By J.M.Barrie 1890.
SCENE.- The Library of a Piccadilly club for high thinking and bad dinners. Time midnight. Four eminent novelists of the day regarding each other self -consciously They are (1) a Realist,(2) a Romancist , (3) an Elsmerian, (4) a Stylist . The clock strikes thirteen, and they all start.
REALIST (staring at the door and drawing back from it. ‘I thought I heard-something?
STYLIST -I-the--(pauses to reflect on the best way of saying it was only the clock).
(A step is heard on the stair.)
ELSMERIAN.-Hark! It must be him and them. (Stylist shudders). I knew he would not fail us.
RoMANCIST (nervously ).-It may only be some member of the club.
ELSMERIAN The hall-porter said we would be safe from intrusion in the library.
REALIST I hear nothing now. (His hand comes in contact with a bookcase). How cold and clammy to the touch these books are. A. strange place, gentlemen, for an eerie interview. ( To Elsmerian). You really think they will come? You have no religious doubts about the existence of Elysian Fields ?
ELSMERJAN. I do not believe in Elysium, but I believe in him.
REALIST Still if--
(The door is shaken and the handle falls off.)
RoMANCIST Ah! Even I have never imagined anything so weird as this. See, the door opens!
(Enter an American novelist.)
OMNES 0nly you!
AMERICAN (looking around him self-consciously).- I had always suspected that there was a library, though I have only been a member for a few months. Why do you look at me so strangely ?
ELSMERIAN (after whispering with the others).-We are agreed that since you have found your way here you should be permitted to stay; on the understanding, of course, that we still disapprove of your methods as profoundly as we despise each other.
AMERICAN But what are you doing here, when you might be asleep downstairs?
ELSMERIAN (impressively) -Have you never wished to hold converse with the mighty dead ?
AMERICAN I don't know them.
ELSMERIAN.-I admit that the adjective was ill-chosen, but listen: the ghosts of Scott and some other novelists will join us presently. We are to talk with them about their work.
REALIST And ours.
ELSMERIAN And ours. They are being brought from the Grove of Bay-trees in the Elysian Fields.
AMERICAN But they are antiquated, played out and, besides, they will not come.
RoMANCIST You don't understand. Stanley has gone for them.
ELSMERIAN It was a chance not to be missed. (Looks at his watch). They should have been here by this time; but on these occasions he is sometimes a little late.
( Their mouths open as a voice rings through the club crying, "I cannot stop to argue with you; I'll find the way myself.")
REALIST It is he, but he may be alone. Perhaps they declined to accompany him?
ELSMERIAN (with conviction) He would bring them whether they wanted to come or not.
(Enter Mr. Stanley with five Ghosts.)
Mr. STANLEY Here they are. I hope the row below did not alarm you. The hall-porter wanted to know if I was a member, so I shot him.Waken me when you are ready to send them back.
(Sits down and sleeps immediately.)
FIRST GHOST. I am Walter Scott.
SECOND GHOST I am Henry Fielding.
THIRD GHOST My name is Smollett.
FOURTH GHOST Mine is Dickens.
FIFTH GHOST They used to call me Thack.
ALL THE GHOSTS (looking at the sleeper).-And we are a little out of breath.
AMERICAN (to himself).-There is too much plot in this for me.
ELSMERIAN (to the visitors).-Quite so. Now will you be so good as to stand in a row against that bookcase. (They do so.) Perhaps you have been wondering why we troubled to send for you ?
Sir WALTER We--
ELSMERIAN -You need not answer me, for it really doesn't matter. Since your days a great change has come over fiction-a kind of literature at which you all tried your hands-and it struck us that you might care to know how we moderns regard you.
REALIST And ourselves.
ELSMERIAN And ourselves. We had better begin with ourselves, as the night is already far advanced. You will be surprised to hear that fiction has become an art.
FIELDING I am glad we came, though the gentleman (looking at the sleeper) was perhaps a little peremptory. You are all novelists?
ROMANCIST No, I am a Romancist, this gentleman is a Realist, that one is a Stylist, and--
ELSMERIAN We had better explain to you that the word novelist has gone out of fashion in our circles. We have left it behind us--
Sir WALTER I was always content with story-teller myself.
AMERICAN Story-teller! All the stories have been told.
Sir WALTER (wistfully). How busy you must have been since my day.
ROMANCIST.-We have, indeed, and not merely in writing stories to use the language of the nursery. Now that fiction is an art, the work of its followers consists less in writing mere stories (to repeat a word that you will understand more readily than we) than in classifying ourselves and (when we have time for it) classifying you.
THACKERAY But the term novelist satisfied us.
ELSMERIAN There is a difference, I hope, between then and now. I cannot avoid speaking plainly, though I allow that you are the seed from which the tree has grown. May I ask what was your first step toward becoming novelists.
SMOLLETT (with foolish promptitude) We wrote a novel.
THACKERAY ( humbly) I am afraid I began by wanting to write a good story, and then wrote it to the best of my ability. Is there any other way?
STYLIST But how did you laboriously acquire your style?
THACKERAY I thought little about style. I suppose, such as it was, it came naturally.
STYLIST Pooh! Then there is no art in it.
ELSMERIAN And what was your aim?
THACKERAY Well, I had reason to believe that I would get something for it.
ELSMERIAN Alas! to you the world was not a sea of drowning souls, nor the novel a stone to fling to them, that they might float on it to a quiet haven. You had no aims, no methods, no religious doubts, and you neither analysed your characters nor classified yourselves.
AMERICAN And you reflected so little about your art that you wrote story after story without realising that all the stories had been told.
Sir WALTER But if all the stories are told, how can you write novels?
A.MERICAN The story in a novel is of as little importance as the stone in a cherry. I have written three volumes about a lady and a gentleman who met on a car.
Sir WALTER Yes, what happened to them?
A.MERICAN Nothing happened. That is the point of the story.
STYLIST Style is everything. The true novelist does nothing but think:, think, think about his style, and then write, write, write about it. I daresay I am one of the most perfect stylists living. Oh, but the hours: the days, the years of introspection I have spent in acquiring my style!
THACKERAY (sadly). -If I had 011ly thought more of style! May I ask how many books you have written ?
STYLIST Only one-and that I have withdrawn from circulation. Ah, sir, I am such a stylist that I dare not write anything. Yet I meditate a work.
Sir WALTER A.story?
STYLIST No, an essay on style. I shall devote four years to it.
Sir WALTER And I wrote two novels in four months!
STYLIST Yes, that is still remembered against you. Well, you paid the penalty, for your books are still popular.
DICKENS But is not popularity nowadays a sign of merit?
STYLIST To be popular is to be damned.
Sir WALTER. I can see from what you tell me that I was only a child. I thought little about how novels should be written. I only tried to write them, and as for style, I am afraid I merely used the words that came most readily. ( Stylist groans.) I had such an interest in my characters (American groans), such a love for them (Realist groans), that they were like living beings to me. Action seemed to come naturally to them, and all I had to do was to run after them with my pen.
RoMANCIST In the dark days you had not a cheap press, nor scores of magazines and reviews. Ah, we have many opportunities that were denied to you.
FIELDING We printed our stories in books.
RoMANCIST I was not thinking of the mere stories. It is not our stories that we spend much time over, but the essays, and discussions and interviews about our art. Why, there is not a living man in this room, except the sleeper, who has not written as many articles and essays about how novels should be written as would stock a library.
SMOLLETT But we thought that the best way of showing how they should be written was to write them.
REALIST ( bitingly ) And as a result, you cannot say at this moment whether you are a Realist, a Romancist, an American Analyst., a Stylist, or an Elsmerian! Your labours have been fruitless.
SMOLLETT What am I ?
RoMANCIST -I refuse to include you among novelists at all, for your artistic views (which we have discovered for you) are different from mine. You are a Realist. Therefore I blot you out.
Sir WALTER (anxiously). I suppose I am a Romancist?
REALIST Yes, and therefore I cannot acknowledge you. Your work has to go.
AMERICAN It has gone. I never read it. Indeed, I can't stand any of you. In short, I am an American Analyst.
DICKENS (dreamily).-One of the most remarkable men in that country .
AMERICAN Yes, sir, I am one of its leading writers of fiction without a story-along with Silas K. Weekes, Thomas John Hillocks, William P. Crinkle, and many others whose fame must have reached the Grove of Bay-trees. We write even more essays about ourselves than they do in this old country.
ELSMERIAN Nevertheless, Romanticism, Realism, and Analysis are mere words, as empty as a drum. Religious doubt is the only subject for the novelist nowadays; and if he is such a poor creature as to have no religious doubts, he should leave fiction alone.
STYLIST Style is everything. I can scarcely sleep at nights for thinking of my style.
FIELDING This, of course, is very interesting to us who know so little, yet, except that it enables you to label yourselves, it does not seem to tell you much. After all, does it make a man a better novelist to know that other novelists pursue the wrong methods? 'You seem to despise each other cordially, while Smollett and I, for instance, can enjoy Sir Walter. We are content to judge him by results, and to consider him a great novelist because he wrote great novels.
ELSMERIAN You will never be able to reach our standpoint if you cannot put the mere novels themselves out of the question. The novelist should be considered quite apart from his stories.
REALIST It is nothing to me that I am a novelist, but I am proud of being a Realist. That is the great thing.
ROMANCIST Consider, Mr. Smollett, if you had thought and written about yourself as much as I have done about myself you might never have produced one of the works by which you are now known. That would be something to be proud of. You might have written romances, like mine and Sir Walter's.
ELSMERIAN Or have had religious doubts.
STYLIST Or have become a Stylist, and written nothing at all.
REALIST And you, Sir Walter, might have become one of us.
THACKERAY But why should we not have written simply in the manner that suited us best ? If the result is good, who cares for the label?
ROMANCIST (eyeing Sir Walter severely) No one has any right to be a Romancist unconsciously. Romance should be written with an effort -as I write it. I question, sir, if you ever defined romance?
Sir WALTER (weakly) I had a general idea of it, and I thought that perhaps my books might be allowed to speak for me.
ROMANCIST We have got beyond that stage. Romance (that is to say, fiction) has been defined by one of its followers as "not nature, it is not character, it is not imagined history; it is fallacy, poetic fallacy; a lie, if you like, a beautiful lie, a lie that is at once false and true-false to fact, true to faith."
(The Ghosts look at each other apprehensively).
Sir WALTER Would you mind repeating that? (Romancist repeats it) And all my novels all that? To think of their being that, and I never knew! I give you my word, sir; that when I wrote '' Ivanhoe," for example, I merely wanted to tell a story.
REALIST Still, in your treatment of the Templar, you boldly cast off the chains of Romanticism and rise to Realism.
ELSMERIAN. To do you justice, the Templar seems to have religious doubts.
STYLIST I once wrote a little paper on your probable reasons for using the word ''wand" in circumstances that would perhaps have justified the use of ''reed." I have not published it.
Sir WALTER This would be more gratifying to me if I thought that I deserved it.
AMERICAN I remember reading '' Ivanhoe" before I knew any better; but even then I thought it poor stuff. There is no analysis in it worthy of the name. Why did Rowena drop her handkerchief? Instead of telling us that, you prance off after a band of archers. Do you really believe that intellectual men and women are interested in tournaments?
Sir WALTER You have grown so old since my day. Besides, I have admitted that the Waverley novels were written simply to entertain the public.
ELSMERIAN No one, I hope, reads my stories for entertainment. We have become serious now.
A.MERICAN I have thought at times that I could have made some thing of "Ivanhoe." Yes, sir, if the theme had been left to me I would have worked it out in a manner quite different from yours. In my mind's eye I can see myself developing the character of' the hero. I would have made him more like ourselves. The Rebecca, too, I would have reduced in size. Of course the plot would have had to go overboard, with Robin Hood and Richard, and we would have had no fighting. Yes, it might be done. I would call it, let me see, I would call it, ''Wilfrid: a Study."
THACKERAY ( timidly).- Have you found out what I am ?
AMERICAN You are intolerably prosy.
STYLIST Some people called Philistines maintain that you are a Stylist; but evidently you forgot yourself too frequently for that.
ROMANCIST You were a cynic, which kills romanticism.
REALIST And men allow their wives to read you, so you don't belong to us.
AMERICAN (testily ) No, sir, you need not turn to me. You and I have nothing in common.
DICKENS I am a--?
REALIST It is true that you wrote about the poor; but how did you treat them? Are they all women of the street and brawling ruffians? Instead of dwelling for ever on their sodden misery, and gloating over their immorality, you positively regard them from a genial standpoint. I regret to have to say it, but you are a Romancist.
ROMANCIST No, no, Mr. Dickens, do not cross to me. You wrote with a purpose, sir. Remember Dotheboys Hall.
ELSMERIAN A novel without a purpose is as a helmless ship.
DICKENS (aghast) Then I am an Elsmerian?
ELSMERIAN Alas! you had no other purpose than to add to the material comforts of the people. Not one of your characters was troubled with religious doubts. Where does Mr. Pivkwick pause to ask himself why he should not be an atheist ? You cannot answer. In these days of earnest self-communion we find Mr. Pickwick painfully wanting. How can readers rise from his pages in distress of mind? You never give them a chance.
THACKERAY No, there is nothing sickly about Pickwick.
ELSMERIAN Absolutely nothing. He is of a different world (I am forced to say this) from that in which my heroes move. Not, indeed, that they do move much. Give me a chair and a man with doubts, and I will give you a novel. He has only to sit on that chair--
STYLIST As I sit on mine, thinking, thinking, thinking about my style.
DICKENS Young people in love are out of fashion in novels nowadays, I suppose?
ELSMERIAN Two souls in doubt may meet and pule as one.
THACKERAY As a novelist I had no loftier belief than this-that high art is high morality, and that the better the literature the more ennobling it must be.
REALIST And this man claimed to be one of us!
DICKENS I wrote for a wide public (Stylist sighs), whom I loved (Realist sighs) . I loved my characters, too (American sighs), they seemed so real to me ( Romancist sighs), and so I liked to leave them happy. I believe I wanted to see the whole world happy (Elsmerian sighs).
Sir WALTER I also had that ambition.
THACKERAY. Do you even find Mr. Pickwick's humour offensive nowadays?
ROMANCIST To treat a character with humour is to lift him from his pedestal to the earth.
ELSMERIAN We have no patience with humour. In these days of anxious thought humour seems a trivial thing. The world has grown sadder since your time, and we novelists of today begin where you left off. Were I to write a continuation of ''The Pickwick Papers," I could not treat the subject as Mr. Dickens did; I really could not.
STYLIST Humonr is vulgar.
AMERICAN Humour, sir, has been refined and chastened since the infancy of fiction, and I am certain that were my humorous characters to meet yours mine would be made quite uncomfortable. Mr. Pickwick could not possibly be received in the drawing-room of Sara H. Finney, and Sam Weller would be turned out of her kitchen. I believe I am not overstating the case when I say that one can positively laugh at your humour .
DICKENS They used to laugh.
AMERICAN Ah, they never laugh at mine.
DrcKENS But if I am not a Realist, nor a Romancist, nor an Elsmerian,, nor a St--
AMERICAN Oh, we have placed you. In Boston we could not live without placing everybod y, and you are ticketed a caricaturist.
DICKENS (sighing ) I liked the old way best, of being simply a novelist.
AMERICAN That was too barbarous for Boston . We have analysed your methods, and found them puerile. You have no subtle insight into character. You could not have written a novel about a lady's reasons for passing the cruet. Nay, more, we find that yon never drew either a lady or a gentleman. Your subsidiary characters alone would rule you out of court. To us it is hard work to put all we have to say about a lady and gentleman who agree not to become engaged into three volumes. But you never send your hero twelve miles in a coach without adding another half -dozen characters to your list. There is no such lack of artistic barrenness in our school.
SMOLLETT (enthusiastically) What novels you who think so much about the art must write nowadays! You will let us take away a few samples?
(The live novelists cough.)
REALIST (huskily) You-you have heard of our work in the Grove of Bay-trees?
Sir WALTER (apologetically). You see we are not in the way of hearing-(politely). But we look forward to meeting you there some day.
THACKERAY And resuming this conversation. None of you happens to be the gentleman who is rewriting Shakespeare and Homer, I suppose? It is of no consequence; I only thought that if he had been here I would have liked to look at him. That is all.
FIELDING (looking at the sleeper ) He said he would take us back.
(The novelists shake Mr. Stanley timidly, but he sleeps on.)
STYLIST (with a happy inspiration).- Emin--
Mr. STANLEY (starting to his feet ). -You are ready ? Fall in behind me. Quick mar--
Sir WALTER You won't mind carrying these books for us ?
(Gives Stanley samples of Realism, Elsmerism, &c.)
Mr. ST.ANLEY. Right. I shall give them to the first man we meet in Piccadilly to carry.
ROMANCIST (foolishly). He may refuse.
Mr. STANLEY (grimly ) I think not. Now then--
ELSMERIAN (good-naturedly) A moment, sir. We have shown these gentlemen how the art of fiction has developed since their day, and now if they care to offer us a last word of advice.
Sir WALTER We could not presume.
THACKERAY As old-fashioned novelists of some repute at one time, we might say this: that perhaps if you thought and wrote less about your styles and methods and the aim of fiction, and, in short, forgot yourselves now and again in your stories, you might get on better with your work. Think it over.
Mr. STANLEY Quick march.
(The novelists are left looking at each other self -consciously.)
The Persons of the Tale – a Fable by RLS
After the 32nd chapter of Treasure Island, two of the puppets strolled out to have a pipe before business should begin again, and met in an open place not far from the story.
“Good-morning, Cap’n,” said the first, with a man- o’-war salute, and a beaming countenance.
“Ah, Silver!” grunted the other. “You’re in a bad way, Silver.”
“Now, Cap’n Smollett,” remonstrated Silver, “dooty is dooty, as I knows, and none better; but we’re off dooty now; and I can’t see no call to keep up the morality business.”
“You’re a damned rogue, my man,” said the Captain.
“Come, come, Cap’n, be just,” returned the other. “There’s no call to be angry with me in earnest. I’m on’y a chara’ter in a sea story. I don’t really exist.”
“Well, I don’t really exist either,” says the Captain, “which seems to meet that.”
“I wouldn’t set no limits to what a virtuous chara’ter might consider argument,” responded Silver. “But I’m the villain of this tale, I am; and speaking as one sea- faring man to another, what I want to know is, what’s the odds?”
“Were you never taught your catechism?” said the Captain. “Don’t you know there’s such a thing as an Author?”
“Such a thing as a Author?” returned John, derisively. “And who better’n me? And the p’int is, if the Author made you, he made Long John, and he made Hands, and Pew, and George Merry—not that George is up to much, for he’s little more’n a name; and he made Flint, what there is of him; and he made this here mutiny, you keep such a work about; and he had tom Redruth shot; and—well, if that’s a Author, give me Pew!”
“Don’t you believe in a future state?” said Smollett. “Do you think there’s nothing but the present story- paper?”
“I don’t rightly know for that,” said Silver; “and I don’t see what it’s got to do with it, anyway. What I know is this: if there is sich a thing as a Author, I’m his favourite chara’ter. He does me fathoms better’n he does you—fathoms, he does. And he likes doing me. He keeps me on deck mostly all the time, crutch and all; and he leaves you measling in the hold, where nobody can’t see you, nor wants to, and you may lay to that! If there is a Author, by thunder, but he’s on my side, and you may lay to it!”
“I see he’s giving you a long rope,” said the Captain. “But that can’t change a man’s convictions. I know the Author respects me; I feel it in my bones; when you and I had that talk at the blockhouse door, who do you think he was for, my man?”
“And don’t he respect me?” cried Silver. “Ah, you should ’a’ heard me putting down my mutiny, George Merry and Morgan and that lot, no longer ago’n last chapter; you’d ’a’ heard something then! You’d ’a’ seen what the Author thinks o’ me! But come now, do you consider yourself a virtuous chara’ter clean through?”
“God forbid!” said Captain Smollett, solemnly. “I am a man that tries to do his duty, and makes a mess of it as often as not. I’m not a very popular man at home, Silver, I’m afraid!” and the Captain sighed.
“Ah,” says Silver. “Then how about this sequel of yours? Are you to be Cap’n Smollett just the same as ever, and not very popular at home, says you? And if so, why, it’s Treasure Island over again, by thunder; and I’ll be Long John, and Pew’ll be Pew, and we’ll have another mutiny, as like as not. or are you to be somebody else? And if so, why, what the better are you? and what the worse am I?”
“Why, look here, my man,” returned the Captain, “I can’t understand how this story comes about at all, can I? I can’t see how you and I, who don’t exist, should get to speaking here, and smoke our pipes for all the world like reality? Very well, then, who am I to pipe up with my opinions? I know the Author’s on the side of good; he tells me so, it runs out of his pen as he writes. Well, that’s all I need to know; I’ll take my chance upon the rest.”
“It’s a fact he seemed to be against George Merry,” Silver admitted, musingly. “But George is little more’n a name at the best of it,” he added, brightening. “And to get into soundings for once. What is this good? I made a mutiny, and I been a gentleman o’ fortune; well, but by all stories, you ain’t no such saint. I’m a man that keeps company very easy; even by your own account, you ain’t, and to my certain knowledge you’re a devil to haze. Which is which? Which is good, and which bad? Ah, you tell me that! Here we are in stays, and you may lay to it!”
“We’re none of us perfect,” replied the Captain. “That’s a fact of religion, my man. All I can say is, I try to do my duty; and if you try to do yours, I can’t compliment you on your success.”
“And so you was the judge, was you?” said Silver, derisively.
“I would be both judge and hangman for you, my man, and never turn a hair,” returned the Captain. “But I get beyond that: it mayn’t be sound theology, but it’s common sense, that what is good is useful too—or there and thereabout, for I don’t set up to be a thinker. Now, where would a story go to if there were no virtuous characters?”
“If you go to that,” replied Silver, “where would a story begin, if there wasn’t no villains?”
“Well, that’s pretty much my thought,” said Captain Smollett. “The Author has to get a story; that’s what he wants; and to get a story, and to have a man like the doctor (say) given a proper chance, he has to put in men like you and Hands. But he’s on the right side; and you mind your eye! You’re not through this story yet; there’s trouble coming for you.”
“What’ll you bet?” asked John.
“Much I care if there ain’t,” returned the Captain. “I’m glad enough to be Alexander Smollett, bad as he is; and I thank my stars upon my knees that I’m not Silver. But there’s the ink-bottle opening. to quarters!”
And indeed the Author was just then beginning to write the words:
Prince of romancers, and as essayist full of narrative description, ideas, Robert Louis Stevenson is nevertheless, first of all, a stylist. Writers there are – Lamb, De Quincey, Hazlitt, even Macaulay and Emerson in a degree –whose work has an atmosphere of books, who convey the impression that they see the world only through the refracting medium of literature. No such dabbler in the secondary and derived is Stevenson. He faced the primaries, the essential first-hand facts of life. Sailing around the Scottish coasts as a boy in his father’s visits to the light-houses; engineer’s apprentice at Anstruther harbour works: living a rackety life as an Edinburgh student; briefless barrister of the Parliament House; going the rounds of the New York publishing offices soliciting dreary employment; sick almost unto death, and alone, at a goat-ranch in the San Lucia mountains, where for two nights he lay under a tree in a stupor, till rescued and nursed back to health by a bear-hunter; canoeing with a single companion on French and Belgian rivers; sleeping out of doors on cold autumn nights in the highlands of France, accompanied only by an exasperating she ass; living in the Latin Quarter; roughing it in the steerage of an Atlantic liner; roughing it in an emigrant train; roughing it, with his wife, in a deserted mining shanty on the Californian hills; voyaging into the South Seas; contending with the jungle, the natives, and the politicians at Vailima and Apia – surely no novelist ever had such an equipment of varied experience, such a storehouse of novel reality, to exploit for the purposes of his art. Yet when all is said, we read him less for the story he has to tell than for the vivid language and the gay spirit in which he tells it.
One Use of Style.
The great value of the stylist is that he augments the resources of language by his own practice, while his example stirs the dialectic conscience of the reader. He sets the example of eschewing the language of formula; and from admiration to imitation is said to be but a step. The verbal currency of society, trade, and the newspapers is – perhaps naturally enough – for the most part a fumble with a limited set of terms. Anyone who has had occasion to write asking a business house to explain a clerical error or technical defect must have realised the utility of expecting anything outside the set phrases of Commercial Correspondence, which have nothing for the unusual contingency.
The commercial traveller who in an interview will gush and tell stories and make jokes becomes limp and colourless with a pen in his hand. The growth of ingenious and striking advertising has not weaned the business man from stereotype; the writing of advertisements has simply become a business by itself and in the counting-house the formula still reigns. In society a young person who has shed a score of defects and taken on a score of qualities in their place is merely ‘much improved’ a lecture is always simple ‘interesting’ although a lecture may be interesting in any one or more of a dozen different ways; one has even heard a rollicking, resourceful comedian described, in a burst of prim enthusiasm, as ‘an able fellow.’
In municipal language a speech is always ‘neat,’ or ‘eloquent’, or is ‘a few appropriate remarks,’ though the average speech is not neat, may have many merits in which neatness has no part, and although eloquence is of many diverse kinds. In the press a singer ‘appeared to advantage,’ or ‘gave a good account of himself,’ without any hint of the how; and the reporter who describes a graphic and rousing speaker as having received ‘a patient hearing’ often balances the account of his malapropism by saying of an audience that was dead silent and but half-awake that it listened with ‘rapt attention.’ Even to the grave we are pursued by fumbling formula and the tombstone of the man who never went to church bears witness that he was ‘of unostentatious piety.’
The Note of Stevenson’s style.
To this tepid, unexpressive phrasing, which does not necessarily correspond to tepid feeling and obtuse perception, but simply indicates mental laziness or wrong conceptions as to the function of language, Stevenson offers a supreme antidote, would the tepid folk but read the lesson. The note of his style is vividness. His periods throb with life. He observed keenly, he heard acutely, he felt intensely, and his language reflects this high mental tension. What, indeed, is all literary genius but an extra sensitiveness to the impact of ‘things as they are’?
While the desire of the average man, when he starts to write, is to find ‘the correct word,’ the recognised, well-established phrase, Stevenson enriches his vocabulary with unusual words, uses customary words in an unaccustomed significance, and avoids hackneyed phrases save in the way of humorous mimicry.
Not Always Correct.
His style is not always unexpungnable on the score of correctness. He uses the pleonastic ‘from thence,’ instead of ‘thence’ merely; he sometimes drops into siblilant ‘amongst,’ though in the same page one finds ‘among’ pleasant and simple; he writes ‘the swords rung together’ instead of rang; and the adjective ‘leisurely’ he treats as an adverb, telling us that ‘the Prince turned away and strolled leisurely in the direction of Montmartre.’ He even, in his healthy hankering after fresh, crisp terms, alights on an expression so amusing as the use of ‘pot herbs’ (kitchen stuff) to denote the ‘pot plants’ of the florist.
But as a rule his instinct for the strongest, happiest word is unerring. Style is by no means a matter of vocabulary, though Shakespeare, Milton and Carlyle have all three and exceptional range of words. It is said, by someone of a calculating bent, that Shakespeare had 15,000 words, Milton 8,000 and Carlyle 7,500, while the average good writer uses four to five thousand. Stevenson would at least run his fellow-countryman hard. Many of his effects are secured by the use of unusual words. In the story of the two Edinburgh sisters who, inhabiting the same room, lived at deadly enmity with each other, he represents them as praying for each other ‘with marrow emphasis.’
A less cunning artist would have written ‘unctuous,’ ‘suggestive,’ or some other relatively feeble because more conventional adjective. In few writers should we expect to find a frail man described as ‘debile,’ the novel word suggesting a person as he is at the end of a process of debilitation, enfeeblement. ‘Marish’ for ‘marshy’ carries no special suggestion, but has its justification in the euphony and novelty of the new-old word. ‘Poured forth among the sea’ has, similarly, only an arrestive unwontedness. ‘Degusting tenderly’ covers the whole meaning one would convey in the more cumbrous phrase ‘digesting and assimilating with infinite relish.’ The sustained song of a north-east wind is effectively suggested in ‘the high canorous note of the north-easter.’ An old man who holds up his hands in entreaty figures as ‘raising his hands in obsecration.’ The operation of tearing up by the roots is effectively rendered as ‘deracinating.’ A short, snapping sound is indicated as ‘the crepitation of the little wooden drum that beats to church’ in Samoa. Instead of weakly describing mountains shorn of their timber as deforested, Stevenson writes: ‘The displumed hills stood clear against the sky.’ Even in a familiar letter to a friend a common disability of authors is to set down as ‘scrivener’s cramp,’ and another friend is whimsically asked to ‘appoint with an appointment’ a certain day for a gathering of Stevenson’s friends to meet him at dinner on his way through London.
Sometimes we are inclined to question the accuracy of these verbal surprises. When we read that ‘frogs sang their ungainly chorus’ we feel that ‘ungainly’ applies rather to appearances than to sounds; but derivatively the word means ‘of no effect,’ uncouth, and the alternative approved words - ‘unmelodious’ or ‘hoarse’ – are both relatively unexpressive; for the tr-r-onk of the bull-frog is not really hoarse and is not only not melodious, but has an element of positive travesty in it that the word ‘ungainly’ not inaptly conveys. Stevenson has tried to find a word which is positively rather than negatively descriptive, and the arrestiveness of ‘ungainly’ is a further justification.
The Little Things.
Le no one make light of the effects produced by this scattering of cunning unusual words. Style is an appeal to the senses as well as to the intellect; and in the things of sense we are slaves to the little things. We are haunted for life by the memory of a woman’s once-heard happy, ululating laugh. A city suggests its peal of bells. A farm-stead as big as a little town lives on the mental retina only by its tun-shaped dovecot.
The elderly Scotswoman who was captivated and held in intellectual bondage by ‘that blessed word Mesopotamia,’ as pronounced by Dr. Chalmers, was not, perhaps, such an exceptional person as we have been invited to consider her.
Stevenson’s most enthralling short tale, ‘The Pavilion on the Links,’ grips me, after years, mainly by three items – two words and a passage. One of these words occurs in a few sentences describing a lonely bay bounded by two low promontories, with a beach of quicksands reputed to be able to
‘swallow a man in four minutes and a half; but the may have been little ground for this precision. The district was live with rabbits, and haunted by gulls which made a continual piping about the pavilion…at sundown in September, with a high wind, and a heavy surf rolling in close along the links, the place told of nothing but dead mariners and sea disasters. A ship beating to windward on the horizon and a huge truncheon of wreck half buried in the sands at my feet, completed the innuendo of the scene.’
‘Truncheon of wreck’ seems at first thought an unlicensed usage. A truncheon is, you say, a fashioned weapon, not a remnant of wreckage. Even then, the word is a good mouthful; and turning to the dictionary (but not until the whole exciting story is read!) you find the literal meaning of truncheon is ‘a piece of wood cut off.’
That, then, is my one memorable word in this tale. The other is the epithet ‘Traditore!’ (traitor) shouted in a formidable voice through the shutters of the lonely pavilion to terrify a fugitive in hiding there who has embezzled the funds of an Italian revolutionary society. It is night on these lonely links. The fugitive, his daughter, and two men who are standing by him for the daughter’s sake, are at dinner when their attention is taken by a sound like the rubbing of a wet finger on the window-glass. Then, like a bombshell, comes the stentorian ‘Traditore!’ from one of the enraged desperadoes who are haunting these remote and lonely downs in wait for their well-guarded prey.
‘Truncheon’ and traditore are the two catchwords of this obsessing tale; and here is the haunting passage:
The Sea-Wood of Graden had been planted to shelter the cultivated fields behinds and check the encroachments of the blowing sand. As you advanced into it from coastward elders were succeeded by other hardy shrubs; but the timber was all stunted and bushy; it led a life of conflict; the trees were accustomed to swing there all night long in fierce winter tempests; and even in early spring the leaves were already flying, and autumn was beginning, in this exposed plantation.
Divorced from its context, the passage may seem ordinary; but in situ it strikes the reader as profoundly suggestive of elemental strife and desolation. The passage is not merely staring, straightforward description, like that which we notably find in Defoe and Gilbert White; it has elements of artifice in it as well. Consider, for instance, the expression ‘The trees were accustomed to swing there all night long in fierce winter tempests.’ The trees, of course, swung by day as well as by night; but the cunning artificer realised the touch of eeriness that would be lent by the feeling of darkness superadded to the other horrors of the scene. Here, also, as in Stevenson’s prose as a whole, the light punctuation – the semicolons instead of full stops at the end of each complete simple sentence – have an effect of breathless haste, as if the whole scene could not be flashed upon you fast enough with sufficient unity of effect.
The Little More or the Little Less.
It is wonderful – perhaps to a plain man a little pitiful – how much of style is an affair of the little more or the little less. ‘What ails the folk at my sermons, John?’ said the old minister to the beadle – a tailor.
‘I give them learning, zeal and sound doctrine.’ ‘It’s the cut, minister,’ said the beadle. With a few inspired dabs and dashes of the brush, the pot-boiler takes an individuality denied to the fortnight’s moil of mediocrity. Several degrees of slope put upon two over-rounded lines transform the tubby craft into a rakish condor of the seas that will have five knots more of speed to the hour in addition to all the difference between squab ugliness and fleet beauty.
With a few touches of excision, addition, substitution, Stevenson could so suffuse with his own genius the prose of his wife or stepson that their work cannot be told from his.
The Short Sentence.
Stevenson does not write short periods. Since Macaulay’s day the simple sentence has had a great vogue, and in the interests of lucidity that is perhaps all to the good. But the content of a sentence counts for something as well as its clearness. In description, sententiousness may be natural; for description is in its essence the cataloguing of more or less separate and distinct things. But in analysis or argument a number of interacting elements combine to form the complete concept, and to chop these up into short sentences, repeating the noun or pronoun in each, is to purchase clearness at the expense of force. As one heavy projectile may effect a gaping breach in the wall which stood unharmed against a storm of petty pellets of multitudinous small arms, so a well-rounded period, built up of a number of clearly connected contributory clauses, has a dynamic force denied to a succession of mincing sentences.
Stevenson was good at imitation, and had he cared to write in short sentences he could have excelled in that style; but he let his matter determine whether his form of words should be sententious and simple or should be more complex and brilliant. ‘Brevity is good, whether you are or are not understood,’ wrote Byron. Stevenson desired his language not only to be understood – a very elementary, albeit necessary attribute of language – but also to be enjoyed; and so far is he from cultivating staccato brevity of expression that even where he might have put full stops he pointed with colons and semicolons; and, eschewing the stiffness secured by the easy device of dropping out ‘and’ and ‘but’ he made the full natural use of the conjunction. This gives his prose a fluidity and continuity denied to the short, choppy style of diction, which has a tendency to beget periods that are either pompous or inconsequential. Caesar’s ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ – an extreme example of the sententious manner - is viciously pert as English.
Wide glancing Picturesqueness.
Probably no writer has carried to such perfection as Stevenson the art of gathering together in one passage a number of suggestively picturesque details which have their effect heightened, both severally and jointly, by the mere juxtaposition, somewhat as a bevy of but moderately good-looking sisters in one household produce a cumulative impression of dazzling glamour upon the bachelor imagination, and send each other triumphantly off. What could be more wide-glancing yet more truly cognate than the details of this passage from ‘Will of the Mill’? –
One evening he asked the miller where the river went… It goes out into the lowlands, and waters the great corn country, and runs through a sight of fine cities (so they say) where kings live all alone in great palaces, with a sentry walking up and down before the door. And it goes under bridges, with stone men upon them looking down and smiling so curious at the water, and living folk leaning on their elbows on the wall and looking over too. And then it goes on and on, and down through marshes and sands, until at last it falls into the sea, where the ships are that bring tobacco and parrots from the Indies.
The river stands as the sufficient thread for all these pearls.
All this relates, of course, only to the mechanism of Stevenson’s prose. The imagination which conceived, and the constructive faculty which fashioned, a little world in each romance form another story. The pretty or forceful arrangement of words, or anything of the nature of ‘swallowing a dictionary,’ can be but a part of the secret of an imaginative writer’s charm, or simple Bunyan and slovenly Sir Walter would not be the enchanters they are.
As romancer, Stevenson’s outstanding qualities are graphic, swiftness in handling details, with the implied exclusion of the unessential; trenchant directness and compactnmess; the flashing in of such unexpected eerie features, such as the pirate Pew, with his unerring rapid gait and uncanny tapping stick – so startling, yet so feasible; and through all sustained sympathy with his creations and unflagging plausibility.
In his familiar letters, when he had no time, and there seemed to be no reason, for careful picking of terms, his hankering after virility of expression is shown by his recourse to Scottisism, ‘swear words,’ and tags of the pigeon English spoken to and by the Samoans. The ‘bad words’ are often nothing much beyond such indeterminate expletives as ‘be jowned to you!’ And as to the Scottisicms, here is an illustrative passage (from the Vailima Letters’) :-
We are all seedy, bar Lloyd; Fanny, as per above, self, nearly extinct; Belle, utterly overworked and bad toothache; Cook, down with a bad foot; Butler, prostrate with a bad leg. Eh, what a faim’ly!
As essayist his indulgent insight, culture and whimsical humour do not exclude an occasional strain of puritan severity (derived from his father); but the prevailing note is the animated optimism he had from his fun-loving mother, who wrote the characteristic motto for a friend’s guest-list:
The world is so full of a number of things,
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings.
PART TWO TO FOLLOW IN NEXT MONTH'S GATEWAY
Crockett’s memorial piece in ‘The Bookman’ of January 1895.
Sitting alone by the sea in the mid days of November, I wrote a little article on what I loved most in the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it was set in type for the January Bookman. In itself a thing of no value, it pleased me to think that in his far island my friend would read it, and that it might amuse him. I have tried and failed to revise it in the gloom of the night that has come so swiftly to those who loved him. It would not do.
How could one alter and amend the light sentences with the sense of loss in one's heart? How sit down to write a "tribute " when one has slept, and started, and awaked all night with the dull ache that lies below Sleep saying all the time, "Stevenson is dead! Stevenson is dead!"?
It is true also that I have small right to speak of him. I was little to him ; but then he was very much to me. He alone of mankind saw what pleased him in a little book of boyish verses.
Seven years ago he wrote to tell me so. He had a habit of quoting stray lines from it in successive letters to let me see that he remembered what he had praised. Yet he was ever as modest and brotherly as if I had been the great author and he the lad writing love verses to his sweetheart.
Without reproach and without peer in friendship, our king-over-the-water stood first in our hearts because his own was full of graciousness and tolerance and chivalry.
I let my little article be just as I wrote it for his eye to see, before any of us guessed that the dread hour was so near the sounding which should call our well-beloved "home from the hill."
S. R . CROCKETT. Penicuik, Midlothian. December 19th, 1894
MR. STEVENSON'S BOOKS. By S. R. CROCKETT. (Bookman, January 1895)
In sunny Samoa, more thousands of miles away than the ungeographical can count, sits "The Scot Abroad."
For thus Burton the historian, sane, sage, and wise, wrote of Mr Robert Louis Stevenson before his time. It is the wont of Scotland that her sons, for adventure or merchandise, should early expatriate themselves. The ships of the world in all seas are engineered from the Clyde, and a "doon-the watter" accent is considered as necessary as lubricating oil, in order that the plunging piston rods may really enjoy their rhythmic dance. If you step ashore anywhere "east of Suez and the Ten Commandments," ten to one the first man of your tongue who greets you, will hail in the well-remembered accent of the Scotch gardener who chased you out of the strawberry plots of your unblessed youth.
But to us who "stop at home, on flowery beds of ease," made aware of ourselves only when the east wind blows and we think that we are back in St. Andrews, the typical "Scot Abroad " is neither Burton's Gentleman Companion at Arms nor the oily chief engineer, but Mr. Stevenson.
On high in a cool bowery room on the hillside, looking down on the league-long rollers forming themselves to be hurled on the shore, sits one with his heels on the coco matting of Samoa, but his head over the Highland border. The chiefs gather for palaver (or whatever they are pleased to call hunkering-and blethering out there), and they tell the Tale-teller of heads taken and plantations raided. And be stays his pen and arbitrates, or he "leaves for the front," as though he were plenipotentiary of the Triple Alliance. But all the while it is James More Macgregor who is marching out arrayed in a breech-clout and a Winchester "to plunder and to ravish"-or carry off an heiress lass from the lowlands as was good Macgregor use and wont.
They call the beautiful new complete "Stevenson " which Mr. Sidney Colvin and Mr. Charles Baxter have contrived and organised, the "Edinburgh " edition, because though the stars of the tropics glow like beacons, and in Apia the electric light winks a-nights like glow worms amid a wilderness of green leaves, yet to the lad who sits aloft there are still "no stars like the Edinburgh street lamps." But my own local enthusiasm are duller, for the lastt night I was in Edinburgh I saw a wind (Rajputana and Edinburgh are the only two places where you can see wind)-I saw a wind, with the bit between its teeth, run off with itself down that romantic wall of hotels, which in the night looks like the thunder battered wall of the Dungeon of Buchan. I saw it snatch out a dozen gaps in the converging perspective of the gulamps, and bring down the chimney-cans crashing on the pavement like forest leaves in a November blast. So Mr. Stevenson, who does not live there, "for love and euphony " names his collected edition (to which be all good luck and fostering breezes) "The Edinburgh Edition.” I have just seen the first volume, which in its brightness and beauty seems a summary of all the perfections, and whose print recalls that in which the early novels of Scott were set up. Mr. Hole's portrait suffers a little from the excessive size of the hands, but in spite of this is by far the most characteristic Stevensonian portrait ever done, and represents him exactly as his friends remember him at the most productive period his genius has yet known .
To me the most interesting thing in Mr. Stevenson's books is always Mr. Stevenson himself. Some authors (perhaps the greatest) severely sit with the more ancient gods, and serenely keep themselves out of their books. Most of these authors are dead now. Others put their personalities in, indeed; but would do much better to keep them out. Their futilities and pomposities, pose as they may, are no more interesting than those of the chairman of a prosperous limited company. But there are a chosen few who cannot light a cigarette or part their hair in a new place without being interesting. Upon such in this life, interviewers bear down in shoals with pencils pointed like spears; and about them as soon as they are dead-lo! begins at once the "chatter about Harriet."
Mr. Stevenson is of this company. Rarest of all, his friends have loved_ and praised him so judiciously that he has no enemies. He might have been the spoiled child of letters. He is only "all the world's Louis." The one unforgivable thing in a chequered past is that at one time be wore a black shirt, to which we refuse to be reconciled on any terms.
But when he writes of himself, how supremely excellent is the reading. It is good even when he does it intentionally, as in 'Portraits and Memories.' It is better still when he sings it, as in his 'Child's Garden .' He is irresistible to every lonely child who reads and thrills, and reads again to find his past recovered for him with effortless ease. It is a book never long out of my hands , for only in it and in my dreams when I am touched with fever, do I grasp the long, long thoughts of a lonely child and a hill-wandering boy thoughts I never told to any; yet which Mr. Stevenson tells over again to me as if he read them oft' a printed page.
I am writing at a distance from books and collections of Stevensoniana, so that I cannot quote, but only vaguely follow the romancer through some of his incarnations. Of course every romancer, consciously or unconsciously, incarnates himself, especially if he writes his books in the first person . It is he who makes love to the heroine; he who fights with the Frenchman "who never can win"; he who climbs the Mountain Perilous with a dirk between his teeth. But Mr. Stevenson writes the fascination of his personality into all his most attractive creations, and whenever I miss the incarnation, I miss most of the magic as well. Jim Hawkins is only "the Lantern Bearer " of North Berwick Links translated into the language of adventure on the high seas -the healthier also for the change.
I love Jim Hawkins. On my soul I love him more even than Alan Breck. He is the boy we should all like to have been, though no doubt David Ballfour is much more like the boys we were without the piety and the adventures. I read Stevenson in every line of 'Treasure Island.' It is of course mixed of Erraid and the island discovered by Mr. Daniel Defoe But we love anything of such excellent breed, and the crossing only improves it. Our hearts dance when Mr. Stevenson lands his cut-throats, with one part of himself as hero and the other as villain. John Silver is an admirable villain, for he is just the author genially cutting throat. Even when he pants three times as he sends the knife home, we do not entirely believe in his villainy. We expect to see the murdered seaman about again and hearty at his meals in the course of a chapter or two. John is a villain at great expense and trouble to himself; but we like him personally, and are prepared to sit down and suck an apple with him, even when he threatens to stove in our "thundering old blockhouse and them as dies will be the lucky ones." In our hearts we think the captain was a little hard on him. We know that it is Mr. Stevenson all the time, and are terrified exactly like a three-year-old who sees his father take a rug over his bead and "be a bear.'' The thrill is delicious, for there is just an off chance that after all the thing may turn out to be a bear; but still we are pretty easy that at the play's end the bearskin will be tossed aside, the villain repent, and John Silver get off with a comfortable tale of pieces of eight.
No book has charted more authentically the topographical features of the kingdom of Romance than 'Treasure Island.' Is that island in the South or in the North Atlantic? Is it in the "Spanish main"? What is the Spanish main? Is it in the Atlantic at all? Or set a jewel somewhere in the wide Pacific, or strung on some fringe of the Indian Ocean? Who knows or cares? Jim Hawkins is there. His luck, it_is true, is something remarkable. His chances are phenomenal His imagination, like ours, is running free, and we could go on for ever hearing about Jim. We can trust Jim Hawkins, and void of care we follow his star.
O for one hour of Jim in the ' Wrecker ' to clear up the mystery of the many captains, or honest and reputable John Silver to do for the poor Scot down below in a workman-like manner when he came running to him, instead of firing as it were "into the brown" till that crying stopped-a touch for which we find it hard to forgive Mr. Stevenson -pardon, Mr. Lloyd Osbourne.
Again, Alan Breck is ever Alan, and bright shines his sword; but be is never quite Jim Hawkins to me. Nor does he seem even so point-device in 'Catriona ' as he was in the round house or with his foot on the heather. But wherever Alan Breck goes or David Balfour follows, thither I am ready to fare forth, unquestioning and all-believing.
But when I do not care very much for any one of Mr. Stevenson's books, it is chiefly the lack of Mr. James Hawkins that I regret. Jim in doublet and hose-how differently he would have sped "The Black Arrow"! Jim in trousers and top hat-he would never have been found in the " Black Box," never have gone out with Huish upon the "Ebb Tide." John Silver never threw vitriol, but did his needs with a knife in a gentlemanly way, and that was because Jim Hawkins was there to see that he was worthy of himself. Jim would never have let things get to such a pass as to require Attwater's bullets splashing like hail in a pond over the last two pages to settle matters in any sort of way.
I often think of getting up a petition to Mr. Stevenson (it is easy to get around Robin), beseeching "with sobs and tears " that he will sort out all his beach-combers and Yankee captains, charter a rakish saucy-sailing schooner, Ship Jim Hawkins as ship's boy or captain (we are not particular), and then up anchor with a Yo-Ho-Cheerily for the Isle of our Heart's Desire, where they load Long Toms with pieces of eight, and, dead or alive, nobody minds Ben Gunn.
THE FINAL PART (IF NOT SOLUTION!)
We sometimes hear contemptuous references to Gas and Water Socialism, as if there could be no benefit and no progress in the part because it was not the whole. As if shorter hours, better pay, better and cheaper service, and vastly improved and beautified towns and cities were not worth having and not worth slaving for because the pay and the hours, the service and the amenities were not all they ought to be and will be under a further development of these institutions upon present lines.
Let those who were disposed to belittle the Socialism of the municipality bethink them of the attack which is being made on it at present by the Times, by Property Owners Associations, by economists of the British Association, by men like Mr Austin Chamberlain and Sir Alexander Henderson. These men know the significance of the principle underlying collectivist enterprises; they know that the success of public enterprise on a small scale is simply paving the way for the great all-embracing Co-operative Commonwealth, in which not only the local bodies will administer their own local services, but in which we shall have State railways, State canals, State mines, the telephone amalgamated with the post office; in a word, State control of all undertakings which can be better administered by the State than by either the local authorities or private enterprise.
This quiet municipal progress has been going on in spite of all the reaction manifested in Imperial politics. Indeed in some cases it has proceeded farthest and most rapidly where the people are most reactionary in Imperial politics. London and Glasgow have both voted Tory in Imperial politics, but both have returned progressive majorities to their local governing bodies, and the extension of communal collectivism goes on apace there .as elsewhere.
While this far-reaching progress has been going on, the forces of discontent have been latterly massing, and at last the Government seems to have dug its own grave. Emboldened by strength and long immunity from electoral punishment, the Government introduced an Education Bill whose impudent retrogressiveness fairly takes one's breath away. The Bill not only wiped out the School Boards, but public control of education altogether, the management being now vested in close corporations over looked by a powerless minority of ratepayers' representatives. The Bill ignored the success of secular education in Scotland. It ignored the steady growth of the Board School system in the English cities. It was drafted by people who do not seem to know that undenominational schools have flourished in Scotland for thirty years, producing results which England can nowhere touch. It was a priests' Bill- a Bill inspired by the conviction on the part of the English Church clergy that unless they catch the English man and woman as children, they will lose hold on them altogether, a psition which, so far as the cities are concerned, is already practically realised.
The Education Bill was surely one of the last spurts of the present reaction-and it will prove, I trust, as abortive, as shortlived, as it is audacious. How the Bill ran its course in Parliament with so little opposition from the Tories themselves and with so little effective opposition in the lobbies from the Liberals is not easy to say. It seems as if both Ministerialists and Opposition had been hypnotised by the success of Reaction out of all prudence and reason on the one hand and out of all courage and energy on the other. It seems perfectly clear that the Act is repugnant to the great body of English opinion. Recent elections have shown that. The decisions of Church councils, educational authorities, and the protests of some of the State clergy themselves have shown it. The great demonstration at Leeds showed it. And it is to the eternal disgrace of the Fabian Society that their leading spirits, Professor Sidney Webb and Mr George Bernard Shaw, should have defended and countenanced this Bill, which in motive and in form represents pure reaction, as we Scotsmen, accustomed to non-sectarian education, know perfectly well.
But here again, in connection with this reactionary measure there are several consolatory circumstances. One of these is the way in which the nonconformist clergy have risen to the attack. Reading the fulminations of Principal Fairbairn, Dr Clifford, and Dr Robertson Nicoll against the Bill, and the priestcraft which has inspired it, one realises with pleasure that, after all, there is a wide gulf between the proud priests who support the measure and the sturdy presbyters who oppose it, the latter spitting upon clericalism in education with a rancour which Mr Charles Bradlaugh himself could not well have outdone. Is it possible that Mr Balfour, bored to death with the cares and responsibilities of office held for seven years, devised this bill in the hope of securing a rest by bringing about the ultimate defeat of his Government!
It looked all the more like it when we consider that, as a Scotsman, Mr Balfour was bound to see that the system of education which is good enough for Scotland, Europe, and America ought to be good enough for England. For my part I should like to see the Scottish monopoly of education broken through. We are at present producing far too many clergymen, doctors, lawyers, and newspaper men, in Scotland, and far too few skilled workers and captains of industry. I am not unduly enamoured of captains of industry; but I do hold that for the sake of the Co-operative Commonwealth the economic development of Scotland must proceed much further and faster than it has done up to now.
In my adopted town I look round, and upon my word I see no industry that is worth the socialising unless it were to stop competition in it, and to develop and consolidate it as private capital will never do. We have municipal gas, baths, water, and a lodging-house, and now that these things have been conquered there is hardly any concern in the town which, as at present conducted, gives the proprietors more than a living wage, while at the same time their personal address and interest are largely accountable for the fact that they get anybody to send them orders to such an out-of-the-world place at all.
But if Mr Balfour would have welcomed defeat over the Education Bill, he has been disappointed. How could he or anyone else have known that the country would stand so much reaction. His Government has done its best to drive people and Parliament into revolt--by doles to priests and landlords; by taxes on sugar, coal, and corn; by subsidies to West Indian planters; by the Sugar Convention, which will mulch the public in ten millions a-year that the planters may have a quarter of a million, to the hurt of the great industry that has grown up in Britain as a result of cheap sugar. These are small things, it may be said. Yes; but they are reactionary small things. It is surely the most irritating waste of time, and worse, that the legislators of a nation, instead of going forward to the establishment of institutions that will endure, should hark back at every turn to destroy the good work of those who went before and establish tho.t which must in the near future be overturned. To persistently and mischievously do that which it ought not to do, and to resolutely leave undone that which ought to be done and which it promised to do-what in a Government can be more wickedly wasteful and irritating.
The economic development is hindered, and the conditions that produce Trusts and pave the way for the Co-operative Commonwealth are being avoided, by the constant drain of emigration to which our small towns are subject. The small business run by a hard-working tradesman hardly represents Capitalism as we understand it; and without large aggregations of population businesses must remain small, The small employer in most cases works as hard, displays more ability, and has much more anxiety about his work than has the workman-small blame to the latter. At the same time his income is not very much higher, and he has to keep up more "style." The paramount duty of the workman at present is to stay at home and help the development industrially, politically, and socially. But will he do it? Not he. He will leave his children, the lass whom he has made his wife, and the scenes which form his home, for 10s more a-week, making his home in city, foreign, and colonial hell-holes, leaving sentimental fellows to make a book, speak a word, or deal a blow for poor old Scotland's sake. The hog that he is, he is not worth working for if one could get better conditions for oneself.
But by the nature of the case the Co-operative Commonwealth is a one-and-all business. The true Socialist can have no pleasure save in the legitimate pleasure of all his fellows. A chivvied woman or a starved child gets on his spirits, and he cannot be happy unless he feels that all the others are happy too, and not only happy, but happy in the right way. And therein lies the punishment of being a Socialist. It is not enough to see people happy. A pig is happy in its stye, and the British workman is happy as a full-fed pig when he hears that a brave foe has been beaten in a righteous cause or that his favourite footbatll club has won a match. The Socialist looks to the kind of the happiness as well as to the degree of it. If the happiness is unworthy; if it is the happiness of a coward or a bully; if it is malicious glee at the defeat of the dreaded and hated just and brave man, then the happiness is of the devil devilish; it is the jubilation of hell hellish, and while the Socialist wishes no harm to the thoughtless man, the good but uninformed woman, or the innocent child, he could almost wish that a sign-were it even a devastating sign-might be vouchsafed to show that the rejoicing was unholy; for haply thereby might the progress of unreason be arrested.
If the lot of the emigrant were appreciably improved one might look on the exodus with pleasure. But we know that wherever monopoly and competition have set their twin foul feet the conditions of the proletarian must be the same. In leaving his own country he avails himself of the open safety-valve. While he does not always or necessarily improve his own position, he delays the work of redress and adjustment in his own country.
What we require in Scotland is that our people should remain behind and make the country worth living in economically, as it is already worth living in socially, scenically, as a matter of health, and as a matter of sentiment.
Socialists at least are under no obligation to be downcast. The present reaction is in the highest degree natural and explicable. More clearly than ever before has the class war shown itself. Trade unionism only sought to regulate the conditions of piracy and took no account of mismanagement. Socialism sought to put an end to piracy and mismanagement altogether. And the highly capable pirate mismanagers, recognising the nature of the issue, have rallied "all hands on deck to repel boarders." As the pirates belong to both parties, it is not wonderful that Liberals as well as Tories have ratted it within recent years. The wonder is, not that reaction has been in fashion of late years, but rather that a single member of the privileged and propertied classes has still found it possible to stand up against desertion by his friends and the steady attack of the Socialist enemies of monopoly and privilege.
I have no counsel and no encouragement to offer except the assurance that in my mind we who believe in the Co-operative Commonwealth are more absolutely right, have a more august, more rational, and more unassailable claim than any party which the whole history of the world can show. There is no royal road to the realization of the ends we have in view. But all roads did not so certainly lead to Rome as all roads lead to the Co-operative Commonwealth. Those who are working with that great goal in view have simply to continue the work they have been doing-m greater numbers, with greater intelligence, with more of the spirit of self-consecration and self-sacrifice. They must grudge no propagandist service, no committee work, no drudgery amidst obloquy and opposition upon those public boards where the important business of communities is more and more transacted. Those of you who would serve in this cause-you must make yourselves walking depositaries of the historians' and economists' facts and the statisticians' figures. You must equip yourselves to make speeches before threatening mobs and frowning assemblages of well-to-do people. You must be content to be the one man defending a certain view in an entire meeting. You must take all humane knowledge for your province. You must, as was said of Edmund Burke, adopt your views with the enthusiasm of a fanatic and defend them with the wisdom of a philosopher. You must make Socialism your politics, your philosophy, your religion, your heart's desire.
If you go in for this work, I can say, speaking from the experience of sixteen years of it, that the days will pass swiftly with you. Your lives will be full of interest. You will not be at a loss to know how to spend your leisure time. Your party will be defeated and your hopes dashed again and again. The finger of scorn will be pointed at you, and your names shall be pro-Boer, Socialist, and the man who quarrels with his bread and butter.
Newspaper editors will crow over your failures, and lay down the law in the oracular style we know so well. The boys will cry at you in the streets. The ignorant will laugh, the brutal will sometimes beat down your arguments by sheer vociferation; and often you will be plunged in despair and doubt. But if you are of the right stuff, you cannot let your hopes and your desires go. To forsake your great hope and calling would be to part with a portion of your being. Reverses, failures, desertions from the ranks, the indifference of your fellows-all this, if you are of the right sort, will only strengthen your determination to persist in the good fight whose triumph for your class has been the hope of the ages, the most important thing in the world.
Let fate or insufficiency provide
Mean ends for men who are what they would be:
Penned in their narrow day no change they see
Save one which strikes the blow to brutes and pride,
Our faith is ours and comes not on a tide :
And whether earth's great offspring by degree,
Must rot if they abjure rapacity,
Not argument but effort shall decide.
They number many beads in that hard flock ;
Trim swordsmen they push forth :yet try thy steel,
Thou fighting for poor humankind wilt feel
The strbngth of Roland in thy wrist to hew
A chasm sheer into the barrier rock,
And bring the army of the faithful through.
Can you believe we’re all still here, a year after The Donald became President. And our Former First Minister is about to make his debut as a chat show host? Does the world get any crazier? Of course it does. Scotland is in the grip (you won’t have noticed it) of a massive Cultural Conversation/Strategy/Consultation… and which word you choose to employ probably informs and is informed by what your understanding of culture means.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the man, the writer, the legacy (and the moustache) is a good case in point. Over the past decade he’s come out of the doldrums and, having been ‘marketed hard’ into the mainstream, is now no longer easily dismissed.
Let me make it clear here and now, I’ve long been a fan/advocate/champion of Stevenson as a writer so if I am critical it is not of his writing. And it may seem churlish of me to be critical of one of our own being brought back into the literary fold. It’s the literary fold itself that I have problems with – that and the methods which need to be employed to get ‘noticed’ or ‘brought back into’ that place.
Probably I’m just at odds with the modern world and the modern way of doing things. I accept that. But it sits uneasily with me that we are asked to don fake moustaches in support of RLS. That the only way for a writer to get ‘noticed’ is to become primarily an ‘iconic’ or ‘legendary’ marketing opportunity. What about the actual WRITING folks?
To that end, we’ve given over this month’s Gateway in tribute to RLS. Alongside the final part of ‘The Most Important thing in the World’ we present the first of a two parter by Leatham on Stevenson’s style – an interesting and as anticipated somewhat challenging read from the 1910’s– as well as SR Crockett’s 1895 Memoriam piece. We also feature a piece of RLS’s own writing, ‘Person’s of the Tale’, revealing another perspective on ‘pieces of eight.’ To show that it’s not just RLS with hidden depths we also shine a light on an RLS buddy, J.M.Barrie. This month he takes over from the Orraman in presenting a cultural critique in the form of a short play.
Are we simply jumping on a bandwagon, or offering a different perspective in tribute to a writer who stands, shoulder to shoulder among peers who have not yet been brought into the light of Leery’s lamp.
Flashlight alert. Watch out. Next year is the centenary of Muriel Spark – another overlooked Scots writer. As a woman she’s got the edge these days – she can be marketed for ‘feminism’ and ‘equality’ and all that. Just read the stories folks. That’s the real power of a writer after all.
The cultural ‘debate’ rumbles on in the mainstream and in the margins. Politicians become chat show hosts. Reality stars become Presidents. And silly season has become a year round experience! Might I suggest that those who do not learn from the past are now condemned to watch it in eternal return on television as ‘formats’ designed primarily to sell you both things and the ideology of things. In the virtual world it’s harder than ever to ‘keep it real.’
Happy St Andrews Day when it comes. As yet it’s still not a mainstream contender with Halloween/Trick or Treat, Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Years (!!). If you celebrate St Andrews Day, please do so responsibily – not to mark an iconic/branded ‘experience.’ Keep it real, pal.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.