkinsopp," and his man, familiar with the 
nomenclature of the wardrobe, will, after his master has been bathed, 
shaved and breakfasted, clothe the artist accordingly in Panama hat, 
sack coat, cheerful fawn waistcoat, a tender heliotrope scarf and pin- 
check trousers. Or perhaps, looking over the calendar, the man 
may announce that this fantastic Earl has already appeared at the 
club, in which case a manipulation of the tie or waistcoat changes 
von Courtenay to O'Anstruther. The Earl must not, according to 
the rules, appear twice in his full complement of costume. His 
existence is but for a day, but Anstruther, the merry corduroy vest, 
may become a part of many personalities. 

So much for my friend Rigamarole, who does, if you like, carry 
his principles to an extreme; but surely we owe it to our friends that 



THE ROMANCE OF 



our clothes shall please. It is as necessary as that 

C00tUtttt we should have clean faces and proper nails. But, 

and more than this, we owe it to ourselves that we shall 

Cu0tOttt not be known by any hackneyed, unvarying garb. It 

need not be taken for granted that we shall wear 
brown or blue, we should not become identified with a special 
shape of collar. Servants must wear a prescribed livery, priests 
must always appear clad in the cloth of their office, and the soldier 
must be content with and proud of his uniform, but free men are not 
forced to inflict a permanent visual impression upon their fellows. 
He must follow the habit and style of the day, be of his own 
class and period, and yet, besides, if he can, be himself always 
characteristic, while always presenting a novel aspect. It is as 
necessary for a man as for a woman, and, though the elements 
which he may combine are fewer, they are capable of a certain 
kaleidoscopic effect. 

Our time is cursed more than any other has been, perhaps, with 
hard and fast rules for men's costume ; and of all clothing, evening 
dress, in which, in the old days, was granted the greatest freedom of 
choice, is now subject to the most rigid prescription. We must all 
appear like waiters at dinner, but daylight allows tiny licences. 
Perhaps our garments are always darkest just before dawn, and the 
new century may emancipate men's personal taste. So far, at least, 
we may go: a frock coat does not compel a tie of any particular colour, 
and a morning coat does not invariably forbid a certain subdued 
animation in the way of waistcoats. We may already choose between 
at least three styles of collar and yet be received at five o'clock, and 
coloured shirts are making a hard fight to oust the white linen which 
has reigned for more than half a hundred years. It takes no great 

66 



THE COMMONPLACE 



wealth to take advantage of these minor opportunities, 
nor need one be pronounced a fop if one uses one's 
chances well. He is safest who wears only what the an& 
best tailor has advised every other of his customers, Cu0t0ttt 
but who cares for a tailor's model ? Who cares, I 
might add, to be safe? There is safety in numbers, but who ever 
remembers or cares for the victims of such commonplace discretion? 
We are men, not mice ; why should our coats be all of the same 
fashionable hue and of the same length of tail ? 

But the times are changing, and we may look forward with 
confident hope to the renascence of colour. Already we may see the 
signs of the change that is approaching. God forbid that men should 
become the dandies of the Regency, that we should ever ape the 
incredible or go without pockets, but we may pray heartily for the 
wedding of Art and Reason. Let us pray we shall no more wear 
cylinders or cap our skulls with tight-fitting boxes ! Meanwhile, 

I fear I must buy another necktie, for my only one 

is well worn out. And Celestine swears 

she can recognize that blue 

serge suit of mine, clear 

across the Park ! 



67 



THE ROMANCE OF 



jftientis ant) 



OLD FRIENDS, we say, are best, when some sudden 
disillusionment shakes our faith in a new comrade. So 
indeed they are, yet I count many newly made ties as 
stronger than those of my youth. " Keep close and 
hold my hand ; I am afraid, for an old friend is coming ! " Celestine 
once whispered to me while our love was young. How well I 
understood her panic ! She was swung by the conflicting emotions 
of loyalty and oppression ; her old friend had rights, but her new 
friend had privileges. With me, a stranger, she was frankly herself; 
with him, a familiar, she must be what he expected of her. 

How shall we arrange the order of precedence for the late and 
early comers into our hearts ? How shall we adjudicate their con- 
flicting claims ? That is the problem to be answered by everyone 
who lives widely, and who would not have writ upon his gravestone : 
" He made more friends than he could keep ! " Were one content 
to pass from flower to flower it would be easy enough, but I would 
gather a full, fragrant and harmonious bouquet for my delight. 

To one sensitively loyal, each new friend must at first sight 
seem to come as a robber to steal a fragment of his heart from its 
rightful owner. We say, "Make many acquaintances but few 
friends," we swear undying devotion, and we promise to write every 
week; but, if we practice this reserve, this fastidious partiality and 
this exclusive attention, how shall we grow and increase in worth, and 
how shall the Brotherhood of Man be brought about? 

68 



THE COMMONPLACE 



We may think that each friend has his own place 
and is unique, satisfying some especial part of our 
nature; each to be kept separate in his niche, the jfttatllg and 
saint to whom we turn for sympathy in those matters jj&to 
wherein we have vowed him our confidences. We 
may satisfy our consciences by giving to each the same number of 
candles, and by a religious celebration of each Saint's day, keeping 
the calendar of our devotions independent and exclusive, but this 
method does not make for growth. It is our duty to help knit 
Society together, to modify extremes, to transmit and transform affec- 
tion. Surely there is love enough for all, and the more we give the 
more we shall have to give to our friends, whether they be old 
or new. 

Friendship is, however, a matter of caste. With just as many 
as share our point of view or can understand it, who laugh at 
the things we laugh at, who are tempted by our temptations and sin 
our sins, can we have a divine fellowship. Through these to others 
outside of our ken, through friend to friend's friend the tie passes 
that shall bind the whole world together at last. 

Our set of friends is a solar system, a cluster of planets, that, 
revolving about us, moves with the same trend through space and 
time. Each member of the fraternity has its own aphelion and 
perihelion, occultation and transit. Whether they are visible or 
invisible, we must be sure that each in due season will return to the 
same relative position and exert the same attraction, answering the 
law of gravity that in true friendship keeps them in their orbits about 
us. But the circles interlace, and in that is the possibility of keep- 
ing the unity of our constellation of friends. Were the same com- 
rades to accompany us unceasingly we could not develop. There 



69 



THE ROMANCE OF 



must be an intricate complication of actions and 
reactions, and we must be affected by each in turn and 
and m combination. 

What is a parting from a friend but a departure 
in quest of new experience? Each fresh meeting, 
therefore, should be the sharing of the fruits that both have gathered, 
that each may profit by the contribution. If you tell me of a book 
you have read, I am amused and profited by the knowledge you 
bring me; shall I not be grateful to you for what you bring from an 
interesting person ? If every new friend contributes to our develop- 
ment and enriches us by his personality, not only are we the better 
for it ourselves, but more worth while to our friends. It is not you 
as you are whom I love best, but you as you shall be when, in due 
time, you have come to your perfect stature; wherefore I shall not 
begrudge the loan of you to those who have set you on the way. 

Though we may hold one friend paramount over all others, 
and admit him to every phase of intimacy, there are minor confi- 
dences that are often most possible with an entire stranger. Were 
we to meet a man of the Sixteenth Century, what could we not tell 
such an impersonal questioner! What would we care for the little 
mortifications that come between even the best of friends? We 
could confess faults and embarrassments without shame, we could 
share every hope and doubt without fear, for he would regard us 
without bias or prejudice. He could scourge us with no whip of 
conventional morality, and he would be able to judge any action of 
itself, hampered by no code or creed. 

We had a game once, my sister and I, in which we agreed to 
look at each other suddenly, newly, as if we had never met 
before. Frequently we were able to catch a novel phase of character, 

70 



THE COMMONPLACE 



and our sub-conscious self, freed from the servitude 
of custom, bounded in a new emotion. Could we, in 
this way, at times regard our friends, how much we ftitntMl attil 
might learn ! We fall into the habit of seeing what we 
look for, and we compel old friends to live up to the 
preconception. Why not look at them, occasionally, as strangers to 
be studied and learned ? There are two variable quantities in the 
equation of friendship, Yourself and Myself. Nor is our relation 
itself fixed; it is alive and changing from hour to hour. There is no 
such thing as an unalterable friendship, for both parties to the affair 
are moving at different speeds, first one and then the other ahead, 
giving a hand to be helped on and reaching back to assist. Might 
we not, indeed, reverse the previous experiment and regard any 
stranger as a blood relative, assuming a fraternity of interest? We 
need only to be honest and kind. 

By these two processes we may keep old friends and make new 
ones ; and our conscience shall acquit us of disloyalty. When one 
enlarges one's establishment, one does not decrease either the wages 
or the duties of the servants before employed. The new members 
of the household have new functions. More is given and more is 
received. But it is not so much that one must give more as that 
one should give wisely and economically, we must be generous in 
quality rather than in quantity; for, though there is love enough 

to go round for all, there is not time enough for most of 

us. We must clasp hands, give the message and 

pass on, trusting to meet again on the 

journey, and come to the same 

inn at nightfall. 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Befense of |s>iang 



COULD Shakespeare come to Chicago and listen curiously 
to " the man in the street," he would find himself more 
at home than in London. In the mouths of messenger 
boys and clerks he would find the English language used 
with all the freedom of unexpected metaphor and the plastic, sug- 
gestive diction that was the privilege of the Elizabethan dramatists; 
he would say, no doubt, that he had found a nation of poets. There 
was hardly any such thing as slang in his day, for no graphic trope 
was too virile or uncommon for acceptance, if its meaning were pat- 
ent. His own heroes (and heroines, too, for Rosalind's talk was as 
forcible in figures of speech as any modern American's) often spoke 
what corresponds to the slang of today. 

The word, indeed, needs precise definition, before we condemn 
all unconventional talk with opprobrium. Slang has been called 
" poetry in the rough," and it is not all coarse or vulgar. There is 
a prosaic as well as a poetic license. The man in the street calls a 
charming girl, for instance, a " daisy." Surely this is not inelegant, 
and such a reference will be understood a century hence without a 
foot-note. Slang, to prove adjuvant to our speech, which is growing 
more and more rigid and conventional, should be terse ; it should 
make for force and clarity, without any sacrifice of beauty. Still, 
manner should befit matter; the American "dude" is, perhaps, no 
more unpleasant a word than the emasculated fop it described. The 
English " bounder " is too useful an appellation to do without in 



THE COMMONPLACE 



London, and, were that meretricious creature of pre- 
tence and fancy waistcoat more common in the United 
States, the term would be welcomed to American & 
slang with enthusiasm. New York, alas, has already Of 
produced "cads," but no Yankee school would ever 
tolerate a "fag." 

The mere substitution of a single synonymous term, however, 
is not characteristic of American slang. Your Chicago messenger 
boy coins metaphorical phrases with the facility of a primitive savage. 
A figure of speech once started and come into popular acceptance 
changes from day to day by paraphrase, and, so long as a trace of 
the original significance is apparent, the personal variation is compre- 
hensible, not only to the masses, but generally to those whose purism 
eschews the use of the common talk. Thus, to give "the glassy 
eye " became the colloquial equivalent of receiving a cool reception. 
The man on the street, inventive and jocose, does not stop at this. 
At his caprice it becomes giving " the frozen face " or even " the 
marble heart." In the same way one may hear a garrulous person 
spoken of as "talking to beat the band," an obvious metaphor; or, 
later, " to beat the cars." 

The only parallel to this in England is the " rhyming slang " 
of the costers, and the thieves' "patter." There a railway guard 
may be facetiously termed a " Christmas card," and then abbreviated 
to "card" alone, thence to permutations not easily traced. But Eng- 
lish slang is, for the most part, confined to the "masses," and is an 
incomprehensible jargon to all else save those who make an especial 
study of the subject. One may sit behind a bus driver from the 
Bank to Fulham, and understand hardly a sentence of his colloquies 
and gibes at the passing fraternity, but though the language of the 

73 



THE ROMANCE OF 



trolley conductor of Chicago is as racy and spirited, 
it needs less translation. The American will, it is 
SDtttnQt en ig ma tic at times ; you must put two and 



Of Slang ^Q t0 g et her. You must reduce his trope to ts 
lowest terms, but common sense will simplify it. 
It is not an empirical, arbitrary wit depending upon a music-hall 
song for its origin. I was riding on a Broadway car one day when a 
semi-intoxicated individual got on, and muttered unintelligibly, " Put 
me off at Brphclwknd Street, please." I turned to the conductor 
and asked, " What did he want ?" The official smiled. " You can 
search me ! " he said, in denial of any possession of apprehension. 

Slang in America, then, is expression on trial ; if it fits a 
hitherto unfurnished want it achieves a certain acceptance. But it is 
a frothy compound, and the bubbles break when the necessity of the 
hour is past, so that much of it is evanescent. Some of the older 
inventions remain, such as " bunco" and "lynch" and "chestnut," 
but whole phrases lose their snap like uncorked champagne, though 
they give their stimulant at the proper timely moment. Like 
the eggs of the codfish, one survives and matures, while a million 
perish. The "observed of all observers" (Ophelia's delicate slang, 
observe) was, yesterday, in New York "the main Guy," a term 
whose appositeness would be easily understood in London, where 
the fall of the Gunpowder Plot is still celebrated. Later, in 
Chicago, according to George Ade, a modern authority, it be- 
came the "main squeeze," and another permutation rendered the 
phrase useless. It is this facility of change that makes most slang 
spoil in crossing the Atlantic. On the other side, English slang 
is of so esoteric an origin and reference, that no Yankee can 
translate or adopt it. It is drop-forged and rigid, an empiric use of 

74 



THE COMMONPLACE 



words to express humour. What Englishman, indeed, 
could trace the derivation of "balmy on the crumpet" 
as meaning what the American would term " dotty" or ** * 



" bug-house," unless he was actually present at the 
music hall where it was first invented? 

We have at least three native languages to learn the colloquial, 
the literary prose, and the separate vocabulary of poetry. In America 
slang makes a fourth, and it has come to be that we feel it as incon- 
gruous to use slang on the printed page as it is to use " said he" or 
" she replied with a smile" in conversation, and, except for a few 
poets, such words as " haply," " welkin," or " beauteous" in prose. 
Yet Stevenson himself, the purist who avoids foreign words, uses 
Scotch which nearly approaches slang, for there is little difference 
between words of an unwritten dialect and slang, such as " scrannel " 
and " widdershins" ; while Wilkie Collins writes " wyte," "wanion," 
"kittle," "gar," and " collop" in with English sentences, as doubt- 
less many questionable words of today will be honoured in the 
future. 

Slang, the illegitimate sister of Poetry, makes with her a com- 
mon cause against the utilitarian economy of Prose. Both stand for 
lavish luxuriance in trope and involution, for floriation and adorn- 
ment of thought. It is their boast to make two words grow where 
but one grew before. Both garb themselves in metaphor, and the 
only complaint of the captious can be that whereas Poetry follows 
the accepted style, Slang dresses her thought to suit herself in 
fantastic and bizarre caprices that her whims are unstable and too 
often in bad taste. 

But this odium given to slang by superficial minds is unde- 
served. In other days, before the language was crystallized into 

75 



THE ROMANCE OF 



the verbiage and idiom of the doctrinaire, prose, too, 
was untrammelled. A cursory glance at the Eliza- 
bethan poets discloses a kinship with the rebellious 
Ol 5>ianff f anc } es o f our mo dern common colloquial talk. For 
gargarism, scarab, quodling, puckfist, scroyle, foist, 
pumpion, trindle-tale, comrogue, pigsbones, and ding-dong, we may 
now read chump, scab, chaw, yap, fake, bloke, pal, bad-actor, and so 
on. " She's a delicate dab-chick ! " says Ben Jonson ; " she had all 
the component parts of a peach," says George Ade. 

It will be seen that slang has two characteristics humour and 
force. Brevity is not always the soul of wit, for today we find 
amusement in the euphuisms that, in the sixteenth century were 
taken in all seriousness. The circumlocutions will drop speedily out 
of use, but the more apt and adequate neologisms tend to improve 
literary style. For every hundred times slang attributes a new 
meaning to an old word, it creates once or twice a new word for an 
old meaning. Many hybrids will grow, some flower and a few seed. 
So it is with slang. 

There is a " gentleman's slang," as Thackeray said, and there 
is the impossible kind ; but of the bulk of the American product, the 
worst to be said of it usually is that it is homely and extravagant. 
None the less is it a picturesque element that spices the language 
with enthusiasm. It is antiseptic and prevents the decay of virility. 
Literary style is but an individual, glorified slang. It is not impos- 
sible for the artist ; it went to its extreme in the abandon 
of Ben Jonson, Webster, and Beaumont and 
Fletcher, but, as your Cockney would 
say, "It does take a bit of 
doin' " nowadays. 

76 



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Cfje Ciwrntfi of SMperfection 



FOR a long time I have held a stubborn belief that I should 
admire and aim at perfection. I admitted its impossibility, 
of course ; I attributed my friends' failure to achieve it 
as a charming evidence of their humanity, but it seemed 
to me to be a thing most properly to be desired. And yet, upon 
thinking it over, I was often astonished by the discovery that most 
of my delights were caused by a divergence from this ideal. 
"A sweete disorder in the dress kindleth in cloathes a wantonness ! " 
Now, is this because I am naturally perverse, and enjoy the 
bizarre, the unique and the grotesque ? Is it because of my frailty 
that I take a dear delight in signs of our common humanity, in the 
petty faults and foibles of the world? Or is it because I have mis- 
interpreted this ideal of perfection, and have thought it necessary or 
proper to worship a conventional criterion? Celestine and I have 
been puckering our brows for a week over the problem ! 

We have learned, after a quarter of a century's experience with 
the turning lathe and fret saw, to turn back for lasting joy to hand- 
made work. We delight in the minor irregularities of a carving, for 
instance, recognizing that behind that slip of the tool there was a 
man at work; a man with a soul, striving for expression. The 
dreary, methodical uniformity of machine-made decoration and furni- 
ture wearies our new enlightened taste. Mathematical accuracy and 
"spirit" seem to be mutually exclusive, and we have been taught by 
the modern Esthetic almost to regard amateurishness as a sure proof 

77 



THE ROMANCE OF 



of sincerity. We cannot associate the abandon and 
naive enthusiasm of the pre-Raphaelites with the tech- 
Cf)armd Of n i ca l proficiency of the later Renascence, and Botticelli 
imperfection stands, not only for the spirit dominating and shining 
through the substance but, in a way, for the incom- 
patibility of perfect idealization with perfect execution. And yet this 
conflict troubles us. We feel that the two should be wedded, so that 
the legitimate offspring might be perfection; but when perfect tech- 
nique is attained, as in a Japanese carving, the result is almost as 
devoid of human feeling and warmth as a machine-made product. 

We feel this instinctive choice of irregularity wherever we turn 
wherever, that is, we have to do with humanity or human achieve- 
ment. We do not, it is true, delight in the flaw in the diamond, but 
elsewhere we are in perpetual conflict with nature, whose sole object 
seems to be the obliteration of extremes and the ultimate establish- 
ment of a happy medium of uniformity. We find perfection cold 
and lifeless in the human face. I doubt if a woman has ever been 
loved for an absolute regularity of feature; but how many, like little 
Celestine, who acknowledges herself that her nose is too crooked, 
her eyes too hazel, and her mouth too large, are bewilderingly charm- 
ing on that very account! These features go to make up an expres- 
sion, which, if it is not perfect, is certainly not to be accounted for 
by merely adding up the items. It is a case where the whole is 
greater than the sum of all its parts. We admire the anatomy and 
poise of the Greek statues, but they are not humanly interesting. 
Indeed, they were never meant to be, for they are divinities, and the 
symbols of an inaccessible perfection. 

Still, while we speak of certain faults as being adorable (notably 
feminine weaknesses), while we make the trite remark anent a man's 

78 



THE COMMONPLACE 



" one redeeming vice," while we shrink from natures 
too chaste, too aloof from human temptation, too 
uncompromising, yet we must feel a pang of con- Cf)atm0 Ot 
science. We are not living up to our ideals. Is it the Jmpftff CtlOH 
mere reaction from the impositions of conventional 
morality? I think not. It is a miscomprehension of the term per- 
fection. 

The Buddhist believes in a process of spiritual evolution that, 
tending ever toward perfection, finally reaches the state of Nirvana, 
where the individual soul is merged into the Infinite. How can it 
be differentiated from the universal spirit if it has attained all the 
attributes of divinity? And that idea seems to be the basis of our 
mistaken worship of perfection a Nirvana where each thing, being 
absolutely perfect, loses every distinguishing mark of character. But 
is not our Christian, or even the Pagan, ideal higher than this? For 
even the Greek gods, cold and exquisite as they were, had each his 
individuality, his character, his separate function. Our conception of 
Heaven, if it is ever formulated nowadays, has this differentiation of 
individuality strongly accented ; though the most orthodox may insist 
that the spirits of the blessed are sanctified with perfection, yet he 
does not hold it as a necessary dogma that they are therefore all alike, 
and recast in a common mould. He still dares believe in that infinite 
variety which Nature has taught us persists throughout the universe. 

This is the fundamental difference between the Oriental and the 
Occidental point of view. We moderns stand for the supremacy of 
character, an ineradicable distinction between human beings which 
evolution and growth does not diminish, but develops. We believe, 
you and I, that in a million aeons we shall be as different one from 
the other as we are now; that faults may be eradicated, weaknesses 



79 



THE ROMANCE OF 



lose their hold, but that our best parts will increase in 
virtue, not approaching some theoretical standard, but 
Of always and forever nearing that standard which is set 
JmpttffCtion f r ourselves. 

We have grown out of our admiration for the 
"copper-plate hand" in penmanship; we recognize the fact now, 
that we need not so much follow the specimens in the copy-book as 
to make the best of what is distinctive in our own style of writing. 
And this is a type of what our conception of perfection, perhaps, 
should be. Everything should be significant of character, should 
supplement it, translate it, explain it. In the Japanese prints you 
will find almost every face with the same meaningless expression, 
every feature calm, disguising every symptom of individuality. It 
is the Oriental pose, the Oriental ideal just mentioned. It is not 
considered proper to express either joy or sorrow, and the perfection 
of poise is a sublime indifference. 

And I have a final idea that may, to a more subtile student of 
^Esthetic, seem suggestive. In the beautiful parabola described by the 
mounting and descending sky-rocket the upward and downward path are 
not quite parallel. The stick does not drop vertically, although it con- 
tinually approaches that direction. In other words, the curve, con- 
stantly approaching a straight line, is beautiful despite, and, indeed, 
perhaps because it never quite attains that rectilinear perfec- 
tion and keeps its distinctive character to the end. 
It is beautiful in its whole progress, 
for that path defines the curve 
of the parabola. 



80 



THE COMMONPLACE 



flap's flje Ci)tng 



WOULD you rather see a good play performed by poor 
actors, or a poor play done by good actors ? " asked 
Celestine. 

As a professor of the romantic view of life and a 
" ghost-seer," there is but one answer to the question. " The play's 
the thing!" Acting is at best a secondary art an art, that is, of 
interpretation, though we as critics judge it of itself alone. But, to 
an idealist, no play ever is, or can be, perfectly performed. As we 
accept the conventions of stage carpentry, impossible cottages, flat 
trees, " property " rocks, misfit costumes and tinsel ornament, so we 
must gloss over the imperfections of the players, and accept their 
struttings and mouthings as the fantastic accessories of stage-land. 
No actor that ever lived ever acted throughout a whole drama as a 
sane human being would act. We are used to thinking the con- 
trary, but the compression of time and space prevents verisimili- 
tude. A play is not supposed to simulate life except by an established 
convention. Every art has its medium and its limitation. It is 
indeed a limitation that makes art possible. In the drama the limi- 
tation is the use of the time element. 

The play's the thing we may read it from the book or have 
it recited before the footlights, but the lasting delight is the charm of 
plot that, with the frail assistance of the actor, finds its way to our 
emotions. A good play done by poor actors, then, for me, if I must 
choose between the two evils. 

81 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Fancy creates ; imagination constructs. The child, 
sporting ingenuously with both these powers, dwells in 
a world of his own, either induced by his mastering 
fi at > or remodelled nearer to his heart's desire from the 
rags and fragments at hand. In his toy theatre alone 
is the perfect play produced, for there imagination is stage manager, 
and has the hosts of Wonderland in his cast. The child is the only 
perfect romanticist. He has the keen, fresh eye upon nature ; all is 
play, and the critical faculty is not yet aroused. So in a way, too, 
was all primitive drama. The audience at Shakespearean plays heard 
but noble poesies, saw but a virile dream made partly visible, like a 
ghost beckoning away their thoughts. So, even today, is the Chinese 
theatre, with its hundreds of arbitrary conventions, its lack of scenery, 
and its artificial eloquence. The veriest coolie knows that a painted 
face (a white nose, stripes and crosses on the cheeks) does but por- 
tray a masked intention, as if the actor bore a placard writ with the 
word " Villain." Forthwith, all the rest is faery. The player does 
but lightly guide the rein, and Pegasus soars free. 

So no play can be perfectly performed. We have created an 
artificial standard of realism, and we say that Bernhardt, Duse and 
Coquelin portray emotion with consummate art. It has been agreed 
by authorities on Esthetic that simulated passion surpasses in sug- 
gestive power real emotion. The actor must not " lose himself in 
his part" he must maintain the objective relation. None the less, 
however, must we, as audience, supply imagination to extend the 
play from art to life. From a romantic point of view, such devotion 
to realism is unnecessary. We are swayed by the wildest absurdities 
of melodrama, alike false to life and false to art, and we accept the 
operas of Wagner, with all their pasteboard dragons and bull-necked 

82 



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heroes belching forth technique, as impressive stimuli 

to the imagination. Even through such crude means, 

uplifted either by passionate brotherhood or upon the ^lap'0 t|)t 

wings of song, we are wafted far and fast. The play, tEDinff " 

oh ! the play's the thing ! 

For see ! If you prefer the bad play performed by the good 
actors, why not go to life itself? What else, indeed, is life ? It was 
the old Duke in Lewis Carroll's " Sylvie and Bruno " who first 
pointed this out. All the world's a stage where are performed the 
worst of badly constructed plays plays with neither unity nor 
sequence nor climax, but performed with absolute perfection. Why 
waste your time cursing the Adelphi, when, like the Duke, you can 
see the perfect art of the street ? The railway porter's dialect is still 
convincing. The fat woman with her screaming children may enter 
at any minute, with her touches of wonderful realism. If you go to 
the theatre for acting you go to the wrong place ! Watch the Pont 
Neuf for the despairing suicide, lurk in Whitechapel, visit in May- 
fair, coquette with a Spaniard's sweetheart, or rob a Jew, strike an 
Englishman, love an American girl, flirt with a French countess, or 
watch a Samoan beauty at the salt pools catching fish ; but try not to 
find perfect acting behind a row of footlights ! 

But if, after all, the play's the thing, it is as much a mistake to 
look for real drama upon the street. There everything is incom- 
plete, and, for the satisfaction of our aesthetic sense, we require the 
threads to be brought together, and the pattern developed, the knots 
tied. Our contemplation of life is usually analytic; we delight in 
discovering motives, elementary passions, traits of character and 
human nature. Our joy in art, on the other hand, arises from syn- 
thesis ; we love to see effect follow cause, and events march logically, 



8 3 



THE ROMANCE OF 



passions work themselves out, the triumph of virtue 
an d justice. Life, as we see it, is a series of photo- 
tfl* graphs. The drama presents these successively as in 
a biograph, with all the insignificant intermediary 
glimpses removed. We hunger for the finished story, 
the poem with the envoy. For this reason we have the drama 
and the novel. 

And now Celestine asks me, " Would you rather read a good 
story poorly written than a poor story well written ? " 

The question is as fair as the other, though not quite in the 
same case. We may agree that acting is a secondary art, but litera- 
ture has more dignified claims to considerations. Here we arc con- 
templating a wedding of two arts, not the employment of one by 
another. One might as well say, then, "Would you rather see a 
good man married to a bad woman or the reverse ? " It is the critic 
who attempts always to divorce the two. 

Yet, as in almost all marriage, where two arts work together one 
is usually the more important. One may have one's preferences, 
but the selection of that art which embodies an idea, rather than the 
one which aims at an interpretation, marks the romanticist's point of 
view. One art must be masculine, creative, and the other feminine 
and adorning. The glory of the one is strength, of the other beauty. 
For me, then, the manly choice. Give me the good story badly 
told, the fine song poorly sung, the virile design clumsily carved, 
rather than the opposite cases. The necessity of such a choice is 
not a mere whim of Celestine's ; it is a problem we are forced to 
confront every day. We must take sides. It is not often, even 
from the Philistine's point of view, that we have the good thing well 
done, while the poor thing badly done we have everywhere. Between 



84 



THE COMMONPLACE 



flap's t|)t 



these limits of perfection and hopelessness, then, lies 
our every-day world of art, and there continually we 
must make our choice. 

If we could deal with abstractions, there would 
be no question at all, and undoubtedly we would all 
prefer to enjoy the disincarnate ideal rather than any incomplete 
embodiment, no matter how praiseworthy the presentment. But few 
of us are good enough musicians to hear the music in our mind's ear 
when we look over the score of an opera ; few of us can dream whole 
romances like Dumas, without putting pen to paper ; few, even, can 
long remember the blended glories of a sunset. We must have some 
tangible sign to lure back memory and imagination, and if we recog- 
nize the fact that such symbols are symbols merely, conventions 
without intrinsic value as art, then we have the eyes of the child and 
the romantic view of life. 
And lastly, Celestine leaned to me in her green kimono and 

said, "Would you rather see a pretty girl in an ugly 



gown, or an ugly girl in a pretty 
Ah, one does not need to hold 
romantic view of life to an- 
swer that question ! 



gowni 
the 



THE ROMANCE OF 



alone 



I HAVE lived so long alone now, that it seems almost as if there 
were two of me one who goes out to see friends, transacts 
business and buys things, and one who returns, dons more 
comfortable raiment, lights a pipe, and dreams. One the world 
knows, the other no one knows but the flies on the wall. 

I keep no pets, since these would enforce my keeping regular 
hours ; the only familiars I have, therefore, are my clock, my fire and 
my candles, and how companionable these may become one does not 
know who does not live alone. They owe me the debt of life, and 
repay it each in its own way, faithfully and apparently willingly. I 
have a lamp, too; but a lamp is a dull thing, especially when half- 
filled, and this one bores me. I might count my typewriter, also, 
but she is too strenuous, and she makes me too impatient by her in- 
ability to spell. Besides, the clock, fire and candles may, with no 
great stretch of the imagination, be readily conceived to have voli- 
tion, and, once started, they contribute not a little to relieving the 
tedium of living alone. 

My clock is always the same; it has no surprises. It may go a 
bit fast or slow, but it has a maddeningly accurate conscience, and its 
fidelity in ringing the eight-o'clock alarm proves it inhuman. Still, 
it lives and moves, beating a sober accompaniment to my thoughts. 
Altogether, it is not unlike a faithful, conscientious servant, never 
obtrusive, always punctual and obedient, but with an unremitting 
devotion to orders that is at times exasperating. Many a man 

86 



THE COMMONPLACE 



has stood in fear and shame of his valet, and so I look 

askance furtively with a suppressed curse when the 

hands point to my bath, my luncheon, or my sortie 

into town. It would be a relief, sometimes, if my clock **l&nt 

stopped, were I not sure that it would be my fault. 

But my fire is more feminine, full of moods and whims, ardent, 
domestic and inspiring. Now, a fire, like a woman, should be some- 
thing besides beautiful, though in many houses the hearth is a mere 
accessory. It should have other uses than to provide mere warmth, 
though this is often its sole reason for being. Nor should it be a 
mere culinary necessity, though I have known open fires to be kindled 
for that alone, and treated as domestic servants. In my house the 
fire has all these functions and more, for it is my friend and has con- 
soled many lonely moments. It is a mistress, full of unexpected 
fancies and vagaries. It has, too, a more sacred quality, for it is an 
altar where I burn the incense of memory and sacrifice to the gods 
of the future. It is both human and divine, a tool and symbol at once. 

No one, I think, can know how much of all this a fire can be, 
who has not himself laid, lighted and kindled and coaxed it, who 
has not utilized its services and accepted its consolations. My fire 
is, however, often a jealous mistress. She warms me and makes my 
heart glad, but I dare not leave her side on a wintry day. I must 
keep well within bounds, hold her hand or be chilled. I need but 
little urging! I pull up my couch, take pencil and paper, and 
she twinkles and purrs by my side, casting flickering glances at 
me as I work. 

Not till the flames die down and the coals glow soberly red do 
I find the more practical pleasures of friendship and housewifely ser- 
vice. Now my fire plays the part of cook, and, in her proper sphere, 



87 



THE ROMANCE OF 



outdoes every stove or range ever lighted. A little 
duck laid gently across the grate, the kettle whistling 
w - lt ^ steamj an( j ^ co ffee-pot ready what bachelor 
was ever attended by more charming handmaiden than 
I by my little open fire ? She will heat an iron or 
shaving-water as gracefully, too, waiting upon me with a jocund will- 
ingness. No servant could be so companionable. Still, she must 
be humoured as one must always humour a woman. Try to drive 
her, or make her feel that she is but a slave, and you shall see how 
quickly she resents it. There is a psychological moment for broil- 
ing on an open fire, and postponement is fatal. It takes a world of 
petting and poking to sooth her caprice when she is in a blazing 
temper, but remember her sex, and she melts in a glow like a 
mollified child. 

Kindling and lighting my fire is a ritual. I cannot go about it 
thoughtlessly or without excitement. The birth of the first curling 
flame inspires me, for the heart becomes an altar sacred to the house- 
hold gods. If the day offers the least plausible pretext for a fire, I 
light one and sit down in worship. I resent a warm morning, when 
economy struggles with desire. Luckily my studio is at the north 
of the house, and, no matter if the sun is warm abroad, there is 
a cool corner waiting where a fire needs no apology. The sun 
creeps in toward noon and puts out the flames, but all the morning 
I enjoy the blaze. 

In the evening the fire becomes absolutely necessary, and pro- 
vides both heat and light, giving a new life of its own to the dark- 
ness of the room. Then I become a Parsee, put on my sacerdotal 
robes (for such lonely priestcraft requires costume), and fall into a 
reverie. For my sacrifices, old letters feed the flames. They say that 

88 



THE COMMONPLACE 



coal, in burning, gives back the stored sunlight of 
past ages. What lost fires burn, then, when love- 
letters go up in smoke to illumine for one brief, last 
instant the shadows of memory ! JftlOlW 

My candles partake of the nature of both clock 
and fire. They are to be depended upon, when let alone, to burn 
just six hours, marking the time like the ticking pendulum, but 
they give light and warmth, too, in their own way, in gentle imitation 
of the fire. They also have moods less petulant than the fire's 
but they require as little attention as the clock. The fire seems 
immortal ; though the coals fade into ashes, the morning's resurrec- 
tion seems to continue the same personality, and the same flames 
seem to be incarnated living again the same old life. But the life 
of a candle seems visibly limited to a definite space of time, and its 
end is clearly to be seen. In that aspect it seems more human and 
lovable than the fire a candle is more like a petted animal, whose 
short life seems to lead to nothing beyond. We may put more 
coals on the fire, and continue its existence indefinitely, but the 
candle is doomed. Putting another one in the socket does not 
renew a previous existence. But, if it is a short life, it is a merry 
one, and its service is glad and generous. My little army of candles 
is constantly being replenished. Like brave and loyal soldiers, they 
lay down their lives gallantly in my cause, and new ones fill up the 
vacant ranks, fighting the powers of darkness. 

This is my bachelor reverie. But high noon approaches, and 

my metamorphosis is at hand. Now the sun has struck 

the fire-place with a lance of light, and I, that 

other I, must rise, dress and out 

into the world ! 

89 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Cartomanta 



WITH something of the excitement Alice felt when she 
crawled through the looking-glass, I used to pore over 
my atlas. Geography was for me a pastime rather than 
a study. There was one page in the book where the 
huge bulging expanse of the United States lay, and there, on the 
extreme left hand of the vari-coloured patchwork of States and terri- 
tories, was the abode of romance and adventure a long and narrow 
patch tinted pink, curving with the Pacific Ocean, and ribbed with 
the fuzzy haschures of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was the 
Ultima Thule of my dreams, beyond which my sober-minded hopes 
dared not stray. 

Further on in the book I saw Europe, irregular with ragged 
peninsulas and bays, Asia, vast and shapeless, with the great blue 
stretch of Siberia atop, and the clumsy barren yellow triangle of 
Africa. But these foreign countries were, to my young imagination, 
as inaccessible as Fairyland ; they did not properly come into the 
world of possibility. They were as unreal as ghosts, remote as the 
Feudal Ages, and I put them by with a sigh as hopeless. The world 
is a big place to the eyes of a child, and all beyond his ken but 
names. How could I know that the end of the century was even 
then whirling me toward wonders that even my Arabian Magi 
would not have thought possible ? But today, in this far Western 
town, then but a semi-barbarous camp of gold miners, I have seen 
an airship half-completed upon the stocks, and this morning, in my 

90 



THE COMMONPLACE 



own room, I rang up Celestine and talked with her 
over the wire a hundred miles away ! 

Maps were my favourite playgrounds, and so real 
were they that it almost seemed that, with a suffi- Btftnta 
ciently powerful microscope, I might see the very 
inhabitants living their strangely costumed customs. There was a 
black dot on my fascinating pink patch marked San Francisco, and 
now, that dream come true, I try to see this city with the eyes of 
my childhood, and wonder that I am really here. To get the 
strangeness of the chance I have to think back and back till I see 
that map stretched out before the boy, and follow his finger across 
the tiers of States that run from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

Everyone who has not travelled much must feel the excitement 
that maps give when intently studied. No one has been everywhere, 
and for each some unvisited spot must charm him with its romantic 
possibilities. But there are certain cities almost universally enticing 
to the imagination the world's great meeting-places, where, if one 
but waits long enough, one can find anybody. London, Cairo, 
Bombay, Hongkong, San Francisco, New York these are the jewels 
upon the girdle that surrounds the globe. To know these places is 
to have lived to the full limit of Anglo-Saxon privilege. 

But the true cartomaniac is not content with ready-made coun- 
tries; he must build his own lands. How many kingdoms and 
empires have I not drawn from the tip of my pencil ! Now, the 
achievement of a plausible state is not so easy as it might appear. 
There is nothing so difficult as to create, out of hand, an interesting 
coast line. Try and invent an irregular shore that shall be convinc- 
ing, and you will see how much more cleverly Nature works than you. 
Here is where accident surpasses design. Spill a puddle of coloured 

9 1 



THE ROMANCE OF 



water on a sheet of paper and pound it with your fist, 
and lo, an outline is produced which you could not 
excel in a day's hard work with your pencil ! 

The establishment of a boundary line, too, re- 
quires much thought in order that your frontier 
interlocks well with your neighbours'. Your rivers must be well 
studied, your mountains planned, and your cities located according to 
the requirements of the game. You must name your places, you 
must calculate your distances, and you must erase and correct many 
times before you can rival the picturesque possibilities of such a land 
as India, for instance, which, from the point of view of the sentimen- 
tal cartographer, is one of the most interesting of states. 

If such an effort is too difficult for the beginner, one might 
begin with a country of which something is known, yet which never 
has been charted. "Gulliver's Travels," for instance, contains 
information of many lands that should be drawn to scale. Lilliput, 
Brobdignag, Laputa, and the land of horses would alone make a 
very interesting atlas. The geography of Fairyland affords charming 
opportunities for the draughtsman. For myself, I prefer the magical 
territory of the Arthurian legends, and I have platted Sir Launcelot's 
Isle, with Joyous Gard at the northern end, high over the sea. 
There is a pleasaunce, a wood, a maze, and a wharf jutting out into 
a shallow, smiling water, while the lists occupy a promontory to the 
south. 

Oh, the opportunities are many for the cartomaniac ! Who 
has mapped Utopia, Atlantis, Alice's Wonderland, or the countries 
of the Faerie Queene ? Who has reconstructed the plans of Troy ? 
And there are other allegorical lands, too, that should be mapped. 
I have had a try myself at the modern " Bohemia," and have taken 

92 



THE COMMONPLACE 



the liberty of shewing within its much-maligned 
borders Arcady and the Forest of Arden. I have 
even planned Millamours, the city of a thousand 
loves, and I am now attempting to draw a map of the 
State of Literature in the year 1902. 

There are many celebrated edifices, too, that might be trifled 
with. I have a friend, an architect, who has completed the Castle of 
Zenda, and he is now occupied with Circe's palace, with a fine eye to 
the decorative effect of the pig-pens. Think of laying out the gar- 
dens, grottoes, and palaces of the Arabian Nights ! Why has the 
Castle of Otranto been neglected and Udolpho, and Castle Danger- 
ous, and the Moated Grange ? 

Many novelists, and, I think, most writers of pure romance, 
have played this game. Stevenson, dreaming in his father's office, 
drew the map of Treasure Island, and from that chart came forth, 
hint by hint, the suggestions for his masterpiece. Maurice Hewlett 
drew a plat of the ancient marches and forests where the Forest 
Lovers wandered, and it is a pity he did not publish it in more 
detail. This is one of the graphical solutions of story writing, a 
queer, anomalous method whereby the symbol suggests the concept. 
The cheaper magazines often use old cuts, and request some hack to 

write a story to fit the illustration. But the map is an 

abstraction ; its revelations are cabalistic, not definite. 

A good map is a stage set for romantic fiction, 

ready for anybody who can write 

or dream the play. 



93 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Cije Science of ^flatter? 



TIME was when people were less sophisticated and almost 
everybody could be flattered. A compliment was the 
pinch of salt that could be placed upon any bird's tail. 
But such game is scarcer now, and to capture one's quarry 
one has to practice all the arts of modern social warfare. We have, 
for instance, been taught to believe, time out of mind, that women 
are especially susceptible to this saccharine process ; that one had but 
to make a pretty speech, and her conquest was assured. But what 
lady nowadays can take a compliment without bridling? It is as 
much as a man's reputation is worth to make a plain, straightforward 
statement of approbation. He must veil his meaning so that it can 
be discovered only by a roundabout reflection. Whether it be true 
or not, he is held offensively responsible for the blush with which it 
is received. 

So, to be successful, one must be politic and tactful ; one must 
adopt the indirect method, and, above all, one must escape the obvi- 
ous. To say what has been said many times before defeats the very 
purpose, whether it be good or evil, for which we flatter. The artist 
discards the hackneyed compliment, and endeavours to place his 
arrow in a spot that has never been hit before. He will compliment 
a poet upon his drawings and a painter upon his verses. If a woman, 
ordinarily plainly dressed, has a single effective garment, does he 
compliment her upon that particular costume ? By no means. Sub- 
tilty demands that he flatter her by pointing out some interesting 

94 



THE COMMONPLACE 



feature in one of her common frocks, without hinting 

that it is surprising to see her particularly well clad. 

Such compliments have the flavour of novelty, and are fectaUf Of 

treasured up by the recipient, to be quoted long after jflatUtp 

the donor has forgotten them. 

The tribute of unexpected praise is more grateful to a person 
than the reward for which he works hardest and is most confident. 
It discovers to him new and pleasing attributes. It has all the zest 
and relish that the particular always has more than the general. And, 
besides, for the person who happens to light upon some little favourite 
trick of individuality, and to notice and to comment upon it, the 
reward is great. Such a flatterer is, in the heart of the flattered one, 
throned with the authority of discernment; he is considered for- 
ever after as a critic of the first importance. Everyone has a hobby, 
an idiosyncrasy, visible or invisible ; it is the art of the flatterer to 
discover it, and his science to use it to his own ends. 

Flattery is, however, an edged tool, and must be used with care. 
It is not everyone who has the tact to decide at a glance just how 
much his victim will stand. He may know enough, perhaps, to 
praise the author of a successful book for some other one of his 
works which has not attained a popular vogue ; he may have the 
discretion to banter men about their success with the opposite sex, 
and to accuse women of cleverness ; but for all that he may often 
misjudge his object, and give embarrassment if not actual affront. 
For all such the safest weapon is the written word. 

This is the ambush from which your prey cannot escape. If a 
letter of praise, of compliment, or even of deliberate flattery, is made 
decently interesting, if it is not too grossly cloying even for private 
perusal, it cannot fail to count. It has to be paid for by no blush, 

95 



THE ROMANCE OF 



no awkward moment, no painful conspicuous self-con- 
sciousness, no hypocritical denial. It strikes an unde- 
Of fending victim, and brings him down without a struggle. 
Such tributes of praise can be read and reread without 
mortification. It is a sweet-smelling incense that 
burns perpetually before the shrine of vanity. One compliment writ- 
ten down in black and white is worth any number of spoken words, 
and the trouble that has been taken to commit such praise to paper 
gives the offering an added interest and importance. Anything that 
can be said can be written, from the eulogy of a lady's slipper to the 
appreciation of a solo on the harp. You may be sure that any 
unconventionality of manner will be atoned for by the seduction of 
a honeyed manner. Stevenson, in his playful " Decalogue for Gen- 
tlemen," set down as his first canon, "Thou shalt not write an 
anonymous letter," but it cannot be doubted that he would have 
excepted an unsigned note of admiration. 

The element of time, in flattery, too, is often disregarded. Few 
would-be flatterers understand the increased influence of a compli- 
ment deferred. It is again the same case of the misuse of the obvious. 
When your friend's book appears, or his picture is displayed, there 
are enough to compliment him on the spot, but your own sympa- 
thetic endorsement, delayed a few months, or even iterated, comes to 
him when he is least expecting the compliment. He is off his guard, 
and the shot goes home. When I give Celestine a present she 
thanks me immediately, of course, but that is not the last of it. In 
every third letter or so I am reminded of her gratitude and my 
kindness. 

There is, however, a flattery of manner as well as one of matter. 
Celestine, to whose wise counsels I am indebted for many a short cut 

96 



THE COMMONPLACE 



in the making of friends, once laid down for me the 
following rules for dealing with women : 

First, be intellectual with pretty women. &CittW Of 

Second, be frivolous with intellectual women. jflatUt? 

Third, be serious and empresse with young girls. 

Fourth, be saucy and impudent with old ladies. Call them by 
their first names, if necessary. 

It goes without saying that such audacious methods require 
boldness and sureness of touch, especially in the application of the 
fourth rule. But even that, when attempted with spirit and assur- 
ance, has given miraculous results. In a case where a woman's age 
is in question, action speaks far louder than words. 

Perhaps the most successful method of flattery is that of the 
person who makes the fewest compliments. To gain a name for 
brusqueness and frankness is, in a way, to attain a reputation for 
sincerity. Whether this is just or not, it is undoubtedly true that 
the occasional unlocked for praise of such a person acquires an exag- 
gerated importance and worth. This system is similar to that of the 
billiard-player who goes through the first half of his game wretchedly 
in order to surprise his opponent with the dexterity of his shots later 
on. But it is an amateurish ruse, and is soon discovered and dis- 
counted at its true value. Yet in a way, too, it is justifiable, since 
unpleasant comments are usually accepted as candid, while pleasant 
ones alone are suspected. 

There is a kind of conscious vanity to which flattery comes wel- 
comely, however patent the hyperboles may appear. To such per- 
sons, and there are many, a certain amount of adulation oils the 
mental machine. They do not believe all that is said, but prefer, on 
the whole, to be surrounded by pleasant fictions rather than by 

97 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Many 



unpleasant facts. They prefer harmony to honesty, 
and, though the oil on the troubled waters of life does 
Of not dispel the storm, it makes easier sailing. To 
others, especially if they be creators in any art, com- 
pliments stimulate and impel to their best endeavour. 
a man has achieved a masterpiece chiefly because a woman 
declared him capable of it. 

The question of the object for which flattery is employed is here 
beside the mark. It may be used or misused ; it may be true or 
false of itself, although, to be sure, the word flattery has attained an 
evil significance and has come to stand for counterfeit approval. All 
that has been said, however, applies to one as well as to the other. 
Even when praise has the least foundation in fact, it may prove bene- 
ficial to the person flattered, arousing a pride which creates the 
admired quality that was wholly lacking. Thus I have known a 
man notorious for his vulgarity stimulated to a very creditable polite- 
ness by the most undeserved and insincere compliment upon his table 
manners. 

I have used the three testimonials of admiration as 

synonymous, but Celestine says that praise is 

a rightful fee, a compliment is 

a tip, and that flattery 

is bribery. 



98 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Romance Cn &oute 



HOW tired I am of the question, " How do you like 
London ? " and " How do you like New York? " " Would 
you rather live in San Francisco or Paris?" Why, 
indeed, should I not like London, Kalamazoo, Patagonia, 
Bombay, or any other place where live men and women walk the 
streets, eat, drink, and are merry ? How can I say whether El Dorado 
is better than Arcady, or a square room more convenient than an 
oblong one? Every living place has its own fascination, its mys- 
teries, its characteristic delights. Ask me, rather, if I can understand 
London, if I can catch the point of view of the French concierge, if I 
comprehend the slang and bustle of Chicago ? Like them ? Show 
me the town I cannot like ! Know them ? Ah, that is different ! 
This is the charm of travel to keep up the feeling of strange- 
ness to the end, never to take things for granted or let them grow 
stale, to see them always as though one had never seen them before. 
Then, and only then, can we see things as they really are. When I 
become cosmopolitan, world-old, blast, when I think and speak in 
all languages, I shall fly to some deserted island to study the last, 
most impenetrable enigma myself. 

But meanwhile, I can purchase romance retail, at the mere cost 
of a railway ticket. I can close my eyes in one city, and wake next 
morning in its mental antipode. Romance requires only a new point 
of view; it is the art of getting fresh glimpses of the commonplace. 
One need not be transported to the days of chivalry, one need not 

99 



THE ROMANCE OF 



even travel ; one need only begin life anew every 
morning, and look out upon the world unfamiliarly as 
(; j le C j 1 jj c j d oes . One must be born a discoverer. 
1K-OUW Thus one may keep youth, for the sport never loses 
colour. One game won or lost, the next has an equal 
interest, though we use the same counters and the same board. The 
combinations are always fresh. 

Still, though one may find this fountain of perpetual youth in 
one's breakfast glass, the obvious conventional method is to go forth 
for the adventure, and get this famed elixir at some foreign and well- 
advertised spring. For this purpose tourists travel, taking part in 
a pilgrimage of whose meaning and proper method they are wholly 
ignorant. In their boxes and portmanteaus they pack, not hopes of 
mystery, faith in the compelling marvels of the world, nor the won- 
der of strange sights; but instead, fault-finding comparisons, and 
prejudice against all manners not their own. They do not see, in 
the omnibus of London, the automobile of Paris, the electric trolley 
of New York and the cable car of San Francisco, the pregnant evi- 
dence of several points of view on life, art and commerce, but they 
perceive only grotesque contrasts with their own particular means of 
locomotion. They do not delight in the incomprehensible hurly- 
burly of civilization that has produced the City Man, the Bounder, 
the Coster, the Hoodlum, Hooligan and Sundowner, nor do they 
attempt to solve the mystery or get the meat from such strange shells. 
Instead, they see only the clerk at the lunch-counter bolting his chops 
and half- pint, the incredible waistcoat of the pretentious blagueur, or 
the buttons and " moke " of the ruffling D'Artagnan of the Old 
Kent-road. 

So the tourist travels with his eyes shut, while the true traveller 

100 



THE COMMONPLACE 



has a lookout on life, keen for new sensations. To do 
things in Rome as the Romans do, that is his motto. 
He must eat spaghetti with his fingers, his rice and 
chopped suey with chop-sticks, or he fails of their subtle * n 
relish. He calls no Western town crude or uncivil- 
ized, but he tries to cultivate a taste for cocktails, that he may imbibe 
the native fire of occidental enthusiasm. In the East he is an 
Oriental; he changes his mind, his costume and his spectacles 
wherever he goes, and underneath the little peculiarities of custom 
and environment, he finds the essential realities of life. 

To taste all this fine, crisp flavour of living not to write about 
it or fit it to sociological theories, but to live it, understand it, be it 
this is the art of travel, the art of romance, the art of youth. But 
there is no Baedeker to guide such a sentimental tourist through 
such experiences as these. It takes a lively glance to recognize a 
man disguised in a frock coat, and to find him blood brother to the 
Esquimau ! 

Well, there is a place in Utah on the Central Pacific Railroad 
called Monotony. The settlement consists of a station, a water- 
tank, and a corrugated iron bunk-house. The level horizon swings 
round a full circle, enclosing a flat, arid waste, bisected by an unfenced 
line of rails, straight as a stretched string. The population consists 
of a telegraph operator, a foreman, and six section hands. Yet I 
dare say I would like to stay there awhile, on the way, and perhaps I 

would taste some charm that London never gave. I am 

not so sure that but that before I took wing 

again I might not like it, in some 

respects, better even 

than Paris. 

101 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Cfje Ct>se of flje 



TO FIND the colonial or the provincial more cultured, 
better educated in life and keenlier cognizant of the 
world's progress than the ordinary metropolitan, is a 
common enough paradox. Class for class, the outlander 
has more energy, greater sapience and a truer zest of intellect than 
the citizen at the capital. By the outlander is not meant, however, 
the mere suburban or rural inhabitant, but the dweller at the outpost 
of civilization, the picket on the edge of the world. 

Let us grant that, in the gross, every new community must be 
crude it takes time to grow ivy over the walls, to soften the 
primary colours into harmonious tones, to smooth off the rough 
edges, but let us also grant that, at all the back doorways of 
empire, in far-away corners of the earth, are assembled little coteries 
of men and women who, by reason of their very isolation, rather 
than despite it, have made themselves cosmopolitan, catholic, 
eclectic, and stand ever ready to welcome, each in his own polite 
dialect and idiom, the astonished traveller who thinks he has left 
all that is great and good behind. 

This compensation is, indeed, a natural law. If we cut back 
half the shoots of a shrub, the surviving sprouts will be more 
vigorous. The deprivation of one sense renders the others more 
acute. Make it hard for an ambitious lad to obtain an education, 
and, working alone by candle-light, he will outstrip the student 
with greater advantages. So it is with the colonial who realizes 

102 



THE COMMONPLACE 



his poverty of artistic and intellectual resources. He 

must, in self-defense and to compensate for his 

isolation, make friends with the world at large, and p( 

his mental vision, accustomed to long ranges of 

sight, becomes sharp and subtile. To avoid the 

reproach of provincialism he studies the great centers of thought 

and watches eagerly for the first signs of new growths in fads, 

fashions, art and politics. It is for this reason that the British 

colonial is more British than the Englishman at home. 

Plunged in the midst of the turmoil of every-day excitements, 
the dwellers in great cities lose much of the true and fine signifi- 
cance of things. A thousand enterprises are beginning, and amidst 
a myriad essays the headway of yesterday's novelty is lost in the 
struggle of today's agonists. The little, temporary, local success 
seems big with import, and the slower development of more serious 
and permanent virtues is ignored. Things are seen so closely 
that they are out of true proportion, and they are seen through 
media of personality that diffract and magnify. 

But the provincial, far from this complicated aspect of intel- 
lectual life, gains greatly in perspective. Separated by great space, 
he is, in a way, separated by time also, and he sees what another 
generation will perhaps see in the history of today. For he watches 
not only literary London, that tiniest and most garrulous of gos- 
siping villages, but a dozen other hives of thought as well, and 
from his very distance can the more easily discern the first signs 
of pre-eminence. His ears are not ringing with a myriad petty 
clamours, but he can hear, rising above the multitudinous hum, the 
voice of those who sing clearest. The connoisseur in art views a 
painting from across the hall the lover of music does not sit too 

IO3 



THE ROMANCE OF 



close to the orchestra and so the intelligent looker- 
Cdg on at life does not come too often in familiar touch 

Of t$ with the aspirants for fame. Living, as one might 

dClOtld say, upon a hill, the stranger thus gets the range, 

volume and trend of human activities, and sees their 

movements, like those of armies marching below him, though 

they seem as ants, so far away. He can trace the direction of 

waves of emotion that follow round the earth like tides of the sea. 

In every community, however small or remote, there are a 
few who delight in this comprehensive view of things, who keep 
up with the times, and, so far as their immediate neighbours are 
concerned, are ahead of the prevailing mode. As the meteorologist, 
studying the reports from North, South, East and West, can trace 
the progress of storm and wind, so these intelligent observers can 
predict what will be talked about next, and how soon the first 
murmurs will reach their shores. Their cosmic laboratory is the 
club library table, with its journals and periodicals from all over 
the world. 

The first hint of a new success in literature comes from the 
London weeklies, and then, if the British opinion is corroborated 
by American favour, the New York papers take up the note of 
praise, and one may follow the progress of a novel's triumph 
across three thousand five hundred miles of continent, or see 
the word pass from colony to colony, over the whole empire. 
The Londoner sees but the bubbles at the spring the pioneer by 
the Pacific watches the course of a mighty stream increasing in 
depth and width. Tomorrow, or in three months, the vogue will 
reach his own town, and he will smile to see all tongues wag of the 
latest literary success. 

IO4 



THE COMMONPLACE 



So it is with art, so it is with fashions, with the 
drama and with every fad and foible, from golf and 
Babism to the last song and catchword of the music of 
halls. The colonial is behind the times ? What 
does it matter! Are we not all behind the times of 
tomorrow ? So long as we cannot travel faster than the news, it 
makes little difference ; and it is wise, when we are in San Francisco, 
to do as the Franciscans do. It is as bad to be ahead of the times 
as to be behind, and it is best to follow the style of one's own 
locality, with a shrewd eye to one's purchases for the future, buying 
what we can see must come into popular favour. 

But does your metropolitan enjoy this complexity, this living 
in the future ? Not he ! He cares nothing for the vieux jeu. 
For him, ping-pong is dead or dying he neither knows nor cares 
that it still lives in the Occident, marching in glory ever towards 
the West, along the old trail to fame. Of the last six successful 
books discussed over his muffins, does he know which have been 
virile enough to survive transplanting to other shores which have 
emigrated and become naturalized in the colonies? No! He is 
for the next little victory at the tea tables of the elect ! 

And yet, this afterglow, this subsequent invasion of new terri- 
tory is what brings enduring fame. Before the city election is 
substantiated, the country must be heard from. The urban hears 
the solo voices of adulation, the worship of those near and dear to 
celebrity, but the great chorus that sweeps the hero up to Parnassus 
comes from a wider stage. The army of invasion never comes home 
again to be hailed as victor until it has encircled the globe. But 
it is the greater conquest that the dweller at the outpost sees, at first 
like a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, and it is his game to watch 

I0 5 



THE ROMANCE OF 



CEtJff 
Ot t$t 



and await it. It is better so. Waste no pity upon him 
at tne ec %e of the world. For the big game needs big 
men, and it is the boldest and most strenuous spirits who 
push to Ultima Thule. The ansemic and neurotic do 
not emigrate ; the reddest blood has flowed in the veins 
of the pioneer ever since the first migration. He does things, rather 
than talks of things others have done he knows life, even if he knows 
not Ibsen. Meet him in his far-away home, and he holds your 
interest with an unlooked-for charm ; take him to the Elgin marbles 
and he will have and hold his own idea of art unborrowed from 
text-books. He knows more of your city's history than you do 
yourself; panic or the furor of a fashion cannot hypnotize him. 
The importance of a celebrated name cannot embarrass him, for he 
has met men unknown to fame who have lived as uncrowned kings. 
He has seen cities rise from the plain. He has made the wilderness 
to blossom like the rose ; he has lived, not written epics. 

And in addition to gaining all this experience that trained the 

pioneers of old, he has, while living at the confines of civilization, 

kept in touch with the world, and has tasted the exhilarating flavour 

of the old and new in one mouthful. For, in this century, 

distance is swept away and no land is really isolate. 

The pioneer lives like a god above distinc- 

tions of time, at once in the past, 

the present and the future. 



106 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cijc Jitarp f^afrit 



FOR seven years I have kept my diary scrupulously, 
without missing a day, and now, at the beginning of a 
new twelvemonth, I am wondering whether I should 
maintain or renounce it. There are certain good habits, 
it would seem, as hard to break as bad ones, and if the practice of 
keeping a daily journal is a praiseworthy one, it derives no little of its 
virtue from sheer inertia. The half-filled book tempts one on; 
there is a pleasure in seeing the progress of the volume, leaf by leaf; 
like sentimental misers, we hoard our store of memories. We end 
each day with a definite statement of fact or fancy, and it grows 
harder and harder to abstain from the self-enforced duty. Yet it is 
seldom a pleasure, when one is fatigued with excitement or work, to 
transmit our affairs to writing. Some, it is true, love it for its own 
sake, or as a relief for pent-up emotions, but, in one way or another, 
most autobiographical journalists consider the occupation as a pru- 
dent depositor regards his frugal savings in the bank. Some time, 
somehow, they think, these coined memories will prove useful. 

Does this time ever come, I wonder ? For me it has not come 
yet, though I still picture a late reflective age when I shall enjoy re- 
calling the past, and live again my old sensations. But life is more 
strenuous than of yore, and even at seventy or eighty, nowadays, no 
one need consider himself too old for a fresh, active interest in the 
world about him. Your old gentleman of today does not sit in his 
own corner of the fireplace and dote over the lost years ; he reads 

107 



THE ROMANCE OF 



the morning papers, and insists upon going to the 
theatre with his nieces on wet evenings. Have I, 
Wl tp tnerij b een laying up honey for a winter of discontent 
that shall never come ? 

Besides this distrust of my diaries, I am awaken- 
ing after seven years to the fact that, as autobiography, the books are 
strangely lacking in interest. They are not convincing. I thought, 
as I did my clerkly task, that I should always be I, but a cursory 
glance at these naive pages shows that they were written by a thou- 
sand different persons, no one of whom speaks the language of the 
emotions as I know it today. It is true, then, my diary has con- 
vinced me, that we do become different persons every seven years. 
Here is written down rage, hate, delight, affection and yearning, no 
word of which is comprehensible to me now; they leave me quite 
cold. I am reading the adventures of some one else, not my own. 
Who was it ? I have forgotten the dialect of my youth. Ah, in- 
deed, the boy is father of the man ! I will be indulgent, as a son 
should, to paternal indiscretions ! 

And yet, for the bare skeleton of my history, these volumes are 
useful enough. The pages which, while still wet with ink and tears 
I considered lyric essays, have fallen to a merely utilitarian value. 
I am thankful, on that account, for them, and for the fact that my 
bookkeeping was well systematized and indexed. As outward form 
goes, my diaries are models of manner. So for those still under 
the old-fashioned spell, who would adopt a plan of entry, let me 
describe them. 

The especial event of each day, if the day held anything worthy 
of remark or remembrance, was boldly noted at the top of the page 
over the date. Whirring the leaves I catch many suggestive phrases : 

108 



THE COMMONPLACE 



"Dinner at Mme. >ui Five's" (it was there I first 

tasted champagne), " Henry Irving in ' Macbeth ' " (but 

it was not the actor that made that night famous I 

took Kitty Carmine home in a hansom !), "Broke my 

arm " (or else I would never have read Marlowe, I 

fear), and " Met Sally Reynard " (this was an event, it seemed at 

that time, worthy of being chronicled in red ink). So they go. 

They are the chapter headings in the book of my life. 

In the lower left-hand corner of each page I noted the receipt 
of letters, the initials of the writers inscribed in little squares, and in 
the opposite right-hand corner a complementary hieroglyph kept 
account of every reply sent. So, by running over the pages I can 
note the fury of my correspondence. (What an industrious scribbler 
" S. R." was to be sure ! I had not thought we went it quite so 
hard and " K. C." how often she appears in the lower left, and 
how seldom in the lower right ! I was a brute, no doubt, and small 
wonder she married Flemingway !) 

Perpendicularly, along the inner margin, I wrote the names of 
those to whom I had been introduced that day, and on a back page 
I kept a chronological list of the same. (I met Kitty, it seems, on 
a Friday perhaps that accounts for our not hitting it off!) Most of 
these are names, and nothing more, now, and it gives my heart a leap 
to come across Sally in that list of nonentities. (To think that there 
was ever a time when I did not know her !) 

Besides all this, the books are extra-illustrated in the most sig- 
nificant manner. There is hardly a page that does not contain some 
trifling memento ; here, a theatre coupon pasted in, or a clipping 
from the programme, an engraved card or a pencilled note ; there a 
scrap of a photograph worn out in my pocket-book, somebody's 



THE ROMANCE OF 



sketched profile, or, at rare intervals, a wisp of some 
one's hair! (This reddish curl was it Kitty's or 
f rom D ora ' s brow? Oh, I remember, it was Myrtle 
gave it me ! No, I am wrong ; I stole it from 
Nettie !) I pasted them in with eager trembling 
fingers, but I regard them now without a tremour. There are other 
pages being filled which interest me more. 

Occasionally I open a book, 1895 perhaps, and consult a date 
to be sure that Millicent's birthday is on November I2th, or to de- 
termine just who was at Kitty's coming-out dinner. Here is a dia- 
gram of the table with the places of all the guests named. (So I 
sat beside Nora, did I ? And who was Nora ? I have forgotten her 
name ! Now she is Mrs. Alfred Fortunatus !) 

Sometimes I think it would be better to write up my diary in 

advance, to fill in the year's pages with what I would like to do, and 

attempt to live up to the prophecy. And yet I have had too many 

unforeseen pleasures in my life for that. I would rather trust fate 

than imagination. So, chiefly because I have kept the book for 

seven years, I shall probably keep it seven years more. It gratifies 

my conceit to chronicle my small happenings, and somehow, written 

down in fair script, they seem important. And besides I am a bit 

anxious to see just how many times a certain name, which 

has lately begun to make itself prominent, will 

appear at the top of the pages. I promise 

to tell you some time, if 

Celestine is willing ! 



I 10 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Cfje perfect 



SURELY the modern invention that has done most to per- 
petuate Romance is the telephone. The man that, however 
used to this machine, can take up its ear-piece without a 
thrill of wonder has no soul. The locomotive, the steam- 
ship, the automobile have but made travel a bit more rapid, they have 
added no new element of mystery. Even the telegraph fails to give 
any true feeling of surprise. It is no whit more wonderful than that 
one, after writing a letter and slipping it into a red mail-box, should 
be handed a reply by a strange, blue-clad gentleman, after many 
days. A telegraphic despatch does not even hold the handwriting of 
the sender; it is cold, colourless, metallic. 

But a machine that can bring your friend into the same room 
with you, at a moment's notice, who can deny the poetry of such a 
victory over space and time ! Not until some genius invents a 
thought-transmitter shall a more stupendous aid to Romance be dis- 
covered. For see ! It is not only one's friends that are caught in 
the net of telephone wires, one can drag up a whole city full ! I have 
but to sit down at my desk and call up a number, and he or she must 
reply. True, I cannot force any one to answer, but if I have the 
audacity and persistency, it will go hard if I do not find some one who 
is willing to while away a leisure, inquisitive moment in inconsequent 
conversation. 

It is my privilege to live in a telephone city where the habit is 
extrordinarily developed. One out of every sixteen of the popula- 

III 



THE ROMANCE OF 



tion is connected to that most amiable of go-betweens, 
the Central Office. I have the opportunity of inves- 
tigating some thirty thousand souls at the ridiculously 
cheap price of five cents per soul ! Not only every 
counting-house and shop, doctor's office and corner 
grocery has its wire, but every residence with any claims to acquaint- 
ance. What Romance gone to waste! For few, it seems, have 
imagination enough to embrace such unlimited opportunities ! 

This morning Sonia called me at 8:25, apologizing for her 
kind-heartedness in letting me sleep when she knew I wished to 
work. Think of that for an alarm clock Sonia's voice, ten miles 
away ! So I am awakened by the telephone, I call by telephone, 
flirt by telephone, shop, market and speculate over the same wire. 
We do not take long in utilizing the latest invention here in this 
hurried land the city is ravaged by Telephonitis. One invites 
friends to dinner, one makes appointments, one breaks the news of 
the death of a friend, one proposes marriage all by means of this 
little instrument. I know one lady who has her machine connected 
by flexible wires so that she may talk in bed. She need not be too 
strict in regard to dress for her interviews no one ever knows ! I 
know two old men who while away long evenings together playing 
chess, when the weather is too harsh to leave home. Beside each 
board stands the faithful receiver; one has but to whisper "K.B. to 
Q.j" or some such rigamarole into the nickel-plated "extension" and 
he has checkmated his opponent across the Bay ! 

With such common intercourse as this, many are the comedies 
of the telephone. I have myself entertained a visitor with a diver- 
sion he will not soon forget. The day he came I took him to my 
telephone and introduced him in turn to a half-dozen ladies of my 

112 



THE COMMONPLACE 



acquaintance, who plied him with badinage. We set 
forth then on a tour of calls, and I enjoyed his several 
attempts at identifying the voices he had heard over the 
wire. It is not always easy to recognize a voice and re- <B0sftfttofttt 
member it. I remember an unfortunate experience of 
my own with two sisters which brought a week's embarrassment, for the 
voices of members of one family do have a marvellous similarity in 
the telephone, and if one is anxious to call upon Fanny when Eliza- 
beth is out, one must be very sure just which sister one is speaking 
to when making an appointment. 

The necessity for such precaution has led some of my friends to 
adopt telephone methods which must be extremely amusing to one 
who could hear both sides of the conversation. In many houses the 
telephone is situated in the hall, altogether too near the dining-room 
for any confidential communication. If the questioner is careful he 
may so word his inquiries that they may be answered by a mere 
"yes" or "no"; and papa, smoking after dinner, is none the wiser. 
If the girl finds it impossible to reply in unguarded terms, she has 
been known to say, somewhat vaguely, "Of course" which conveys 
to the man at the other end of the wire the fact that she is not alone. 
Some, too, have more definite codes. Celestine has arranged with 
me that when she mentions the " Call" it means the forenoon; the 
"Chronicle" stands for afternoon, while by the "Examiner" I 
understand that she refers to the evening. If, then, I ring her up 
and say, " When can you go walking today ? 1 want to be sure not 
to meet that fool Clubberly." Clubberly, who is at her elbow, 
hears her reply sweetly, " Really ! Yes, I saw it in the " Chronicle " ; 
and how is he to know what it is all about? Oh, he could have his 
revenge easily enough, were he not an ass, for he might be kissing 

"3 



THE ROMANCE OF 



l&ttlttt 

C30=i)fttoffn 



Celestine (horrid thought) even as she is speaking, 
for all I could know. 

With this romantic battery opposed to her, what 
chance has poor Mrs. Grundy? What hard-hearted 
parent can successfully immure his daughter while the 
copper wire strings out toward her proscribed lover ? Here is where 
love laughs at locksmiths. Were a dozen ineligibles forbidden the 
house, the moment mamma's back is turned and she has gone out 
for her round of calls, little daughter takes the telephone off the 
hook and, presto ! she has her room full of clandestine company ! 
Does any rash young man dare ring her up while her parents are 
near, she has but to say, sweetly, " Oh, you have the wrong number ! " 
and hang up. It is too wonderful. You may lie by telephone, with 
a straight face, or you may call a man a liar with impunity. If you 
have no answer ready to an ardent impertinence, you need only say 
nothing and listen he is helpless; you need not speak unless you 
want to. Who made the first telephone made mischief for a thou- 
sand years to come ! 

Rrrrrrrrrrng I ! ! ! There is Celestine ringing me up now! 
Pardon me if I leave you for a moment, for I think she 
going to give me her answer to a very impor- 
tant question. Tremendously important for 
me! Wish me good luck! I 
hope no one will 
be listening ! 



s 



114 



THE COMMONPLACE 



WHEN I asked Perilla how she first came to realize that 
she was growing up, she said, " When I began of my 
own accord to wash my sticky fingers, without waiting to 
be told." I believe she meant it literally, with no moral 
significance that should make a parable of the statement. I hope so, 
at least, for then by that test I cannot hope to have yet attained the 
years of discretion. Little Sister says that she felt " growing pains," 
but here is a figure of speech, surely. I suppose she means the 
wonder of the passage from a great, wistful ignorance to a limited 
knowledge ; for the first part of the path of life is a very steep 
up-grade. 

I myself can point to no one circumstance that revealed to me 
the vision of the great march of time that is sweeping us on towards 
the goal. I was for long like one who looks from the window of a 
railway carriage, too busily engaged in watching the world fly past 
him to realize his own motion. Neither long trousers nor razors 
awoke me from the child-trance; I saw scorned infants master me by 
their inches ; I heard rumours of love and death and duty, but I was 
unmoved. It was a part of the game of existence, and it seemed 
natural that persons should be classified and remain in categories of 
old and young. I was a spectator outside the merry-go-round. I 
was to be rich, of course; I had the mind to dare and the will to do. 
I should be wise, too why not? Sometimes I should have memo- 
ries, I thought, not knowing that I was even then living away my 

"5 



THE ROMANCE OF 



life, and that this was an era to which I should look 

back and deem important. 

^yj mv reading^ to0j W ent to show that I was an 
*^P amateur at living. Things seemed really to happen in 

books, but not to me; there men were swung in 
unknown furies, sensations were keen and impelling, and life had the 
sharp sting of reality. My own emotions seemed insipid and inade- 
quate for a citizen of the world. Surely such minor escapades and 
trivialities as mine were not worth considering. And so, when the 
storm and stress came, I was ill-prepared, and at the first blow my 
pride went down. Some devil, as in a dream, whispered in my ear 
that perhaps I might not succeed after all, and it came to me as 
a summons that the time had come to be out and doing. And I 
saw that the conquest of my ambition would be achieved, not by 
the impetuous onslaught that should carry all before it, but by the 
slow and tedious siege, laid with years of waiting and working and 
watching. It was then, perhaps, though I did not know it, that I 
began to grow up, and became a man. I opened my eyes and looked 
about me ; it was as if I had been landed fresh from the country in 
the busy town, like the Sleeper Awakened. No more field-faring 
and trapesing holidays under the blue sky ; I must choose my street 
and fight my way for it against the throng. 

It struck me with a sense of my inferiority that there was an 
absolute quality of knowledge I had not mastered. Some of my 
classmates seemed to know things, while I had but acquired informa- 
tion. They could swim ; I dared not go in over my head. They 
had convictions, I had only opinions ; it was the difference between 
the language of Frenchmen and they who learn French. Here, I 
thought, was the final classification, and I wrote myself down a witless 

116 



THE COMMONPLACE 



neophyte in the world's mysteries. For my whole 
education had been founded upon the value of the 
verity of the straight line, and wisdom was my high- 
est ideal. By this standard I measured myself and P 

my experience. I delighted in the beauty of science, 
but of that other beauty which is its own excuse for being, I did 
not know. I was as one who saw form without colour, or the outline 
without the mass. I had not yet come to myself; I was a child 
yet, and the result of my immediate environment a mental cham- 
eleon. A few generations of my austere ancestors impregnated my 
blood with their stern virtues, and it still ran cold and tranquil in 
my veins. But there were more remote and subtle influences behind 
me that must work themselves out, and in some sub-stratum of con- 
sciousness the pure Greek in me survived. 

And so it was Dianeme who brought me at last to the door of 
the temple, and I saw with her eyes and heard with her ears, and the 
world grew beautiful, an altogether fitting setting for her charms. 
And then I knew in very truth that I had grown up; but yet, by a 
sublime miracle I had in the same revelation recovered my youth 
if, indeed, I had ever really been young before ! Now, succeed or 
fail as I might, life would always be fair and interesting, for Dianeme 
was but one of a divine sisterhood, and there were many degrees to be 
taken. So a kind of passion seized me to know Life's different 
phases and find the secret of the whole ; and that mood, God willing, 
shall preserve my virginity to the end. 

So here I am, by the grace of Dianeme, on the true road to 
youth again, not to that absolute unconcern of all but the present, 
that I once felt, nor to the fool's paradise, where, Maida would have 
it, is the true happiness "the ability to fool one's self" but to a 

117 



THE ROMANCE OF 



(3rotoing 
Up 



kind of childlike wonder at things (ah, Little Sister, 
may you never wander from it as I did!) and the 
knowledge of what is really the most worth while. 
(And you, Perilla, you need not pretend that you 
don't know, for the truth flashes from your jest!) 
For this is the very blossom of my youth, the era of knowing, 
as that was the era of being, and though there may come other dark 
days, as there were before the bud burst into bloom, I have seen the 
beginning and I know the law now, and I trust that the fruit of my 
life, the doing, may be even more worth the while. And I shall 
perhaps find that wisdom and beauty and goodness are 
but one thing, as the poets say that living is 
a continual growing up, and that age 
is only a youth that knows 
why it is happy! 



118 



THE COMMONPLACE 



pauper's Monologue 



UNDERSTAND, I am not one of those who are always 
longing to be rich. I do very well, ordinarily, in the 
shadow of prosperity, though there comes upon me peri- 
odically the lust for gold, at which times the desire to 
rush down-town and spend money indiscreetly must be obeyed. It 
is a common symptom, paupers tell me, and carries with it its own 
remedy, giving much the same relief that blood-letting did of old, if 
so be the practice does not lead to a dangerous hemorrhage. I have 
my ups and downs, like most unsalaried Bohemians, thin purse, thick 
purse, at erratic intervals, but my spendthrift appetite is curiously 
independent of these financial fluctuations. In fact, a miserly restraint 
is most likely to seize me when my pocket is full, and I usually grow 
reckless when it has no silver lining. 

There are few paupers among us who do not conceit themselves 
to be artists at spending money, and believe the fit intelligence is 
most wanting in those who have the means. I confess that I share 
their convictions, having wasted much time in a study of the situa- 
tion. Like those planning a foreign tour, I have mapped out the 
golden road of Opportunity, and know the itinerary by heart. And, 
without trespassing the science of Economy, of which I am criminally 
ignorant (having been somewhat prepossessed during my Sophomore 
courses), I submit there are active and passive categories into which 
coupon-cutters may be relegated. The symbol of your monied man 
is the cigar, involving a destructive process, whether applied to food, 

119 



THE ROMANCE OF 



raiment or ministry to the senses. The greed of the 

collector is of the same flavour. It is the difference 

& pattpft v between spending the money to see and to stage the 

Monologue play that i mean> 

For why should an access of wealth so dull the 
brain that the battle between the kings of hearts and spades seems more 
interesting than the game with human knights and pawns ? I have 
often been minded to write an " Open Letter to Millionaires," and offer 
myself as a Master of their Sports, to guide them through fields of 
untried sensation and novel enterprises. I have my offers tabulated 
from an hundred dollars upward, each involving the inception of 
activities whose ramifications would provide diversion for years. 
There are twenty young men I know of in this town who are waiting 
for such a chance. Why should I not be elected to captain them ? 
I promise you the rise and fall of stocks shall not be more exciting 
than our rivalries. Indeed, brains are for sale at absurd bargains 
today. Why not play them off against each other in a game of Life ? 

But these are dreams never to be realized. I am no promoter, 
and must play the beggar's part. Yet I have often wondered how I 
would be affected if these hopes came true, and if some capitalist, 
touched by my appeal, seeing this good seed cast upon barren 
ground, opening his heart and purse-strings, should present me with 
a modest fortune without conditions. Could I assume the responsi- 
bility of gratitude and fly with the load of obligation that I myself 
would assume? By all rules of fiction, no! Yet if my conscience 
were seduced I might frame my mind to accept debonairly and do 
my best. Tempt me not, millionaires, for this is my week of long- 
ing, and my brain boils with adventurous desires. 

Yet, had I the ear of the benefactor, another mood would impel 

120 



THE COMMONPLACE 



my renunciation ; for, against my will and interest, I am 
forced to acknowledge that others are better fitted to be 
rich than I, who have been a pauper all my life, and am 
not so unhappy in my misery. I know some to whom 
wealth should come as a right, as has their beauty, 
and who play an inconsistent part upon the stage of poverty. There 
is Dianeme, who knows the names of all the roses, and can tell one 
etching from another. She is so instinct with tact and taste that I 
feel quite unworthy of affluence until she has been served. And 
there, too, is Little Sister, who is in worse case, having once ridden 
on high wheels and nestled against the padded comforts of life, now 
charioted by street cars, with a motorman for a driver and a con- 
ductor for a footman. And though it was her reverses that gave me 
chance to be her friend and discover her worth, yet I fear I would 
put back my opportunity ten years to give her the little luxuries she 
craves. She has acquired a relish for the flesh-pots, poor Little Sis- 
ter, and somehow the weakness becomes her, as the habit of weeping 
fitted the eighteenth century ideals of women. Two more pairs of 
silk stockings would reinstate her as a lady complete. Not that 
anybody but Little Sister and her laundress would ever see them, but 
they would give her a nourishing satisfaction that is of itself worth 
while. 

Yet, again I wonder if Little Sister grew rich, what would 
become of me? I am told that the first pangs of the birth of For- 
tune are felt in the unpleasant acquisition of new claimants to friend- 
ship, but I do not believe this is so. I should myself fear to intrude, 
I am sure. There would be so many new relations and obligations 
that I could not take the friendship simply and naturally. I could 
make love to her by letter, perhaps, but not in her carriage. I would 

121 



THE ROMANCE OF 



miss the ungloved hand of familiarity and enclose 

myself in starched formality, though I know the pain 

in so doing would be mutual. For the pride of riches 

JponoiorrtlC j s as notn j n g to tne p r id e of poverty, and I am very, 

very poor! But surely Little Sister must be rich 

again, even if I have to wait for the second table. 

And so I gracefully resign my claims to fortune, where I am so 

outclassed, and make off into the open fields towards the Hills of 

Fame, where the brougham of Opulence may not follow me, though 

I fare afoot. For we do not get rich in my family ; there is no uncle 

in Patagonia whose death could benefit us, and the bag of diamonds, 

the hope of whose discovery sustained my immature youth, no longer 

haunts my dreams. For a long time yet I must deny myself the 

title of gentleman, forced as I am to carry parcels " over three inches 

square," which I hear is the test of fashionable caste. This is my last 

gasp. I shall be a man again tomorrow, and if any millionaire is 

tempted by this appeal, he must make haste. But I shall 

not be rung up from sleep tonight. It is the 

law of society that Spend helps Save, 

and Save helps Scrimp, and 

Scrimp helps Starve. 



122 



THE COMMONPLACE 



Doting ;Jttan's jfancp 



UNDOUBTEDLY the most logical, though perhaps the 
least interesting, method of opening the discussion of a 
thesis, is that employed by the skillful carver who dis- 
sects his duck according to the natural divisions of the 
subject and proceeds therewith analytically. This is the system en- 
couraged in academic courses and is said to enable any one to write 
upon any subject. But such an essay is mighty hard reading; unless 
a writer is so hungry for his theme that he forgets his manners and 
falls to without ceremony the chances are that his efforts will receive 
scant attention. And so I shyly speak of love. 

So few essayists write with a good appetite ! And yet, see how 
I restrain myself, and perforce adopt the conventional procedure, as 
one too proud to betray his ravening hunger ! I must be calm, I 
must be polite and you shall know only by my forgetfulness of the 
salt and my attention to the bones of thought, how the game interests 
me. In speaking of love, I must let my head guard my heart, too, 
for it is in the endeavour to misunderstand women that we pass our 
most delightful moments. They will not permit men to be too sure 
of them, and what you learn from one, you must hide carefully from 
the next. So I begin my fencing with a great feint of awkwardness, 
like a master with a beginner, knowing well enough how likely to get 
into trouble is any one who pretends innocence. 

For a long time I believed it all a conspiracy of the novelists, 
and that love, so ideally depicted, was but a myth, kept alive by the 

123 



THE ROMANCE OF 



craft, to furnish a backbone for literary sensation. But 
Si ffounfl; there are undoubtedly many bigoted believers in the 
theory of love. The women, however, who admit that 
it is a l st art > complain piteously of the ineptitude of 
the other sex. I confess that few men can satisfactorily 
acquit themselves of the ordeal of courtship without some tuition, but, 
once having acquired the rudiments of the profession, it seems incon- 
sistent to taunt them with the experiments of their apprenticeship. 
It is too much to require a man to make a gallant wooing and then 
twit him with the " promiscuousness " by which he won his facility. 
Yet, some, doubtless, have learned also to defend themselves against 
this last accusation; it is the test of the Passed Master. For the 
other, poor dolts, who never see the opportunity for action, however 
adroitly presented, who speak when they should hold tongue and 
leave undone all those things that they ought to have done the 
girls marry them, to be sure, but most of the love-making is on the 
wrong side. There are more yawns than kisses ; the brutal question 
satisfies the yop, and he bungles through the engagement, breaking 
doggedly through the crust of the acquaintance, witless of the delight- 
ful perils of thin ice. 

And yet I think the subject might be mastered in four lessons 
with a good teacher, so that a man of ordinary capacity could make 
good way for himself. This is by no means a new theory; it is the 
foundation of many a comedy of errors, this of Love with a Tutor. 
But go not to school of a maid, for she will fool you to the top of 
your bent, nor to a married woman either, but to a man like my 
younger brother here, no Lothario, but one who can keep two steps 
ahead of any affair he enters. 

If a man be agile and daring, with sufficient ardour to assume 

124 



THE COMMONPLACE 



the offensive, having an audacious tongue and a wary 
eye with a fine sense of congruity and tact, withal, if 
he can make love with a laugh and a rhyme, as Cyrano 
fought, then 'tis a different matter, and he needs no 
pilot to take his sweetheart over the bar and into the 
port. He must be bold, but not too bold, carry a big spread of 
canvas, luff, reef and tack her with no shuffling, cast the lead on the 
run, keeping in soundings, and never lose headway when she comes 
about into a new mood. He must bear a sensitive hand at the tiller, 
keep her close up to the wind with no tremble in the leach of the 
sail, and gain advantage from every tide and cross-current. Better 
dash against the reef than run high and dry upon the shoal! 

It is a pity, is it not, to dissect love in such a fashion ? I 
should have my hero quite at the mercy of the gale of passion, and 
be swept forward, he knows not how and cares not where ; he should 
lose his wits and take a mad delight in the fury of the storm, seeing 
no spot upon his horizon. And yet I dare not be warmer, for some- 
time I may decide to fall in love myself, and I would not have my 
chances wrecked by any genuine confession of faith, set in type, to 
which She might refer, with a beautiful taunt. No ! it is better to 
phrase and verbalize ; the subject is too dear, and near done to its 
death already. I would but suggest the cross-references, and, under 
a mien of the most atrocious conceit, throw my female readers off 
their guard, leaving my fellow men to read between the lines. 

For I hear that men do fall in love with women, and women fall 
in love with loving. So be it. I have known girls, too, to take both 
vanilla and strawberry in their soda-water, which proves them to be 
not altogether simple in their tastes. The best of them will talk vol- 
ubly upon love in the abstract, while the average man (to which 



THE ROMANCE OF 



category I hope I have the honour of not belonging) 
Si footing keeps his mouth closed on the matter, with his tongue 

in his cheek, and his ideas, if he have any, well hidden 

behind his words. 

So, if I avail myself of the feminine franchise, it 
must be done cautiously, for many are the difficulties of the young 
man who would love a girl today, and only a precious few of the old 
school of beaux would understand the twentieth century's subtleties, 
even if all could be explained. Many are the misfortunes in the 
Lover's Litany, from which the modern maiden sighs, " Good Lord, 
deliver us ! " A man must take her in earnest, but he must by no 
means take himself too seriously; it is proper to treat your passion 
cavalierly indeed, he jests at scars who has felt the most amorous 
darts, nowadays but he must never make himself or her ridiculous. 
He may take whimsical amusement in his own conquest, but must be- 
ware "the little broken laugh that spoils a kiss." And above all, 
mind you the mise-en-scene, the stage must be set so and so; the 
sun must not see what the moon sees. Sometimes you must have 
your heart in your mouth, and sometimes on your sleeve, and oftener 
she must have it herself. 'Tis very perplexing! 

The best a man can do, in this practical age, is to mean business, 
while he is about it, and hold over as much for the next day as will 
not interfere with his commerce elsewhere. The woman may take her 
romance to bed, or keep it warm in the oven against his return, but he 
must be out and down-town to earn his living as well as his loving, 
amongst dollars and pounds and cent per cent, while she enjoys the 
traffic in pure abstractions. And both must hide and manage as if it 
were a sin, lest Mrs. Grundy undo them ; they must snatch their kisses, 
as it were, on horseback. Such are the victims of supercivilization ! 

126 



THE COMMONPLACE 



There was a time, the poets tell, when it was not 
so difficult, and a man might wear a lady's scarf on his Si 
sleeve, and be proud of the badge. It takes much 
more complicated machinery than that simple love to 
make the world go round, nowadays perhaps because 
it goes so much faster. There was a time when an elopement might 
be picturesque and not necessarily followed by divorce ; but where 
now shall I find the hard-hearted parent who shall justify the adven- 
ture ? The modern mother is too easy. She is like Mrs. Brown in 
the Bab Ballads " a foolish, weak but amiable old thing." She re- 
poses a trust in her daughter that does more credit to her affection 
than to her knowledge of human nature. 

But whoa ! I believe I have forgotten my manners ! I have 
insulted my fellows, guyed the girls, and here I am on the high road 
to disqualifying myself with the more respectable generation. So I 
shall cease, but I will not apologize, for though I came to scoff, I 
shall not remain to prey. I believe I am not more than half 
wrong after all. There is love, and there is loving, and if you have 
followed me, you know which is which. It was Rosalind who said, 
"Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps!" How she 
would smile and sneer at this verbiage ! She knew a lover from 

a philanderer, she had her opinion of the laggard and 

the butterfly rover, and she would no doubt 

say : " Cupid hath clapped him on 

the shoulder, but I'll warrant 

him heart-whole!" 



127 



THE ROMANCE OF 



is BSoijemta? 



THE name "Bohemian " was first used to describe the gypsies 
of that nationality who appeared in France in the thir- 
teenth century, but to us the term has come to carry with 
it a wider significance than any dependent upon that little 
kingdom in the north of Austria, and only a few characteristic traits 
of those wandering vagabonds survive in those who bear, whether in 
reproach or praise, the appellation " Bohemian." 

To take the world as one finds it, the bad with the good, making 
the best of the present moment to laugh at Fortune alike whether 
she be generous or unkind to spend freely when one has money, 
and to hope gaily when one has none to fleet the time carelessly, 
living for love and art this is the temper and spirit of the modern 
Bohemian in his outward and visible aspect. It is a light and graceful 
philosophy, but it is the Gospel of the Moment, this exoteric phase 
of the Bohemian religion ; and if, in some noble natures, it rises to a 
bold simplicity and naturalness, it may also lend its butterfly precepts 
to some very pretty vices and lovable faults, for in Bohemia one may 
find almost every sin save that of Hypocrisy. 

Yet, if we were able without casuistry to divide misdeeds into 
two categories, those subjective and objective in their direct effects 
separating those sins which hurt only the sinner from those which 
act upon his fellows the Bohemian would, perhaps, be found to 
have fewer than most of this harsher, crueller sort. His faults are 
more commonly those of self-indulgence, thoughtlessness, vanity and 

128 



THE COMMONPLACE 



procrastination, and these usually go hand-in-hand 
with generosity, love and charity; for it is not enough 
to be one's self in Bohemia, one must allow others to 
be themselves, as well. 

So much for the common definition of this much- 
used name. But no English word can stand for long in its primary 
meaning. It must change insensibly, growing from day to day, till 
it embraces the spirit as well as the letter of the fact it expresses. 
The word " gentleman " has thus grown with a secondary, spiritual 
significance ; so has the word " prayer " by the interpretation of a 
more liberal, far-reaching thought. So with the name " Bohemian " 
it has ranged beyond the vagrom, inconstant, happy-go-lucky, devil- 
may-care, hand-to-mouth follower after pleasure, and now under its 
banner may be found more serious enthusiasts who are not afraid 
to offend smug respectability, and are in more or less open revolt 
against convention, bigotry and prejudice. It is their bond that 
they have forsworn allegiance to Mrs. Grundy. They dare be them- 
selves without pretentions, they make and keep their friends without 
compromise. 

What, then, is it that makes this mythical empire of Bohemia 
unique, and what is the charm of its mental fairyland ? It is this : 
there are no roads in all Bohemia ! One must choose and find one's 
own path, be one's own self, live one's own life. Whether one 
makes for the larger freedom of the hills, or loses one's self in the 
sacred stillness of the forest, the way is open to endeavour wherever 
one wills. Yet, though there is no beaten track, there are still signs 
in the wilderness showing where master minds have passed. Here is a 
broken jug beneath the bough, snowed under with drifting rose petals, 
where one frail-souled dreamer loitered on the way, and, with his 

129 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Beloved, filled the cup that clears Today of past regrets 
and future fears, singing out his heart in lovely plaint. 
*^ And here, along a higher trail, a few blazings in the 
TDOyftma. forest mark where another great Bohemian in this life 
exempt from public haunt found tongues in trees, 
books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in every- 
thing. 

Within Bohemia are many lesser states, and these I have roughly 
charted on my travels, so that, though I may have left some pre- 
cincts unexplored, I know at least that these territories lying on my 
map are veritable provinces of this land of freedom and sincerity. 
On the shore of the magic Sea of Dreams, beyond whose horizon 
dances the Adventurous Main, lies the Pays de la Jeunesse, the 
country of Youth and Romance, a joyous plaisaunce free from care 
or caution, whose green, wide fields lie bathed in glamorous sun- 
shine. To the eastward lie the pleasant groves of Arcady, the 
dreamland, home of love and poetry. Here in this Greek paradise 
of rustic simplicity and joyous innocence and hope, has lived every 
poet who has ever sung the lyric note, and here have visited, for 
some brief space, all who have dreamed, all who have longed, all who 
have loved. Here is the old joy of life made manifest and abundant; 
here Mother Nature speaks most clearly to her children. For the 
most, however, it is but a holiday country, and they who discover it 
often pass, never to return, forgetting its glories and its mysteries as 
they forget that lost country of their youth, counting it all illusion. 
Yet some few come back to the Port of Peace to lose the world again, 
renewing the immemorial enchantment. 

To the south, over the long procession of the hills, lies Vaga- 
bondia, home of the gypsy and wanderer, who claims a wilder freedom 

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beneath the stars outlawed or voluntary exile from 
all restraint. This country is rocky and precipitate, 
full of dangers, a land of feverish unrest. 

One other district lies hidden and remote, locked ^ D &*mia? 
in the central fastnesses of Bohemia. Here is the For- 
est of Arden, whose greenwood holds a noble fellowship, bound in 
truth and human simplicity. It is a little golden world apart, and 
though it is the most secret, it is the most accessible of refugees, so 
that there are never too many there, and never too few. Here is 
spoken a universal language, Nature's own speech, the native dialect 
of the heart. Men come and go from this bright country, but once 
having been free of the wood, you are of the Brotherhood and rec- 
ognize your fellows by instinct, and know them, as they know you, 
for what you are. 

Now, as Bohemia, unfortunately, is not an island, it has its neigh- 
bours and its frontiers. To the west lies Philistia, arid, dry and flat, 
the abode of shams, dogmas and sluggish creeds. Here stands Vanitas, 
overlooking a great desert, walled in by custom, guarded by false 
pride. It is but a step over the border, however, from Bohemia the 
true to that false Debatable Ground whose affectations are more insin- 
cere even than the shams of the real Philistia, and the youngster, 
questing the hero-haunted country of his youth, chasing his phan- 
toms, may go wide of his reckoning, misled by the mockery of life 
made by these disguised Philistines. In the City of Shams, hypo- 
crites are content to assume the virtues they have not, but here on 
the borders of Bohemia their vices are all pretense as well ! 

On the further boundary of Bohemia, also, hangs an unsavoury 
neighbour. Here is a madder and more terrible domain, the land of 
lust and cruelty, lawless and loveless, dwelling in endless war. To 



THE ROMANCE OF 



te 



this fierce country Vagabondia lies perilously near, and 
many a wanderer has crossed the frontier to find him- 
self, before he knew, within that evil land, where free- 
dom has become licence, and tolerance grown into 
Anarchy. 

Wide across all three empires stretch the Hills of Fame. In 
Philistia men must be born great; there is no other distinction pos- 
sible save that of riches or inherited power. In Bohemia men achieve 
greatness, working onward and upward, bringing their own great 
dreams to fulfillment ; while in Licentia, those only become great who 
have an infamous notoriety thrust upon them by their own high 
crimes. 

We cannot all mount those heights from whose crest one may 
look over the Sea of Care, past the Isle of Idleness to the Adven- 
turous Main, but there is joy enough on the lowland. Happy indeed 
is he who, in his journey of life, has escaped the perils of that false 
Bohemia, crouching on the frontier, and has found his way to 
the happy forest, met his own people and drunk of 
the Fountain of Immortal Youth; for there 
is the warm, beating, human heart 
of the True Bohemia ! 



THE COMMONPLACE 



THERE are enough who think "a young man married is 
a young man marred " to cause the bachelor to hesitate 
before renouncing his liberties, and to fight shy of entan- 
glement as long as possible. If he writes down the " pros " 
and " cons," like Robinson Crusoe, he will find he has many advan- 
tages in his single state that must inevitably be forfeited when 
he weds. 

It is not only that "when I was single my pockets would jingle, 
I would I were single again " ; it is not so much, either, that his 
play-day will be over and he must " settle down," stop butterfly-lov- 
ering to and fro, and gathering the roses as he goes, and have no 
haunting white face sitting up for him at home to ask him why, and 
how, and where. This licence, if he be a man of sentiment, he will- 
ingly foregoes for the larger possibilities of satisfactory comradeship 
and sympathy. He can pay double rent and taxes, too, without 
grumbling; take manfully the shock of surprise when expenses jump 
with the new establishment ; he may be initiated in doctors' fees, and 
submit debonairly to a thousand restrictions of time, place and oppor- 
tunity. But more piquant than any of these trials is the discovery 
that he has lost his old-time place and privilege of welcome as a 
bachelor that "come any time" hospitality of his dearest friends. 
He is saddled with a secondary consideration. 

Try as he may, no young man can marry to please his whole 
acquaintance. The world, for the most part, still looks with patron- 

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T H E ROMANCE OF 



izing approval upon a girl's wedding so long as she 
chooses or is chosen by a man not hopelessly impos- 
sible. She has embraced an opportunity and usually 
ner mother cultivates a grateful fondness for the son- 
in-law. If he has a scarcity of amiable traits she will 
even manufacture them for him, and put them on the market with 
display. Not so the mother of the groom. She analyses the bride 
with incisive dissection, and it is hardly possible that any woman 
shall be found quite worthy to mate with her son. It takes a woman 
to read women, she says, and the little wife has to make a fight 
for each step of the road from condescension through complaisance 
to compliment. 

The young man's friends, too, are exigent, and he soon finds 
that, though the two have been made one in the sight of law and 
clergy, society knows no such miraculous algebra. You may squeeze 
in an extra chair at the dinner table for a desirable and " interesting 
young man," but to include another lady, and that his wife, requires 
a tiresome rearrangement. He does not come alone ordinarily, nor 
would he if asked, and so he drops out of his little world and must 
set about the creation of a new one. He may have had latch-key 
privileges at a dozen houses, free to come night or morning, the 
recipient of many sudden invitations for theatre, supper or coun- 
try but that is all over. It is his turn to do the inviting. The 
table has been well turned when he sits down to meat ! 

Is it to be wondered at, then, that the bachelor is selfish? He 
escapes lightly the lesson of compromise ; his whole life is a training 
in egoism, and he makes the most of his desirability, getting usually 
far more than he gives. He is free to experiment in acquaintance 
though it goes no farther than innocuous flirtation. He may make 

'34 



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friendships for himself and break them at will, lightly 

dodging the tie. There are hundreds in every city 

who need go only where they wish, skipping even 

" duty calls," sure of forgiveness. He may know <0U>fciantafft 

men and women he cares for, and, through the lack of 

experience in a life-long intimacy, he may preserve many illusions 

as to women. If he has an income, or a profession that demands no 

abode, he can wander " to and fro in the earth and walk up and down 

in it" free as Satan. He travels the farthest who travels alone. 

Still, this cannot go on forever, and his franchise wanes. With 
the first pang of middle age Nature asserts her imperious demand for 
permanent companionship. The " cons " grow heavier, and the " pros" 
more attractive. He sees maid after maid of his younger fancy pass 
out of the game without regret, but the first sight of the new genera- 
tion strikes him to the heart. He is "uncled" by more and more 
adopted nephews and nieces, and the sight of their fresh eyes awakens 
the immemorial longing in him. And then, suddenly, another 
" pro " comes upon the list, an undeniable item of importance, 
throwing its influence so heavily upon the side of marriage that no 
number of his foolish little " cons " can ever balance the account. 
He is in love, and there is but one definition for that state. It is 
the immediate, ravenous, compelling desire for a wife. There is 
nothing for it but to renounce allegiance to his old friends and 
become naturalized into a new citizenship. 

But though all over town the doors to which he cried 

" open sesame " bang sullenly to shut him 

out, he does not notice it if 

that one portal lets 

him in! 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Confessions of an 3fenoramus 



MUSICIANS tell me that I am exceptionally fortunate. 
I know absolutely nothing of music. It is not a bald, 
fathomless innocence, however. I am not tone-deaf, 
for instance, and certain compositions please me ; and, 
knowing nothing, I have been treated with indulgent complaisance 
by the profession, and amongst them I have the unique licence of 
being privileged to like whatever I choose. It is no small distinc- 
tion this, nowadays, when one is nicely and strictly rated by his 
compliance to the regnant mode, but I have to fight tooth and nail 
to defend my innocence. I have determined that whatever happens, 
I will not be educated. 

For a while, once on a time, I hazarded my franchise of free 
speech and weakly accepted the tutelage of a master, that I might at 
least gain a familiarity with the catch-words of the musical fraternity. 
It was the more reprehensible and foolish because I had already lost 
my virginity in art circles by the same servility. Long ago I learned 
to phrase and gesticulate at the picture galleries, and try as I may, 
I cannot forget the formulae. I learned to stand with eyes half 
closed before a painting, and waving my hand, murmur, " I like this 
part, in here ! " I caught that knowing waggle of the right thumb, 
and prated of " modelling, tricky work, atmosphere, composition, val- 
ues," and such humbuggery. I could say, straight-faced, and with a 
vicious, explosive gesture, " Oh, it's good in colour, but it just lacks 
that, you know ! " By Jove ! I was in it up to the ears before I 



136 



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knew it, and now my critiques are retailed to the semi- 
elect as coming from one of the Cognoscenti. I have 
learned the terminology of the craft so well that my 
very instructors have forgotten my novitiate ; but an jrrnotamtlg 
art exhibition is a horror to me, for I go bound by the 
tenure of hypocrisy and dare not walk freely, forced to rattle my 
chains as I limp through the forbidden pastures of delight the 
candy box pictures and chromos that my soul loves with that fierce 
first love that never dies. 

So I have learned to avoid the Pierian spring now, having escaped 
the seductions of Euterpe by the merest chance. He is said to be a 
fool who is caught twice by the same trick, and I write myself down 
a worse-witted clown yet when I confess how far on the high-road to 
folly I was before I jumped the fence of conventional parlance and 
broke for the wide fields where lies my freedom. 

I had been led astray by practicing the non-committal remark, 
"Oh, what is that?" as soon as the piano keys cooled off from the 
startling massage of the furious performer. I was bold. I even 
dared to be the first to speak, and I threw ambiguous meanings into 
that well-known exclamation, for I was assured it was always safe, 
whether it followed a Moskowski mazurka hot from the blunt fingers 
of a Kansas City poor relation, or a somnolent Chopinian prelude 
hypnotized by the evening star. I learned that the statute of 
Absorbed Attention had expired, and that the lifted eyebrow, the 
semi-concealed shrug, the overt smile behind the performer's back, 
and the ex post facto rescindment of all these in one mucilaginous 
compliment, were now good taste. Bah ! I sickened of it all soon 
enough, for I had been piously brought up, and my Puritan blood 
was anti-toxic to the corruptions of the musical microbe. 



THE ROMANCE OF 



And so I have forgotten to speak of Grieg as a 
mere sentimentalist " and all the rest of the Pharisee's 
p h ra se-book, thank God! I can hear the "Mill in 

Jrrn0ramU3 t ^ le ^ orest " anc ^ c ^ ec ^ U P * ts verisimilitudes, item by 
item, even as I have dared to renew my youth with 
Charles Dickens, and laugh, cry, and grow hot and cold with Scott's 
marionettes. 

Yet, as I said, my innocence is not altogether empty. There 
is, indeed, no such thing in life as absolute darkness ; one's eyes 
revolt and hasten to fill the vacuum by floating in sparks, dream- 
patterns, figures whimsical and figures grotesque, shifting, clad in 
complimentary colors, to appease the indignant cups and rods of the 
retina. And so my musical ignorance is alive with a fey intelligence 
of its own. I have come at last to an original conception of what is 
good and what is bad by its mere psychological effect, as illogical as 
a woman's intuition, yet as absolute and empirical as the test of acid 
and alkali by litmus. 

It has come to this, that I know now I shall never hear good 
music again. When I was young the phrase " classical music " was 
still extant (I come of the middle classes, where one calls a spade a 
spade), and that variety of sound, " the most expensive of noises," 
was as incomprehensible as was the training for its appreciation ardu- 
ous ; so that beauty for its own sake was unknown, or lurked behind 
the horizontal mountains of Truth that shut in the New England 
landscape. 

But as my knowledge and love of art grew, and I mingled with 
those that spoke this foreign tongue of beauty, I had opportunity 
of hearing music, the only music that was worth while to them, the 
music that endures and lives, continually virile and creative. Curi- 



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ously enough, and unhappily for me, so long a stranger 

to such influences, I found that some compositions 

spelled me with their subtlety, tranced me into revery, 

while others awakened active feelings of amusement, 

surprise, or scientific curiosity as to their construction ; 

and so, ignorant of technique and composition, harmony, and all the 

rules of the art, I have gone back to the woman in me, and trust to 

her little ounce of instinct. 

When the vibrant chords, the sobbing pulsations and the mys- 
tical nuances grow faint and die away as my dream mounts on the 
wings of an invisible melody, leaving the sawing bows, the brazen 
curly horns, the discs, cylinders, strings, keys, triangles, curves and 
tubes, with which paraphernalia the magicians of the orchestra have 
bewitched me, far, far, far below where I soar aloft, naked and alone 
in the secret spaces of my soul, I know (not then, but afterward) 
that the talisman has been at work, and as the rhythm dies and I 
drop, drop to the world again and turn to the trembling, wide- 

eyed girl at my left, and am roused by the brutal ap- 

plause that surges around me, I know that 

this was music. But I have not 

heard it. Alas! Shall I 

never hear it ? 



THE ROMANCE OF 



ftecttal 



HID secretly in my heart, I long had a passion for music- 
boxes. While I was innocent of the ways of the world, 
and thought that Art, as some think that Manners, had 
a ritual to which one must conform in order to be con- 
sidered a gentleman, I hid this low-born taste from my friends and 
talked daintily of Brahms, his frozen music, of the architectural 
sonata, and other things I did not understand. How musicians and 
artists must have laughed at me when they saw my hands square, 
constructive palms, wilful thumbs and mechanical fingers ! Music- 
box hands ! But though I had long ceased cutting stencils of other 
people's thoughts and frescoing my own vanity therewith, I dared 
not confess to John this wretchedly vulgar -penchant for the music-box 
of Commerce the small, varnished, brass and cedar affair, which is 
the only instrument I can play. 

But at ten of the clock one night the yearning became so intense 
in me that I burst the bonds of my discretion, and lo ! at the first 
word John fell heavily into my arms. He, too, cherished this 
unhallowed joy in secret, and had long hidden this tendresse behind 
a mask of propriety. We dried our eyes, and were into overcoats 
and out on the street in a single presto measure, set to a swift stac- 
cato march for the Bowery. We must have a music-box apiece 
before we slept we swore it in a great forte oath! Prestissimo! 
but we were hungry for a good three-dollar package of discord! It 
was none of these modern contrivances with perforated discs and 

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interchangeable tunes we were after ; not the penny- 

in-the-slot, beer saloon air-shaker nor the authropo- 

morphic Pianola; only the regulation old-fashioned 

Swiss instrument would serve, the music-box of our 

youth, the wonderful, complicated little engine with 

a cylinder bristling with pins that picked forth harmonies from the 

soul of a steel comb, its melody limpid with treble accompaniments 

lithely sustained at the small end, where the teeth are small and 

active, with a picture of children skating on the cover top, and 

beneath, under glass oh! rapture! the whirring wheels all in 

sight, tempting the small, inquisitive ringer of youth. 

After an incredible amount of discussion as to the relative merits 
of the repertoires, we came to a decision and fled home, to abandon 
ourselves to the distractions of our tiny orchestras. The boxes were 
so full of music ! They have been trying to empty themselves ever 
since, but the magic purse seems inexhaustible. One night, in my 
idyllic youth, a German band played all night long under my window; 
but now I could carry the divine gift of music in my overcoat pocket ! 
I was like that Persian monarch for whom was made the first pair of 
shoes. " Your Majesty," said his vizier, " now at last for you, indeed, 
is the whole world covered with leather, as thou hast demanded ! " 
O Allah ! Now for me was the whole world patrolled with German 
bands ! They played " Say Au Revoir, but not Good-bye " under 
my pillow ; they gave me " Honey, my Honey " as I ate my breakfast. 

Before the week was up we had learned every tune by heart, 
down to the last grace-note in the accompaniment. We had learned, 
too, the sequence of tunes, inevitable, unchanging as the laws of the 
Medes of old. Never again shall I be able to hear "Sweet Marie" 
played without a shock that it is not followed by the u Isabella 

141 



THE ROMANCE OF 



Waltz ! " Never again shall I hear the end of 
"Honey, my Honey" without a tremble of nervous 
suspense till comes the little click! of the shooting 
cylinder, the apprehensive pause, and then hurrah ! 
the first gay notes of " Sweet Marie ! " 

But we could not long endure the perfect simplicity of 
the airs, and the old touch of supercivilization led us on to 
attempt to vary and improve the performance of our songs. It 
was John who discovered the virtue of a few pillows stuffed on 
top of the machine, and he achieved immense con expressione 
effects by waving the box wildly in the air. I contented myself 
with changing the angle of the fan-wheel so as to make it play 
allegro; then one got so very much music in such a very little 
while surely a pardonable gluttony! Had my box been larger 
I might have heard seven complete operas in an hour, like the 
old Duke in " Sylvie and Bruno !" Yet, after all, it was versatility 
of quality, rather than mere quantity, that should be the greatest 
victory, and we set out on experiments in timbre. At last we found, 
John and I, that by inserting a little paper cylinder under the glass, 
so as to press on the keys, we could give Sousa the grip, as one 
might say, and he would cough and wheeze in a way to amply dis- 
credit the statement that there is no such thing as humour in music. 
A greater thickness of paper gives the effect of a duo with mandolin 
and banjo, and this was by far the most successful of our variations. 
I should end as I began, I know, by a bit of maudlin philosophical 
moralysis. I might, for instance, trace the resemblances in the 
musical world and say that for me the conductor waving his baton is 
as one who winds the key to a very human music-box, in which each 
tooth of the comb is a living, vibrant human being. Or I might broach 

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THE COMMONPLACE 



a flagon of morality, forbye, and show how each one of 

us plays his little mental tunes in a set routine, wound 

up by the Great Musician; what devils stick their 

fingers into our works, and bid us play more fast or 

slow, more loud, more low; what jests of Fate, who 

inserts her cacophonous paper cylinder that we may wheeze through 

misfortunate obbligatos of pain. 

But no! My forelegs are stuck in the bog of realism, and 
I shall not budge from the literal presentation, for my little king- 
dom of delight suffered a revolution! It was John's fault, for 
John had been affecting a musical countess who gave afternoon 
talks on the "art of listening," in a studio dry molecular analyses 
of Kneisel Quartets and such like verbiage. So he came home late 
one night, while a music-box was bowling away merrily upon the 
couch with a one-pillow soft pedal. It was my music-box, too ! 

" Bah!" he swore, "your box phrases so abominably. It is so 
cold, so restrained, so colourless! Hear mine, now isn't that 
an excellent pianissimo ? There's polished technique ! There's chiaro 
scuro ! Oh, listen to that f Cat Came Back ! ' My machine is an 
artist ; yours is a mere virtuoso. Mine is a Joachim, a d' Albert ; 
yours is a Musin, a de Kontski. Get onto the smooth, suave legato 
of this wonderful box ! Hear its virile octaves ! Hark to those 
scales, like strings of white-hot pearls dropping upon velvet ! " He 
was moaning and tossing as he snored these parodies. It was a night- 
mare, both for him and for me. At four o'clock, in the 
first pink grey of the morning, I could endure 
it no longer. I arose haggardly and 
threw the two music-boxes 
into the fire! 

'43 



THE ROMANCE OF 



for fyt -precious 



NOW if a youth as mad-headed as I, without bookishness 
or literary education of any sort, with neither much of 
anything to say, nor much desire to say anything if 
such a charlatan would have his wares bought and his 
words read, he must be antic beyond his contemporains (a shorter 
word than the English equivalent, whereby I go forward one step in 
brevity and back two in translation). He must pique curiosity and 
tempt the reader on ; he must pay a contango, which is, by the same 
token, a premium paid for the privilege of deferring interest. He 
must, in short, be " precious," a quality essentially self-conscious. 
This has been at times a popular pose in Letters, and when success- 
ful it is a sufficiently amusing one, as poses go ; but I name no 
names for the sake of the others who fall between the stools of pur- 
pose and pretence who tie, as one might say, two one-legged beg- 
gars together and think they have made a whole man. 

If I have lured you so far into the web of my vagary, pray come 
into my parlour, too, and be hung for the whole sheep that you are, 
that I may fleece you close with my sophistries before you go. I 
have but one toy here to amuse you. I juggle idioms and balance 
phrases upon my pen, and whether you laugh at me or with me, I 
care not, moi. But as seriously as is possible (seriousness is not my 
present pose, I assure you), I would I might wheedle some of your 
dogged, clogged, rugged, ragged, fagged, foggy wits out of you, and 
constrain you to accept my pinchbeck for true plate the while ; for I 

144 



THE COMMONPLACE 



have a little sense in my alloy, after all, and you might 

go further and fare the worse than by my chatter. If 

I dared I would jump boldly into my thesis, without for 

apologies ; but it so happens that it is one that should 

be itself its own illustration. I should convince you 

of its truth by its own garment of expression, instead of depending 

upon my logical introductory presentation. But this I fear to try. 

My pistols, I fear, are, as the Duchess of Malfi might say, loaded 

with nothing but perfumes and kissing-comfits. 

Now that you are well a-muddled, and like to turn to a saner 
page, let me button-hole you with one clean statement while you 
stand, gasping. Indeed I fear that a dozen have fled already from 
my gibbering, and I speak to but one sullen survivor, determined to 
collect his promised interest. We know, then, the joy of colour, taste, 
sound and odour as mere sensual gratifications, undiluted with sig- 
nificance. But, since I seldom read, I have never seen the apology 
for the sensual pleasures of diction, pure and simple in its essence. 
Swinburne, I hear, has his lilts and harmonies in poesy, and perhaps 
that is the nearest like, except for the Purpose that drives his chariot ; 
but I am for that runaway mood that gallops gayly forth into No- 
where, unguided and unrestrained. A twenty bookmen shall come 
up to me, no doubt, with their index fingers set upon examples, but 
I am happier in my ignorance, and I prefer to think it has not yet 
been done or, at least, not exactly as I mean. Indeed, you may 
depend upon me to evade proof with some quibble. 

Your didactic prose is a wain, pulled over the hard city street. 
Fiction is the jaunting-car that paddles down the by-side lane. 
Poetry wallops you along the bridle path with your mistress Muse 
on a pillion, and, but very rarely, dares across country, over a low 



THE ROMANCE OF 



hedge or two (but always after some fleeting hare of 
Si $Ua thought); but I I am for the reckless run over the 
tot tfit moor and downs the riderless random enthusiasm of 
nonsense! So out of my way, gentlemen of the red 
coats, or I bowl you down! Mazeppa might do for 
a figure, but his steed was hampered with the load; his runaway had 
too savage an import, and it is my purpose to be only a little mad. 
Pegasus is a forbidden metaphor nowadays. He is hackneyed by 
the livery of vulgar stables. I prefer that Black Horse, vanned and 
terrible, who flicked out the eyes of the Second Calender, as my 
mount is like to serve me ! 

In the Sonata is an exemplification of my theory. There, now, 
is a vehicle that carries no passengers, save what one's fancy lades it 
with it charges and soars with no visible rein to guide it, except 
when a thread of melody steers it into some little course of delight. 
So there is a secret rhythm in the best prose that is more subtile than 
the metres of verse, and which is to the essay what the expression of 
the face is to the talker. One may, indeed, use that same word, 
expression or gesture, instead of the common term, style. But a 
common or house observation shows us that there is some pleasure 
in the face whose lips are dumb, and I dare say there is joy for the 
coxcomb and female fop in the unworn gown, as it hangs on its 
lonely nail, or is draped on the lay figure of meaningless, meaning- 
ful form. So it is to such hair-brains and cockatoos I appeal. Come 
to my Masquerade and let us for a wild half-hour wear the spangles 
and tights of palestric impropriety, hid by a visor that shall not be- 
tray our thought. In this lesser pantomime one may be irrelevant, 
inconsequent and immature, and sport the flower of thought that 
has not yet fruited into purpose. 

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Can you find your way through this frivolity, 
mixed metaphor and tricksy phrase, and see what a 
wanton a paragraph may become when one sends it 
forth, free from the conventional moralities of licenced 
Literature ? I have been to many such debauch, and 
have got so drunk on adjectives that I thought all my thoughts 
double. In this Harlequinade, too, there are more games than my 
promised Sonata. I will mock you the " Mill in the Forest," or any 
other descriptive piece, with coloured words, parodying your orches- 
tra with graphic nonsense. I will paint the charms of the dance in 
seductive syllables ; or no ! better the long forthright swing of the 
skater, this way, that way, fast and faster, the Ice King's master, the 
nibble of the cold, the brush of the rasping breeze, the little rascally 
hubbies where the wind has pimpled the surface, and the dark, blue- 
black slippery glare beyond, where damn it! I shock you with a 
raucous expletive, and you plunk into a dash of ice-cold remon- 
strance up to your ears, and flounder, cold and dripping, tooth-loose, 
and grey with fright ! 

So, at the expense of good taste and to the grief of the judi- 
cious, I force my point upon you. En garde, messieurs, and answer 
me ! I find few enough who can play the game with me or for me. 
The age of Chivalry is gone, in horsemanship as well as in feats of 
arms and sword-play. Who knows the demi-volt, the caracole, the 
curvet, the capriole or the rest of the Seven Movements ? Who is 
elegant in the High Manege or Raised Airs ? Who prances for 
the sheer delight of gallant rhetoric, on Litotes, Asteism or Onomat- 
opceia? Fain would I be bedevilled, but the Magi are passed away. 
I must fall back on Dr. Johnson's pious flim-flam, but the humours 
of his verbiage are in me, not in him. 

147 



THE ROMANCE OF 



tot tfy 

Prt CIOU0 



Yet the New Century Carnival is proclaimed and, 
over the water, there are, I hear, a few who are to 
revel with King Rex in the Empire of Unreason. On 
this side the nearest we have got to it is a little ma- 
chine-made nonsense, ground out for the supposititious 
amusement of babes. But what I mean is neither second childhood, 
nor bombast, nor buffoonery, nor silliness, nor even insanity 
though that is nearest the mark but a tipsy Hell-raising with this 
wine of our fine old English speech. It has been too long corked 
up and cobwebbed by tradition, sanctified to the Elect, and discreetly 
dispensed at decorous dinner tables by respectable authors, and 
ladies- with-three-names who also write. It has been too long sipped 
and tasted mincingly out of the cut-glass goblets of the literary table. 
Gentlemen-inebriates all, I wave you the red flag! A torch 
this way ! What ho ! Roysterers ! Up younglings, quodlings, dab- 
chicks, devil-may-cares and mad-mannered blades! To the devil 
with the tip-staves and tithing-men, constables, beadles, vergers, 
deputy sheriffs and long-lipped parsons ! A raid on the wine-cellar 
to break flagons of good English, and drink, drink, drink, till your 
heads spin ! There is still joy and intoxication in the jolly old 
bottles that Shakespeare and his giddy-phrased Bucca- 
neering crew of poets filled ! " By Gad- 
slid ! I scorn it, to be a consort 
for every humdrum, hang 
them, scroyles ! " 



148 



THE COMMONPLACE 



PERHAPS I am as discreet, honourable and loyal as the ordinary 
man, but I confess that at times I have a frantic desire to 
escape to the moon and tell all I know, or to unburden 
myself of the weight of dynamic confidences, pouring my 
revelations into the ears of some responsive idiot. In the old days 
a corpse was fastened to the felon's back in punishment of certain 
crimes, and to me a secret seems almost as deadly a load. The 
temptation to vivify the tale and make it walk abroad on its own 
legs is hard to deny. 

There are secrets so dangerous that to possess them is foolhardy. 
It is like storing dynamite in one's drawing-room; an explosion is 
always imminent, and publication would mean disaster. I have 
known secrets myself, so outrageous, so bulging with scandal, that, 
had I not promptly forgotten them, they would have undone society 
twenty times over ! There is a titilating pleasure in the keeping of 
such terrific truths and it increases one's inward pride to think that 
one knows of another what, if told, would change the aspect of a life. 
The temptation to tell is like being in church and suddenly seized 
with an almost irresistible impulse to shriek aloud, or like standing 
at the verge of a cliff and being impelled to throw one's self over. To 
give way to the perfidious thought means moral death, and when one 
falls, one brings others down as well. 

Many of us, though we conceit ourselves to be worthy of trust, 
are, as regards our secrets, in a state of unstable equilibrium. Women, 

149 



THE ROMANCE OF 



seeing and feeling things more personally and subject- 
ively than men, are especially hazardously poised. So 
long as the friendship with the confidant is preserved, the 



secret is safe, but let estrangement come, and suddenly 
the balance becomes top-heavy; one's morality falls 
and the secret escapes in the crash of anger. I have known women 
who felt themselves quite free to tell secrets when the proper owner 
of them proved guilty of unfaithfulness. The difference in view- 
point of the sexes seems to be this: men have a definite code of 
honour, certain well-recognized laws of conduct acknowledged even 
by those who do not always obey them. " The brand of the dog is 
upon him by whom is a secret revealed." If a woman is honourable 
(in the man's sense of the term), it is a test of her individual char- 
acter, and not of conformity to any feminine ethical system. 

Most men, for instance, and some women (especially when in- 
fluenced by love or great friendship), will keep a confidence not only 
passively, but actively. As Kipling's Hafiz teaches : 

"If there be trouble to Herward, and a lie of the blackest can clear, 
Lie, while thy lips can move, or a man is alive to hear! " 

It seems right, too, that in lesser cases one is justified in lying to 
protect one's own secret, as in disavowing the authorship of an anony- 
mous book ; for one surely need not be at the mercy of every ques- 
tioner. The true confidant is not a mere negative receptacle for 
your story, but a positive ally. 

On the other hand, there are those who hold that a singular and 
prime friendship dissolves all other obligations whatsoever, and that 
secrets betrayed are the greatest sacrifices possible upon the altar of 
love. Montaigne says, " The secret I have sworn not to reveal to any 
other I may, without perjury, communicate to him who is not 

*'&* 



THE COMMONPLACE 



another, but myself." There are few friendships nowa- 
days so close as his with Estienne de la Boetie (who, 
himself, "would not so much as lie in jest"); theirs 
was one of the great friendships of history ; but there 
is much casuistry used by those who would manifest 
their importance in knowing mysterious things. They obey the 
letter of the law and tell without really telling, letting the truth leak 
out in wise hints and suggestions, or they tell part of a tale and hood- 
wink themselves into thinking that they have violated no confidence. 
Yet nothing is so dangerous as half a truth. It is like pulling one 
end of a bow-knot. Sooner or later it is inevitable that the hearer 
will come across the other side, and the cat will be out of the bag. 

But some secrets have so great a fiction interest, or such sensa- 
tional psychology that one is quite unable to refrain from telling the 
tale, without names, or localities, perhaps, merely for the story's sake. 
This is, perhaps, permissible when one really tells for the study of 
human nature rather than as gossip. It is dangerous always, but a 
clever person can so distort certain details that the true characters can 
never be traced. For myself, I would never demand absolute confi- 
dence, for I would never tell anything to anybody whose discretion I 
could not absolutely trust, and a friend can as often aid one by tell- 
ing at the proper time as by keeping silent. 

Some secrets are told only for the purpose of being repeated. 
What one cannot tell one's self one must get others to tell for one, 
and this trick is the theme of many a farce. Women understand 
this perfectly; it is their code, and men laugh at it, feeling themselves 
superior. The three quickest ways of communication, cynics say, are 
telephone, telegraph, and tell-a-woman. Women are notoriously 
fond of secrets ; it is their only chance for romance. No man who 



THE ROMANCE OF 



desires to obtain a woman's affection should for- 
get this. Not that it is necessary to initiate her into 
your affairs, but you will, as soon as possible, see that 



something happens which she may consider it wise 
not to tell. Cement her interest with some lively 
secret that ties you to her irrevocably, so that she cannot come across 
your photograph or your letter without a knowing smile. 

There are those, too, who hold that their own idea of a secret's 
importance is the excuse for divulgence or defense, but a man of 
honour will keep the secret of a child as closely as that of an intimate 
friend. The ass who surrounds his every narration with mystery and 
takes needless precautions, has his rights, and though you may hear 
the tale at the next corner you are still bound to silence. Some re- 
spect their own secrets but not those of others and have no compunc- 
tions against wheedling out a confidence from a weak acquaintance, 
thereby becoming accessory to the fact of his faithlessness. A secret 
discovered should be held as sacred as a secret confided. 

The desire to tell secrets is one of the most contagious of dis- 

eases, and few of us are immune. Some vigorous moral constitu- 

tions never succumb, but once an epidemic begins, it is hard work 

stopping it, and a secret on the rampage is well nigh irresistible. 

Tell your secret, then, broadcast, and let it have its way until it dies 

out, or else lock it in your own heart. But above all confide it not 

to her who asserts that she never has the slightest desire to 

tell, for there, like a seed sown in fertile ground, it 

will germinate and flower long after you have 

forgotten it, aye, and bring forth 

fruit you never planted. 



THE COMMONPLACE 



dffelett 



VIVETTE: or, The Memoirs of the Romance Association. With a 
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