Baines, with the curious, grim politeness which often characterized her relations with her daughters. The toasting-fork fell on the brick floor, after having rebounded from the ash-tin. Sophia hurriedly replaced it on the rack. Baines proceeded, conquering the annoyance caused by the toasting-fork. What shall you do? Baines was unfortunate in her phrasing that morning. She happened to be, in truth, rather an exceptional parent, but that morning she seemed unable to avoid the absurd pretensions which parents of those days assumed quite sincerely and which every good child with meekness accepted.
Sophia was not a good child, and she obstinately denied in her heart the cardinal principle of family life, namely, that the parent has conferred on the offspring a supreme favour by bringing it into the world. She interrupted her mother again, rudely. Baines, with an air of quiet reasoning, of putting herself on a level with Sophia. Out of my way! She hurried across the kitchen with a pie, which she whipped into the oven, shutting the iron door with a careful gesture. The tap in the coal-cellar, out of repair, could be heard distinctly and systematically dropping water into a jar on the slopstone.
She had now quitted the range. Baines was startled and surprised.
But it was not these phenomena which seriously affected Mrs. What startled and surprised Mrs. It was a revelation to Mrs. Why in the name of heaven had the girl taken such a notion into her head? Orphans, widows, and spinsters of a certain age suddenly thrown on the world — these were the women who, naturally, became teachers, because they had to become something.
But that the daughter of comfortable parents, surrounded by love and the pleasures of an excellent home, should wish to teach in a school was beyond the horizons of Mrs. Comfortable parents of today who have a difficulty in sympathizing with Mrs. Baines, should picture what their feelings would be if their Sophias showed a rude desire to adopt the vocation of chauffeur.
It was undoubtedly humiliating to a mother to be forced to use diplomacy in dealing with a girl in short sleeves. In HER day mothers had been autocrats. But Sophia was Sophia. Baines covered her unprecedented emotions by gazing into the oven at the first pie.
The pie was doing well, under all the circumstances. In those few seconds she reflected rapidly and decided that to a desperate disease a desperate remedy must be applied. She herself had never been further than Manchester. Your father and I are prepared to put up with a certain amount, but the line must be drawn.
Now let me hear no more of this, please. I wish you would imitate your sister a little more. If you choose to be an idler about the house, we shall have to endure it. We can only advise you for your own good. But as for this. It was a powerful and impressive speech, enunciated clearly in such a tone as Mrs. Baines had not employed since dismissing a young lady assistant five years ago for light conduct.
A commotion of pails resounded at the top of the stone steps. It was Maggie in descent from the bedrooms. Now, the Baines family passed its life in doing its best to keep its affairs to itself, the assumption being that Maggie and all the shop-staff Mr. Povey possibly excepted were obsessed by a ravening appetite for that which did not concern them. Therefore the voices of the Baineses always died away, or fell to a hushed, mysterious whisper, whenever the foot of the eavesdropper was heard.
Baines, who, on her way into the shop, had discovered the Indispensable in the cutting-out room. It is true that the cutting-out room was almost Mr. It is true that the tailoring department flourished with orders, employing several tailors who crossed legs in their own homes, and that appointments were continually being made with customers for trying-on in that room. But these considerations did not affect Mrs.
Murley, superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist circuit, called on Mr. On a recent visit Mr. Murley, who had a genuine mediaeval passion for souls, and who spent his money and health freely in gratifying the passion, had accepted the offer strictly on behalf of Christ, and had carefully explained to Mr.
The fact was that Mr. Povey always doffed his coat when cutting out. Instead of a coat he wore a tape-measure. This exclamation shocked Mr. It was not unknown on the lips of Mrs. Baines, but she usually reserved it for members of her own sex. Povey could not recall that she had ever applied it to any statement of his. The redness of her face did not help him to answer the question, for her face was always red after the operations of Friday in the kitchen.
Critchlow and have it out — like a man? Povey had his views. I shall be having you laid up next.
Let me take you down to the very beginning, which is always a very good place to start
Show some pluck, do! Her face expressed a pure sympathy, uncomplicated by critical sentiments. Povey rapidly bathed in that sympathy, and then decided that he must show himself a man of oak and iron. She gave him the overcoat, anxious to be of service. Baines to herself with mild grimness; and aloud: And if anything happens run upstairs and tell me.
And her tone was peculiar, charged with import, confidential, and therefore very flattering to Constance. He would save about ten yards, in two miles, by going out through the side-door instead of through the shop. Baines might follow him and utter some remark prejudicial to his dignity before the assistants? Baines could have guessed, and did. Baines, dryly, as Mr. Povey dragged open the side-door. The ends of the forgotten tape-measure were dangling beneath coat and overcoat. Then he went off down King Street, with an exterior of gay briskness and dignified joy in the fine May morning.
But there was no May morning in his cowardly human heart. Povey disregarded all appeals. He had put his hand to the plough, and he would not look back. Baines and Constance were both at the door.
Baines, who kept the door open. Constance blushed, full of pride. Baines had acknowledged, in presence of Constance, the marked and growing change which had characterized Mrs. Such frankness on the part of her mother, coming after the decision about leaving school, proved indeed that Constance had ceased to be a mere girl. The doctor, who carried a little bag and wore riding-breeches he was the last doctor in Bursley to abandon the saddle for the dog-cart , saluted and straightened his high, black stock. But he put his mother to some trouble, for all that.
Baines to Constance as she closed the door. Baines replied, pointing to the door which led to the passage; and while Constance obeyed, Mrs. Baines herself shut the staircase-door. She wants to keep on with Miss Chetwynd and be a teacher. Baines had half a mind to add that Sophia had mentioned London. But she restrained herself. She was rolling up Mr. Baines replied, with calm and yet terrible decision. As Constance put Mr. And she wanted to help everybody, to show in some way how much she sympathized with and loved everybody. Even the madness of Sophia did not weaken her longing to comfort Sophia.
That afternoon there was a search for Sophia, whom no one had seen since dinner. She was discovered by her mother, sitting alone and unoccupied in the drawing-room. The circumstance was in itself sufficiently peculiar, for on weekdays the drawing-room was never used, even by the girls during their holidays, except for the purpose of playing the piano.
Baines at the open door of the bedroom, which was at right-angles with, and close to, the drawing-room door. Then she surged swishing along the corridor and went into the showroom, whither she had been called. Sophia passed to the bedroom, the eternal prison of John Baines. Although, on account of his nervous restlessness, Mr. Baines was never left alone, it was not a part of the usual duty of the girls to sit with him. The person who undertook the main portion of the vigils was a certain Aunt Maria — whom the girls knew to be not a real aunt, not a powerful, effective aunt like Aunt Harriet of Axe — but a poor second cousin of John Baines; one of those necessitous, pitiful relatives who so often make life difficult for a great family in a small town.
She was a shrivelled little woman, capable of sitting twelve hours a day in a bedroom and thriving on the regime. At nights she went home to her little cottage in Brougham Street; she had her Thursday afternoons and generally her Sundays, and during the school vacations she was supposed to come only when she felt inclined, or when the cleaning of her cottage permitted her to come. Hence, in holiday seasons, Mr. Baines weighed more heavily on his household than at other times, and his nurses relieved each other according to the contingencies of the moment rather than by a set programme of hours.
Sophia went into the bedroom as though it were a mere bedroom, with its majestic mahogany furniture, its crimson rep curtains edged with gold , and its white, heavily tasselled counterpane. She was aged four when John Baines had suddenly been seized with giddiness on the steps of his shop, and had fallen, and, without losing consciousness, had been transformed from John Baines into a curious and pathetic survival of John Baines. She had never heard of the crisis through which her mother, assisted by Aunt Harriet, had passed, and out of which she had triumphantly emerged. She was not yet old enough even to suspect it.
She possessed only the vaguest memory of her father before he had finished with the world. She knew him simply as an organism on a bed, whose left side was wasted, whose eyes were often inflamed, whose mouth was crooked, who had no creases from the nose to the corners of the mouth like other people, who experienced difficulty in eating because the food would somehow get between his gums and his cheek, who slept a great deal but was excessively fidgety while awake, who seemed to hear what was said to him a long time after it was uttered, as if the sense had to travel miles by labyrinthine passages to his brain, and who talked very, very slowly in a weak, trembling voice.
And she had an image of that remote brain as something with a red spot on it, for once Constance had said: Baines herself had largely lost the sense of it — such is the effect of use. Even the ruined organism only remembered fitfully and partially that it had once been John Baines. Baines had not, by the habit of years, gradually built up a gigantic fiction that the organism remained ever the supreme consultative head of the family; if Mr.
Critchlow had not obstinately continued to treat it as a crony, the mass of living and dead nerves on the rich Victorian bedstead would have been of no more account than some Aunt Maria in similar case. These two persons, his wife and his friend, just managed to keep him morally alive by indefatigably feeding his importance and his dignity. The feat was a miracle of stubborn self-deceiving, splendidly blind devotion, and incorrigible pride. When Sophia entered the room, the paralytic followed her with his nervous gaze until she had sat down on the end of the sofa at the foot of the bed.
He seemed to study her for a long time, and then he murmured in his slow, enfeebled, irregular voice:. Sophia saw that this was one of his bad, dull days. He had, occasionally, days of comparative nimbleness, when his wits seized almost easily the meanings of external phenomena. Presently his sallow face and long white beard began to slip down the steep slant of the pillows, and a troubled look came into his left eye. Sophia rose and, putting her hands under his armpits, lifted him higher in the bed. He was not heavy, but only a strong girl of her years could have done it. And, with his controllable right hand, he took her hand as she stood by the bed.
She was so young and fresh, such an incarnation of the spirit of health, and he was so far gone in decay and corruption, that there seemed in this contact of body with body something unnatural and repulsive. But Sophia did not so feel it. She was, in fact, aware of the badness of trade, caused by a vague war in the United States. That was all she knew, though people were starving in the Five Towns as they were starving in Manchester.
Con — Constance and you must help her. What can I do. The heat from his dry fingers was warming her arm. She wanted to move, but she could not have withdrawn her arm without appearing impatient. For a similar reason she would not avert her glance. A deepening flush increased the lustre of her immature loveliness as she bent over him. But though it was so close he did not feel that radiance.
He had long outlived a susceptibility to the strange influences of youth and beauty. Then his white beard rose at the tip as he looked up at the ceiling above his head, reflectively. She nodded again; he loosed her arm, and she turned away. She could not have spoken. Glittering tears enriched her eyes. She was saddened into a profound and sudden grief by the ridiculousness of the scene.
She had youth, physical perfection; she brimmed with energy, with the sense of vital power; all existence lay before her; when she put her lips together she felt capable of outvying no matter whom in fortitude of resolution. She had always hated the shop. She did not understand how her mother and Constance could bring themselves to be deferential and flattering to every customer that entered.
No, she did not understand it; but her mother though a proud woman and Constance seemed to practise such behaviour so naturally, so unquestioningly, that she had never imparted to either of them her feelings; she guessed that she would not be comprehended. These decisions had formed part of her inner life for years past. She had not mentioned them, being secretive and scarcely anxious for unpleasantness. But she had been slowly preparing herself to mention them. The extraordinary announcement that she was to leave school at the same time as Constance had taken her unawares, before the preparations ripening in her mind were complete — before, as it were, she had girded up her loins for the fray.
She had been caught unready, and the opposing forces had obtained the advantage of her. But did they suppose she was beaten? No argument from her mother! And so the great desire of her life, nourished year after year in her inmost bosom, was to be flouted and sacrificed with a word! Her mother did not appear ridiculous in the affair, for her mother was a genuine power, commanding by turns genuine love and genuine hate, and always, till then, obedience and the respect of reason.
It was her father who appeared tragically ridiculous; and, in turn, the whole movement against her grew grotesque in its absurdity. He knew nothing; he perceived nothing; he was a ferocious egoist, like most bedridden invalids, out of touch with life — and he thought himself justified in making destinies, and capable of making them!
Sophia could not, perhaps, define the feelings which overwhelmed her; but she was conscious of their tendency. They aged her, by years. They aged her so that, in a kind of momentary ecstasy of insight, she felt older than her father himself. It was too painful. She was humiliated, not for herself, but for him. She ran out of the room. Fortunately Constance was passing in the corridor, otherwise Sophia had been found guilty of a great breach of duty.
At supper, with her red, downcast eyes, she had returned to sheer girlishness again, overawed by her mother. The meal had an unusual aspect. The others had cold pork, half a cold apple-pie, and cheese; but Sophia only pretended to eat; each time she tried to swallow, the tears came into her eyes, and her throat shut itself up. Baines and Constance had a too careful air of eating just as usual. Baines, critically munching a fragment of pie-crust.
She rang a little hand-bell. Maggie appeared from the cave. She wore a plain white bib-less apron, but no cap. Baines then talked to Mr. Povey about his condition, and in particular as to the need for precautions against taking cold in the bereaved gum. She was a brave and determined woman; from start to finish she behaved as though nothing whatever in the household except her pastry and Mr. Povey had deviated that day from the normal. She did not mean this threat, but its utterance gave her relief. Long after the gas was out, rare sobs from Sophia shook the bed, and they both lay awake in silence.
There was another detached, hard sob. And then, such is the astonishing talent of youth, they both fell asleep. The next morning, early, Sophia stood gazing out of the window at the Square. It was Saturday, and all over the Square little stalls, with yellow linen roofs, were being erected for the principal market of the week. Eggs are now offered at five farthings apiece in a palace that cost twenty-five thousand pounds. Yet you will find people in Bursley ready to assert that things generally are not what they were, and that in particular the romance of life has gone.
But until it has gone it is never romance. To Sophia, though she was in a mood which usually stimulates the sense of the romantic, there was nothing of romance in this picturesque tented field. It was just the market. The public-houses were open, several of them specializing in hot rum at 5. The town-crier, in his blue coat with red facings, crossed the Square, carrying his big bell by the tongue. There was the same shocking hole in one of Mrs. Such matters it was that Sophia noticed with dull, smarting eyes. That vigorous woman, after a calm night by the side of the paralytic, was already up and neatly dressed.
She carried a bottle and an egg-cup, and a small quantity of jam in a table-spoon. It was true; she was shivering. Baines went to the dressing-table and filled the egg-cup out of the bottle. Baines, with good cheer. The ludicrousness of attempting to cure obstinacy and yearnings for a freer life by means of castor-oil is perhaps less real than apparent.
The strange interdependence of spirit and body, though only understood intelligently in these intelligent days, was guessed at by sensible mediaeval mothers. And certainly, at the period when Mrs. Baines represented modernity, castor-oil was still the remedy of remedies. It had supplanted cupping.
And, if part of its vogue was due to its extreme unpleasantness, it had at least proved its qualities in many a contest with disease. Less than two years previously old Dr. Harrop father of him who told Mrs. Povey , being then aged eighty-six, had fallen from top to bottom of his staircase. He had scrambled up, taken a dose of castor-oil at once, and on the morrow was as well as if he had never seen a staircase. This episode was town property and had sunk deep into all hearts. The two girls lay side by side, on their backs.
They seemed very thin and fragile in comparison with the solidity of their mother. Constance wisely held her peace. Baines put her lips together, meaning: I shall have to be angry in another moment! Never had the ultimatum failed. It was a historic moment in the family life. Baines thought the last day had come. But still she held herself in dignity while the apocalypse roared in her ears.
And if you will be ill you must. Nor was that all. In the middle of the morning, when Mrs. Baines was pricing new potatoes at a stall at the top end of the Square, and Constance choosing threepennyworth of flowers at the same stall, whom should they both see, walking all alone across the empty corner by the Bank, but Sophia Baines! The Square was busy and populous, and Sophia was only visible behind a foreground of restless, chattering figures.
But she was unmistakably seen. She had been beyond the Square and was returning. Constance could scarcely believe her eyes. For let it be said that the girls never under any circumstances went forth without permission, and scarcely ever alone. That Sophia should be at large in the town, without leave, without notice, exactly as if she were her own mistress, was a proposition which a day earlier had been inconceivable. Yet there she was, and moving with a leisureliness that must be described as effrontery!
Red with apprehension, Constance wondered what would happen. Baines said nought of her feelings, did not even indicate that she had seen the scandalous, the breath-taking sight. And they descended the Square laden with the lighter portions of what they had bought during an hour of buying. They went into the house by the King Street door; and the first thing they heard was the sound of the piano upstairs. Povey had his dinner alone; then the table was laid for them, and the bell rung, and Sophia came insolently downstairs to join her mother and sister. The dinner was silently eaten, and Constance having rendered thanks to God, Sophia rose abruptly to go.
Baines suddenly to Constance, who had meant to flee. Constance was therefore destined to be present at the happening, doubtless in order to emphasize its importance and seriousness. Baines resumed to her younger daughter in an ominous voice. There is no reason why everybody in the house should hear. Come right into the room — right in! Now, what were you doing out in the town this morning? Sophia was fidgeting nervously with the edge of her little black apron, and worrying a seam of the carpet with her toes.
She bent her head towards her left shoulder, at first smiling vaguely. She said nothing, but every limb, every glance, every curve, was speaking. Baines sat firmly in her own rocking-chair, full of the sensation that she had Sophia, as it were, writhing on the end of a skewer. Constance was braced into a moveless anguish. You said nothing to me about going out. Constance knew not where to look.
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Baines to her massive foundations. And a sob broke out of Sophia. She was behaving like a little child. She bore no trace of the young maiden sedately crossing the Square without leave and without an escort. How can I tell what you say if you talk like that? Baines failed to hear out of discretion, which is better than valour. She was weeping now, and tears were ricocheting off her lovely crimson cheeks on to the carpet; her whole body was trembling. Baines enjoined, with a touch of rough persuasiveness in her voice. She spoke so indistinctly that her mother now really had some difficulty in catching her words.
It is your guilty conscience makes you cry. I have merely asked you a question, and I intend to have an answer. If you had told me afterwards, when I came in, of your own accord, it might have been different. But no, not a word! It is I who have to ask! Baines said in her own breast. The sobbing recommenced tempestuously.
I just went out. In a moment a hurricane of emotion overwhelmed her, as though that stamping of the foot had released the demons of the storm. Her face was transfigured by uncontrollable passion. You are a horrid, cruel woman, and I hate you! And you can do what you like! Put me in prison if you like! She dashed from the room, banging the door with a shock that made the house rattle. And she had shouted so loud that she might have been heard in the shop, and even in the kitchen.
It was a startling experience for Mrs. Baines, why did you saddle yourself with a witness? Why did you so positively say that you intended to have an answer? What a pity it is, for her OWN sake! She got halfway upstairs to the second floor, and then, hearing the loud, rapid, painful, regular intake of sobbing breaths, she hesitated and crept down again. It robbed her of her profound, absolute belief in herself. She had thought she knew everything in her house and could do everything there.
On the Sunday afternoon Mrs. Baines was trying to repose a little in the drawing-room, where she had caused a fire to be lighted. Constance was in the adjacent bedroom with her father. Sophia lay between blankets in the room overhead with a feverish cold. This cold and her new dress were Mrs.
She had prophesied a cold for Sophia, refuser of castor-oil, and it had come. Sophia had received, for standing in her nightdress at a draughty window of a May morning, what Mrs. With her lace-bordered mantle and her low, stringed bonnet she had assuredly given a unique lustre to the congregation at chapel. She was stout; but the fashions, prescribing vague outlines, broad downward slopes, and vast amplitudes, were favourable to her shape.
It must not be supposed that stout women of a certain age never seek to seduce the eye and trouble the meditations of man by other than moral charms. Baines knew that she was comely, natty, imposing, and elegant; and the knowledge gave her real pleasure. She would look over her shoulder in the glass as anxious as a girl: She did not repose; she could not. She would have been surprised to hear that her attitude, bearing, and expression powerfully recalled those of her reprehensible daughter.
But it was so. A good angel made her restless, and she went idly to the window and glanced upon the empty, shuttered Square. The good angel, withdrawing her from such a mood, directed her gaze to a particular spot at the top of the square. She passed at once out of the room — not precisely in a hurry, yet without wasting time. In a recess under the stairs, immediately outside the door, was a box about a foot square and eighteen inches deep covered with black American cloth. She bent down and unlocked this box, which was padded within and contained the Baines silver tea-service.
She drew from the box teapot, sugar-bowl, milk-jug, sugar-tongs, hot-water jug, and cake-stand a flattish dish with an arching semicircular handle — chased vessels, silver without and silver-gilt within; glittering heirlooms that shone in the dark corner like the secret pride of respectable families. These she put on a tray that always stood on end in the recess. Then she looked upwards through the banisters to the second floor. Baines when Maggie descended. You know where the cake is — that new one. And the silver spoons. Baines was wearing a black alpaca apron.
She removed it and put on another one of black satin embroidered with yellow flowers, which, by merely inserting her arm into the chamber, she had taken from off the chest of drawers in her bedroom. Then she fixed herself in the drawing-room. Baines, rising to welcome. Miss Chetwynd, simpering momentarily, came forward with that self-conscious, slightly histrionic air, which is one of the penalties of pedagogy. She lived under the eyes of her pupils. Her life was one ceaseless effort to avoid doing anything which might influence her charges for evil or shock the natural sensitiveness of their parents.
She had to wind her earthly way through a forest of the most delicate susceptibilities — fern-fronds that stretched across the path, and that she must not even accidentally disturb with her skirt as she passed. No wonder she walked mincingly! No wonder she had a habit of keeping her elbows close to her sides, and drawing her mantle tight in the streets! For these characteristics Mrs. Baines, as a matron in easy circumstances, pitied Miss Chetwynd.
On the other hand, Miss Chetwynd could choose ground from which to look down upon Mrs. Baines, who after all was in trade. Miss Chetwynd had no trace of the local accent; she spoke with a southern refinement which the Five Towns, while making fun of it, envied. Baines, by virtue of her wifehood, carried the day. Miss Chetwynd, carefully and precisely seated, opened the conversation by explaining that even if Mrs.
Baines had not written she should have called in any case, as she made a practice of calling at the home of her pupils in vacation time: Baines, it should be stated, had on Friday afternoon sent to Miss Chetwynd one of her most luxurious notes — lavender-coloured paper with scalloped edges, the selectest mode of the day — to announce, in her Italian hand, that Constance and Sophia would both leave school at the end of the next term, and giving reasons in regard to Sophia.
Before the visitor had got very far, Maggie came in with a lacquered tea-caddy and the silver teapot and a silver spoon on a lacquered tray. Baines, while continuing to talk, chose a key from her bunch, unlocked the tea-caddy, and transferred four teaspoonfuls of tea from it to the teapot and relocked the caddy. The remark was merely in the way of small-talk — for the hostess felt a certain unwilling hesitation to approach the topic of daughters — but it happened to suit the social purpose of Miss Chetwynd to a nicety.
Miss Chetwynd was a vessel brimming with great tidings. It is the fact that Mrs. Baines was taken aback. At the beginning a misconception must be removed from the path. Many people, if not most, look on literary taste as an elegant accomplishment, by acquiring which they will complete themselves, and make themselves finally fit as members of a correct society. They are secretly ashamed of their ignorance of literature, in the same way as they would be ashamed of their ignorance of etiquette at a high entertainment, or of their inability to ride a horse if suddenly called upon to do so.
There are certain things that a man ought to know, or to know about, and literature is one of them: Then, literature is such a charming distraction! Literary taste thus serves two purposes: This attitude, or any attitude which resembles it, is wrong. To him who really comprehends what literature is, and what the function of literature is, this attitude is simply ludicrous. It is also fatal to the formation of literary taste. People who regard literary taste simply as an accomplishment, and literature simply as a distraction, will never truly succeed either in acquiring the accomplishment or in using it half-acquired as a distraction; though the one is the most perfect of distractions, and though the other is unsurpassed by any other accomplishment in elegance or in power to impress the universal snobbery of civilised mankind.
Literature, instead of being an accessory, is the fundamental sine qua non of complete living. I am extremely anxious to avoid rhetorical exaggerations. He is merely not born. He can only eat his dinner. What more than anything else annoys people who know the true function of literature, and have profited thereby, is the spectacle of so many thousands of individuals going about under the delusion that they are alive, when, as a fact, they are no nearer being alive than a bear in winter.
I will tell you what literature is! No — I only wish I could. Gleams can be thrown on the secret, inklings given, but no more. I will try to give you an inkling. And, to do so, I will take you back into your own history, or forward into it. That evening when you went for a walk with your faithful friend, the friend from whom you hid nothing — or almost nothing. You were, in truth, somewhat inclined to hide from him the particular matter which monopolised your mind that evening, but somehow you contrived to get on to it, drawn by an overpowering fascination.
And as your faithful friend was sympathetic and discreet, and flattered you by a respectful curiosity, you proceeded further and further into the said matter, growing more and more confidential, until at last you cried out, in a terrific whisper: Of course, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, she was not miraculous. Your faithful friend had never noticed that she was miraculous, nor had about forty thousand other fairly keen observers. She was just a girl. Troy had not been burnt for her. A girl cannot be called a miracle. If a girl is to be called a miracle, then you might call pretty nearly anything a miracle.
That is just it: Amid all the miracles of the universe you had just wakened up to one. You were full of your discovery. You were under a divine impulsion to impart that discovery. You had a strong sense of the marvellous beauty of something, and you had to share it. You were in a passion about something, and you had to vent yourself on somebody. You were drawn towards the whole of the rest of the human race. Mark the effect of your mood and utterance on your faithful friend. He knew that she was not a miracle. No other person could have made him believe that she was a miracle. But you, by the force and sincerity of your own vision of her, and by the fervour of your desire to make him participate in your vision, did for quite a long time cause him to feel that he had been blind to the miracle of that girl.
You were producing literature. Your eyes were unlidded, your ears were unstopped, to some part of the beauty and the strangeness of the world; and a strong instinct within you forced you to tell someone. It was not enough for you that you saw and heard. Others had to see and hear. Others had to be wakened up. It is quite possible — I am not quite sure — that your faithful friend the very next day, or the next month, looked at some other girl, and suddenly saw that she, too, was miraculous!
The influence of literature! The makers of literature are those who have seen and felt the miraculous interestingness of the universe. And the greatest makers of literature are those whose vision has been the widest, and whose feeling has been the most intense. Your own fragment of insight was accidental, and perhaps temporary. Their lives are one long ecstasy of denying that the world is a dull place. Is it nothing to you to learn to understand that the world is not a dull place?
Is it nothing to you to be led out of the tunnel on to the hillside, to have all your senses quickened, to be invigorated by the true savour of life, to feel your heart beating under that correct necktie of yours? These makers of literature render you their equals.
It is not to affect one hour, but twenty-four hours. An understanding appreciation of literature means an understanding appreciation of the world, and it means nothing else. Not isolated and unconnected parts of life, but all of life, brought together and correlated in a synthetic map! The spirit of literature is unifying; it joins the candle and the star, and by the magic of an image shows that the beauty of the greater is in the less.
And, not content with the disclosure of beauty and the bringing together of all things whatever within its focus, it enforces a moral wisdom by the tracing everywhere of cause and effect. It consoles doubly — by the revelation of unsuspected loveliness, and by the proof that our lot is the common lot.
It is the supreme cry of the discoverer, offering sympathy and asking for it in a single gesture. The attitude of the average decent person towards the classics of his own tongue is one of distrust — I had almost said, of fear. I will take, for an example, Sir Thomas Browne, as to whom the average person has no offensive juvenile memories. He is bound to have read somewhere that the style of Sir Thomas Browne is unsurpassed by anything in English literature. One day he sees the Religio Medici in a shop-window or, rather, outside a shop-window, for he would hesitate about entering a bookshop , and he buys it, by way of a mild experiment.
He reads the introduction, and he glances at the first page or two of the work. He sees nothing but words. The work makes no appeal to him whatever. He is surrounded by trees, and cannot perceive the forest. He puts the book away. Deep in his heart is a suspicion that people who get enthusiastic about Sir Thomas Browne are vain and conceited poseurs.
After a year or so, when he has recovered from the discouragement caused by Sir Thomas Browne, he may, if he is young and hopeful, repeat the experiment with Congreve or Addison. And so on for perhaps a decade, until his commerce with the classics finally expires! That, magazines and newish fiction apart, is the literary history of the average decent person.
And even your case, though you are genuinely preoccupied with thoughts of literature, bears certain disturbing resemblances to the drab case of the average person. You do not approach the classics with gusto — anyhow, not with the same gusto as you would approach a new novel by a modern author who had taken your fancy. You do not smack your lips; you say: Something new, something which is not a classic, will surely draw you away from a classic. It is all very well for you to pretend to agree with the verdict of the elect that Clarissa Harlowe is one of the greatest novels in the world — a new Kipling, or even a new number of a magazine, will cause you to neglect Clarissa Harlowe , just as though Kipling, etc.
So that you have to ordain rules for yourself, as: And the more modern a classic is, the more it resembles the stuff of the year and the less it resembles the classics of the centuries, the more easy and enticing do you find that classic. I may have exaggerated — or, on the other hand, I may have understated — the unsatisfactory characteristics of your particular case, but it is probable that in the mirror I hold up you recognise the rough outlines of your likeness. You do not care to admit it; but it is so.
You are not content with yourself. The desire to be more truly literary persists in you. You feel that there is something wrong in you, but you cannot put your finger on the spot. Further, you feel that you are a bit of a sham. Something within you continually forces you to exhibit for the classics an enthusiasm which you do not sincerely feel. You even try to persuade yourself that you are enjoying a book, when the next moment you drop it in the middle and forget to resume it.
You occasionally buy classical works, and do not read them at all; you practically decide that it is enough to possess them, and that the mere possession of them gives you a cachet. The truth is, you are a sham. And your soul is a sea of uneasy remorse. And I am not. Why am I not? Or am I born without the faculty of pure taste in literature, despite my vague longings? Yes, I am convinced that in your dissatisfied, your diviner moments, you address yourself in these terms.
I am convinced that I have diagnosed your symptoms. But this does not imply that it is an easy or a brief one. The enterprise of beating Colonel Bogey at golf is an agreeable one, but it means honest and regular work.
A fact to be borne in mind always! You are certainly not going to realise your ambition — and so great, so influential an ambition! You must begin by making up your mind adequately. You must rise to the height of the affair. You must approach a grand undertaking in the grand manner. You ought to mark the day in the calendar as a solemnity. Human nature is weak, and has need of tricky aids, even in the pursuit of happiness. Time will be necessary to you, and time regularly and sacredly set apart.
Many people affirm that they cannot be regular, that regularity numbs them. I think this is true of a very few people, and that in the rest the objection to regularity is merely an attempt to excuse idleness. I am inclined to think that you personally are capable of regularity. And I am sure that if you firmly and constantly devote certain specific hours on certain specific days of the week to this business of forming your literary taste, you will arrive at the goal much sooner.
The simple act of resolution will help you. This is the first preliminary. The second preliminary is to surround yourself with books, to create for yourself a bookish atmosphere. The merely physical side of books is important — more important than it may seem to the inexperienced. Theoretically save for works of reference , a student has need for but one book at a time.
Theoretically, an amateur of literature might develop his taste by expending sixpence a week, or a penny a day, in one sixpenny edition of a classic after another sixpenny edition of a classic, and he might store his library in a hat-box or a biscuit-tin. But in practice he would have to be a monster of resolution to succeed in such conditions. The eye must be flattered; the hand must be flattered; the sense of owning must be flattered. Sacrifices must be made for the acquisition of literature. That which has cost a sacrifice is always endeared.
A detailed scheme of buying books will come later, in the light of further knowledge. For the present, buy — buy whatever has received the imprimatur of critical authority. Buy without any immediate reference to what you will read. Surround yourself with volumes, as handsome as you can afford. You might mark the authors that flash an appeal to you. The large majority of our fellow-citizens care as much about literature as they care about aeroplanes or the programme of the Legislature. They do not ignore it; they are not quite indifferent to it.
But their interest in it is faint and perfunctory; or, if their interest happens to be violent, it is spasmodic. Probably if they did read it again they would not enjoy it — not because the said novel is a whit worse now than it was ten years ago; not because their taste has improved — but because they have not had sufficient practice to be able to rely on their taste as a means of permanent pleasure. In the face of this one may ask: Why does the great and universal fame of classical authors continue?
The answer is that the fame of classical authors is entirely independent of the majority. Do you suppose that if the fame of Shakespeare depended on the man in the street it would survive a fortnight? The fame of classical authors is originally made, and it is maintained, by a passionate few. Even when a first-class author has enjoyed immense success during his lifetime, the majority have never appreciated him so sincerely as they have appreciated second-rate men. He has always been reinforced by the ardour of the passionate few. And in the case of an author who has emerged into glory after his death the happy sequel has been due solely to the obstinate perseverance of the few.
They could not leave him alone; they would not. They kept on savouring him, and talking about him, and buying him, and they generally behaved with such eager zeal, and they were so authoritative and sure of themselves, that at last the majority grew accustomed to the sound of his name and placidly agreed to the proposition that he was a genius; the majority really did not care very much either way. And it is by the passionate few that the renown of genius is kept alive from one generation to another.
These few are always at work. They are always rediscovering genius. Their curiosity and enthusiasm are exhaustless, so that there is little chance of genius being ignored. And, moreover, they are always working either for or against the verdicts of the majority. The majority can make a reputation, but it is too careless to maintain it. If, by accident, the passionate few agree with the majority in a particular instance, they will frequently remind the majority that such and such a reputation has been made, and the majority will idly concur: By the way, we must not forget that such and such a reputation exists.
The passionate few only have their way by reason of the fact that they are genuinely interested in literature, that literature matters to them. They conquer by their obstinacy alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements. Do you suppose they could prove to the man in the street that Shakespeare was a great artist? The said man would not even understand the terms they employed. But when he is told ten thousand times, and generation after generation, that Shakespeare was a great artist, the said man believes — not by reason, but by faith.
And he too repeats that Shakespeare was a great artist, and he buys the complete works of Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the marvellous stage-effects which accompany King Lear or Hamlet , and comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was a great artist. All because the passionate few could not keep their admiration of Shakespeare to themselves. This is not cynicism; but truth. And it is important that those who wish to form their literary taste should grasp it. What causes the passionate few to make such a fuss about literature?
There can be only one reply. They find a keen and lasting pleasure in literature. They enjoy literature as some men enjoy beer. The recurrence of this pleasure naturally keeps their interest in literature very much alive. They are for ever making new researches, for ever practising on themselves.
They learn to understand themselves. They learn to know what they want. Their taste becomes surer and surer as their experience lengthens. They do not enjoy to-day what will seem tedious to them to-morrow. When they find a book tedious, no amount of popular clatter will persuade them that it is pleasurable; and when they find it pleasurable no chill silence of the street-crowds will affect their conviction that the book is good and permanent.
They have faith in themselves. What are the qualities in a book which give keen and lasting pleasure to the passionate few? This is a question so difficult that it has never yet been completely answered. You may talk lightly about truth, insight, knowledge, wisdom, humour, and beauty. But these comfortable words do not really carry you very far, for each of them has to be defined, especially the first and last. It is all very well for Keats in his airy manner to assert that beauty is truth, truth beauty, and that that is all he knows or needs to know. I, for one, need to know a lot more.
And I never shall know. Nobody, not even Hazlitt nor Sainte—Beuve, has ever finally explained why he thought a book beautiful. I only know that the passionate few will, broadly, agree with me in deriving this mysterious pleasure from those lines. I am only convinced that the liveliness of our pleasure in those and many other lines by the same author will ultimately cause the majority to believe, by faith, that W.
Yeats is a genius. The one reassuring aspect of the literary affair is that the passionate few are passionate about the same things. A continuance of interest does, in actual practice, lead ultimately to the same judgments. There is only the difference in width of interest. Some of the passionate few lack catholicity, or, rather, the whole of their interest is confined to one narrow channel; they have none left over. These men help specially to vitalise the reputations of the narrower geniuses: But their active predilections never contradict the general verdict of the passionate few; rather they reinforce it.
A classic is a work which gives pleasure to the minority which is intensely and permanently interested in literature. It lives on because the minority, eager to renew the sensation of pleasure, is eternally curious and is therefore engaged in an eternal process of rediscovery. A classic does not survive for any ethical reason. It does not survive because it conforms to certain canons, or because neglect would not kill it.
It survives because it is a source of pleasure, and because the passionate few can no more neglect it than a bee can neglect a flower. That is to put the cart before the horse. Hence — and I now arrive at my point — the one primary essential to literary taste is a hot interest in literature. If you have that, all the rest will come.
It matters nothing that at present you fail to find pleasure in certain classics. The driving impulse of your interest will force you to acquire experience, and experience will teach you the use of the means of pleasure. You do not know the secret ways of yourself: A continuance of interest must inevitably bring you to the keenest joys. But, of course, experience may be acquired judiciously or injudiciously, just as Putney may be reached via Walham Green or via St. I wish particularly that my readers should not be intimidated by the apparent vastness and complexity of this enterprise of forming the literary taste.
It is not so vast nor so complex as it looks. But the greater truth is that literature is all one — and indivisible. The idea of the unity of literature should be well planted and fostered in the head. All literature is the expression of feeling, of passion, of emotion, caused by a sensation of the interestingness of life.
What drives a historian to write history? Nothing but the overwhelming impression made upon him by the survey of past times. He is forced into an attempt to reconstitute the picture for others. If hitherto you have failed to perceive that a historian is a being in strong emotion, trying to convey his emotion to others, read the passage in the Memoirs of Gibbon, in which he describes how he finished the Decline and Fall. Read the last paragraph of the preface to it: It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed.
I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise. The whole passage, one of the finest in English prose, is marked by the heat of emotion. Literature does not begin till emotion has begun. There is even no essential, definable difference between those two great branches, prose and poetry.
The Card, a Story of Adventure in the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett
For prose may have rhythm. All that can be said is that verse will scan, while prose will not. The difference is purely formal. Very few poets have succeeded in being so poetical as Isaiah, Sir Thomas Browne, and Ruskin have been in prose. It can only be stated that, as a rule, writers have shown an instinctive tendency to choose verse for the expression of the very highest emotion.
The supreme literature is in verse, but the finest achievements in prose approach so nearly to the finest achievements in verse that it is ill work deciding between them. In the sense in which poetry is best understood, all literature is poetry — or is, at any rate, poetical in quality.
As the literary taste develops, this quality of emotion, restrained or loosed, will be more and more widely perceived at large in literature. It is the quality that must be looked for. It is the quality that unifies literature and all the arts. It is not merely useless, it is harmful, for you to map out literature into divisions and branches, with different laws, rules, or canons.
The first thing is to obtain some possession of literature. When you have actually felt some of the emotion which great writers have striven to impart to you, and when your emotions become so numerous and puzzling that you feel the need of arranging them and calling them by names, then — and not before — you can begin to study what has been attempted in the way of classifying and ticketing literature.
Manuals and treatises are excellent things in their kind, but they are simply dead weight at the start. You can only acquire really useful general ideas by first acquiring particular ideas, and putting those particular ideas together. You cannot make bricks without straw. Do not worry about literature in the abstract, about theories as to literature.
Get hold of literature in the concrete as a dog gets hold of a bone. If you ask me where you ought to begin, I shall gaze at you as I might gaze at the faithful animal if he inquired which end of the bone he ought to attack. Begin wherever the fancy takes you to begin. Literature is a whole. There is only one restriction for you. You must begin with an acknowledged classic; you must eschew modern works.
The reason for this does not imply any depreciation of the present age at the expense of past ages. Indeed, it is important, if you wish ultimately to have a wide, catholic taste, to guard against the too common assumption that nothing modern will stand comparison with the classics. In every age there have been people to sigh: Fifty years ago we had a few great writers.
But they are all dead, and no young ones are arising to take their place. It is a surety that in gloomy and egregious persons will be saying: At the beginning of the century there were great poets like Swinburne, Meredith, Francis Thompson, and Yeats. Great novelists like Hardy and Conrad.
Great historians like Stubbs and Maitland, etc. But they are all dead now, and whom have we to take their place? We forget the immense amount of twaddle that the great epochs produced. The total amount of fine literature created in a given period of time differs from epoch to epoch, but it does not differ much. And we may be perfectly sure that our own age will make a favourable impression upon that excellent judge, posterity.
Therefore, beware of disparaging the present in your own mind. While temporarily ignoring it, dwell upon the idea that its chaff contains about as much wheat as any similar quantity of chaff has contained wheat. The reason why you must avoid modern works at the beginning is simply that you are not in a position to choose among modern works. Nobody at all is quite in a position to choose with certainty among modern works. To sift the wheat from the chaff is a process that takes an exceedingly long time.
Modern works have to pass before the bar of the taste of successive generations. Whereas, with classics, which have been through the ordeal, almost the reverse is the case. Your taste has to pass before the bar of the classics. That is the point. If you differ with a classic, it is you who are wrong, and not the book. If you differ with a modern work, you may be wrong or you may be right, but no judge is authoritative enough to decide. Your taste is unformed. It needs guidance, and it needs authoritative guidance. Into the business of forming literary taste faith enters.
You probably will not specially care for a particular classic at first. If you did care for it at first, your taste, so far as that classic is concerned, would be formed, and our hypothesis is that your taste is not formed. How are you to arrive at the stage of caring for it? Chiefly, of course, by examining it and honestly trying to understand it.
But this process is materially helped by an act of faith, by the frame of mind which says: Hence I am determined to find pleasure in it. But it must be faith founded on unassailable authority. Let us begin experimental reading with Charles Lamb. I choose Lamb for various reasons: He is a great writer, wide in his appeal, of a highly sympathetic temperament; and his finest achievements are simple and very short. Moreover, he may usefully lead to other and more complex matters, as will appear later.
Now, your natural tendency will be to think of Charles Lamb as a book, because he has arrived at the stage of being a classic. Charles Lamb was a man, not a book. It is extremely important that the beginner in literary study should always form an idea of the man behind the book. The book is nothing but the expression of the man.
The book is nothing but the man trying to talk to you, trying to impart to you some of his feelings. An experienced student will divine the man from the book, will understand the man by the book, as is, of course, logically proper. But the beginner will do well to aid himself in understanding the book by means of independent information about the man. He will thus at once relate the book to something human, and strengthen in his mind the essential notion of the connection between literature and life.
The earliest literature was delivered orally direct by the artist to the recipient. In some respects this arrangement was ideal.
THINGS THAT HAVE INTERESTED ME
Changes in the constitution of society have rendered it impossible. Nevertheless, we can still, by the exercise of the imagination, hear mentally the accents of the artist speaking to us. We must so exercise our imagination as to feel the man behind the book. Some biographical information about Lamb should be acquired. If you have none of these but you ought to have the last , there are Mr.
Indeed, the facilities for collecting materials for a picture of Charles Lamb as a human being are prodigious. When you have made for yourself such a picture, read the Essays of Elia the light of it. I will choose one of the most celebrated, Dream Children: At this point, kindly put my book down, and read Dream Children.
Do not say to yourself that you will read it later, but read it now. When you have read it, you may proceed to my next paragraph. You are to consider Dream Children as a human document. Lamb was nearing fifty when he wrote it. You can see, especially from the last line, that the death of his elder brother, John Lamb, was fresh and heavy on his mind. You will recollect that in youth he had had a disappointing love-affair with a girl named Ann Simmons, who afterwards married a man named Bartrum. You will know that one of the influences of his childhood was his grandmother Field, housekeeper of Blakesware House, in Hertfordshire, at which mansion he sometimes spent his holidays.
You will know that he was a bachelor, living with his sister Mary, who was subject to homicidal mania. And you will see in this essay, primarily, a supreme expression of the increasing loneliness of his life. He constructed all that preliminary tableau of paternal pleasure in order to bring home to you in the most poignant way his feeling of the solitude of his existence, his sense of all that he had missed and lost in the world.
The key of the essay is one of profound sadness. But note that he makes his sadness beautiful; or, rather, he shows the beauty that resides in sadness. How exactly he produces his effect can never be fully explained. But occasionally we are afforded a glimpse of the actual country she is living in.
The seven remaining notes are taken from the chapter about Peking. It is a passage in which she explains the Chinese way of circumphrastic peripherization in polite exchanges the words Joyce jotted down are underlined: The ceremonial form of Chinese conversation always amused me.
It abounded in flowery compliments and quaint self-depreciatory remarks, as shown by the following questions and answers which invariably passed between us, through the intermediary, of course, of the interpreter: The foolish one of the family is well. The Sad Case of Mr. Meanwhile, we are halfway January Has he lost it?
Has the inspiration evaporated into rarefied air? Joyce is waiting for an opportunity to knock. And knock it did. In these years Joyce received many a call from readers and writers who wanted to pay their respects, bring him compliments and even do homage. But not all of them came to kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses.
One of them was a man named Bernard Gilbert, who must have visited Joyce somewhere somewhen in the middle of January Gilbert was a Lincolnshire writer, now sunk into oblivion. Wells and many others. The editor-in-chief and driving force behind the enterprise was the aptly-named thunderstormy A. Orage, who would later follow Katherine Mansfield in retreat to the spiritual shelter of Gurdjieff. Orage wrote a great many reviews on a great many subjects, but always kept coming back to Nietzsche, who apparently was the biggest indigestible piece of hardware for this particular group of engaged intellectuals.
But what is interesting is that Orage had something to say, and something nasty to say, about the very first chapter of Ulysses when it first started to be published in the Little Review. It is sometimes thought that Ulysses was a literary bomb-shell that was dropped in , and only from then on started to do its devastating work, but in fact it was a time-bomb that already surreptitiously started detonating four years earlier — as we could see from D. And Orage heard the ticking of the clock. He tried to stop the terrorist attack on June 6, , just after the first installment of Ulysses had appeared in the March issue of the Little Review.
Stately, plump Buck Milligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing-gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned Now it is clear that such a passage has not been written without a great deal of thought; and if thought were art, it might be called an artistic passage. But, on the contrary, thought is not only not art, but the aim of art is to conceal thought.
In perfection, indeed, art is indistinguishable from nature. The obvious thoughtfulness of the passage I have quoted is, therefore, an objection to it; and the more so since it provokes an inspection it is unable to sustain. To these questions deliberately provoked by the obvious case of the writer there is either no answer or none forthcoming without more thought than the detail is worth.
The passage, in short, suffers from being aimed at a diminishing coterie; and it succeeds in satisfying, I imagine, only the writer of it who is alone in all its secrets. James Joyce had, I think, the makings of a great writer—not a popular writer but a classic writer. To become what he was he needed to be opened out, to be simplified, to conceal his cleverness, to write more and more for the world.
In The New Age, I believe, he would have been set to writing reviews for a year or two—in other words, to trying to see things as the world will one day see them. This turned out to be a less than accurate prediction, to put it mildly. Whatever is clear, is that Orage was a firm non-believer in Ulyssibus. In fact, he hates it. So, just imagine his surprise, even his delight, when about a year later he receives, dropping on his doormat, a piece of even more brilliant provincialism, but this time with all the earmarks of a merciless satire and pastiche!
You have to be, when you want to write a twelve volume history of one moment. In the country and only in the country could the divine spark of real life be found. But as all monologues are all thought out, what the writer thinks his characters should say in their station of life, the effect is one of intense boredom. And that is because he has no distance. He is not above his subject. There is in the whole of Old England not the tiniest speck, the flimsiest fleck of a joke — and this cannot be solely laid at the feet of the depicted Lincolnshire countrysiders, one hopes.
The two evils of our age are sentimentality and tolerance. We ought to kill more. In an editorial, Chesterton — no friend of Joyce either — defended Gilbert: He may have brought them to the lending library of Sylvia Beach for recycling or put them to other, still unknown uses. Gilbert wrote one more review for G. Of the twelve books only six were published. We know very little about Gilbert, only that he died in He is sadly almost forgotten.
Only then we will remember him and he will come back. Some of the virulence of this outburst against Ulysses may be attributed to professional jealousy: Why did he have to suffer from undeserved lack of recognition? But there may be more: