Am at last beginning to get more content with the work at the Museum, so that I muse on Bernard Shaw’s saying, ‘Get what you like or you’ll grow to like what you get.’ I have a terrible suspicion that the security of tenure here is like the lion’s den in the fable — Nulla vestigia retrorsum. Of course I am wonderfully proud of being at the Museum, although I am disappointed and write as if I were quite blasé.
January 21, 1912
January 25, 1912
I should be disappointed if at the end of my career (if I live to see it through) I do not win the F.R.S. I should very much like it. . . . My nature is very mixed — ambitious above all things and yet soon giddy with the audacity of my aspirations. The B. M. and my colleagues make me feel most inferior in fact, but in theory — in the secrecy of my own bedchamber — I feel that there are few men there my equal.
April 26, 1912
Down with influenza. A boarding-house with the ’flu!
May 8, 1912
Went home to recuperate, a beef jelly in one pocket and sal volatile in the other. On arrival, my blanched appearance frightened Mother and the others, so went to bed at once. ‘Fate’s a fiddler, life’s a dance.’
May 12, 1912
Weak enough to sit down before dressing-table while I shave and brush my hair. Dyspepsia appalling. The Doctor in Kensington seemed to think me an awful wreck and asked if I were concealing ——.
Reading Baudelaire and Verlaine.
May 24, 1912
Sat on a seat overlooking the sand-hills with stick between my legs like an old man, and watched a buxom wench aet. 25 run down the path pursued by ‘Rough’ and two little girls in blue. Later they emerged from a striped bathing tent in the glory of blue bathing dresses. It made me feel quite an old man to see the girl galloping out over the hard level sands to the breakers, a child clinging to each hand. Legs and arms twinkled in the sun which shone with brilliance. If life were as level as those sands and as beautiful as that trio of girls!
May 26, 1912
Two Young Men Talking
With H—— in his garden. He is a great enthusiast.
‘I disapprove entirely of your taste in gardening,’ I said. ‘You object to the “ragged wilderness” style, I like it. You like lawns laid out for croquet and your privet hedges pruned into “God Save the King” or “Dieu et mon droit.” My dear boy, if you saw Mr ——’s wilderness at —— you’d be so shocked you’d cut and run, and I imagine there’d be an affecting reunion between you and your beloved geraniums. For my part, I don’t like geraniums: they’re suburban, and all of a piece with antimacassars and stuffed birds under glass bells. The colour of your specimens, moreover,’ I rapped out, ‘is vulgar — like the muddied petticoats of old market women.’
H——, quite unmoved, replied slowly, ‘Well, here are some like the beautiful white cambric of a lady of fashion. You’ve got no taste in flowers — you’re just six feet of grief and patience.’ We roared with laughing.
‘Do stop watering those damned plants,’ I exclaimed at last. But he went on. I exclaimed again and out of sheer ridiculousness, in reply he proceeded to water the cabbages, the gravel path, the oak tree — and me! While I writhed with laughing.
May 27, 1912
By the Sea
Sat upon a comfortable jetty of rock and watched the waves without a glimmer of an idea in my mind about anything — though to outward view I might have been a philosopher in cerebral parturition with thoughts as big as babies. Instead, little rustling dead leaves of thoughts stirred and fluttered in the brain — the pimple e.g. I recollected on my Aunt’s nose, or the boyishness of Dr ——’s handwriting, or Swinburne’s lines: ‘If the golden-crested wren Were a nightingale — why, then Something seen and heard of men Might be half as sweet as when Laughs a child of seven.’
I continued in this pleasurable coma all the afternoon and went home refreshed.
May 29, 1912
Have returned to London and the B. M. My first day at the M. Sat at my table in a state of awful apathy.
At least temporarily, I am quite disenchanted of Zoology. I work — God save the mark — in the Insect Room!
On the way home, purchased:—
Peroxide of hydrogen (pyorrhœa threatened). One bottle of physic (for my appalling dyspepsia).
One flask of brandy for emergencies (as my heart is intermittent again).
Prussic acid next.
Must have been near pneumonia at R——. Auntie was nervous, and came in during the night to see how I was.
June 20, 1912
It caused me anguish to see my article returned from the Fortnightly and lying in a big envelope on the table when I returned home this evening. I can’t do any work because of it, and in desperation rushed off to the stately pleasure domes of the White City, and systematically went through all the thrills — from the Mountain Railway to the Wiggle Woggle and the ’Witching Waves.
June 21, 1912
To-day I am easier. The cut worm forgives the plough. But how restless this disappointment has made me. . . . I have no plans for recuperation and cannot settle down to work.
July 6, 1912
On my doctor’s advice, went to see Dr P——, a lung specialist. M—— found a dull spot on one of my lungs, and, not feeling very sure, and without telling me the nature of his suspicion, he arranged for Dr P—— to see me, allowing me to suppose he was a stomach authority as my dyspepsia is bad.
Well: it is not consumption, but my lungs and physique are such that consumption might easily supervene. As soon as Dr P—— had gone, M—— appended the following lugubrious yarn:—
Whenever I catch cold, I must go and be treated at pnce, all my leisure must be spent out of doors, I must take cream and milk in prodigious quantities and get fat at all costs. There is even a question of my giving up work.
July 10, 1912
A young but fat woman sitting in the sun and oozing moisture is as nasty as anything in Baudelaire.
July 14, 1912
A ‘Brilliant Career’
My old head master once prophesied for me ‘a brilliant career.’ That was when I was in the Third Form. Now I have more than a suspicion that I am one of those who, as he once pointed out, grow sometimes out of a brilliant boyhood into very commonplace men. This continuous ill health is having a very obvious effect on my work and activities. With what courage I possess I have to face the fact that to-day I am unable to think or express myself as well as when I was a boy in my teens — witness this Journal!
I intend to go on however. I have decided that my death shall be disputed all the way.
Oh! it is so humiliating to die! I writhe to think of being overcome by so unfair an enemy before I have demonstrated myself to maiden aunts who mistrust me, to colleagues who scorn me, and even to brothers and sisters who believe in me.
As an Egotist I hate death because I should cease to be I.
Most folk, when sick unto death, gain a little consolation over the notoriety gained by the fact of their decease. Criminals enjoy the pomp and circumstance of their execution. Voltaire said of Rousseau that he wouldn’t mind being hanged if they’d stick his name on the gibbet. But my own death would be so mean and insignificant. Guy de Maupassant died in a grand manner — a man of intellect and splendid physique who became insane. Tusitala’s death in the South Seas reads like a romance. Heine, after a life of sorrow, died with a sparkling witticism on his lips; Vespasian with a jest.
But I cannot for the life of me rake up any excitement over my own immediate decease — an unobtrusive passing away of a rancorous, disappointed, morbid, and self- assertive entomologist in a West Kensington Boarding House — what a mean little tragedy! It is hard not to be somebody even in death.
A sing-song to-night in the drawing-room; all the boarding-house present in full muster. There was a German, Schulz, who sat and leered at his inamorata — a sensual-looking, pasty-faced girl — while she gave us daggers-and-moonlight recitations with the most unwarranted self-assurance (she boasts of a walking-on part at one of the theatres); there was Miss M—— listening to her fiancé, Capt. O—— (home from India), singing Indian Love Songs at her; there was Miss T——, a sour old maid, who knitted and snorted, not fully conscious of this young blood coursing around her; Mrs Barclay Woods pursued her usual avocation of imposing on us all the great weight of her immense social superiority, clucking, in between, to her one chick — a fluffy girl of 18 or 19, who was sitting now in the draught, now too close to a ‘common’ musician of the Covent Garden Opera; finally our hostess, a divorcee, who hates all males, even Tom-cats. We were a pathetic little company — so motley, ill-assorted — who had come together not from love or regard but because man is a gregarious animal. In fact, we sat secretly criticising and contemning one another . . . yet outside there were so many millions of people unknown, and overhead the multitude of the stars was equally comfortless.
Later: . . . Zoology on occasion still fires my ambition! Surely I cannot be dying yet.
Whatever misfortune befalls me I do hope I shall be able to meet it unflinchingly. I do not fear ill-health in itself, but I do fear its possible effect on my mind and character. . . . Already I am slowly altering, as the Lord liveth. Already for example my sympathy with myself is maudlin.
Whenever the blow shall fall, some sort of a reaction must be given. Heine flamed into song. Beethoven wrote the 5th Symphony. So what shall I do when my time comes? I don’t think I have any lyrics or symphonies to write, so I shall just have to grin and bear it — like a dumb animal. . . . As long as I have spirit and buoyancy I don’t care what happens — for I know that for so long I cannot be accounted a failure. The only real failure is one in which the victim is left spiritless, dazed, dejected with blackness all around, and within, a knife slowly and unrelentingly cutting the strings of his heart.
My head whirls with conflicting emotions, struggling, desperate ideas, and a flood of impressions of all sorts of things that are never sufficiently sifted and arranged to be caught down on paper. I am brought into this world, hustled along it and then hustled out of it, with no time for anything. I want to be on a great hill and square up affairs.
August 28, 1912
. . . After tea, we all three walked in Kensington Gardens and sat on a seat by the Round Pond. My umbrella fell to the ground, and I left it there with its nose poking up in a cynical manner, as She remarked.
‘It’s not cynical,’ I said, ‘only a little knowing. Won’t you let yours fall down to keep it company? Yours is a lady umbrella and a good-looking one — they might flirt together.’
‘Mine doesn’t want to flirt,’ she answered stiffly.
September 13, 1912
At C——, a tiny little village by the sea in N——.
Looking up from a rockpool, where I had been watching Gobies, I saw three children racing across the sands to bathe, I saw a man dive from a boat, and I saw a horseman gallop his mare down to the beach and plunge about in the line of breakers. The waters thundered, the mare whinnied, the children shouted to one another, and I turned my head down again to the rockpool with a great thumping heart of happiness: it was so lovely to be conscious of the fact that out there this beautiful picture was awaiting me whenever and as often as I chose to lift my head. I purposely kept my head down, for the picture was so beautiful I did not want to hurt it by breathing on it, and I kept my head down out of a playful self-cheating delight; I decided not to indulge myself.
September 16, 1912
Out in the Bay dredging for Echinoderms with ‘Carrots.’ Brilliantly fine. The haul was a failure, but, being out in a boat on a waveless sea under a cloudless sky, I was scarcely depressed at this! We cruised along from one little bay to another, past smugglers’ caves and white pebble beaches, the dredge all the while growling along the sea bottom, and ‘Carrots’ and I lying listless in the bows. I was immensely happy. My mercury was positively ringing the bell.
Who, then, is ‘Carrots’? He is a fine brawny boatman who jumps over the rocks like a Chamois, swims like a Fish, pulls like an Ox, snorts like a Grampus — a sort of compound zoological perfection, built eclectically.
September 18, 1912
Up the village, Mrs Beavan keeps a tiny little shop and runs a very large garden. She showed us all about the garden, and introduced us to her husband, whom we discovered in an apple tree — an old man, aged 76, very hard of hearing, and with an impediment in his speech. He at once began to move his mouth, and I caught odd jingles of sound that sounded like nothing at all — at first, but which gradually resolved themselves on close attention to such familiar landmarks as ‘Early Boughies,’ ‘Stubbits,’ ‘Ribstone Pippins’ into a discourse on Apples.
The following curious conversation took place between me and the deaf gaffer, aged 76, standing in the apple tree,—
‘These be all appulls from Kent — I got ’em all from Kent.’
‘How long have you lived in C——?’
‘Bunyard & Son — that’s the firm — they live just outside the town of Maidstone.’
‘Do you keep Bees here?’
‘One of these yer appulls is called Bunyard after the firm — a fine fruit too.’
‘Your good wife must be of great assistance to you in your work.’
‘Little stalks maybe, but a large juishy appull for all that.’
Just then I heard Mrs B—— saying to E——,—
‘Aw yes, he’s very active for 76. A little deaf, but he manages the garden all ’eesulf, I bolsters ’un up wi’ meat and drink — little and often as they zay for children. . . . Now there’s a bootifull tree, me dear, that ’as almost beared itself to death, as you may say.’
She picked an apple off it shouting to poor Tom still aloft,—
‘Tom what’s the name of this one?’
‘You should come a bit earlier, zir,’ replied T. ‘’Tis late a bit now doan’t ’ee zee?’
‘No — what’s its name I want,’ shouted his spouse.
‘Yes, yes, give the lady one to take home — there’s plenty for all,’ he said.
‘What is the NAME? THE NAME OF THIS YER APPULL,’ screamed Mrs B., and old Tom moving his bones slowly down from the tree answered quite unmoved,—
‘Aw the name? Why, ’tis a common kind of appull — there’s a nice tree of ’em up there.’
‘Oh! never mind, ’tis a Gladstone,’ said Mrs B., turning to us.
‘A very fine Appull,’ droned the old boy.
September 28, 1912
Back in town again. Wandered about in a somnambulistic way all the afternoon till I found myself taking tea in Kew Gardens. I enjoyed the wind in my face and hair. Otherwise there is nothing to be said — a colourless day.
October 10, 1912
Came across the following arresting sentence: ‘Pale, anæmic, cadaverous, bad teeth and disordered digestion and a morbid egotism.’ Yes, but my teeth are not bad.
October 20, 1912
On the N. Downs
Under the oak where I sat the ground was covered with dead leaves. I kicked them, and I beat them with my stick, because I was angry that they were dead. In the coppice, leaves were quietly and majestically floating earthwards in the pomp of death. It was very thrilling to observe them.
It was a curious sensation to realise that since the last time I sat under the old oak I had been right up to the N. of England, then right down to the S.W., and back once more to London town. I bragged about my kinetic activity to the stationary oak and I scoffed at the old hill for having to remain always in the same place.
It gave me a pleasing sense of infinite superiority to come back and see everything the same as before, to sit on the same old seat under the same old oak. Even that same old hurdle was lying in the same position among the bracken. How sorry I was for it! Poor wretch — unable to move — to go to Whitby, to go to C——, to be totally ignorant of the great country of London. . . .
Day dreamed. My own life as it unrolls day by day is a source of constant amazement, delight, and pain. I can think of no more interesting volume than a detailed, intimate, psychological history of my own life. I want a perfect comprehension at least of myself. . . .
We are all such egotists that a sorrow or hardship — provided it is great enough — flatters our self-importance. We feel that a calamity by overtaking us has distinguished us above our fellows. A man likes not to be ignored even by a railway accident. A man with a grievance is always happy.
October 23, 1912
Over to see E——. Came away disillusioned.
October 25, 1912
Met her in Smith’s book shop looking quite bewitching. Hang it all, I thought I had finished. Went home with her, watched her make a pudding in the kitchen, then we sat by the firelight in the drawing-room and had supper. Scrumptious (not the supper).
October 27, 1912
Quarrelled with D——! The atmosphere is changed at the flat — my character is ruined. D—— has told them I’m a loose fellow. I’ve always contrived to give him that impression — I liked to be cutting my throat — and now it’s cut!
November 1, 1912
D—— came and carried me off to the flat, where they asked why I hadn’t been over — which, of course, pleased me immensely.
November 6, 1912
Doctor M—— is very gloomy about my health and talks of S. Africa, Labrador, and so on. I’m not responding to his treatment as I should.
November 11, 1912
Met her this evening in Kensington Road. ‘I timed this well.’ said she, ‘I thought I should meet you.’ Good Heavens, I am getting embroiled. Returned to the flat with her and after supper called her ‘The Lady of Shalott.’
‘I don’t think you know what you’re talking about’— this stiffly.
‘Perhaps not,’ I answered. ‘I leave it to you.’
‘Oh! but it rests with you,’ she said.
Am I in love? God knows — but I don’t suppose God cares.
November 15, 1912
On M——’s advice went to see a stomach specialist — Dr Hawkins. As I got there a little too early walked up the street — Portland Place — on the opposite side (from shyness) past an interminable and nauseating series of night bells and brass plates, then down again on the right side till I got to No. 66 which made me flutter — for ten doors ahead I mused is the house I must call at. It made me shiver a little.
The specialist took copious notes of my evidence and after examining me retired to consult with M——. What a parade of ceremony! On coming back, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Not proven.’ I was told I ought to go out and live on the prairies — and in two years I should be a giant! But where are the prairies? What ’bus? If I get worse, I must take several months’ leave. I think it will come to this.
November 16, 1912
Arthur came down for the week end. He likes the Lady of Shalott. She is ‘not handsome, but arresting, striking’ and ‘capable of tragedy.’ That I believe she has achieved already. . . . If she were a bit more gloomy and a bit more beautiful, she’d be irresistible.
November 22, 1912
He: ‘Have a cigarette? I enjoy lighting your cigarettes.’
She: ‘I don’t know how to smoke properly.’
He: ‘You smoke only as you could.’
She: ‘How’s that?’
H.: ‘Gracefully, of course.’
S.: ‘Do you think I like pretty things being said to me?’
H.: ‘Why not, if they are true. Flattery is when you tell an ugly woman she is beautiful. Have you so poor an opinion of yourself to think all I say of you is flattery?’
S.: ‘Yes. I am only four bare walls,— with nothing inside.’
H.: ‘What a deliciously empty feeling that must be. . . . But I don’t think you’re so simple as all that. You bewilder me sometimes.’
H.: ‘I feel like Sindbad the Sailor.’
H.: ‘Because I’m not George Meredith.’
The title of ‘husband’ frightens me.
December 9, 1912
It’s a fearful strain to go on endeavouring to live up to time with a carefully laid-out time-table of future achievements. I am hurrying on with my study of Italian in order to read the Life of Spallanzani in order to include him in my book — to be finished by the end of next year; I am also subsidising Jenkinson’s embryological lectures at University College with the more detailed account of practical and experimental work in his text-book; I have also started a lengthy research upon the Trichoptera — all with a horrible sense of time fleeing swiftly and opportunities for work too few ever to be squandered, and, in the background, behind all this feverish activity, the black shadow that I might die suddenly with nothing done — next year, next month, next week, to-morrow, now!
Then sometimes, as to-night, I have misgivings. Shall I do these things so well now as I might once have done them? Has not my ill-health seriously affected my mental powers? Surely the boy of 1908-10 was almost a genius or — seen at this distance — a very remarkable youth in the fanatical zeal with which he sought to pursue, and succeeded in gaining, his own end of a zoological education for himself.
It is a terrible suspicion to cross the mind of an ambitious youth that perhaps, after all, he is a very commonplace mortal — that his life, whether comedy or tragedy, or both, or neither, is any way insignificant, of no account.
It is still more devastating for him to have to consider whether the laurel wreath was not once within his grasp, and, whether he must not ascribe his own incalculable loss to his stomach simply.
December 15, 1912
A very bad heart attack. As I write it intermits every three or four beats. Who knows if I shall live thro’ to-night?
December 16, 1912
Here I am once more. A passable night. After breakfast the intermittency recommenced — it is better now, with a dropped beat only about once per half-hour, so that I am almost happy after yesterday, which was Hell. The world is too good to give up without remonstrance at the beck of a weak heart.
Before I went to sleep last night, my watch stopped — I at once observed the cessation of its tick and wondered if it were an omen. I was genuinely surprised to find myself still ticking when I awoke this morning. A moment ago a hearse passed down the street. . . . Yes, but I’m damned if I haven’t a right to be morbid after yesterday. To be ill like this in a boarding house! I’d marry tomorrow if I had the chance.
December 22, 1912
Sollas’s ‘Ancient Hunters’
Read Sollas’s book Ancient Hunters — very thrilling — mind full of the Aurignacians, Mousterians, Magdalenians! I have been peering down such tremendous vistas of time and change that my own troubles have been eclipsed into ridiculous insignificance. It has been really a Pillar of Strength to me — a splendid tonic. Palæontology has its comfortable words too. I have revelled in my littleness and irresponsibility. It has relieved me of the harassing desire to live, I feel content to live dangerously, indifferent to my fate; I have discovered I am a fly, that we are all flies, that nothing matters. It’s a great load off my life, for I don’t mind being such a micro-organism — to me the honour is sufficient of belonging to the universe — such a great universe, so grand a scheme of things. Not even Death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time. And when I am dead, the matter which composes my body is indestructible — and eternal, so that come what may to my ‘Soul,’ my dust will always be going on, each separate atom of me playing its separate part — I shall still have some sort of a finger in the Pie. When I am dead, you can boil me, burn me, drown me, scatter me — but you cannot destroy me: my little atoms would merely deride such heavy vengeance. Death can do no more than kill you.
December 27, 1912
‘It is a pleasure to note the success attending the career of Mr W. N. P. Barbellion now engaged in scientific work on the staff of the Natural History Museum . . .’ etc., etc.
This is a cutting from the local paper — one of many that from time to time I once delightedly pasted in the pages of the Journal. Not so now.
. . . At 23, I am a different being. Surrounded by all the stimulating environment of scientific research, I am cold and disdainful. I keep up the old appearances but underneath it is quite different. I am a hypocrite. I have to wear the mask and cothornoi, finding the part daily more difficult to bear. I am living on my immense initial momentum — while the machinery gradually slows up. My career! Gadzooks.
January 3, 1913
From the drawing-room window I see pass almost daily an old gentleman with white hair, a firm step, broad shoulders, healthy pink skin, a sunny smile — always singing to himself as he goes — a happy, rosy-cheeked old fellow, with a rosy-cheeked mind. . . . I should like to throw mud at him. By Jove, how I hate him. He makes me wince with my own pain. It is heartless, indecently so, for an old man to be so blithe. Life has, I suppose, never lain in wait for him. The Great Anarchist has spared him a bomb.
January 19, 1913
My Aunt, aged 75, who has apparently concluded from my constant absences from Church that my spiritual life is in a parlous way, to-day read me her portion from a large book with a broad purple-tasseled bookmark. I looked up from ‘I Promessi Sposi’ and said ‘Very nice.’ It was about someone whose soul was not saved and who would not answer the door when it was knocked. It is jolly to be regarded as a wicked, libidinous youth by an aged maiden Aunt.
January 22, 1913
This Diary reads for all the world as if I were not living in mighty London. The truth is I live in a bigger, dirtier city — ill-health. Ill-health, when chronic, is like a permanent ligature around one’s life. What a fine fellow I’d be if I were perfectly well. My energy for one thing would lift the roof off. . . .
We conversed around the text: ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive and true success is to labour.’ She is — well, so graceful. My God! I love her, I love her, I love her!!!
February 3, 1913
H—— B—— invited me to tea to meet his fiancee. Rather pleased with the invitation — I don’t know why, for my idea of myself is greater than my idea of him and probably greater than his idea of himself.
Yet I went and got shaved, and even thought of buying a new pair of gloves, but poverty proved greater than vanity, so I went with naked hands. On arriving at Turnham Green, I removed my spectacles (well knowing how much they damage my personal appearance). However, the beauty of the thing was that, tho’ I waited as agreed, he never turned up, and so I returned home again, crestfallen — and, with my spectacles on again.
February 9, 1913
. . . ‘Now, W——, talk to me prettily,’ she said as soon as the door was closed on them.
‘Oh! make him read a book’ whined her sister, but we talked of marriage instead — in all its aspects. Bless their hearts, I found these two dear young things simply sodden with the idea of it.
In the middle I did a knee-jerk which made them scream with laughing — the patellar reflex was new to them, so I seized a brush from the grate, crossed to Her and gently tapped: out shot her foot, and —— cried: ‘Oh, do do it to me as well.’ It was rare fun.
‘Oh! pretty knee, what do I see?
And he stooped and he tied up my garter for me.’
February 10, 1913
News of Scott’s great adventure! Scott dead a year ago!! The news, when I saw it to-night in the Pall Mall Gazette, gave me cold thrills. I could have wept. . . . What splendid people we humans are! If there be no loving God to watch us, it’s a pity for His sake as much as for our own.
February 15, 1913
Tried to kiss her in a taxi-cab on the way home from the Savoy — the taxi-cab danger is very present with us — but she rejected me quietly, sombrely. I apologised on the steps of the Flats and said I feared I had greatly annoyed her. ‘I’m not annoyed,’ she said, ‘only surprised’— in a thoughtful, chilly voice.
We had had supper in Soho, and I took some wine, and she looked so bewitching it sent me in a fever, thrumming my fingers on the seat of the cab while she sat beside me impassive. Her shoulders are exquisitely modelled and a beautiful head is carried poised on a tiny neck.
February 16, 1913
Walking up the steps to her flat to-night made me pose to H—— (who was with me) as Sydney Carton in the picture in A Tale of Two Cities on the steps of the scaffold. He laughed boisterously, as he is delighted to know of my last evening’s misadventure.
At supper, a story was told of a man who knocked at the door of his lady’s heart four times and at last was admitted. I remarked that the last part of the romance was weak. She disagreed. H—— exclaimed, ‘Oh! but this man has no sentiment at all!’
‘So much the worse for him,’ chimed in the others.
‘He was 66 years of age,’ added Mrs ——.
‘Too old,’ said P. ‘What do you think the best age for a man to marry?’
H.: ‘Thirty for a man, twenty-five for a woman.’
She: ‘That’s right: it still gives me a little time.’
P.: ‘What do you think?’ (to me).
I replied sardonically,—
‘A young man not yet and an old man not at all.’
‘That’s right, old wet blanket,’ chirruped P——.
‘You know,’ I continued, delighted to seize the opportunity to assume the rôle of youthful cynic, ‘Cupid and Death once met at an Inn and exchanged arrows, since when young men have died and old men have doted.’
H—— was charming enough to opine that it was impossible to fix a time for love. Love simply came.
We warned him to be careful on the boat going out.
‘Yes, I know,’ said H—— (who is in love with P——). ‘My brother had a dose of moonlight on board a boat when he sailed and he’s been happy ever since.’
P.: ‘How romantic!’
H.: ‘A great passion!’
‘The only difference,’ I interjected in a sombre monotone, ‘between a passion and a caprice is that the caprice lasts a little longer.’
‘Sounds like a book,’ She said in contempt.
It was — Oscar Wilde!
P—— insisted on my taking a biscuit. ‘Don’t mind me,’ she said. ‘Just think I’m a waitress and take no notice at all.’
H.: ‘Humph! I never see him taking no notice of a waitress.’
February 24, 1913
H—— came home last night and told me that she said as he came away, ‘Tell W—— I hate him.’ So it’s all right. I shall go over to-morrow again — Hurrah! My absence has been felt then.
March 7, 1913
Came home, lay on my bed, still dressed, and ruminated. . . .
First a suspicion then a conviction came to me that I was a cad — a callous, selfish, sensation-hunting cad. . . For the time being the bottom was knocked out of my smug self-satisfaction. For several long half-hours I found myself drifting without compass or stars. I was quite disorientated, temporarily thrown off the balance of my amour propre. Then I got up, lit the gas and looking at myself in the mirror, found it was really true,— I was a mean creature, wholly absorbed in self.
As an act of contrition, I ought to have gone out into the garden and eaten worms. But the mirror brought back my self-consciousness and I began to crawl back into my recently discarded skin — I began to be less loathesome to myself. For as soon as I felt interested or amused or curious over the fact that I had been really loathesome to myself I began to regain my equilibrium. Now, I and myself are on comparatively easy terms with one another. I am settled on the old swivel. . . . I take a lot of knocking off it and if shot off soon return.
To-day, she was silent and melancholy but wonderfully fascinating. One day I am desperate and the next cold and apathetic. Am I in love? God knows! She came to the door to say ‘Good-night,’ and I deliberately strangled my desire to say something.
March 9, 1913
In bed till 12.30 reading Bergson and the O.T.
Over to the flat to supper. E—— was cold and silent. She spurned me. No wonder. I talked volubly and quite brilliantly with the definite purpose of showing up J——’s somnolence. I also pulled his leg. He hates me. No wonder. After supper, he went in to her studio and remained there alone with her while she worked. At 11 p.m. he was still there when I came away in a whirlwind of jealousy, regrets, and rage. G—— said he was going to stay on until he saw ‘the blighter off the premises.’ Neither of us would go in to turn him out.
I love her deeply and once my heart jumped when I thought I heard her coming into the room. But it was only P——. Did not see her again — even to say ‘Good-night.’
March 10, 1913
Work in the evening in our bedroom — two poor miserable bachelors — H—— reading Equity Law, a rug around his legs before an empty grate, while I am sitting at the table in top-coat, with collar up, and writing my magnum opus, which is to bring me fame, fortune and — E——!
H—— says that this morning I was putting on my shoes when he pointed out a large hole in the heel of my sock.
‘Damn! I shall have to wear boots,’ I said — at least he says I said it, and I am quite ready to believe him. Such unconsciousness of self is rare with me.
March 15, 1913
[At a public dinner at the Holborn Restaurant] J—— replied to the toast of the Ladies. Feeble! H—— and I stood and had a silent toast to E—— and N—— by just winking one eye at each other. He sat opposite me.
If I had been asked to reply to this toast I should have said with the greatest gusto, something as follows,—
[Here follows the imaginary speech in full, composed the same night before going to sleep ]
Yet I am taken for a soft fool! My manner is soft, self-conscious, shy. What a lot of self-glorification I lose thereby! What a lot of self-torture I gain in its stead!
March 17, 1913
To-day went to the B. M. but did very little work. Thought over the matter carefully and decided to ask E—— to marry me. Relief to be able to decide. I was happy too.
Yesterday P—— came in to us from E——’s studio and said,—
‘E—— sends her love.’
‘To whom?’ H—— inquired.
‘I don’t know,’ P—— replied, smiling at me.
March 18, 1913
Had a long conversation with H—— last night. He says all E—— intended to convey was that the quarrel was over. . . . I felt relieved, because I have no money, but — a large ambition. Then I am selfish, and have not forgotten that I want to spend my holidays in the Jura, and next year three weeks at the Plymouth Laboratory.
March 19, 1913
Went over to see E——. We had an awkward half-an-hour alone together. She was looking bewitching! I am plunging more and more into love. Had it on the tip of my tongue once. I am dreadfully fond of her.
‘I have a most profound gloom over me,’ I said.
‘Why don’t you try and get rid of it?’ she asked.
‘I can’t until Zeus has pity and rolls away the clouds.’
April 21, 1913
We are sitting up in our beds which are side by side in a room on the top story of a boarding house in —— Road. It is 11.30 p.m. and I am leaning over on one side lighting the oil lamp so as to boil the kettle to make Ovaltine before going to sleep.
‘Whom have I seduced?’ I screamed. ‘You rotter, don’t you know that a dead passion full of regrets is as terrible as a dead body full of worms? There, I talk literature, my boy, if you were only Boswell enough to take it down. . . . As for T—— I shall never invite him to dinner again. He comes to me and whines that nobody loves him, and so I say, “Oh! poor lad, never mind, if you’re bored, why, come to my rooms of an evening and hear me talk — you’ll have the time of your life.” And now he’s cheeky.’
H. (sipping his drink and very much preoccupied with it) replied abstractedly, ‘When you die you’ll go to Hell.’ (I liked his Homeric simplicity.) ‘You ought to be buried in a fireproof safe.’
H. (returning to the attack), ‘I hope she turns you down.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘As for P——-,’ he resumed, ’she’s double-Dutch to me.’
‘Go to the Berlitz School,’ I suggested, ‘and learn the language.’
‘You bally fool. . . . All you do is to sit there and smile like a sanguinary cat. Nothing I say ever rouses you. I believe if I came to you and said, “Here, Professor, is a Beetle with 99 legs that has lived on granite in the middle of the Sahara for 40 days and 40 nights,” you’d simply answer, “Yes, and that reminds me I’ve forgotten to blow my nose."’
The two pyjamaed figures shake with laughing, the light goes out and the sanguinary conversation continues on similar lines until we fall asleep.
April 26, 1913
Two Months’ Sick Leave
In a horrible panic — the last few days — I believe I am developing locomotor ataxy. One leg, one arm, and my speech are affected, i.e. the right side and my speech centre. M—— is serious. . . . I hope the disease, whatever it is, will be sufficiently lingering to enable me to complete my book.
R—— is a dear man. I shall not easily forget his kindness during this terrible week. . . . Can the Fates have the audacity? . . . Who can say?
April 27, 1913
I believe there can be no doubt that I have had a slight partial paralysis of my right side (like Dad). I stutter a little in my speech when excited, I cannot write properly (look at this handwriting), and my right leg is rocky at the knee. My head swims.
It is too inconceivably horrible to be buried in the Earth in such splendid spring weather. Who can tell me what is in store for me? . . . Life opens to me, I catch a glimpse of a vision, and the doors clang to again noiselessly. It is dark. That will be my history. Am developing a passionate belief in my book and a fever of haste to complete it before the congé définitif.
April 29, 1913
Saw M—— again, who said my symptoms were alarming certainly, but he was sure no definite diagnosis could be made.
April 30, 1913
Went with M—— to see a well-known nerve specialist — Dr H——. He could find no symptoms of a definite disease, tho’ he asked me suspiciously if I had ever been with women.
Ordered two months’ complete rest in the country. H—— chased me round his consulting room with a drum-stick, tapping my nerves and cunningly working my reflexes. Then he tickled the soles of my feet and pricked me with a pin — all of which I stood like a man. He wears a soft black hat, looks like a Quaker, and reads the Verhandlungen d. Gesellschaft d. Nervenarzten.
M—— is religious and after I had disclosed my physique to him yesterday (for the 99th time) he remained on his knees by the couch in his consulting room (after working my reflexes) for a moment or two in the attitude of prayer. When the Doctor prays for you — better call in the undertaker. My epitaph ‘He played Ludo well.’ The game anyhow requires moral stamina — ask H——.
May 5, 1913
At R——. Mugged about all day. Put on a gramophone record — then crawled up into a corner of the large, empty drawing room and ate my heart out. Heart has a bitter taste — if it’s your own.
May 6, 1913
Sat in the ‘morning room’ feeling ill. In the chair opposite sat Aunt Fanny, aged 86, knitting. I listened to the click of her needles, while out in the garden a thrush sang, and there was a red sunset.
May 8, 1913
Before I left R——, A—— [my brother] had written to Uncle enclosing my doctor’s letter. I don’t know the details except that Dr M—— emphasised the seriousness and yet held out hope that two months’ rest would allay the symptoms.
May 11, 1913
I made some offensive remark to H—— whom I met in the street. This set him off.
‘You blighter, I hope you marry a loose woman. May your children be all bandy-legged and squint-eyed, may your teeth drop out, and your toes have bunions,’ and so on in his usual lengthy commination.
I turned to the third man.
‘Bob — this!— after all I’ve done for that young man! I have even gone out of my way to cultivate in him a taste for poetry — until he is now, in fact, quite wrapped up in it — indeed, so much so, that for a time he was nothing but a brown paper parcel labelled Poetry.’
H. (doggedly): ‘When are you going to die?’
‘That, Master H——,’ I answered menacingly, ‘is on the knees of the Gods.’
H.: ‘I shan’t believe you’re dead till I see your tombstone. I shall then say to the Sexton, “Is he really dead, then?” and the Sexton will say, “Well, ’ee’s buried onny way."’
Bob was not quite in sympathy with our boisterous spirits.
May 15, 1913
Sought out H—— as he was watering his petunias in the garden. He informed me he was going to London on Monday.
H.: ‘Mother is coming too.’
H.: ‘Oh! I’m buying my kit — shirts and things. I sail at the beginning of July.’
B.: ‘I suppose shirts are difficult to buy. You wouldn’t know what to do with one if you had one. Your mother will lead you by the hand into a shop and say, “H——, dear, this is a shirt,” and you’ll reply with pathos, “Mother, what are the wild shirts saying?"’
H.: ‘You’re a B.F.’ (Goes on watering).
‘I wonder what you’d do if you were let loose in a big garden,’ I began.
H.: ‘I should be as happy as a bird. I should hop about, chirrup and lay eggs. You should have seen my tomato plants last year — one was as tall as father.’
B.: ‘Now tell me of the Gooseberry as big as Mother.’
Mutual execrations. Then we grinned and cackled at each other, emitting weird and ferocious cachinnations. Several times a day in confidential, serious tones — after one of these explosions — we say, ‘I really believe we’re mad.’ You never heard such extraordinary caterwaulings. Our snappy conversations are interrupted with them every minute or so!
May 23, 1913
A stagnant day. Lay still in the Park all day with just sufficient energy to observe. The Park was almost empty. Every one but me at work. Nothing is more dreary than a pleasure ground on work days. There was one man a little way off throwing a ball to a clever dog. Behind me on the path, some one came along wheeling a pram. I listened in a kind of coma to the scrunching of the gravel in the distance a long time after the pram was out of sight. Far away — the tinkle of Church bells — in a village across the river, and, in front, the man still throwing the ball to his clever dog.
May 25, 1913
. . . I suppose the truth is I am at last broken in to the idea of Death. Once it terrified me and once I hated it. But now it only annoys me. Having lived with the Bogey for so long, and broken bread with him so often, I am used to his ugliness, tho’ his persistent attentions bore me. Why doesn’t he do it and have done with me? Why this deference, why does he pass me everything but the poison? Why am I such an unconscionably long time dying?
What embitters me is the humiliation of having to die, to have to be pouring out the precious juices of my life into the dull Earth, to be no longer conscious of what goes on, no longer moving abroad upon the Earth creating attraction and repulsions, pouring out one’s ego in a stream. To think that the women I have loved will be marrying and forget, and that the men I have hated will continue on their way and forget I ever hated them — the ignominy of being dead! What voluble talker likes his mouth to be stopped with earth, who relishes the idea of the carrion worm mining in the seat of the intellect?
May 29, 1913
Staying at the King’s Hotel, ——. Giddiness very bad. Death seems unavoidable. A tumour on the brain?
Coming down here in the train, sat in corner of the compartment, twined one leg around the other, rested my elbow on the window ledge, and gazed out helplessly at the exuberant green fields, green woods, and green hedgerows. The weather was perfect, the sun blazed down.
Certainly, I was rather sorry for myself at the thought of leaving it all. But I girded up my loins and wrapped around me for a while the mantle of a nobler sentiment; i.e. I felt sorry for the others as well — for the two brown carters in the road ambling along with a timber waggon, for the two old maids in the same compartment with me knitting bedsocks, for the beautiful Swallows darting over the stream, for the rabbit that lopped into the fern just as we passed — they too were all leaving it.
The extent of my benign compassion startled me — it was so unexpected. Perhaps for the first time in my life I forgot all about my own miserable ambitions — I forgave the successful, the time-servers, the self-satisfied, the overweening, the gracious and condescending — all, in fact, who hitherto have been thorns in my flesh and innocently enough have goaded me to still fiercer efforts to win thro’. ‘Poor people,’ I said. ‘Leave them alone. Let them be happy if they can.’ With a submissive heart, I was ready to sit down in the rows of this world’s failures and never have thought one bitter word about success. To all those persons who in one way or another had foiled my purposes I extended a pardon with Olympian gravity, and, strangest of all, I could have melted such frosty moral rectitudes with a genuine interest in the careers of my struggling contemporaries. With perfect self-abnegation, I held out my hand to them and wished them all ‘God Speed.’
It was a strange metempsychosis. Yet of a truth it is no use being niggardly over our lives. We are all of us ‘shelling out.’ And we can afford to be generous, for we shall all — some early, some late — be bankrupt in the end. For my part, I’ve had a short and boisterous voyage and shan’t be sorry to get into port. I give up all my plans, all my hopes, all my loves and enthusiasms without remonstrance. I renounce all — I myself am already really dead.
May 30, 1913
Last night the sea was as flat as a pavement, a pretty barque with all her sails out to catch the smallest puff of wind — the tiniest inspiration — was nevertheless without motion — a painted ship on a tapestry of violet. H—— Hill was an immense angular mass of indigo blue. Even rowing boats made little progress and the water came off the languid paddles in syrupy clots. Everything was utterly still, the air thick — like cottonwool to the touch and very stifling; vitality in living things leaked away under a sensuous lotus influence. Intermittently after the darkness had come, Bullpoint Lighthouse shone like the wink of a lascivious eye.
Pottering about all day on the Pier and Front, listening to other people’s talk, catching snippets of conversation — not edifying. If there were seven wise men in the town, I would not save it. Damn the place!
May 31, 1913
. . . I espied her first in the distance and turned my head away quickly and looked out to sea. A moment after, I began to turn my head round again slowly with the cautiousness and air of suspicion of a Tortoise poking its head out from underneath his shell. I was terrified to discover that in the meantime she had come and sat down on the seat immediately behind me with her back to mine. We sat like this back to back for some time and I enjoyed the novel experience and the tension. A few years ago, the bare sight of her gave me palpitation of the heart, and, on the first occasion that I had the courage to stop to speak, I felt livid and the skin on my face twitched uncontrollably.
Presently I got up and walked past — in the knowledge that she must now be conscious of my presence after a disappearance of three years. Later we met face to face and I broke the ice. She’s a pretty girl. . . . So too is her sister.
Few people, except my barber, know how amorous I am. He has to shave my sinuous lips.
June 3, 1913
Spent many dreadful hours cogitating whether to accept their invitation to dinner. . . . I wanted to go for several reasons. I wanted to see her in a home-setting for the first time, and I wanted to spend the evening with three pretty girls. I also had the idea of displaying myself to the scrutinising gaze of the family as the hero of the old romance: and of showing Her how much I had progressed since last we met and what a treasure she had lost.
On the other hand, I was afraid that the invitation was only a casual one, I feared a snuffy reception, a frosty smile and a rigid hand. Could I go up and partake of meat at their board, among brothers and sisters taking me for an ogre of a jilt, and she herself perhaps opposite me making me blush perpetually to recall our one-time passionate kisses, our love letters and our execrable verses to each other! There seemed dreadful possibilities in such an adventure. Yet I badly wanted to experience the piquant situation.
At 7 p.m., half an hour before I was due, decided on strong measures. I entered a pub. and took a stiff whisky and soda, and then set off with a stout heart to take the icy family by storm — and if need be live down my evil reputation by my amiability and urbanity!
I went — and of course everything passed off in the most normal manner. She is a very pretty girl — like velvet. Before dinner, we walked in the garden — and talked only of flowers.
June 4, 1913
On the Hill, this morning, felt the thrill of the news of my own Death: I mean I imagined I heard the words,—
‘You’ve heard the news about B——?’
Second Voice: ‘No, what?’
Won’t all this seem piffle if I don’t die after all! As an artist in life I ought to die; it is the only artistic ending — and I ought to die now or the Third Act will fizzle out in a long doctor’s bill.
June 5, 1913
A New Pile in the Pier
Watched some men put a new pile in the pier. There was all the usual paraphernalia of chains, pulleys, cranes, and ropes, with a massive wooden pile swinging over the water at the end of a long wire hawser. Everything was in the massive style — even the men — very powerful men, slow, ruminative, silent men.
Nothing very relevant could be gathered from casual remarks. The conversation was without exception monosyllabic: ‘Let go,’ or ‘Stand fast.’ But by close attention to certain obscure movements of the man on the ladder near the water’s edge, it gradually came thro’ to my consciousness that all these powerful, silent men were up against some bitter difficulty. I cannot say what it was. The burly monsters were silent about the matter. . . . In fact they appeared almost indifferent — and tired, oh! so very tired of the whole business. The attitude of the man nearest me was that for all he cared the pile could go on swinging in mid-air to the crack of Doom.
They continued slow, laborious efforts to overcome the secret difficulty. But these gradually slackened and finally ceased. One massive man after another abandoned his post in order to lean over the rails and gaze like a mystic into the depths of the sea. No one spoke. No one saw anything not even in the depths of the sea. One spat, and with round, sad eyes contemplated the trajectory of his brown bolus (he had been chewing) in its descent into the water.
The foreman, an original thinker, lit a cigarette, which relieved the tension. Then, slowly and with majesty, he turned on his heel, and walked away. With the sudden eclipse of the foreman’s interest, the incident closed. I should have been scarcely surprised to find him behind the Harbour-master’s Office playing ‘Shove-ha’penny’ or skittles with the pile still swinging in mid-air. . . . After all it was only a bloody pile.
June 11, 1913
Suffering from depression. . . . The melancholy fit fell very suddenly. All the colour went out of my life, the world was dirty gray. On the way back to my hotel caught sight of H——, jumping into a cab, after a visit to S—— Sands. But the sight of him aroused no desire in me to shout or wave. I merely wondered how on earth he could have spent a happy day at such a Sandy place. On arriving at ——, sank deeper into my morass. It suffocated me to find the old familiar landmarks coming into view. . . the holiday-makers along the streets how I hated them — the Peg Top Hill how desolate — all as before — how dull. The very fact that they were all there as before in the morning nauseated me. The sea-coast here is magnificent, the town is pretty — I know that, of course. But all looked dreary and cheerless — just the sort of feeling one gets on entering an empty house with no fire on a winter’s day and nowhere to sit down. . . . I felt as lonely and desolate as a man suddenly fallen from the clouds into an unknown town on the Antarctic Continent built of ice and inhabited by Penguins. Who are these people? I asked myself irritably. There perhaps on the other side of the street was my own brother. But I was not even faintly interested and told the cabman to drive on. The spray from the sea fogged my spectacles and made me weary.
June 14, 1913
The Restlessness of the Sea
The restlessness of the sea acts as a soporific on jangled nerves. You gaze at its incessant activities, unwillingly at first because they distract your attention from your own cherished worries and griefs,— but later you watch with complete self-abandon — it wrenches you out of yourself — and eventually with a kind of stupid hypnotic stare.
The day has been overcast, but to-night a soft breeze sprang up and swept the sky clear as softly as a mop. The sun coming out shone upon a white sail far out in the channel, scarcely another vessel hove in sight. The white sail glittered like a piece of silver paper whenever the mainsail swung round as the vessel tacked. Its solitariness and whiteness in a desert of marine blue attracted the attention and held it till at last I could look at nothing else. The sight of it — so clean and white and fair — set me yearning for all the rarest and most exquisite things my imagination could conjure up — a beautiful girl, with fair and sunburnt skin, brown eyes, dark eyebrows, and small pretty feet; a dewdrop in a violet’s face; an orange-tip butterfly swinging on an umbel of a flower.
The sail went on twinkling and began to exert an almost moral influence over me. It drew out all the good in me. I longed to follow it on white wings — an angel I suppose — to quit this husk of a body ‘as raiment put away,’ and pursue Truth and Beauty across the sea to the horizon, and beyond the horizon up the sky itself to its last tenuous confines, no doubt with a still small voice summoning me and the rest of the elect to an Agapemone, with Dr Spurgeon at the door distributing tracts.
I can scoff like this now. But at the time my exaltation was very real. My soul strained in the leash. I was full of a desire for unattainable spiritual beauty. I wanted something. But I don’t know what I want.
June 16, 1913
My Sense of Touch
My sense of touch has always been morbidly acute. I like to feel a cigarette locked in the extreme corner of my mouth. When I remove it from my mouth then I hold it probably up in the fork between two fingers. If I am waiting for a meal I finger the cool knives and forks. If I am in the country I plunge my hand with outspread fingers into a mass of large-topped grasses, then close my fingers, crush and decapitate the lot.
June 27, 1913
Camping Out at S—— Sands
A brilliant summer day. Up early, breakfasted, and, clad in sweater and trousers, walked up the sands to the boathouse with bare feet.
Everything was wonderful! I strode along over the level sands infatuated with the sheer ability to put one leg in front of the other and walk. I loved to feel the muscles of my thighs working, and to swing my arms in rhythm with the stride. The stiff breeze had blown the sky clear, and was rushing through my long hair, and bellowing into each ear. I strode as Alexander must have done!
Then I stretched my whole length out along a flat plank on the sands, which was as dry as a bone and warm. There was not a soul on the sands. Everything was bare, clean, windswept. My plank had been washed clean and white. The sands — 3 miles of it — were hard and purified, level. My eye raced along in every direction — there was nothing — not a bird or a man — to stop it. In that immense windswept space nothing was present save me and the wind and the sea — a flattering moment for the egotist.
At the foot of the cliffs on the return journey met an old man gathering sticks. As he ambled along dropping sticks into a long sack he called out casually, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ in the tone of voice in which one would say, ‘I think we shall have some rain before night.’ ‘Aye, aye,’ came the answer without hesitation from a boy lying on his back in the sands a few yards distant, ‘and that He died to save me.’
Life is full of surprises like this. The only other sounds I have heard to-day were the Herring Gull’s cackle. Your own gardener will one day look over his rake and give you the correct chemical formula for carbonic acid gas. I met a postman once reading Shelley as he walked his rounds.
June 28, 1913
I am writing this by the lamp in the cabin among the sandhills waiting for H—— to arrive from town with provisions. I wear a pair of bags, a dirty sweater, and go without hat or shoes and stockings. There is a ‘Deadwood Dick’ atmosphere here. I’m a sort of bronco-breaker or rancher off duty writing home. In a minute I haven’t the slightest doubt, H—— will gallop into the compound, tether his colt and come in ‘raising Cain’ for a belly-full of red meat. . . . If I am going to live after all (touch wood) I shall go abroad and be in the open.
I eat greedily, am getting very sunburnt, am growing hairy (that means strength!), and utter portentous oaths. If I stayed here much longer I should grow a tail and climb trees.
After a supper of fried eggs and fried bread done to a nicety, turned in at ten, and both of us lay warm and comfortable in bed, smoking cigarettes and listening to Offenbach’s Barcarolle on the gramophone. We put the lamp out, and it pleased us to watch the glow of each other’s cigarettes in the dark. . . . Neither of us spoke. . . . Went to sleep at midnight. Awoke at sunrise to hear an Owl still hooting, a Lark singing, and several Jackdaws clattering on our tin roof with their claws as they walked.
July 1, 1913
In London Again
Returned to London very depressed. Am not so well as I was three weeks ago. The sight of one eye is affected, and I am haunted by the possibility of blindness. Then I have a numb feeling on one side of my face, and my right arm is less mobile.
Left darling Mother in a very weak state in bed, with neuritis and a weak heart. She cried when I said ‘Goodbye,’ and asked me to go to Church as often as I could, and to read a portion of Scripture every day. I promised. Then she added, ‘For Dad’s sake;’ just as if I would not do it for her. Poor dear, she suffers a deal of pain. She does not know how ill I am. I have not told her.
July 3, 1913
Back at work. A terrible day. Thoughts of suicide — a pistol.
July 8, 1913
I get thro’ each day with the utmost difficulty. I have to wrestle with every minute. Each hour is a conquest. The three quarters of an hour at lunch comes as a Godsend. I look forward to it all the morning, I enter into it with joyful relief with no thought of the dreadful moment impending when I must return and re-enter my room. By being wise like this, I manage to husband my spirits and am relatively cheerful for one hour in the middle of each difficult day.
July 9, 1913
Several times I have gone to bed and hoped I should never wake up. Life grows daily more impossible. To-day I put a slide underneath the microscope and looked at it. It was like looking at something thro’ the wrong end of a telescope. I sat with eye glued to the ocular, so as to keep up a pretence of work in case some one came in. My mind was occupied with quite different affairs. If one is pondering on Life and Death, it is a terrible task to have to study Mites.
July 10, 1913
Am doing no work at all. . . . I sit motionless in my chair and beat the devil’s tatoo with my thumbs and think, think, think in the same horrible circle hour after hour. I am unable to work. I haven’t the courage to. I’ve lost my nerve.
At five I return ‘home’ to the Boarding-house and get more desperate.
Two old maids sat down to dinner to-night, one German youth (a lascivious, ranting, brainless creature), a lady typist (who takes drugs they say), a dipsomaniac (who has monthly bouts — H—— carried him upstairs and put him to bed the other night), two invertebrate violinists who play in the Covent Garden Orchestra, a colonial lady engaged in a bedroom intrigue with a man who sits at my table. What are these people to me? I hate them all. They know it and are offended.
After dinner, put on my cap and rushed out anywhere to escape. Walked to the end of the street, not knowing where I was going or what doing. Stopped and stared with fixed eyes at the traffic in Kensington Road, undetermined what to do with myself and unable to make up my mind (volitional paralysis). Turned round, walked home, and went straight to bed 9 p.m., anxiously looking forward to to-morrow evening when I go to see her again, but at the same time wondering how on earth I am to get through to-morrow’s round before the evening comes. . . . This is a hand-to-mouth existence. My own inner life is scorching up all outside interests. Zoology appears as a curious thing in a Bagdad bazaar. I sit in my room at the B. M. and play with it; I let it trickle thro’ my fingers and roll away like a child playing with quicksilver.
July 11, 1913
Over to the flat. She was looking beautiful in a black dress, with a white silk blouse, and a Byron collar, negligently open in front as if a button had come out. She said I varied: sometimes I went up in her estimation, sometimes down; once I went down very low. I understood her to say I was now UP! Alleluia!
July 14, 1913
. . . It would take too long and I am too tired to write out all the varying phases of this day’s life — all its impressions and petty miseries chasing one another across my consciousness or leap-frogging over my chest like gleeful fiends. 1
July 21, 1913
Thoroughly enjoyed the journey up to town this morning. I secretly gloated over the fact that the train was dashing along over the rails to London bearing me and all the rest of the train’s company upon their pursuits — wealth, fame, learning. I was inebriated with the speed, ferocity, and dash of living. . . . If the train had charged into the buffers I should have hung my head out of the window and cheered. If a man had got in my way, I’d have knocked him down. The wheels of the carriage were singing a lusty song in which I joined.
July 30, 1913
. . . We talked of men and women, and she said she thought men were neither angels nor devils but just men. I said I thought women were either angels or devils.
‘I am afraid to ask you which you think me.’
‘You needn’t,’ I said shortly.
August 9, 1913
Horribly upset with news from home. Mother is really ill. The Doctor fears serious nerve trouble and says she will always be an invalid. This is awful, poor dear! It’s dreadful, and yet I have a tiny wish buried at the bottom of my heart that she may be removed early from us rather than linger in pain of body and mind. Especially do I hope she may not live to hear any grievous news of me. . . . What irony that she should lose the use of her right arm only two years after Dad’s death from paralysis. It is cruel for it reminds her of Dad’s illness. . . . What, too, would she think if she could have heard M——’s first words to me yesterday on one of my periodical visits to his consulting room, ‘Well, how’s the paralysis?’
In the evening went over to see her. She was wearing a black silk gown and looked handsome. . . . She is always the same sombre, fascinating, lissom, soft-voiced She! She herself never changes. . . . What am I to do? I cannot give her up and yet I do not altogether wish to take her to my heart. It distresses me to know how to proceed. I am a wily fish.
August 10, 1913
Sat in the gardens with her. We sat facing the sun for a while until she was afraid of developing freckles and turned around, deliberately turning her back on good King Sol. . . . I said it was disrespectful.
‘Oh! he doesn’t mind,’ she said. ‘He’s a dear. He kissed me and said, “Turn round my dear if you like."’
Isn’t she tantalising?
I wanted to say sarcastically, ‘I wonder you let him kiss you,’ but there was a danger of the remark reviving the dead.
August 14, 1913
I tried my best, I’ve sought every loophole of escape, but I am quite unable to avoid the melancholy fact that her thumbs are — lamentable. I am genuinely upset about it for I like her. No one more than I would be more delighted if they were otherwise. . . . Poor dear! how I love her! That’s why I’m so concerned about her thumbs.
August 21, 1913
A wire from A—— came at 11.50 saying, ‘Darling Mother passed peacefully away yesterday afternoon.’ . . . Yesterday afternoon I was writing Zoology and all last night I slept soundly. . . . It was quite sudden. Caught the first train home.
August 23, 1913
August 31, 1913
Staying at the Hotel du Guesclin at Cancale near St Malo with my dear A——.
This flood of new experiences has knocked my diary habit out of gear. To be candid, I’ve forgotten all about myself. I’ve been too engrossed in living to stand the strain of setting down and in cold blood writing out all the things seen and heard. If I once began I should blow thro’ these pages like a whirlwind. . . . But what a waste of time with M. le batelier waiting outside with his bisque to take us mackerel fishing! . . .
September 8, 1913
Returned to Southampton yesterday. Have spent the night at Okehampton in Devonshire en route for T—— Rectory. This morning we hatched the ridiculous idea of hiring two little Dartmoor ponies and riding out from the town. A—— rides fairly well tho’ he has not been astride a beast for years. As for me, I cannot ride at all! Yet I had the idea that I could easily manage a pretty little pony with brown eyes and a long tail. On going out into the Inn yard, was horrified — two horses saddled — one a large traction beast. . . . I climbed on to the smaller one, walked him out of the yard and down the road in good style without accident. Once in the country, however, my animal, the fresher of the two, insisted on a smart trot which shook me up a good deal so that I hardly kept my seat. This eventually so annoyed the animal that it began to fidget and zigzag across the road — no doubt prepaiing to break away at a stretch gallop when once it had rid itself of the incomprehensible pair of legs across its back.
I got off quickly and swopped horses with A——. Walked him most of the way, while A—— cantered forward and back to cheer me on. Ultimately however this beast, too, got sick of walking and began to trot. For a time I stood this well and began to rise in my saddle quite nicely. After two miles, horrible soreness supervened, and I had to get off — very carefully, with a funny feeling in my legs — even looked down at them to assure myself they were not bandy! In doing so, the horse — this traction monster — stepped on my toe and I swore.
On nearing the village, L—— arrived, riding A——’s animal and holding his sides for laughing at me as I crawled along holding the carthorse by the bridle. Got on again and rode into the Rectory grounds in fine style like a dashing cavalier, every one jeering at me from the lawn.
September 28, 1913
Having lived on this planet now for the space of 24 years, I can claim with some cogency that I am qualified to express some sort of opinion about it. I therefore hereby record that I find myself in an absorbingly interesting place where I live, move and have my being, dominated by one monstrous feature above all others — the mystery of it all! Everything is so astonishing, my own existence so incredible!
Nothing explains itself. Every one is dumb. It is like walking about at a masqued Ball. . . . Even I myself am a mystery to me. How wonderful and frightening that is — to feel yourself — your innermost and most substantial possession to be a mystery, incomprehensible. I look at myself in the mirror and mock at myself. On some days I am to myself as strange and unfamiliar as a Pterodactyl. There is a certain grim humour in finding myself here possessed of a perfectly arbitrary arrangement of lineaments when I never asked to be here and never selected my own attributes. To the dignity of a human being it seems like a coarse practical joke. . . . My own freakish physique is certainly a joke.
October 4, 1913
In London Again
K—— comes in from her dancing class, nods to me, hugs her sister around the neck and says,—
‘Oh! you dear thing, you’ve got a cold.’
‘I shouldn’t do that,’ I remark, green-eyed, ’she’s in an awful wax to-night.’
She: ‘Oh! I don’t mind K——!’
October 8, 1913
Heard a knock at the door last night, and, thinking it was R——, I unbolted it and let in a tramp who at once asked God to bless me and crown all my sorrow with joy. An amiable fellow to be sure — so I gave him some coppers and he at once repeated with wonderful fervour, ‘God bless you, sir.’
‘I wish He would,’ I answered, ‘I have a horrible cold.’
‘Ah, I know, I gets it myself and the hinfluenza — have you had that, sir?’
In ten minutes I should have told him all my personal history. But he was thirsting for a drink and went off quickly and left me with my heart unburthened. London is a lonely place.
To-day journeyed to —— where I gave evidence as an expert in Economic Entomology at the County Court in a case concerning damage to furniture by mites for which I am paid £8 8s. fee and expenses and travelled first class. What irony! (See June 30, 1911.)
October 11, 1913
I may be a weak, maundering, vacillating fool but I cannot help loving her on one day, being indifferent the next and on some occasions even disliking her. . . . To-day she was charming, with a certain warm glossy perfection on her face and hair. . . . And she loves me — I could swear it. ‘And when a woman woos . . .’ etc. How difficult for a vain and lonely man to resist her. She tells me many times in many dainty ways that she loves me without so much as stopping her work to talk.
I wish I were permanently and irresistibly enamoured. I want a bouleversement. . . .
October 13, 1913
Went to see a Harley Street oculist about the sight of one eye, which has caused a lot of trouble and worry of late and continuously haunted me with the possibility of blindness. At times, I see men as trees walking and print becomes hopelessly blurred.
The Specialist however is reassuring. The eye is healthy — no neuritis — but the adjustment muscles have been thrown out of gear by the nervous troubles of last spring.
Was ever man more sorely tempted? Here am I lonely and uncomfortable in diggings with a heart like nascent oxygen. . . . Shall I? Yes, but. . . . And I have neither health nor wealth.
October 22, 1913
The British Museum Reading Room
I saw it for the first time to-day! Gadzooks!! This is the only fit ejaculation to express my amazement! It’s a pagan temple with the Gods in the middle and all around, various obscure dark figures prostrating themselves in worship.
October 29, 1913
For any one who is not simply a Sheep or Cow or whose nervous organisation is a degree more sensitive than the village blacksmith’s, it is a besetting peril to his peace of mind to be constantly moving about an independent being, with loves and hates, and a separate identity among other separate identities, who prowl and prowl around like the hosts of Midian — ready to snarl, fight, seize you, bore you, exasperate you. to arouse all your passions, call up all the worst from the depths where they have lain hidden. . . . A day spent among my fellows goads me to a frenzy by the evening. I am no longer fit for human companionship. People string me up to concert pitch. I develop suspicions of one that he is prying, of another that he patronises. Others make me horribly anxious to stand well in their eyes and horribly curious to know what they think of me. Others I hate and loathe — for no particular reason. There is a man I am acquainted with concerning whom I know nothing at all. He may be Jew, Gentile, Socinian, Pre-adamite, Anabaptist, Rosicrucian — I don’t know, and I don’t care, for I hate him. I should like to smash his face in. I don’t know why. . . . In the whole course of our tenuous acquaintance we have spoken scarce a dozen words to each other. Yet I should like to blow up his face with dynamite. If I had £200 a year private income I should be in wait for him to-morrow round a corner and land him one — just to indicate my economic independence. He would call for the police and the policeman — discerning creature — on arrival, would surely say, ‘With a face like that, I’m not surprised.’
R—— said to me this morning, ‘Well, have you heard?’ with an exuberance of curiosity that made my blood boil — he was referring to my Essay still at the bar of the opinion of the Editor of the English Review. ‘You beast,’ I snapped and walked off.
R—— shouted with laughter for he realises my anger with him is only semi-serious: it is meant and not meant: meant, for it is justified by the facts; not meant, for I can’t be too serious over anything au fond.
Of all the grim and ridiculous odds and ends of chance that Fortune has rolled up to my feet, my friendship with a man like B—— is the grimmest and most ridiculous. He is a bachelor of sixty, rather good-looking, of powerful physique and a faultless constitution. . . . His ignorance is colossal and he once asked whether Australia, for example, tho’ surrounded by water, is not connected up with other land underneath the sea. Being himself a child in intelligence (tho’ commercially cunning), he has a great respect for my brains. Being himself a strong man, he views my ill-health with much contempt. His private opinion is that I am in consumption. When asked once by a lady if I were not going to be ‘a great man’ one day, he replied, ‘Yes — if he lives.’ I ought to walk six miles a day, drink a bottle of stout with my dinner, and eat plenty of onions. His belief in the curative properties of onions is strong as death. . . .
His system of prophylaxis may be quickly summarised,—
(1) Hot whisky ad lib. and off to bed.
(2) A woman.
These two sterling preventives he has often urged upon me at the same time tipping out a quantity of anathemas on doctors and physic. . . .
He is a cynic. He scoffs at the medical profession, the Law, the Church, the Press. Every man is guilty until he is proved innocent. The Premier is an unscrupulous character, the Bishop a salacious humbug. No doctor will cure, for it pays him to keep you ill. Every clergyman puts the Sunday-school teacher in the family way. His mouth is permanently distorted by cynicism.
He is vain and believes all women are in love with him. When playing the Gallant, he turns on a special voice, wears white spats, and looks like a Newmarket ‘Crook.’
‘I lost my ’bus,’ a girl says to him. ‘Lost your bust,’ he answers, in broad Scotch. ‘I can’t see that you’ve done that.’ . . . His sexual career has been a remarkable one, he claiming to have brought many women to bed, and actually to have lain with women of almost all European nationalities, for he has been a great traveller. . . .
This man is my devoted friend! . . . And truth to tell I get on with him better than I do with most people. I like his gamey flavour, his utter absence of self-consciousness, and his doggy loyalty to myself — his weaker brother. He may be depraved in his habits, coarse in his language, boorish in his manners, ludicrous in the wrongness of all his views. But I like him just because he is so hopeless. I get on with him because it is so impossible to reclaim him — my missionary spirit is not intrigued. If he only dabbled in vice (for an experiment), if he had pale, watery ideas about current literature — if — to use his own favourite epithet — he were genteel, I should quarrel.
October 30, 1913
Have developed a passion for a piece of sculpture by R. Boeltzig called the Reifenwerferin — the most beautiful figure of a woman. I am already devoted to Rodin’s ‘Kiss’ and have a photo of it framed in my bedroom. Have written to Bruciani’s.
I suspect that my growing appreciation of the plastic art is with me only distilled sensuality. I enjoy my morning bath for the same reason. My bath is a daily baptism. I revel in the pleasure of the pain of the cold water. I whistle gleefully because I am clean and cool and nude early in the morning with the sun still low, before the day has been stained by clothes, dirt, pain, exasperation, death. . . . How I love myself as I rub myself down!—the cool, pink skin — I could eat it! I want to be all day in a cold bath to enjoy the pain of mortifying the flesh — it is so beautiful, so soft, so inscrutable — if I cut out chunks of it, it would only bleed.
November 8, 1913
The other morning R—— said hyperbolically that he hadn’t slept all night for fear that, before he had time to put an arresting hand on my shoulder and say ‘Don’t,’ I might have gone and become ‘Entangled.’ . .
. . . . No, I’m as firm as a rock, my dear. But in imagination the affair was continued as follows,—
She: ‘I am fond of you, you know.’
He: ‘I wish you wouldn’t say these things to me — they’re quite embarrassing.’
She: ‘Oh! my dear, I’m not serious, you know — you’re such a vain young man.’
He: ‘Well, it’s equally embarrassing any way.’
She: ‘Then I am serious.’
I say: ‘I wish you would take me only for what I am — a blackguard with no good intentions, yet no very evil ones — but still a blackguard, whom you seem to find has engaging manners.’
I breathe freely hoping to have escaped this terrible temptation and turn to go. But she, looking up smiling thro’ a curtain of wet eyelashes, asks,—
‘Won’t the blackguard stop a little longer?’ In a moment my earthworks, redoubts, and bastions fall down, I rush forward impetuously into her arms shouting, ‘I will, I will, I will as long as for eternity.’
I dramatised this little picture and much more last night before going to sleep when I was in a fever. I should succumb at once to the first really skilful coquette.
November 9, 1913
We played Ludo together this evening and she won 2s. 6d. Handsomely gowned in black and wearing black ornaments, she sat with me in the lamplight on the sofa in the Morris Room, with the Ludo board between us placed on a large green cushion. Her face was white as parchment and her hair seemed an ebony black. I lolled in the opposite corner, a thin, elongated youth, with fair hair all stivvered up, dressed in a light-brown lounge suit with a good trouser crease, a soft linen collar and — a red tie! Between us, on its green cushion the Ludo board with its brilliantly coloured squares:— all of it set before a background formed by the straight-backed, rectangular, settle-like sofa, with a charming covering which went with the rest of the scheme.
‘Rather decorative,’ —— remarked in an audible voice, turning her head on one side and quizzing. I can well believe it was. She looked wholly admirable.
November 21, 1913
Can’t get rid of my cough. I have so many things to do — I am living in a fever of haste to get them done. Yet this cough hinders me. There is always something which drags me back from the achievement of my desires. It’s like a nightmare; I see myself struggling violently to escape from a monster which draws continuously nearer, until his shadow falls across my path, when I begin to run and find my legs tied, etc. The only difference is that mine is a nightmare from which I never wake up. The haven of successful accomplishment remains as far off as ever. Oh! make haste.
November 29, 1913
The English Review has returned my Essay!— This is a keen disappointment to me. ‘I wish I could use this, but I am really too full,’ the Editor writes. To be faintly encouraged and delicately rejected — why I prefer the printed form.
December 1, 1913
Renewed my cold — I do nothing all day but blow my nose, cough, and curse Austin Harrison.
M—— thinks the lungs are all right. ‘There is nothing there, I think,’ said he, this morning. Alleluia! I’ve had visions of consumption for weeks past and M—— himself has been expecting it. I always just escape: I always almost get something, do something, go somewhere, I have dabbled in a variety of diseases, but never got one downright1 — but only enough to make me feel horribly unfit and very miserable without the consolation of being able to regard myself as the heroic victim of some incurable disorder. Instead of being Stevenson with tuberculosis, I’ve only been Jones with dyspepsia. So, too, in other directions, big events have always just missed me: by Herculean efforts I succeeded in giving up newspaper journalism and breaking thro’ that steel environment — but only to become an Entomologist! I once achieved success in an Essay in the Academy, which attracted attention — a debut, however, that never developed. I had not quite arrived. It is always not quite.
Yesterday, I received a state visit from the Editor of the Furniture Record seeking advice on how to eradicate mites from upholstering! I received him ironically — but little did he understand.
I shot up like a ball on a bagatelle board all steamy into zoology (my once beloved science) but at once rolled dead into the very low hole of Economic Entomology! Curse. . . . Why can’t I either have a first-rate disease or be a first-rate zoologist?
Now just think what a much better figure I should have cut, from the artistic view point, had I remained a newspaper reporter who had taught himself prodigious embryology out of F. M. Balfour’s Textbook, who had cut sections of fowls’ eggs and newt embryos with a hand microtome, who had passionately dissected out the hidden, internal anatomy of a great variety of animals, who could recite Wiedersheim’s Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates and patter off the difference between a nephridium and a ccelomic duct without turning a hair — or the phylogenctic history (how absorbing!) of the kidney — pronephros, mesonephros and metanephros and all the ducts! . . . All this, over now and wasted. My hardly-won knowledge wrenched away is never brought into use — it lies piled up in my brain rotting. I could have become a first-rate comparative anatomist.
December 3, 1913
Cold better. So back at work — gauging ale at Dunfermline as R—— puts it.
December 9, 1913
In the evening found it quite impossible to stay in the house any longer: some vague fear drove me out. I was alarmed to be alone or to be still. It is my cough, I think.
Had two glasses of port at the Kensington Hotel, conversed with the barmaid, and then came home.
December 10, 1913
‘Don’t be an old fossil,’ she said to me to-night, irrelevantly.
‘A propos of what?’ I inquired.
‘Mother, here’s W—— proposing to E——! Do come,’ cried ——, with intent to confuse. I laughed heartlessly.
Dear, dear, where will it all end? It’s a sad business when you fall in love with a girl you don’t like.
December 26, 1913
Spent a romping day at the Flat. Kissed her sister twice under the mistletoe, and in the evening went to a cinema. After supper made a mock heroic speech and left hilarious.
February 4, 1914
. . . Finally and in conclusion I have fallen ill again, have again resumed my periodical visits to the Doctor, and am swallowing his rat-poison in a blind faith as aforetime. In fact, I am in London, leading the same solitary life, seeing no one, talking to no one, and daily struggling with this demon of ill-health. Can no one exorcise him? The sight of both my eyes is affected now. Blindness?
B—— continues whoring, drinking, sneering. R—— as usual, devoid of emotion, cold, passionless, Shavian, and self-absorbed, still titillates his mind with etching, sociology, music, etc., and I have at last ceased to bore him with what he probably calls the febrile utterances of an overwrought mind.
Such is my world! Oh! I forgot — on the floor below me is a corpse — that of an old gentleman who passed away suddenly in the night. In the small hours, the landlady went for the Doctor over the way. but he refused to come, saying the old man was too aged. So the poor gentleman died alone — in this rat hole of a place.
February 7, 1914
Intending to buy my usual 3d. packet of Goldflakes, entered a tobacconist’s in Piccadilly, but once inside surprised to find myself in a classy west-end establishment, which frightened my flabby nature into buying De Reszke’s instead. I hadn’t the courage to face the aristocrat behind the counter with a request for Goldflakes — probably not stocked. What would he think of me? Besides, I shrank from letting him see I was not perfectly well-to-do.
February 14, 1914
I wonder what this year has in store for me? The first twenty-four years of my life have hunted me up and down the keyboard — I have been right to the top and also to the bottom — very happy and very miserable. Yet I prefer the life that is a hunt and an adventure. I don’t really mind being chased like this. I almost thrive on the excitement. If I knew always where to look with any degree of certainty for my next day’s life I should yawn! ‘What if to-day be sweet,’ I say, and never look ahead. To me, next week is next century.
The danger and uncertainty of my life make me cherish and hug closely to my heart various little projects that otherwise would seem unworthy. I work at them quickly, frantically, sometimes, afraid to whisper to a living soul what expectations I dare to harbour in my heart. What if now the end be near? Not a word! Let me go onward.
February 16, 1914
To-day I have reviewed the situation carefully, exhaustively. I have peered into every aspect of my life and achievements and everything I have seen nauseates me. I can find no ray of comfort in anything I have done or in anything I might do. My life seems to have been a wilderness of futile endeavour. I started wrong from the very beginning. At the moment of my birth I was coming into the world in the wrong place and under wrong conditions. Why seek to overcome such colossal initial disadvantages? In this mood I found fault with my parentage, my inheritance, all my mental and physical disabilities. . . .
This must be a form of incipient insanity. Even as a boy, I can remember being preternaturally absorbed in myself and preternaturally discontented. I was accustomed to exhaust my mind by the most harassing cross-examinations — no Counsel at the Bar ever treated a witness more mercilessly. After a day of this sort of thing, when silently and morbidly in every spare moment, at meals, in school, or on a walk, I would incessantly ply the questions, ‘What is the ultimate value of your work, cui bono?’ etc. I went to bed in the evening with a feeling of hopelessness and dissatisfaction — haggard with considerations and reconsiderations of my outlook, my talent, my character, my future. In bed, I tossed from side to side, mentally exhausted with my efforts to obtain some satisfying conclusion — always hopeful, determined to the last to be able to square up my little affairs before going to sleep. But out of this mazy, vertiginous mass of thinking no satisfaction ever came. Now, I thought — or the next moment — or as soon as I review and revise myself in this or in that aspect, I shall be content. And so I went on, tearing down and reforming, revising and reviewing, till finally from sheer exhaustion and very unhappy I fell asleep.
Next morning I was all right.
February 20, 1914
Am feeling very unwell. My ill-health, my isolation, baulked ambitions, and daily breadwinning all conspire to bring me down. The idea of a pistol and the end of it grows on me day by day.
February 21, 1914
After four days of the most profound depression of spirits, bitterness, self-distrust, despair, I emerged from the cloud to-day quite suddenly (probably the arsenic and strychnine begins to take effect) and walked up Exhibition Road with the intention of visiting the Science Museum Library so as to refer to Schäfer’s Essentials of Histology (I have to watch myself carefully so that I may act at once as soon as the balance of mind is restored). In the lobby was a woman screaming as if in pain, with a passerby at her side saying sternly, ‘What is the matter with you?’ as if she were making herself ridiculous by suffering pain in public.
I passed by quickly, pretending not to notice lest — after all — I should be done out of my Essentials of Histology. Even in the Library I very nearly let the opportunity slide by picking up a book on squaring the circle, the preface and introduction of which I was forced to read.
March 4, 1914
The Entomological Society
There were a great many Scarabees present who exhibited to one another poor little pinned insects in collecting-boxes. . . . It was really a one-man show, Prof. Poulton, a man of very considerable scientific attainments, being present, and shouting with a raucous voice in a way that must have scared some of the timid, unassuming collectors of our country’s butterflies and moths. Like a great powerful sheep-dog, he got up and barked, ‘Mendelian characters,’ or ‘Germ plasm,’ what time the obedient flock ran together and bleated a pitiful applause. I suppose, having frequently heard these and similar phrases fall from the lips of the great man at these reunions, they have come to regard them as symbols of a ritual which they think it pious to accept without any question. So every time the Professor says, ‘Allelomorph,’ or some such phrase, they cross themselves and never venture to ask him what the hell it is all about.
March 7, 1914
A Scots Fir
Have been feeling very ‘down’ of late, but yesterday I saw a fine Scots Fir by the roadside — tall, erect, as straight as a Parthenon pillar. The sight of it restored my courage. It had a tonic effect. Quite unconsciously I pulled my shoulders back and walked ahead with renewed vows never to flinch again. It is a noble tree. It has strength as a giant, and a giant’s height, and yet kindly withal, the branches drooping down graciously towards you — like a kind giant extending its hands to a child.
March 22, 1914
A Stagnant Day
Went to bed late last night so I slept on soundly till 9 a.m. Went down to the bath-room, but found the door was shut, so went back to my bedroom again, lay down and dosed a while, thinking of nothing in particular. Went down again — door still locked — swore — returned once more to my room and reclined on the bed, with door open, so that I could hear as soon as the bath-room door opened. . . . Rang the bell, and Miss —— brought up a jug of hot water to shave with, and a tumbler of hot water to drink (for my dyspepsia). She, on being interrogated, said there was some one in the bath-room. I said I wanted a bath too, so as she passed on her way down she shouted, ‘Hurry up, Mr Barbellion wants a bath as well.’ Her footsteps then died away as she descended lower into the basement, where the family lives, sleeps, and cooks our food.
At length, hearing the door open, I ejaculated, ‘the Lord be praised,’ rushed down, entered the bath-room and secured it from further intruders. I observed that Miss —— senior had been bathing her members, and that the bath, tho’ empty, was covered inside with patches of soap — unutterably black! Oh! Miss ——!
Dressed leisurely and breakfasted. When the table was cleared wrote a portion of my essay on Spallanzani. . . . Then, being giddy and tired, rang for dinner. Miss —— laid the table. She looked very clean. I said, ‘Good-morning,’ and she suitably replied, and I went on reading, the Winning Post. Felt too slack to be amiable. Next time she came in, I said as pleasantly as I could, ‘Is it all ready?’ and being informed proceeded to eat forthwith.
In the afternoon, took a ’bus to Richmond. No room outside, so had to go inside — curse — and sit opposite a row — curse again — of fat, ugly, elderly women, all off to visit their married daughters, the usual Sunday jaunt. At Hammersmith got on the outside, and at Turnham Green was caught in a hail storm. Very cold all of a sudden, so got off and took shelter in the doorway of a shop, which was of course closed, the day being Sunday. Rain, wind, and hail continued for some while, as I gazed at the wet, almost empty street, thinking, re-thinking and thinking over again the same thought, viz., that the ’bus ride along this route was exceptionally cheap — probably because of competition with the trams.
The next ’bus took me to Richmond. Two young girls sat in front, and kept looking back to know if I was ‘game.’ I looked through them. Walked in the Park just conscious of the singing of Larks and the chatter of Jays, but harassed mentally by the question, ‘To whom shall I send my essay, when finished?’ To shelter from the rain sat under an oak where four youths joined me and said, ‘Worse luck,’ and ‘Not half,’ and smoked cigarettes. They gossiped and giggled like girls, put their arms around each other’s necks. At the dinner last night, they said, they had Duck and Tomato Soup and Beeswax (’Beesley, you know, the chap that goes about with Smith a lot’) wore a fancy waistcoat with a dinner jacket. When I got up to move on, they became convulsed with laughter. I scowled.
Had tea in the Pagoda tea-rooms, dry toast and brown bread and butter. Two young men opposite me were quietly playing the fool.
‘Hold my hand,’ one said audibly enough for two lovers to hear, comfortably settled up in a corner. Even at a side view I could see them kissing each other in between mouthfuls of bread and butter and jam.
On rising to go, one of the two hilarious youths removed my cap and playfully placed it on top of the bowler which his friend was wearing.
‘My cap, I think,’ I said sharply, and the young man apologised with a splutter. I glared like a kill-joy of sixty.
On the ’bus, coming home, thro’ streets full of motor traffic and all available space plastered with advertisements that screamed at you, I espied in front three pretty girls, who gave me the ‘Glad Eye.’ One had a deep, musical voice, and kept on using it, one of the others a pretty ankle and kept on showing it.
At Kew, two Italians came aboard, one of whom went out of his way to sit among the girls. He sat level with them, and kept turning his head around, giving them a sweeping glance as he did so, to shout remarks in Italian to his friend behind. He thought the girls were prostitutes, I think, and he may have been right. I was on the seat behind this man and for want of anything better to do, studied his face minutely. In short, it was fat, round, and greasy. He wore black moustachios with curly ends, his eyes were dark, shining, bulgy, and around his neck was wrapped a scarf inside a dirty linen collar, as if he had a sore throat. I sat behind him and hated him steadily, perseveringly.
At Hammersmith the three girls got off, and the bulgy-eyed Italian watched them go with lascivious eyes, looking over the rail and down at them on the pavement — still interested. I looked down too. They crossed the road in front of us and disappeared.
Came home and here I am writing this. This is the content of to-day’s consciousness. This is about all I have thought, said, or done, or felt. A stagnant day!
March 26, 1914
Home with a bad influenza cold. In a deplorable condition. The best I could do was to sit by the fire and read newspapers one by one from the first page to the last till the reading became mechanical. I found myself reading an account of the Lincoln Handicap and a column article on Kleptomania, while advertisements of new books were devoured with relish as delicacies. My mind became a morass of current Divorce Court News, Society Gossip — ‘if Sir A. goes Romeward, if Miss B. sings true’ —and advertisements. I went on reading because I was afraid to be alone with myself.
B—— arrived at tea and after saying he felt very ‘pin-eyed’ swallowed a glass of Bols gin — the Gin of Antony Bols — and recovered sufficiently to inform me delightedly that he had just won £50. He told me all the story; meanwhile, I, tired of wiping and blowing my nose, sat in the dirty armchair hunched up with elbows on knees and let it drip on to the dirty carpet. B——, of course noticed nothing, which was fortunate.
Some kinds of damned fool would have been kindly and sympathetic. I must say I like old B——. I like him for his simpleness and utter absence of self-consciousness, which make him as charming as a child. Moreover, he often makes me a present of invaluable turf tips. Of course, he is a liar, but his lies are harmless and on his mouth like milk on an infant’s. My own lies are much more dangerous. And when you are ill, to be treated as tho’ you were well is good for hypochondriacs.
April 15, 1914
H——’s wedding. Five minutes before time, I am told I made a dramatic entry into the church clad in an audaciously light pair of Cashmere trousers, lemon-coloured gloves, with top hat and cane. The latter upset the respectability frightfully — it is not comme il faut.
April 16, 1914
. . . If I am to admit the facts they are that I eagerly anticipate love, look everywhere for it, long for it, am unhappy without it. She fascinates me — admitted. I could, if I would, surrender myself. Her affection makes me long to do it. I am sick of living by myself. I am frightened of myself. My life is miserable alone, and sometimes desperately miserable when I long for a little sympathy to be close at hand.
I have often tried to persuade R—— to share a flat with me, because I don’t really wish to marry. I struggle against the idea, I am egotist enough to wish to shirk the responsibilities.
But then I am a ridiculously romantic creature with a wonderful ideal of a woman I shall never meet or if I do she won’t want me — ‘that (wholly) impossible She.’ R—— in a flat with me would partly solve my difficulties. I don’t love her enough for marriage. Mine must be a grand passion, a bouleversement — for I am capable of it.
April 17, 1914
A Humble Confession
The Hon. ——, son and heir of Lord ——, to-day invited me to lunch with him in —— Square. He is a handsome youth of twenty-five, with fair hair and blue eyes . . . and O! such an aristocrat. Good Lord.
But to continue: the receipt of so unexpected an invitation from so glorious a young gentleman at first gave me palpitation of the heart. I was so surprised that I scarcely had enough presence of mind to listen to the rest of his remarks and later, it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could recall the place where we arranged to meet. His remarks, too, are not easy to follow, as he talks in a stenographic, Alfred-Jingle-like manner, jerking out disjected members of sentences, and leaving you to make the best of them or else to Hell with you — by the Lord, I speak English, don’t I? If I said, ‘I beg your pardon,’ he jerked again, and left me often equally unenlightened.
On arriving at his home, the first thing he did was to shout down the stairs to the basement: ‘Elsie, Elsie,’ while I gazed with awe at a parcel on the hall table addressed to ‘Lord ——.’ Before lunch we sat in his little room and talked about ——, but I was still quite unable to regain my self-composure. I couldn’t for the life of me forget that here was I lunching with Lord ——’s son, on equal terms, with mutual interests, that his sisters perhaps would come in directly or even the noble Lord himself. I felt like a scared hare. How should I address a peer of the realm? I kept trying to remember and every now and then for some unaccountable reason my mind travelled into ——shire and I saw Auntie C—— serving out tea and sugar over the counter of the baker’s shop in the little village. I luxuriated in the contrast, tho’ I am not at all inclined to be a snob.
He next offered me a cigarette, which I took and lit. It was a Turkish cigarette with one end plugged up with cotton-wool — to absorb the nicotine — a thing I’ve never seen before. I was so flurried at the time that I did not notice this and lit the wrong end. With perfect ease and self-possession, the Honourable One pointed out my error to me and told me to throw the cigarette away and have another.
By this time I had completely lost my nerve. My pride, chagrin, excessive self-consciousness were entangling all my movements in the meshes of a net. Failing to tumble to the situation, I inquired, ‘Why the wrong end? Is there a right and a wrong end?’ Lord ——’s son and heir pointed out the cotton-wool end, now blackened by my match.
‘That didn’t burn very well, did it?’
I was bound to confess that it did not, and threw the smoke away under the impression that these wonderful cigarettes with right and wrong ends must be some special brand sold only to aristocrats, and at a great price, and possessing some secret virtue. Once again, handsome Mr —— drew out his silver cigarette-case, selected a second cigarette for me, and held it towards me between his long delicate finders, at the same time pointing out the plug at one end and making a few staccato remarks which I could not catch.
I was still too scared to be in full possession of my faculties, and he apparently was too tired to be explicit to a member of the bourgeoisie, stumbling about his drawing-room. The cotton-wool plug only suggested to me some sort of a plot on the part of a dissolute scion of a noble house to lure me into one of his bad habits, such as smoking opium or taking veronal. I again prepared to light the cigarette at the wrong end.
‘Try the other end,’ repeated the young man, smiling blandly. I blushed, and immediately recovered my balance, and even related my knowledge of pipes fitted to carry similar plugs. . . .
During lunch (at which we sat alone) after sundry visits to the top of the stairs to shout down to the kitchen, he announced that he thought it wasn’t last night’s affair after all which was annoying the Cook (he got home late without a latch-key) — it was because he called her ‘Cook’ instead of Mrs Austin. He smiled serenely and decided to indulge Mrs A., his indulgent attitude betraying an objectionable satisfaction with the security of his own unassailable social status. There was a trace of gratification at the little compliment secreted in the Cook’s annoyance. She wanted Mr Charles to call her Mrs Austin, forsooth. Very well! and he smiled down on the little weakness de haute en bas.
I enjoyed this little experience. Turning it over in my mind (as the housemaid says when she decides to stay on) I have come to the conclusion that the social parvenu is not such a vulgar fellow after all. He may be a bore — particularly if he sits with his finger tips apposed over a spherical paunch, festooned with a gold chain, and keeps on relating in extenso how once he gummed labels on blacking bottles. Often enough he is a smug fellow, yet, truth to tell, we all feel a little interested in him. He is a traveller from an antique land, and we sometimes like to listen to his tales of adventure and all he has come through. He has traversed large territories of human experience, he has met strange folk and lodged in strange caravanserai. Similarly with the man who has com down in the world —the fool, the drunkard, the embezzler — he may bore us with his maudlin sympathy with himself yet his stories hold us. It must be a fine experience within the limits of a single life to traverse the whole keyboard of our social status, whether up or down. I should like to be a peer who grinds a barrel organ or (better still) a one-time organ-grinder who now lives in Park Lane. It must be very dull to remain stationary — once a peer always a peer.
April 20, 1914
Miss —— heard me sigh to-day and asked what it might mean. ‘Only the sparks flying upward,’ I answered lugubriously.
A blackguard is often unconscious of a good deal of his wickedness. Charge him with wickedness and he will deny it quite honestly — honest then, perhaps, for the first time in his life.
An Entomologist is a large hairy man with eyebrows like antennæ.
Chronic constipation has gained for me an unrivalled knowledge of all laxatives, aperients, purgatives and cathartic compounds. At present I arrange two gunpowder plots a week. It’s abominable. Best literature for the latrine: picture puzzles.
April 23, 1914
A Foolish Bird
With a menacing politeness, B—— to-day inquired of a fat curate who was occupying more than his fair share of a seat on top of a ’bus,—
‘Are you going to get up or stay where ye are, sir?’
The foolish bird was sitting nearly on top of B——, mistaking a bomb for an egg.
‘I beg your pardon,’ replied the fat curate.
B—— repeated his inquiry with more emphasis in the hideous Scotch brogue.
‘I suppose I shall stay here till I get down presently.’
‘I don’t think you will,’ said B——.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the fat one in falsetto indignation.
‘This,’ B—— grunted, and shunted sideways so that the poor fellow almost slid on to the floor.
A posse of police walking along in single file always makes me laugh. A single constable is a Policeman, but several in single file are ‘Coppers.’ I imagine every one laughs at them and I have a shrewd suspicion it is one of W. S. Gilbert’s legacies — the Pirates of Penzance having become part of the national Consciousness.
On Lighting Chloe’s Cigarette
R—— remarked to-day that he intended writing a lyric on lighting Chloe’s cigarette.
‘Ah!’ I said at once appreciative, ‘now tell me, do you balance your hand — by gently (ever so gently) resting the extreme tip of your little finger upon her chin, and’ (I was warming up) ‘do you hold the match vertically or horizontally, and do you light it in the dark or in the light? If you have finesse, you won’t need to be told that the thing is to get a steady flame and the maximum of illumination upon her face to last over a period for as long as possible.’
‘Chloe,’ replied R——, ‘is wearing now a charming blouse with a charming V-shaped opening in front. Her Aunt asked my Mother last night tentatively, “How do you like Chloe’s blouse? Is it too low?” My Mother scrutinised the dear little furry, lop-eared thing and answered doubtfully, “No, Maria, I don’t think so."‘
‘How ridiculous! Why, the V is a positive signpost! My dear fellow,’ I said to R——, ‘I should refuse to be bluffed by those old women. Tell them you know.’
Carlyle called Lamb a despicable abortion. What a crime!
May 2, 1914
Developed a savage fit. Up to a certain point, perhaps, but beyond that anxiety changes into recklessness — you simply don’t care. The aperients are causing dyspepsia and intermittent action of the heart, which frightens me. After a terrifying week, during which at crises I have felt like dropping suddenly in the street, in the gardens, anywhere, from syncope, I rebelled against this humiliating fear. I pulled my shoulders back and walked briskly ahead along the street with a diopped beat every two or three steps. I laughed bitterly at it and felt it could stop or go on — I was at last indifferent. In a photographer’s shop was the picture of a very beautiful woman and I stopped to look at her. I glowered in thro’ the glass angrily and reflected how she was gazing out with that same expression even at the butcher’s boy or the lamp-lighter. It embittered me to think of having to leave her to some other man. To me she represented all the joy of life which at any moment I might have had to quit for ever. Such impotence enraged me and I walked off up the street with a whirling heart and the thought, ‘I shall drop, I suppose, when I get up as far as that.’ Yet don’t think I was alarmed. Oh! no. The iron had entered me, and I went on with cynical indifference waiting to be struck down.
. . . She is a very great deal to me. Perhaps I love her very much after all.
May 3, 1914
Bad heart attack all day. Intermittency is very refined torture to one who wants to live very badly. Your pump goes a ‘dot and carry one,’ or say ‘misses a stitch,’ what time you breathe deep, begin to shake your friend’s hand and make a farewell speech. Then it goes on again and you order another pint of beer.
It is a fractious animal within the cage of my thorax, and I never know when it is going to escape and make off with my precious life between its teeth. I humour and coax and soothe it, but, God wot, I haven’t much confidence in the little beast. My thorax it appears is an intolerable kennel.
May 10, 1914
In a very cheerful mood. Pleased with myself and everybody till a seagull soared overhead in Kensington Gardens and aroused my vast capacities for envy — I wish I could fly.
May 24, 1914
In L—— with my brother, A——. The great man is in great form and very happy in his love for N——. He is a most delightful creature and I love him more than any one else in the wide world. There is an almost feminine tenderness in my love.
We spent a delightful day, talking and arguing and insulting one another. . . . At these séances we take delight in anæsthetising our hearts for the purposes of argument, and a third person would be bound to suppose we were in the throes of a bitter quarrel. We pile up one vindictive remark on another, ingeniously seeking out — and with malice — weak points in each other’s armour, which previous exchange of confidences makes it easy to find. Neither of us hesitates to make use of such private confessions, yet our love is so strong that we can afford to take any liberty. There is, in fact, a fearful joy in testing the strength of our affection by searching for cutting rejoinders — to see the effect. We rig up one another’s cherished ideals like Aunt Sallies and then knock them down, we wax sarcastic, satirical, contemptuous in turn, we wave our hands animatedly (hand-waving is a great trick with both of us), get flushed, point with our fingers and thump the table to clinch some bit of repartee. Yet it’s all smoke. Our love is unassailable — it’s like the law of gravitation, you cannot dispute it, it underlies our existence, it is the air we breathe.
N—— is charming, and thought we were quarrelling, and therefore intervened on his side!
May 31, 1914
R—— outlined an impression he had in Naples one day during a sirocco of the imminence of his own death. It was evidently an isolated experience and bored me a little as I could have said a lot myself about that. When he finished I drew from my pocket an envelope with my name and three addresses scribbled on it to help the police in case of syncope as I explained. I have carried this with me for several years and at one time a flask of brandy.
June 3, 1914
Went to see the Irish Players in The Playboy. Sitting in front of me was a charming little Irish girl accompanied by a male clod with red-rimmed eyes like a Bull-terrier’s, a sandy, bristly moustache like a housemaid’s broom, and a face like a gluteal mass, and a horrid voice that crepitated rather than spoke.
She was dark, with shining blue eyes, and a delightful little nose of the utmost import to every male who should gaze upon her. Between the acts, the clod hearkened to her vivacious conversation — like an enchanted bullock. Her vivacity was such that the tip of her nose moved up and down for emphasis and by the end of the Third Act I was captured entirely. Lucky dog, that clod!
After the play this little Irish maiden caught my eye and it became a physical impossibility for me to check a smile — and oh! Heavens!—she gave me a smile in return. Precisely five seconds later, she looked again to see if I was still smiling — I was — and we then smiled broadly and openly on one another — her smile being the timorous ingénue’s not the glad eye of a femme de joie. Later, on the railway platform whither I followed her, I caught her eye again (was ever so lucky a fellow?), and we got into the same carriage. But so did the clod — ah! dear, was ever so unlucky a fellow? Forced to occupy a seat some way off, but she caught me trying to see her thro’ a midnight forest of opera hats, lace ruffles, projecting ears and fat noses.
Curse! Left her at High Street Station and probably will never see her again. This is a second great opportunity. The first was the girl on Lundy Island. These two women I shall always regret. There must be so many delightful and interesting persons in London if only I could get at them.
June 4, 1914
Rushed off to tell R—— about my little Irish girl. Her face has been ‘shadowing’ me all day.
June 6, 1914
A violent argument with R—— re marriage. He says Love means appropriation, and is taking the most elaborate precautions to forfend passion — just as if it were a militant suffragette. Every woman he meets he first puts into a long quarantine, lest perchance she carries the germ of the infectious disease. He quotes Hippolytus and talks like a mediaeval ascetic. Himself, I imagine, he regards as a valuable but brittle piece of Dresden china which must be saved from rough handling and left unmolested to pursue its high and dusty destiny — an old crock as I warned him. By refusing to plunge into life he will live long and be a well preserved man, but scarcely a living man — a mummy rather. I told him so amid much laughter.
‘You’re a reactionary,’ says he.
‘Yes, but why should a reactionary be a naughty boy?’
June 7, 1914
My ironical fate lured me this evening into another discussion on marriage in which I had to take up a position exactly opposite to the one I defended yesterday against R——. In fact, I actually subverted to my own pressing requirements some of R——’s own arguments! The argument, of course, was with Her.
Marriage, I urged, was an economic trap for guileless young men, and for my part (to give myself some necessary stiffening) I did not intend to enter upon any such hazardous course, even if I had the chance. Miss —— said I was a funk — to me who the day before had been hammering into R—— my principle of ‘Plunge and damn the consequences.’ I was informed I was an old woman afraid to go out without an umbrella, an old tabby cat afraid to leave the kitchen fire, etc., etc.
‘Yes, I am afraid to go out without an umbrella,’ I argued formally, ‘when it’s raining cats and dogs. As long as I am dry, I shall keep dry. As soon as I find myself caught in the rain or victimised by a passion, I shan’t be afraid of falling in love or getting wet. It would be a misadventure, but I am not going in search of one.’
All the same the discussion was very galling, for I was acting a part.
. . . The truth is I have philandered abominably with her. I know It. And now I am jibbing at the idea of marriage. . . . I am such an egotist, I want, I believe, a Princess of the Blood Royal.
June 9, 1914
Some days ago sent a personal advertisement to the newspaper to try to find my little Irish girl who lives at Netting Hill Gate. To-day they return me the money and advert., no doubt mistaking me for a White Slave trafficker. And by this time, I’m thinking, my little Irish girl can go to blazes. Shall spend the P.O. on sweets or monkey nuts.
June 10, 1914
It is raining heavily. I have just finished dinner. In the street an itinerant musician is singing dolefully ‘O Rest in the Lord.’ In my dirty little sitting room I begin to feel very restless, so put on my hat and cloak and walk down towards the Station for a paper to read. It is all very dark and dismal, and I gaze with hungry eyes in thro’ some of the windows disclosing happy comfortable interiors. At intervals thunder growls and lightning brightens up the deserted dirtiness of the Station Waiting Room. A few bits of desolate paper lie about on the floor, and up in one corner on a form a crossing-sweeper, motionless and abject, driven in from his pitch by the rain. His hands are deep in his trousers’ pockets, and the poor devil lies with legs sprawling out and eyes closed: over the lower part of his face he wears a black mask to hide the ravages of lupus. . . . He seemed the last man on earth — after every one else had died of the plague. Not a soul in the station. Not a train. And this is June!
June 15, 1914
Spent the day measuring the legs and antennae of lice to two places of decimals!
To the lay mind how fantastic this must seem Indeed, I hope it is fantastic. I do not mind being thought odd. It seems almost fitting that an incurable dilettante like myself should earn his livelihood by measuring the legs of lice. I like to believe that such a bizarre manner of life suits my incurable frivolousness.
I am a Magpie in a Bagdad bazaar, hopping about, useless, inquisitive, fascinated by a lot of astonishing things: e.g., a book on the quadrature of the circle, the gubbertushed fustilugs passage in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, names like Mr Portwine or Mr Hogsflesh, Tweezer’s Alley or Pickle Herring Street, the excellent, conceitful sonnets of Henry Constable or Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning.
Colossal things such as Art, Science, etc., frighten me. I am afraid I should develop a thirst that would make me wish to drink the sea dry. My mind is a disordered miscellany. The world is too distracting. I cannot apply myself for long. London bewilders me. At times it is a phantasmagoria, an opium dream out of De Quincey.
June 17, 1914
Prof. Geo. Saintsbury’s book on Elizabethan literature amuses me. George, there can be no doubt, is a very refined, cultivated fellow. I bet he don’t eat periwinkles with a pin or bite his nails — and you should hear him refer to folk who can’t read Homer in the original or who haven’t been to Oxford — to Merton above all. He also says non so che for je ne sais quoi.
June 26, 1914
. . . I placed the volume on the mantelpiece as if it were a bottle of physic straight from my Dispensary, and I began to expostulate and expound, as if she were a sick person and I the doctor. . . . She seemed a little nettled at my proselytising demeanour and gave herself out to be very preoccupied — or at any rate quite uninterested in my physic. I read the book last night at one sitting and was boiling over with it.
‘I fear I have come at an inconvenient time,’ I said, with a sardonic smile and strummed on the piano. . . . ‘I must really be off. Please read it (which sounded like “three times a day after meals") and tell me how you like it. (Facetiously) Of course don’t give up your present manual for it, that would be foolish and unnecessary.’ . . . I rambled on — disposed to be very playful.
At last calmly and horribly, in a thoughtful voice she answered,—
‘I think you are very rude: you play the piano after I asked you to stop and walk about just as if it were your own home.’
I remained outwardly calm but inwardly was very surprised and full of tremors. I said after a pause,—
‘Very well, if you think so. . . . Good-bye.’
No answer; and I was too proud to apologise.
‘Good-bye,’ I repeated.
She went on reading her novel in silence while I got as far as the door — very upset.
‘Oh,’ said I, and went out of the room leaving my lady for good and all and I’m not sorry.
In the passage met Miss ——. ‘What?’ she said, ‘going already?’
‘Farewell,’ I said sepulchrally. ‘A very tragic farewell,’ which left her wondering.
June 29, 1914
At the Albert Hall
Went with R—— to the Albert Hall to the Empress of Ireland Memorial Concert with massed bands. We heard the Symphonic Pathétique, Chopin’s Funeral March, Trauermarsch from Götterdammerung, the Ride of the Valkyries and a solemn melody from Bach.
This afternoon I regard as a mountain peak in my existence. For two solid hours I sat like an Eagle on a rock gazing into infinity — a very fine sensation for a London Sparrow. . . .
I have an idea that if it were possible to assemble the sick and suffering day by day in the Albert Hall and keep the Orchestra going all the time, then the constant exposure of sick parts to such heavenly air vibrations would ultimately restore to them the lost rhythm of health. Surely, even a single exposure to — say Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — must result in some permanent reconstitution of ourselves body and soul. No one can be quite the same after a Beethoven Symphony has streamed thro’ him. If one could develop a human soul like a negative the effect I should say could be seen. . . . I’ll tell you what I wish they’d do — seriously: divide up the arena into a series of cubicles where, unobserved and in perfect privacy, a man could execute all the various movements of his body and limbs which the music prompts. It would be such a delicious self-indulgence and it’s torture to be jammed into a seat where you can’t even tap one foot or wave an arm.
The concert restored my moral health. I came away in love with people I was hating before and full of compassion for others I usually contemn. A feeling of immeasurable well being — a jolly bonhomie enveloped me like incandescent light. At the close when we stood up to sing the National Anthem we all felt a genuine spirit of camaraderie. Just as when Kings die, we were silent musing upon the common fate, and when the time came to separate we were loath to go our several ways, for we were comrades who together had come thro’ a great experience. For my part I wanted to shake hands all round — happy travellers, now alas! at the journey’s end and never perhaps to meet again — never.
R——and I walked up thro’ Kensington Gardens like two young Gods!
‘I even like that bloody thing,’ I said, pointing to the Albert Memorial.
We pointed out pretty girls to one another, watched the children play ring-a-ring-a-roses on the grass. We laughed exultingly at the thought of our dismal colleagues. . . tho’ I said (as before!) I loved ’em all — God bless ‘em — even old ——. R—— said it was nothing short of insolence on their part to have neglected the opportunity of coming to the Concert.
Later on, an old gaffer up from the country stopped us to ask the way to Rotten Row — I overwhelmed him with directions and happy descriptive details. I felt like walking with him and showing him what a wonderful place the world is.
After separating from R—— very reluctantly — it was horrible to be left alone in such high spirits, walked up towards the Round Pond, and caught myself avoiding the shadows of the trees — so as to be every moment out in the blazing sun. I scoffed inwardly at the timorousness of pale, anæmic folk whom I passed hiding in the shadows of the elms.
At the Round Pond, came across a Bulldog who was biting out great chunks of water and in luxuriant wastefulness letting it drool out again from each corner of his mouth. I watched this old fellow greedily (it was very hot), as well pleased with him and his liquid ‘chops’ as with anything I saw, unless it were a girl and a man lying full length along the grass and kissing beneath a sunshade. I smiled; she saw me, and smiled, too, in return, and then fell to kissing again.
June 30, 1914
There are books which are Dinosaurs — Sir Walter Ralegh’s History of the World, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There are men who are Dinosaurs — Balzac completing his Human Comedy, Napoleon, Roosevelt. I like them all. I like express trains and motor lorries. I enjoy watching an iron girder swinging in the air or great cubes of ice caught up between iron pincers. I must always stop and watch these things. I like everything that is swift or immense: London, lightning, Popocatapetl. I enjoy the smell of tar, of coal, of fried fish, or a brass band playing a Liszt Rhapsody. And why should those foolish Mænads shout Women’s Rights just because they burn down a church? All bonfires are delectable. Civilisation and top hats bore me. My own life is like a tame rabbit’s. If only I had a long tail to lash it in feline rage! I would return to Nature — I could almost return to Chaos. There are times when I feel so dour I would wreck the universe if I could. 1
(1917: I think after three years of Armageddon I feel quite ready to go back to top hats and civilisation.)
July 8, 1914
Sunset in Kensington Gardens
The instinct for worship occurs rhythmically — at morning and evening. This is natural, for twice a day at sunrise and sunset — however work-sodden we may be, however hypnotised by daily routine — our natural impulse is (provided we are awake) to look to the horizon at the sun and stand a moment with mute lips. During the course of the day or night, we are too occupied or asleep — but sunrise is the great hour of the departure and sunset is the arrival at the end. Everything puts on a mysterious appearance — to-night the tops of the elms seemed supernaturally high and, pushing up into the sky, had secret communion with the clouds; the clouds seemed waiting for a ceremony, a way had been prepared by the tapissier, a moment of suspense while one cloud stretched to another like courtiers in whispered conversation; a rumour of the approach; then slowly the news came thro’ that the sun had arrived for immediate departure.
July 14, 1914
Have finished my essay. But am written out — obviously. To-night I struggled with another, and spent two hours sucking the end of my pen. But after painfully mountainous parturition, all I brought forth were the two ridiculous mice of one meretricious trope and one grammatical solecism. I can sometimes sit before a sheet of paper, pen in hand, unable to produce a word.
July 19, 1914
For a walk with R—— in the country, calling for tea at his Uncle’s house at ——. Played clock golf and made the acquaintance of Miss ——, a tall, statuesque lady, with golden hair, as graceful as an antelope and very comely, her two dear little feet clad in white shoes peeping out (as R—— said) like two white mice one after the other as she moved across the lawn.
Coming home I said to R—— histrionically, ‘Some golden-haired little boy will some day rest his head upon her bosom, beautiful in line and depth, all unconscious of his luck or of his part in a beautiful picture — would that I were the father to make that group a fait accompli.’ R——, with meticulous accuracy, always refers to her as ‘that elegant virgin.’
July 25, 1914
While sketching under Hammersmith Bridge yesterday, R—— heard a whistle, and, looking up, saw a charming ‘young thing’ leaning over the Bridge parapet smiling like the blessed Damozel out of Heaven.
‘Come down,’ he cried.
She did, and they discussed pictures while he painted. Later he walked with her to the Broadway, saw her into a ’bus and said ‘Good-bye,’ without so much as an exchange of names.
‘Even if she were a whore,’ I said, ‘it’s a pity your curiosity was so sluggish. You should have seen her home, even if you did not go home with her. Young man, you preferred to let go of authentic life at Hammersmith Broadway, so as to return at once to vour precious water-colour painting.’
‘Perhaps,’ replied he enigmatically.
‘Whatever you do, if ever you meet her again,’ I rejoined, ‘don’t introduce her to that abominable ——. He is abominably handsome, and I hate him for it. To all his other distinctions he is welcome — parentage, money, success, but I can never forgive him his good looks and the inevitable marriage to some beautiful fair-skinned woman.’
R. (reflectively): ‘Up to now, I was inclined to think that envy as a passion did not exist.’
‘Have you none?’
‘Not much,’ he answered, and I believe it.
‘Smug wretch, then. All I can say is, I may have instincts and passions but I am not a pale water-colour artist. . . . What’s the matter with you,’ I foamed, ‘is that you like pictures. If I showed you a real woman, you would exclaim contemplatively, “How lovely;” then putting out one hand to touch her, unsuspectingly, you’d scream aghast, “Oh! it’s alive, I hear it ticking.” “Yes, my boy,” I’d answer severely with a flourish, “That is a woman’s heart."‘
R—— exploded with laughter and then said, ‘A truce to your desire for more life, for actual men and women. . . . I know this that last night I would not have exchanged the quiet armchair reading the last chapter of Dostoievsky’s The Possessed for a Balaclava Charge.’
‘A matter of temperament, I suppose,’ I reflected, in cold detachment. ‘You see, I belong to the raw meat school. You prefer life cooked for you in a book. You prefer the confectioner’s shop to cutting down the wheat with your own scythe.’
July 26, 1914
The B. M. is a ghastly hole. They will give me none of the apparatus I require. If you ask the Trustees for a thousand pounds for the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts they say, ‘Yes.’ If you ask for twenty pounds for a new microscope they say, ‘No, but we’ll cut off your nose with a big pair of scissors.’
July 27, 1914
To a pedantic prosy little old maid who was working in my room this morning, I exclaimed,—
‘I’d sooner make a good dissection than go to a Lord Mayor’s Banquet. Turtle Soup ain’t in it.’
She was uninspired, and said, ‘Oom,’ and went on pinning insects. Then more brightly, and with great punctilio in the pronunciation of her words, having cleared her throat and drawn herself up with great deliberation to deliver herself of a remark, she volunteered,—
‘I whish I had nevah taken up such a brittle grooop as the Stones (Stoneflies). One dare not loook at a Stone.’
Poor dear little old maid. This was my turn to say ‘Oom.’
‘Pretty dismal work,’ I added ambiguously. Then with malice aforethought I whistled a Harry Lauder tune, asked her if she had ever heard Willie Solar sing, ‘You made me love you,’ and then absent-mindedly and in succession inquired,—
‘What’s become of all the gold?’
‘What’s become of Waring?’
‘What shall I sing when all is sung?’
To which several categorical interrogations she ventured no reply, but presently in the usual voice,—
‘I have placed an Agrionine in this drawer for security and, now I want it, cannot find it.’
‘Life is like that,’ I said. ‘I never can find my Agrionines!’
August 1, 1914
All Europe is mobilising.
August 2, 1914
Will England join in?
August 12, 1914
We all await the result of a battle between two millions of men. The tension makes me feel physically sick.
August 21 — August 24
In bed with a fever. I never visit the flat now, but her mother kindly came over to see me.
September 25, 1914
[Living now in rooms alone.]
I have — since my return from Cornwall — placed all my journals in a specially made cabinet. R—— came to dinner and after a glass or so of Beaune and a cigarette, I open my ‘coffin’1 (it is a long box with a brass handle at each end), and with some show of deliberation select a volume to read to him, drawing it from its division with lavish punctiliousness, and inquiring with an oily voice, ‘A little of 1912?’ as if we were trying wines. R—— grins at the little farce and so encourages me.
September 26, 1914
Doctor’s Consulting Rooms — my life has been spent in them! Medical specialists — Harley Street men — I have seen four and all to no purpose. M—— wrote me the other day,—
‘Come along and see me on Tuesday; some day I dare say we shall find something we can patch.’
He regards me with the most obvious commiseration and always when I come away after a visit he shakes me warmly by the hand and says, ‘Good-bye, old man, and good luck.’ More luck than the pharmacopœia.
My life has always been a continuous struggle with ill-health and ambition, and I have mastered neither. I try to reassure myself that this accursed ill-health will not affect my career. I keep flogging my will in the hope of winning thro’ in the end. Yet at the back of my mind there is the great improbability that I shall ever live long enough to realise myself. For a long time past my hope has simply been to last long enough to convince others of what I might have done — had I lived. That will be something. But even to do that I will not allow that I have overmuch time. I have never at any time lived with any sense of security. I have never felt permanently settled in this life — nothing more than a shadowy locum tenens, a wraith, a festoon of mist likely to disappear any moment.
At times, when I am vividly conscious of the insecurity of my tenure here, my desires enter on a mad race to obtain fulfilment before it is too late . . . and as fulfilment recedes ambition obsesses me the more. I am daily occupied in calculating with my ill-health: trying to circumvent it, to carry on in spite of all. I conquer each day. Every week is a victory. I am always surprised that my health or will has not collapsed, that, by Jove! I am still working and still living.
One day it looks like appendicitis, another stoppage, another threatened blindness, or I develop a cough and am menaced with consumption. So I go on in a hurricane of bad dreams. I struggle like Laocoon with the serpents — the serpents of nervous depression that press around the heart tighter than I care to admit. I must use every kind of blandishment to convince myself that my life and my work are worth while. Frequently I must smother and kill (and it calls for prompt action) the shrill voice that cries from the tiniest corner of my heart, ‘Are you quite sure you are such an important fellow as you imagine?’ Or I fret over the condition of my brain, finding that I forget what I read, I lose in acuteness of my perceptions. My brain is a tumefaction. But I won’t give in. I go on trying to recollect what I have forgotten, I harry my brain all day to recall a word or name, I attack other folk importunately. I write things down so as to look them up in reference books — I am always looking up the things I remember I have forgotten. . . .
There is another struggle, too, that often engrosses all my energies. . . . It is a horrible thing that with so large an ambition, so great a love of life, I should nevertheless court disaster like this. Truly Sir Thomas Browne you say, ‘Every man is his own Atropos.’
In short, I lead an unfathomably miserable existence in this dark, gray street, in these drab, dirty rooms — miserable in its emptiness of home, love, human society. Now that I never visit the flat, I visit about two houses in London — the Doctor’s and R——’s Hotel. I walk along the streets and stare in the windows of private houses, hungry for a little society. It creates in me a gnawing, rancorous discontent to be seeing people everywhere in London — millions of them — and then to realise my own ridiculously circumscribed knowledge of them. I am passionately eager to have acquaintances, to possess at least a few friends. If I die to-morrow, how many persons shall I have talked to? or how many men and women shall I have known? A few maiden aunts and one or two old fossils. I am burning to meet real live men, I have masses of mental stuff I am anxious to unload. But I am ignorant of people as of countries and live in celestial isolation.
This, I fear, reads like a wail of self-commiseration. But I am trying to give myself the pleasure of describing myself at this period truthfully, to make a bid at least for some posthumous sympathy. Therefore it shall be told that I who am capable of passionate love am sexually starved, and endure the pangs of a fiendish solitude in rooms, with an ugly landlady’s face when . . . I despair of ever finding a woman to love. I never meet women of my own class, and am unprepossessing in appearance and yet I fancy that once my reserve is melted I am not without attractions. ‘He grows on you,’ a girl said of me once. But I am hypercritical and hyperfastidious. I want too much. . . . I search daily in the streets with a starved and hungry look. What a horrible and powerful and hateful thing this love instinct is! I hate it, hate it, hate it. It will not let me rest. I wish I were a eunuch.
‘There’s a beautiful young thing,’ R—— and I say to one another sardonically, hoping thereby to conceal the canker within.
I could gnash my teeth and weep in anger — baulked, frustrated as I am at almost every turn of life — in my profession, in my literary efforts, and in my love of man and woman kind. I would utter a whole commination service in my present state of mind.
October 7, 1914
To me woman is the wonderful fact of existence. If there be any next world and it be as I hope it is, a jolly gossiping place, with people standing around the mantelpiece and discussing their earthly experiences, I shall thump my fist on the table as my friends turn to me on entering and exclaim in a loud voice, ‘WOMAN.’
October 11, 1914
Since I grew up I have wept three times. The first time they were tears of exasperation. Dad and I were sitting down side by side after a wordy combat in which he had remained adamant and I was forced both by conscience and argument to give in, to relinquish my dissections, and go off to some inquest on a drowning fatality. The second time was when Mother died, and the third was to-day. But I am calm now. To-day they were tears of remorse. . . .
On occasion bald confession in this Journal is sweet for the soul and strengthens it. It gives me a kind of false backbone to communicate my secrets: for I am determined that some day some one shall know. If God really intervenes in our affairs, here is an opportunity. Let Him save me. I challenge Him to save me from perishing in this ditch. . . . It is not often I am cornered into praying but I did this morning, for I feel defeated this day, and almost inarticulate in my misery.
Nietzsche in a newspaper I read to-day: ‘For myself I have felt exceptionally blest having Hell’s phantoms inside me to thrust at in the dark, intemal enemies to dominate till I felt myself an ecstatic victor, wrenching at last good triumphant joys thro’ the bars of my own sickness and weakness — joys with which your notions of happiness, poor sleek smug creatures, cannot compare! You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star.’
But Nietzsche is no consolation to a man who has once been weak enough to be brought to his knees. There I am and there I think I have prayed a little somehow to-day. But it’s all in desperation, not in faith. Internal chaos I have, but no dancing star. Dancing stars are the consolation of genius.
October 12, 1914
Am better to-day. My better self is convinced that it is silly and small-minded to think so much about my own puny destiny — especially at times like these when — God love us all — there is a column of casualties each day. The great thing to be thankful for is that I am alive and alive now, that I was alive yesterday, and even may be to-morrow. Surely that is thrilling enough. What, then, have I to complain of? I’m a lucky dog to be alive at all. My plight is bad, but there are others in a worse one. I’m going to be brave and fight on the side of Nietzsche. Who knows but that one day the dancing star may yet be born!
October 13, 1914
Spent the evening in my lodgings struggling with my will. Too flabby to work, disinclined to read, a dreadful vague unrest possessing me. I couldn’t sit still in my chair, so walked around the table continuously like a squirrel in a cage. I wanted to be going out somewhere, talking to some one, to be among human beings.
Many an evening during the past few months, I have got up and gone down the road to look across at the windows of the flat, to see if there were a red light behind the curtains, and, if so, wonder if she were there, and how she was. My pride would never allow me to visit there again on my own initiative. K—— has managed to bring about a rapprochement but I go very seldom. Pride again.
I wanted to do so to-night. I thought I would just go down the road to look up at the windows. That seemed to be some comfort. Why do I wish to do this? I do not know. From a mere inspection one would say that I am in love. But remember I am also ill. Three times to-night I nearly put on my boots and went down to have a look up! What ridiculous weakness! Yet this room can be a frightful prison. Shall I? I cannot decide. I see her figure constantly before me — gentle, graceful, calm, stretching forth both hands and to me. . . .
Seized a pack of cards and played Patience and went on playing Patience because I was afraid to stop. Given a weak constitution, a great ambition, an amorous nature, and at the same time a very fastidious one, I might have known I was in for trouble.
October 14, 1914
Some time ago I noticed a quotation from one Marie Bashkirtseff in a book on Strindberg. and was struck with the likeness to a sentiment of my own. Who are you? I wondered.
This evening went to the Library and read about her in Mathilde Blind’s introductory essay to her Journal. I am simply astounded. It would be difficult in all the world’s history to discover any two persons with temperaments so alike. She is the ‘very spit of me’! I devoured Mathilde Blind’s pages more and more astonished. We are identical! Oh, Marie Bashkirtseff! how we should have hated one another! She feels as I feel. We have the same self-absorption, the same vanity and corroding ambition. She is impressionable, volatile, passionate — ill! So am I. Her journal is my journal. All mine is stale reading now. She has written down all my thoughts and forestalled me! Already I have found some heartrending parallels. To think I am only a replica: how humiliating for a human being to find himself merely a duplicate of another. Is there anything in the transmigration of souls? She died in 1886. I was born in 1889.
October 15, 1914
A man is always looking at himself in the mirror if for no other reason than to tie his tie and brush his hair. What does he think of his face? He must have private opinions. But it is usually considered a little out of taste to entertain opinions about one’s personal appearance.
As for myself, some mirrors do me down pretty well, others depress me! I am bound to confess I am biassed in favour of the friendly mirror. I am not handsome, but I look interesting — I hope distinguished. My eyes are deep-set . . . but my worst moments are when the barber combs my hair right down over my forehead, or when I see a really handsome man in Hyde Park. Such occasions direct my gaze reflexly, and doubt like a thief in the night forces the back door!
To-day, M—— sent me dancing mad by suggesting that I copied R—— in my manner of speech and opinions. Now R—— has a damned pervasive way of conducting himself — for all the world as if he were a high official of the Foreign Office. I, on the contrary, am shy, self-conscious, easily overlooked, and this makes me writhe. As we are inseparable friends — everybody assumes that I am his tacky-lacky, a kind of appoggiatura to his big note. He, they suppose, is my guide, philosopher, and Great Mæcenas — Oxford befriending the proletariat. The thought of it makes me sick — that any one should believe I imbibe his ideas, echo his conceits, and even ape his gestures and manner of voice.
‘Lost yourself?’ inquired a despicable creature the other morning as I came out of R——’s room after finding him out. I could have shot him dead! . . . As for —— more than one person thinks that he alone is the brilliant author until at last he himself has got into the way of thinking it.
‘It makes me hate you like mad,’ I said to him to-day. ‘How can I confront these people with the naked truth?’
R—— chuckled complacently.
‘If I deny your alleged supremacy, as I did this morning, or if suddenly, in a fit of spleen, I’m induced to declare that I loathe you (as I sometimes do)’ —(more chuckles)— ‘that your breath stinks, your eyes bulge, that you have swollen jugulars and a platter face: they will think I am either jealous or insincere. . . . To be your Echo tho’!— my God!’ I spat. We then grinned at one another, and I, being bored, went to the lavatory and read the newspaper secure from interruption.
In the Tube, a young widow came in and sat in front of me — pale-faced, grief-stricken, demure — a sort of ‘Thy Will be Done’ look. The adaptability of human beings has something in it that seems horrible. It is dreadful to think how we have all accommodated ourselves to this War. Christian resignation is a feeble thing. Why won’t this demure widow with a loud voice blaspheme against this iniquitous world that permits this iniquitous war?
October 21, 1914
I myself (licking a stamp): ‘The taste of gum is really very nice.’
R.: ‘I hate it.’
I: ‘My dear fellow’ (surprised and entreating), ‘envelope gum is simply delicious.’
R.: ‘I never lick stamps — it’s dangerous — microbes.”
I: ‘I always do: I shall buy a bookful and go away to the seaside with them.’
R.: ‘Yes, you’ll need to.’
Thus gaily and jauntily we went on to discuss wines, whiskies, and Worthington’s, and I rounded it up in a typical cock-eyed manner,—
‘Ah! yes, it’s only when the day is over that the day really begins — what?’
October 23, 1914
I expressed to R—— to-day my admiration for the exploit of the brave and successful Submarine Commander Max Kennedy Horton. (Name for you!) R—— was rather cold. ‘His exploits,’ said this bloody fool, ‘involve loss of life and scarcely make me deliriously eulogistic.’
I cleared my throat and began,—
‘Your precious sociology again — it will be the ruin of your career as an artist. It is so interwoven into the fibre of your brain that you never see anything except in relation to its State value. You are afraid to approve of a lying, thieving rogue, however delightful a rascal he may be, for fear of what Karl Marx might say. . . . You’ll soon be drawing landscapes with taxpayers in the foreground, or we shall get a picture of Ben Nevis with Keir Hardie on the summit.’ And so on to our own infinite mutual amusement.
The English Review returns my Essay. I am getting simply furious with an ambition I am unable to satisfy, among beautiful London women I cannot get to know, and in ill-health that I cannot cure. Shall I ever find any one? Shall I ever be really well? My one solace is that I do not submit, it infuriates me, I resent it; I will never be resigned and milky. I will keep my claws sharp and fight to the end.
October 24, 1914
Went to Mark Lane by train, then walked over the Tower Bridge, and back along Lower Thames Street to London Bridge, up to Whitechapel, St Paul’s, Fleet Street, and Charing Cross, and so home.
Near Reilly’s Tavern, I saw a pavement artist who had drawn a loaf with the inscription in both French and English: ‘This is easy to draw but hard to earn.’ A baby’s funeral trotted briskly over the Tower Bridge among Pink’s jam waggons, carts carrying any goods from lead pencils and matches to bales of cotton and chests of tea.
In the St Catherine’s Way there is one part like a deep railway cutting, the whole of one side for a long way, consisting of the brickwall of a very tall warehouse with no windows in it and beautifully curved and producing a wonderful effect. Walked past great blocks of warehouses and business establishments — a wonderful sight; and everywhere bacon factors, coffee roasters, merchants. On London Bridge, paused to feed the sea-gulls and looked down at the stevedores. Outside Billingsgate Market was a blackboard on an easel — for market prices — but instead some one had drawn an enormously enlarged chalk picture of a cat’s rear and tail with anatomical details.
In Aldgate, stopped to inspect a street stall containing popular literature — one brochure entitled Suspended for Life to indicate the terrible punishment meted out to ——, a League footballer. The frontispiece enough to make a lump come in the juveniles’ throats! Another stall held domestic utensils with an intimation, ‘Anything on this stall lent for 1d.’ A newsvendor I heard exclaim to a fellow-tradesman in the same line of business,—
‘They come and look at your bloody plakaard and then parsse on.’
Loitered at a dirty little Fleet Street bookshop where Paul de Kock’s The Lady with the Three Pairs of Stays was displayed prominently beside a picture of Oscar Wilde.
In Fleet Street, you exchange the Whitechapel sausage restaurants for Taverns with ‘snacks at the bar,’ and the chestnut roasters, with their buckets of red-hot coals, for Grub Street camp followers, selling L’Indépendance Belge or pamphlets entitled, Why We Went to War.
In the Strand you may buy war maps, buttonhole flags, etc., etc. I bought a penny stud. One shop was turned into a shooting gallery at three shots a penny where the Inner Temple Barristers in between the case for the defence and the case for the prosecution could come and keep their eye in against the time the Germans come.
Outside Charing Cross Station I saw a good-looking, well-dressed woman in mourning clothes, grinding a barrel organ. . . .
Returned to the Library and read the Dublin Review (article on Samuel Butler), North American Review (one on Henry James) and dined at seven. After dinner, read: Evening Standard, Saturday Westminster, and the New Statesman. Smoked six cigarettes and went to bed. To-morrow Fifth Symphony of Beethoven.
October 25, 1914
Yesterday’s ramble has left me very sore in spirit. London was spread out before me, a vast campagne. But I felt too physically tired to explore. I could just amble along — a spectator merely — and automatically register impressions. Think of the misery of that! I want to see the Docks and Dockland, to enter East End public-houses and opium-dens, to speak to Chinamen and Lascars: I want a first-rate, first-hand knowledge of London, of London men, London women. I was tingling with anticipation yesterday and then I grew tired and fretful and morose, crawled back like a weevil into my nut. By 6.30 I was in a Library reading the Dublin Review!
What a young fool I was to neglect those priceless opportunities of studying and tasting life and character in North ——, at Borough Council meetings, Boards of Guardians, and electioneering campaigns — not to mention inquests, police courts, and country fairs. Instead of appraising all these precious and genuine pieces of experience at their true value, my diary and my mind were occupied only with — Zoology, if you please. I ignored my exquisite chances, I ramped around, fuming and fretting, full of contempt for my circumscribed existence, and impatient as only a youth can be. What I shall never forgive myself is my present inability to recall that life, so that instead of being able now to push my chair back and entertain myself and others with descriptions of some of those antique and incredible happenings, my memory is rigid and formal: I remember only a few names and one or two isolated events. All that time is just as if it had never been. My recollections form only an indefinite smudge — odd Town Clerks, Town Criers (at least five of them in wonderful garb), policemen (I poached with one), ploughing match dinners (platters of roast beef and boiled potatoes and I, bespectacled student of Zoology, sitting uncomfortably among valiant trenchermen after their day’s ploughing), election meetings in remote Exmoor villages (and those wonderful Inns where I had to spend the night!)— all are gone — too remote to bear recital — yet just sufficiently clear to harass the mind in my constant endeavours to raise them all again from the dead in my consciousness. I hate to think it is lost; that my youth is buried — a cemetery without even headstones. To an inquest on a drowned sailor — disclosing some thrilling story of the wild seas off the coast — with a pitiful myopia — I preferred Wiedersheim’s Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates. I used to carry Dr Smith Woodward’s Paleontology with me to a Board of Guardians meeting, mingling Pariasaurus and Holoptychians with tenders for repairs and reports from the Master. Now I take Keats or Tchehov to the Museum!
London certainly lies before me. Certainly I am alive at last. Yet now my energy is gone. It is too late. I am ill and tired. It costs me infinite discomfort to write this entry, all the skin of my right hand is permanently ‘pins and needles’ and in the finger tips I have lost all sense of touch. The sight of my right eye is also very bad and sometimes I can scarcely read print with it, etc., etc. But why should I go on?
A trance-like condition supervenes in a semi-invalid forced to live in almost complete social isolation in a great whirling city like London. Days of routine follow each other as swiftly as the weaver’s shuttle and numb the spirit and turn palpitating life into a silent picture show. Everywhere always in the street people — millions of them — whom I do not know, moving swiftly along. I look and look and yawn and then one day as to-day I wake up and race about beside myself — a swollen bag ready to burst with hope, love, misery, joy, desperation.
Apologia pro vita mea
How may I excuse myself for continuing to talk about my affairs and for continuing to write zoological memoirs during the greatest War of all time?
Well, here are some precedents:—
Goethe sat down to study the geography of China, while his fatherland agonised at Leipsig.
Hegel wrote the last lines of the Phenomenology of Spirit within sound of the guns of Jena.
While England was being rent in twain by civil war, Sir Thomas Browne ensconced in old Norwich, reflected on Cambyses and Pharaoh and on the song the Sirens sang.
Lacépède composed his Histoire des Poissons during the French Revolution.
Then there were Diogenes and Archimedes.
This defence of course implicates me in an unbounded opinion of the importance of my own work. ‘He is quite the little poet,’ some one said of Keats. ‘It is just as if a man remarked of Buonaparte,’ said Keats, in a pet, ‘that he’s quite the little general.’
A Woman and a Child
On the way to the Albert Hall came upon the most beautiful picture of young maternity that ever I saw in my life. She was a delightfully girlish young creature — a perfect phoenix of health and beauty. As she stood with her little son at the kerb waiting for a ’bus, smiling and chatting to him, a luminous radiance of happy, satisfied maternal love, maternal pride, womanliness streamed from her and enveloped me.
We got on the same ’bus. The little boy, with his long hair and dressed in velvet like little Lord Fauntleroy, said something to her — she smiled delightedly, caught him up on her knees and kissed him. Two such pretty people never touched lips before — I’m certain of it. It was impossible to believe that this virginal creature was a mother — childbirth left no trace. She must have just budded off the baby boy like a plant. Once, in her glance, she took me in her purview, and I knew she knew I was watching her. In travelling backwards from Kensington Gardens to the boy again, her gaze rested on me a moment and I, of course, rendered the homage that was due. As a matter of fact there was no direct evidence that she was the mother at all.
The Albert Hall Hag
While waiting outside the Albert Hall, an extraordinarily weird contrast thrust itself before me — she was the most pathetic piece of human jetsam that ever I saw drifting about in this sea of London faces. Tall, gaunt, cadaverous, the skin of her face drawn tightly over her cheekbones and over a thin, pointed, hook-shaped nose, on her feet brown sandshoes, dressed in a long draggle-tailed skirt, a broken-brimmed straw hat, beneath which some scanty hair was scraped back and tied behind in a knot — this wretched soul of some thirty summers (and what summers!) stood in the road beside the waiting queue and weakly passed the bow across her violin which emitted a slight scraping sound. She could not play a tune and the fingers of her left hand never touched the strings — they merely held the handle.
A policeman passed and, with an eye on the queue, muttered audibly, ‘Not ’arf,’ but no one laughed. Then she began to rummage in her skirt, holding the violin by the neck in her right hand just as she must hold her brat by the arm when at home. Simultaneously sounds issued from her mouth in a high falsetto key; they were unearthly sounds, the tiny voice of an articulating corpse underneath the coffin lid. For a moment no one realised that she was reciting. For she continued to rummage in her skirt as she squeaked, ‘Break, break, break, on thy cold gray stones, O sea,’ etc. The words were scarcely audible tho’ she stood but two yards off. But she repeated the verse and I then made out what it was. She seemed ashamed of herself and of her plight, almost without the courage to foist this mockery of violin-playing on us — one would say she was frightened by her own ugliness and her own pathos.
After conscientiously carrying out her programme but with the distracted, uncomfortable air of some one scurrying over a painful task — like a tired child gabbling its prayers before getting into bed — she at length produced from her skirt pocket a small canvas money bag which she started to hand around. This was the climax to this harrowing incident — for each time she held out the bag, she smiled, which stretched the skin still more tightly down over her malar prominence and said something — an inarticulate noise in a very high pitch. ‘A woman,’ I whispered to R——, ‘she claims to be a woman.’ If any one hesitated a moment or struggled with a purse she would wait patiently with bag outstretched and head turned away, the smile vanishing at once as if the pinched face were but too glad of the opportunity of a rest from smiling. She stood there, gazing absently — two lifeless eyes at the bottom of deep socket holes in a head which was almost a bare skull. She was perfunctorily carrying out an objectionable task because she could not kill the will to live.
As she looked away and waited for you to produce the copper, she thought, ‘Why trouble? Why should I wait for this man’s aid?’ The clink of the penny recalled her to herself, and she passed on, renewing her terrible grimacing smile.
Why didn’t I do something? Why? Because I was bent on hearing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, if you please. . . . And she may have been a well-to-do vagrant — well got up for the occasion — a clever simulator? . . .
October 28, 1914
Rigor bordis!— I write like this as if it were a light matter. But to-night I was in extremis. . . . First I read the paper; then I finished the book I was reading — ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra.’ Not knowing quite what next to do, I took my boots off and poured out another cup of coffee. But these manoeuvres were only the feeble attempts of a cowardly wretch to evade the main issue which was:—
How to occupy myself and keep myself sane during the hour and a half before bedtime.
Before now I have tried going off to bed. But that does not work — I don’t sleep. Moreover, I have been in the grip of a horrible mental unrest. To sit still in my chair, much less to lie in bed doing nothing seemed ghastly. I experienced all the cravings of a dissolute neurotic for a stimulus, but what stimulus I wanted I did not know. Had I known I should have gone and got it. The dipsomaniac was a man to be envied.
Some mechanical means were necessary for sustaining life till bedtime. I sat down and played a game of Patience — no one knows how I loathe playing Patience and how much I despise the people who play it. Tiring of that, sat back in my chair, yawned, and thought of a word I wanted to look up in the Dictionary. This quest, forgotten until then, came like a beam of bright light into a dark room. So looked the word up leisurely, took out my watch, noted the time, and then stood up with elbows on the mantelpiece and stared at myself in the glass. . . . I was at bay at last. There was simply nothing I could do. I would have given worlds to have some one to talk to. Pride kept me from ringing for the landlady. I must stand motionless, back to the wall, and wait for the hour of my release. I had but one idea, viz., that I was surely beaten in this game of life. I was very miserable indeed. But being so miserable that I couldn’t feel more so, I began to recover after a while. I began to visualise my lamentable situation, and rose above it as I did so. I staged it before my mind’s eye and observed myself as hero of the plot. I saw myself sitting in a dirty armchair in a dirty house in a dirty London street, with the landlady’s dirty daughter below-stairs singing, ‘Little Grey Home in the West,’ my head obscured in a cloud of depression, and in my mind the thought that if life be a test of endurance I must hang on grimly to the arms of the chair and sit tight till bedtime.
This attitude proved a useful means of self-defence. When I had dramatised my misery, I enjoyed it, and acute mental pain turned into merely æsthetic malaise.
November 4, 1914
A lurid day. Suffering from the most horrible physical languor. Wrote the Doctor saying I was rapidly sliding down a steep place into the sea (like the swine I am). Could I see him?
Endured an hour’s torture of indecision to-night asking myself whether I should go over to ask her to be my wife or should I go to the Fabian Society and hear Bernard Shaw. Kept putting off the decision even till after dinner. If I went to the flat, I must shave; to shave required hot water — the landlady had already cleared the table and was rapidly retreating. Something must be done and at once. I called the old thing back impulsively and ordered shaving water, consoling myself with the reflection that it was still unnecessary to decide; the hot water could be at hand in case the worst happened. If I decided on matrimony I could shave forthwith. Should I? (After dark I always shave in the sitting-room because of the better gaslight.)
Drank some coffee and next found myself slowly, mournfully putting on hat and coat. You can’t shave in hat and coat so I concluded I had decided on Shaw. Slowly undid the front door latch and went off.
Shaw bored me. He is mid-Victorian. Sat beside a bulgy-eyed youth reading the Freethinker.
November 9, 1914
In the evening asked her to be my wife. She refused. Once perhaps. . . but now . .
I don’t think I have any moral right to propose to any woman seeing the state of my health and I did not actually intend or wish to. . . . It was just to get it off my mind — a plain statement. . . . If I don’t really and truly love her it was a perfectly heartless comedy. But I have good reason to believe I do. With me, moments of headstrong passion alternate with moods of perfectly immobile self-introspection. It is a relief to have spoken.
November 10, 1914
Very miserable. Asked R—— three times to come and have dinner with me. Each time he refused. My nerves are completely jangled. Tu l’as voulu, George Dandin — that’s the rub.
November 11, 1914
She observed me carefully — I’m looking a perfect wreck — tu l’as voulu, George Dandin — but it’s mainly ill-health and not on her account.
‘Some things are too funny to laugh at.’
‘Is that why you are so solemn?’
‘No,’ I answered, ‘I’m not solemn, I am laughing — some things are too solemn to be serious about.’
She saw me off at the door and smiled quietly — an amused faraway smile of feline satisfaction. . . .
November 12, 1914
Horrible nervous depression. Thinking of suicide with a pistol — a Browning. Or of 10 days’ mysterious disappearance, when I will go and live in a good Hotel, spend all my money, and live among human beings with eyes and noses and legs. This isolation. Am I going mad? If I disappeared, it would be interesting to see if any one missed me.
November 13, 1914
Still thinking of suicide. It seems the only way out. This morning my Essay was returned by the Editor of ——. One by one I have been divested of all my most cherished illusions. Once my ambitions gave me the fuel with which to keep myself alive. One after another they have been foiled, and now I’ve nothing to burn. I am daily facing the fact that my ambitions have overtaxed my abilities and health. For years, my whole existence has rested on a false estimate of my own value, and my life been revolving around a foolish self-deception. But I know myself as I am at last — and am not at all enamoured. The future has nothing for me. I am wearied of my life already. What is there for any of us to do but die?
November 14, 1914
Before going over to-night bought London Opinion deliberately in order to find a joke or better still some cynicism about women to fire off at her. Rehearsed one joke, one witticism from Oscar Wilde, and one personal anecdote (the latter for the most part false), none of which came off, tho’ I succeeded in carrying off a nonchalant or even jaunty bearing.
‘Don’t you ever swear?’ I asked. ‘It’s a good thing, you know, swearing is like pimples, better to come out, cleanses the moral system. The person who controls himself must have lots of terrible oaths circulating in his blood.’
‘Swearing is not the only remedy.’
‘I suppose you prefer the gilded pill of a curate’s sermon: I prefer pimples to pills.’
Is it a wonder she does not love me?
I wonder why I paint myself in such horrid colours — why have I this morbid pleasure in pretending to those I love that I am a beast and a cynic? I suffer, I suppose, from a lacerated self-esteem, from a painful loneliness, from the consciousness of how ridiculous I have made myself, and that most people if they knew would regard me with loathing and disgust.
I am very unhappy. I am unhappy because she does not care for me, and I am chiefly unhappy because I do not care for her. Instead of a passion, only a dragging heavy chain of attraction . . . some inflexible law makes me gravitate to her, seizes me by the neck and suspends me over her, I cannot look away. . . .
In the early days when I did my best to strangle my love — as one would a bastard child — I took courage in the fact that for a man like me the murder was necessary. There were books to write and to read, and name and fame perhaps. To these everything must be sacrificed. . . . That is all gone now. No man could have withstood for ever that concentrated essence of womanhood that flowed from her. . . .
Still the declaration has made amends. She is pleased about it — it is a scalp.
Yet how can I forgive her for saying she supposed it was a natural instinct for a girl not to feel drawn to an invalid like me? That was cruel tho’ true.
November 19, 1914
I might be Captain Scott writing his last words amid Antarctic cold and desolation. It is very cold. I am sitting hunched up by the fire in my lodgings after a meal of tough meat and cold apple-tart. I am full of self-commiseration — my only pleasure now. It is very cold and I cannot get warm — try as I will.
My various nervous derangements take different forms. This time my peripheral circulation is affected, and the hand, arm, and shoulder are permanently cold. My right hand is blue — tho’ I’ve shut up the window and piled up a roaring fire. It’s Antarctic cold and desolation. London in November from the inside of a dingy lodging-house can be very terrible indeed. This celestial isolation will send me out of my mind. I marvel how God can stick it — lonely, damp, and cold in the clouds. That is how I live too — but then I am not God.
I fall back on this Journal just as some other poor devil takes to drink. I, too, have toyed with the idea of drinking hard. I have frequented bars and billiard saloons and in fits of depression done my best to forget myself. But I am not sufficiently fond of alcohol (and it would take a lot to make me forget myself). So I plunge into these literary excesses and drown my sorrows in Stephens’ Blue-black Ink. It gives me a sulky pleasure to think that some day somebody will know . . .
It is humiliating to feel ill as I do. If I had consumption, the disease would act as a stimulus — I could strike an attitude feverishly and be histrionic. But to be merely ‘below par’ —to feel like a Bunny rabbit perennially ‘poorly,’ saps my character and mental vigour. I want to crawl away and die like a rat in a hole. A bronzed healthy man makes me wince. Healthy people regard a chronic sickly man as a leper. They suspect him, something fishy.
November 20, 1914
Still at home ill.
If anything, R—— is more of a précieux than I am myself. At the present moment he is tickling himself with the idea that he’s in love with a certain golden-haired damsel from the States. He reports to me fragments of his conversations with her, how he snatches a fearful joy by skirting dangerous conversational territory, or he takes a pencil and deftly outlines her profile or the rondeur of her bosom. Or he discourses at length on her nose or eye. I can well imagine him driving a woman crazy and then collecting her tears in a bottle as mementoes. Then whenever he requires a little heart stimulus he could take the phial from his waistcoat pocket and watch the tears condensing.
‘Why don’t you marry her out of hand and be done with all this dalliance? I can tell you what’s the matter with you,’ I growled, ‘you’re a landscape artist. . . . You’ll grow to resemble that mean, Jewy, secretive, petty creature, J. M. W. Turner, and allow no human being to interfere with your art. A fine artist perhaps — but what a man! You’ll finish up with a Mrs Danby.’
‘Yes,’ he answered, quoting Tennyson with great aptness, ‘and “lose my salvation for a sketch,” like Romney deserting his wife. If I were not married I should have no wife to desert.’
It is useless to argue with him. His cosmogony is wrongly centred in Art not life. Life interests him — he can’t altogether resign himself to the cowl and the tonsured head, but he will not plunge. He insists on being a spectator, watching the maelstrom from the bank and remarking exquisitely, ‘Ah! there is a very fine sorrow,’ or, ‘What an exquisite sensation.’ The other day after one of our furious conversational bouts around this subject, I drew an insect, cut it out, and pinned the slip in a collecting box. Then suddenly producing the box, and opening it with a facetious grin, I said,—
‘Here is a jolly little sorrow I caught this morning.’ The joke pleased him and we roared, bellowed.
‘That terrible forefinger of yours,’ he smiled.
‘Like Cardinal Richelieu’s eyes — piercing?’ I suggested with appreciation. (It is because I tap him on his shirt front in the space between waistcoat and tie aggressively for emphasis in conversation.)
“You must regard my passion for painting,’ he began once more, ‘as a sort of dipsomania — I really can’t help myself.’
I jumped on him vehemently,—
‘Exactly, my pernickety friend; it’s something abnormal and unnatural. When, for purposes of self-culture, I see a man deliberately lop off great branches of himself so as to divert his strength into one limb, I know that if he is successful he’ll be something as vulgar as a fat woman at a country fair; and if he is unsuccessful he’ll be just a pathetic mutilation. . . . You are trying to pervert a natural instinct. You want to paint, I believe. Quite so. But when a boy reaches the age of puberty he does not grow a palette on his chin but hair. . . . Still, now you recognise it as a bad habit, why need I say more?’ (’Why indeed?’) ‘It’s a vice, and I’m very sorry for you, old boy. I’ll do all I can — come and have some dinner with me to-night.’
‘Oh! thank you very much,’ says my gentleman, ‘but I’m not at all sorry for myself.’
‘I thought as much. So that we are not so very much agreed after all. We’re not shaking hands after the boxing contest, but scowling at each other from the ropes and shaping for another round.’
‘Your pulpit orations, my dear Barbellion, in full canonicals,’ he reflected, ‘are worthy of a larger audience. . . . To find you of all people preaching. I thought you were philosopher enough to see the angle of every one’s vision and broadminded so as to see every point of view. Besides, you are as afraid of marriage as I am, and for the same reasons.’
‘I confess, when in the philosophic citadel of my own armchair,’ I began, ‘I do see every one’s point of view. You sit on the other side of the rug and put out the suggestion tentatively that murder may be a moral act. I examine your argument and am disposed to accept it. But when you slit up my brother’s abdomen before my eyes, I am sufficiently weak and human to punch you on the nose. . . . You are too cold and Olympian, up above the snowline with a box of paints.’
‘It is very beautiful among the snows.’
‘I suppose so.’
November 23, 1914
Great physical languor, especially in the morning. It is Calvary to get out of bed and shoulder the day’s burden.
‘What’s been the matter?’ they ask.
‘Oh! senile decay — general histolysis of the tissues,’ I say, fencing.
To-night, I looked at myself accidentally in the glass and noticed at once the alarming extent of my dejection. Quite unconsciously I turned my head away and shook it, making the noise with my teeth and tongue which means, ‘Dear, dear.’ M—— tells me these waves of ill-health are quite unaccountable unless I were ‘leading a dissolute life, which you do not appear to be doing.’ Damn his eyes.
Reading Nietzsche. What splendid physic he is to Pomeranian puppies like myself! I am a hopeless coward. Thunderstorms always frighten me. The smallest cut alarms for fear of blood poisoning, and I always dab on antiseptics at once. But Nietzsche makes me feel a perfect mastiff.
The Test for True Love
The test for true love is whether you can endure the thought of cutting your sweetheart’s toe-nails — the onychiotomic test. Or whether you find your Julia’s sweat as sweet as otto of roses. I told her this to-night. Probably she thinks I only ‘saw it in a book.’
On Sunday, went to the Albert Hall, and warmed myself at the Orchestra. It is a wonderful sight to watch an orchestra playing from the gallery. It spurts and flickers like a flame. Its incessant activity arrests the attention and holds it just as a fire does — even a deaf man would be fascinated. Heard Chopin’s Funeral March and other things. It would be a rich experience to be able to be in your coffin at rest and listen to Chopin’s Funeral March being played above you by a string orchestra with Sir Henry Wood conducting.
Sir Henry like a melanic Messiah was crucified as usual, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 causing him the most awful agony. . .
November 28, 1914
More than once lately have been to see and admire Rodin’s recent gifts to the nation exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The ‘Prodigal Son’ is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony done in stone. It was only on my second visit that I noticed the small pebble in each hand — a superb touch!— what a frenzy of remorse!
The ‘Fallen Angel’ I loved most. The legs of the woman droop lifelessly backwards in an intoxicating curve. The eye caresses it — down the thighs and over the calves to the tips of the toes — like the hind limbs of some beautiful dead gazelle. He has brought off exactly the same effect in the woman in the group called ‘Eternal Spring,’ which I have only seen in a photograph.
This morning at 9 a.m. lay in bed on my back, warm and comfortable, and, for the first time for many weeks, with no pain or discomfort of any kind. The mattress curved up around my body and legs and held me in a soft warm embrace. . . . I shut my eyes and whistled the saccharine melody for solo violin in Chopin’s Funeral March. I wanted the moment prolonged for hours. Ill-health chases the soul out of a man. He becomes a body, purely physical.
November 29, 1914
This evening she promised to be my wife after a long silent ramble together thro’ dark London squares and streets! I am beside myself!
December 6, 1914
I know now — I love her with passion. Health and ambition and sanity are returning. Projects in view:—
(1) To make her happy and myself worthy.
(2) To get married.
(3) To prepare and publish a volume of this Journal.
(4) To write two essays for Cornhill which shall surely induce the Editor to publish and not write me merely long complimentary and encouraging letters as heretofore.
Wired to A——, ‘The brave little pennon has been hauled down.’
December 7, 1914
Have so many projects in view and so little time in which to get them done! Moreover I am always haunted by the fear that I may never finish them thro’ physical or temperamental disabilities — a breakdown in health or in purpose. I am one of those who are apt to die unexpectedly and no one would be surprised. An inquest would probably be unnecessary. I badly want to live say another twelve months. Hey! nonny-no! a man’s a fool that wants to die.
December 9, 1914
. . . I shook her angrily by the shoulders to-night and said, ‘Why do I love you?— Tell me,’ but she only smiled gently and said, ‘I cannot tell. . . .’ I ought not to love her, I know — every omen is against it. . . . Then I am full of self-love: an intellectual Malvolio proud of his brains and air of distinction. . . .
Then I am fickle, passionate, polygamous . . . I am haunted by the memory of how I have sloughed off one enthusiasm after another. I used to dissect snails in a pie-dish in the kitchen while Mother baked the cakes — the unravelling of the internal economy of a Helix caused as great an emotional storm as to-day the Unfinished Symphony does! I look for the first parasol in Kensington Gardens with the same interest as once I sought out the first snowdrop or listened for the first Cuckoo. I am as anxious to identify an instrument in Sir Henry’s Orchcstra as once to identify tne song of a new bird in the woods. Nothing is further from my intention or desire to continue my old habit of nature study. I never read nature books —my old favourites — Waterton’s Wanderings, Gilbert White, The Zoologist, etc.—have no interest for me — in fact they give me slight mental nausea even to glance at. Wiedersheim (good old Wiedersheim) is now deposed by a text book on Harmony. My main desire just now is to hear the best music. In the country I wore blinkers and saw only zoology. Now in London, I’ve taken the bit into my mouth — and it’s a mouth of iron — wanting a run for all my troubles before Death strikes me down.
All this evidence of my temperamental instability alarms and distresses me on reflection and makes the soul weary. I wish I loved more steadily. I am always sidetracking myself. The title of ‘husband’ scares me.
December 12, 1914
Sir Henry Wood conducting
Went to the Queen’s Hall, sat in the Orchestra and watched Sir Henry’s statuesque figure conducting thro’ a forest of bows, ‘which pleased me mightily.’ He would be worth watching if you were stone deaf. If you could not hear a sound, the animation and excitement of an orchestra in full swing, with the conductor cutting and slashing at invisible foes, make a magnificent spectacle.
The face of Sir Henry Wood strikes me as very much like the traditional pictures of Jesus Christ, tho’ Sir Henry is dark — the melanic Messiah I call him (very much to my own delight). Rodin ought to do him in stone — Chesterfield’s ideal of a man — a Corinthian edifice on Tuscan foundations. In Sir Henry’s case there can be no disputing the Tuscan foundations. However swift and elegant the movements of his arms, his splendid lower extremities remain as firm as stone columns. While the music is calm and serene his right hand and baton execute in concert with the left, perfect geometric curves around his head. Then as it gathers in force and volume, when the bows begin to dart swiftly across the fiddles and the trumpets and trombones blaze away in a conflagration, we are all expectant — and even a little fearful, to observe his sabre-like cuts. The tension grows . . . I hold my breath. . . . Sir Henry snatches a second to throw back a lock of his hair that has fallen limply across his forehead, then goes on in unrelenting pursuit, cutting and slashing at hordes of invisible fiends that leap howling out towards him. There is a great turmoil of combat, but the Conductor struggles on till the great explosion happens. But in spite of that, you see him still standing thro’ a cloud of great chords, quite undaunted. His sword zigzags up and down the scale — suddenly the closed fist of his left hand shoots up straight and points to the zenith — like the arm of a heathen priest appealing to Baal to bring down fire from Heaven. . . . But the appeal avails nought and it looks as tho’ it were all up for poor Sir Henry. The music is just as infuriated — his body writhes with it — the melanic Messiah crucified by the inappeasable desire to express by visible gestures all that he feels in his heart. He surrenders — so you think — he opens out both arms wide and baring his breast, dares them all to do their worst — like the picture of Moffat the missionary among the savages of the Dark Continent!
And yet he wins after all. At the very last moment he seems to summon all his remaining strength and in one final and devastating sweep mows down the orchestra rank by rank. . . . You awake from the nightmare to discover the victor acknowledging the applause in a series of his inimitable bows.
One ought to pack one’s ears up with cotton wool at a concert where Sir Henry conducts. Otherwise, the music is apt to distract one’s attention. R.L.S. wanted to be at the head of a cavalry charge — sword over head — but I’d rather fight an orchestra with a bâton.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
This symphony always works me up into an ecstasy; in ecstatic sympathy with its dreadfulness I could stand up in the balcony and fling myself down passionately into the arena below. Yet there were women sitting alongside me to-day — knitting! It so annoyed and irritated me that at the end of the first movement I got up and sat elsewhere. They would have sat knitting at the foot of the Cross, I suppose.
At the end of the second movement, two or three other women got up and went home to tea! It would have surprised me no more to have seen a cork extract itself from its bottle and promenade.
Just lately I’ve heard a lot of music including Tschaikovsky’s Pathétique and Fifth Symphonies, some Debussy, and odd pieces by Dnkas, Glinka, Smetana, Mozart. I am chock-full of impressions of all this precious stuff and scarcely know what to write. As usual, the third movement of the Pathetique produced a frenzy of exhilaration; I seemed to put on several inches around my chest and wished to shout in a voice of thunder. The conventions of a public concert hall are dreadfully oppressive at such times. I could have eaten ‘all the elephants of Hindustan and picked my teeth with the spire of Strassburg Cathedral.’
In the last movement of the Fifth Symphony of that splendid fellow Tschaikovsky, the orchestra seemed to gallop away leaving poor Landon Ronald to wave his whip in a ridiculously ineffective way. They went on crashing down chords, and just before the end I had the awful presentiment that the orchestra simply could not stop. I sat still straining every nerve in the expectancy that this chord or the next or the next was the end. But it went on pounding down — each one seemed the last but every time another followed as passionate and emphatic as the one before, until finally, whatever this inhuman orchestra was attempting to crush and destroy must have been reduced to shapeless pulp. I wanted to board the platform and plead with them, elderly gentlemen turned their heads nervously, everyone was breathless, we all wanted to call ‘For God’s sake, stop’ — to do anything to still this awful lust for annihilation. . . . The end came quickly in four drum beats in quick succession. I have never seen such hate, such passionate intensity of the will to destroy. . . . And Tschaikovsky was a Russian!
Debussy was a welcome change. ‘L’Apres-midi d’un Faun’ is a musical setting to an oscitatory exercise. It is an orchestral yawn. Oh! so tired!
Came away thoroughly delighted. Wanted to say to every one ‘Bally good, ain’t it?’ and then we would all shake hands and go home whistling.
December 14, 1914
My rooms are littered with old concert programmes and the Doctor’s prescriptions (in the yellow envelopes of the dispenser) for my various ailments and diseases, and books, books, books.
Among the latter those lying on my table at this moment are —
Plays of M. Brieux.
A Sequel to Pragmatism: The Meaning of Truth, by William James.
Beyond Good and Evil.
Dostoievsky’s The Possessed.
Marie Bashkirtseff’s Journal.
I have found time to read only the first chapter of this last and am almost afraid to go on. It would be so humiliating to find I was only her duplicate.
On my mantelpiece stands a photograph of Huxley — the hero of my youth — which old B—— has always taken to be that of my grandpapa! A plaster-cast mask of Voltaire when first hung up made him chuckle with indecent laughter. ‘A regular all-nighter. Who is it?’ he said.
December 15, 1914
This morning, being Sunday, went to Petticoat Lane and enjoyed myself.
On turning- the corner to go into Middlesex Street, as it is now called, the first thing I saw was a little girl — a Jewess — being tackled for selling Belgian button-hole flags by two policemen who ultimately marched her otf to the police station.
In the Lane, first of all, was a ‘Royal Ascot Jockey Scales’ made of brass and upholstered in gaudy red velvet — a penny a time. A very fat man was being weighed and looked a little distressed on being given his ticket.
‘Another stone,’ he told the crowd mournfully.
You’ll have to eat less pork,’ some one volunteered and we all laughed.
Next door to the Scales was a man selling gyroscopes. ‘Something scientific, amusing as well as instructive, illustrating the principles of gravity and stability. What I show you is what I sell — price one shilling. Who?’
I stopped next at a stall containing nothing but caps — ‘any size, any colour any pattern, a shilling apiece — now then!’ This show was being run by two men — a Jew in a fur cap on one side of the stall and a very powerful-looking sort of Captain Cuttle on the other — a seafaring man, almost as broad as he was long, with a game leg and the voice of a skipper in a hurricane. Both these men were selling caps at a prodigious pace, and with the insouciance of tradesmen sure of their custom. The skipper would seize a cap, chuck it across to a timid prospective purchaser, and, if he dropped it, chuck him over another, crying, with a ‘yo-heave-ho’ boisterousness, ‘Oh! what a game, what a bees’ nest.’
Upon the small head of another customer, he would squash down his largest sized cap saying at once,—
‘There, you look the finest gentleman — oh! ah! a little too large.’
At which we all laughed, the customer looked silly, but took no offence.
‘Try this,’ yells the skipper above the storm, and takes off his own cap. ‘Oh! ye needn’t be afraid — I washed my hair last — year.’ (Laughter.)
Then to. his partner, the Jew on the other side of the stall, ‘Oh! what a face you’ve got. Here! 6d. for any one who can tell me what it is. Why not take it to the trenches and get it smashed in?’
The Jew wore spectacles and had a soft ingratiating voice and brown doe-like eyes — a Jew in every respect. ‘Oh!’ says he, in the oleaginous Semitic way, and accurately taking up his cue (for all this was rehearsed patter), ‘my wife says “my face is my fortune."‘
‘No wonder you’re so hard up and ’ave got to take in lodgers. What’s yer name?’
‘John Jones,’ in a demure wheedling voice.
‘Hoo — that’s not your name in your own bloody country — I expect it’s Hullabullinsky.’
‘Do you know what my name really is?’
‘It’s Assenheimopoplocatdwizlinsky Kovorod.’
‘I shall call you “ass” for short.’
I was laughing loudly at these two clowns and the skipper observing as much, shouted out to me,—
‘Parlez-vous Français, M’sieur?’
‘Oui, oui,’ said I.
‘Ah! lah, you’re one of us — oh! what a game! what a bees’ nest,’ and all the time he went on selling caps and chucking them at the purchasers.
Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things I saw was a stream of young men who, one after another, came up to a stall, paid a penny and swallowed a glass of ‘nerve tonic’ — a green liquid syphoned out of a large jar — warranted a safe cure for
‘Inward weakness, slightest flurry or body oppressed.’
Another man was pulling teeth and selling tooth powder. Some of the little urchins’ teeth, after he had cleaned them as a demonstration, were much whiter than their faces or his. This was ‘the original Chas. Assenheim.’
Mrs Meyers, ‘not connected with any one else of the same name in the Lane’ was selling eels at 2d., 3d. and 6d. and doing a brisk trade too.
But I should go on for hours if I were to tell everything seen in this remarkable lane during an hour and a half on a Sunday morning. Each stall-holder sells only one kind of article — caps or clocks or songs, braces, shawls, indecent literature, concertinas, gramophones, coats, pants, reach-me-downs, epergnes. The thoroughfare was crowded with people (I saw two Lascars in red fez caps) inspecting the goods displayed and attentively observed by numerous policemen. The alarm clocks were all going off, each gramophone was working a record (a different one!) and every tradesman shouting his wares — a perfect pandemonium.
December 31, 1914
‘There is that easily calculable element in your nature, dear boy,’ I said, ‘by which you forego the dignity of a free-willed human being and come under an inflexible natural law. I can anticipate your movements, intentions, and opinions long beforehand. For example. I know quite well that every Saturday morning will see you with The New Statesman under your arm; I know that the words “Wagner” or “Shaw” uttered slowly and deliberately in your ear will produce a perfectly definite reaction.’
‘I bet you can’t predict what I am going to buy now,’ R—— replied gaily, advancing to the newspaper stall. He bought the Pink ’Un and I laughed. . . .
‘And so you read Pragmatism,’ he mused, ‘while the fate of the Empire stands in the balance.’
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and the Paris Academy of Sciences were discussing the functions of θ and the Polymorphism of Antarctic diatoms last September when the Germans stood almost at the gates of Paris.’
This was a lucky stroke for me, for he knew he was rubbing me on the raw. We are, of course, great friends, but sometimes we get on one another’s nerves.
‘I am polychromatic,’ I declaimed, ‘rhetorical, bass. You — besides being a bally fool — are of a pretty gray colour, a baritone and you paint in water-colours.’
‘Whereas you, of course, would paint in blood?’ he answered facetiously.
His Oxford education has a firm hold on him. He says for example ‘e converso’ instead of ‘on the other hand’ and ‘entre nous’ for ‘between ourselves.’ He labels his paragraphs α, β, γ, instead of a, b, c, and quotes Juvenal, knows Paris and Naples, visits the Alps for the winter sports, all in the approved manner of dons.
Not infrequently he visits the East End to study ‘how the poor live,’ he lectures at Toynbee Hall, and calls the proletariat ‘the prolly.’ In fact, he does everything according to the regulations, being a socialist and an agnostic, a follower of Shaw and a devotee of Bunyan. ‘Erotic ‘he is careful to pronounce eròtic to show he knows Greek, and the ‘Duma,’ the Dumà. tho’ he doesn’t know Russian. Like any don, he is always ready to discuss and give an opinion on any sub- supra- or circum-lunary subject from bimetallism to the Symphony as an art-form.
‘That’s a dominant fifth,’ I said to him the other day; no answer.
‘You ignorant devil,’ I said, ‘you don’t know what a dominant fifth is!’
We made grimaces at one another.
‘Who’s the Master of the Mint?’ I asked him. ‘That is an easy one.’
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer,’ was the prompt reply.
‘Oh! that’s right,’ I said sarcastic and crestfallen. ‘Now tell me the shortest verse in the Bible and the date of Rameses II.’
We laughed. R—— is a very clever man and the most extraordinarily versatile man I know. He is bound to make his mark. His danger is — too many irons in the fire. Here are some of his occupations and acquirements: Art (etching, drypoint, water-colours), music (a charming voice), classics, French, German, Italian (both speaking and reading knowledge), biology, etc., etc. He is for ever titillating his mind with some new thing. ‘For God’s sake, do leave it alone — you simply rag your mind to death. Put it out to grass — go thro’ an annual season of complete abstinence from knowledge — an intellectual Lent.’
No one more than he enjoys my ragging him like this —and I do it rather well.
January 1, 1915
I have grown so ridiculously hypercritical and fastidious that I will refuse a man’s invitation to dinner because he has watery blue eyes, or hate him for a mannerism or an impediment or affectation in his speech. Some poor devil who has not heard of Turner or Debussy or Dostoievsky I gird at with the arrogance of a knowledgeable youth of 17. Some oddity who should afford a sane mind endless amusement, I write off as a lusus naturæ and dismiss with a flourish of contempt. My intellectual arrogance — excepting at such times as I become conscious of it and pull myself up — is incredible. It is incredible because I have no personal courage and all this pride boils up behind a timid exterior. I quail often before stupid but overbearing persons who consequently never realise my contempt of them. Then afterwards, I writhe to think I never stood up to this fool; never uttered an appropriate word to interfere with another’s nauseating self-love. It exasperates me to be unable to give a Roland for an Oliver — even servants and underlings ‘tick me off’ — to fail always in sufficient presence of mind to make the satisfying rejoinder or riposte. I suffer from such a savage amour propre that I fear to enter the lists with a man I dislike on account of the mental anguish I should suffer if he worsted me. I am therefore bottled up tight — both my hates and loves. For a coward is not only afraid to tell a man he hates him, but is nervous too of letting go of his feeling of affection or regard lest it be rejected or not returned. I shudder to think of such remarks as (referring to me), ‘He’s one of my admirers, you know’ (sardonically), or, ‘I simply can’t get rid of him.’
If however my cork does come out, there is an explosion, and placid people occasionally marvel to hear violent language streaming from my lips and nasty acid and facetious remarks.
Of course, to intimate friends (only about three persons in the wide, wide world), I can always give free vent to my feelings, and I do so in privacy with that violence in which a weak character usually finds some compensation for his intolerable self-imposed reserve and restraint in public. I can never marvel enough at the ineradicable turpitude of my existence, at my double-facedness, and the remarkable contrast between the face I turn to the outside world and the face my friends know. It’s like leading a double existence or artificially constructing a puppet to dangle before the crowd while I fulminate behind the scenes. If only I had the moral courage to play my part in life — to take the stage and be myself, to enjoy the delightful sensation of making my presence felt, instead of this vapourish mumming — then this Journal would be quite unnecessary. For to me self-expression is a necessity of life, and what cannot be expressed one way must be expressed in another. When colossal egotism is driven underground, whether by a steely surface environment or an unworkable temperament or as in my case by both, you get a truly remarkable result, and the victim a truly remarkable pain — the pain one might say of continuously unsuccessful attempts at parturition.
It is perhaps not the whole explanation to say that my milky affability before, say bores or clods, is sheer personal cowardice. . . . It is partly real affability. I am so glad to have opposite me some one who is making himself pleasant and affable and sympathetic that I forget for the moment that he is an unconscionable time-server, a sycophant, lick-spittle, toady, etc. My first impulse is always to credit folk with being nicer, cleverer, more honest and amiable than they are. Then, on reflection, I discover unpleasing characteristics, I detect their little motives, and hate myself for not speaking. The fellow is intolerable, why did I not tell him so? Bitter recriminations from my critical self upon my flabby amiable half.
On the whole, then, I lead a pretty disgraceful inner life — excepting when I pull myself together and smile benignly on all things with a philosophical smugness, such as is by no means my mood at this present moment. I am so envious that a reprint of one of Romney’s Ramus girls sends me into a dry tearless anger — for the moment till I turn over the next page. . . . Inwardly I was exacerbated this morning when R—— recited, ‘Come and have a tiddle at the old Brown Bear,’ and explained how a charming ‘young person’ sang this at breakfast the other morning. It was simply too charming for him to hear.
To-night as I brushed my hair, I decided I was quite good-looking, and I believe I mused that E—— was really a lucky girl. . . . All that is the matter with me is a colossal conceit and a colossal discontent, qualities exaggerated where a man finds himself in an environment which . . .
You observant people will notice that this explanation is something of a self-defence whereby the virtue goes out of my confession. I plead guilty, but great and unprecedented provocation as well. Intense pride of individuality forbids that I should ever be other than, shall I say, amiably disposed towards myself au fond, however displeased I may be with my environment. It is indeed impossible without sending him to a lunatic asylum ever to knock a man off the balance of his self-esteem. . . . A man’s loyalty to himself is the most pig-headed thing imaginable.
January 2, 1915
The Fire Bogey
‘This Box contains Manuscripts. One guinea will be paid to any one who in case of danger from fire saves it from damage or loss.’
I have had this printed in large black characters on a card, framed and nailed to my ‘coffin’ of Journals. I told the printer first to say Two Guineas, but he suggested that One Guinea was quite enough. I agreed but wondered how the devil he knew what the Journals were worth — nobody knows.
Next month, I expect I shall have a ‘hand’ painted on the wall and pointing towards the box. And the month after that I shall hire a fireman to be on duty night and day standing outside No. 101 in a brass helmet and his hatchet up at the salute.
These precious Journals! Supposing I lost them! I cannot imagine the anguish it would cause me. It would be the death of my real self and as I should take no pleasure in the perpetuation of my flabby, flaccid, anæmic, amiable puppet-self, I should probably commit suicide.
January 7, 1915
Harvey who discovered the circulation of the blood also conducted a great many investigations into the Anatomy and development of insects. But all his MSS. and drawings disappeared in the fortunes of war, and one half of his life work thus disappeared. This makes me feverish, living as I do in Armageddon!
Again, all Malpighi’s pictures, furniture, books and MSS. were destroyed in a lamentable fire at his house in Bononia, occasioned it is said by the negligence of his old wife.
About 1618, Ben Jonson suffered a similar calamity thro’ a fire breaking cut in his study. Many unpublished MSS. perished.
A more modern and more tragic example I found recently in the person of an Australian naturalist Dr Walter Stimpson, who lost all his MSS., drawings, and collections in the great fire of Chicago, and was so excoriated by this irreparable misfortune that he never recovered from the shock, and died the following year a broken man and unknown.
Of course the housemaid who lit the fire with the French Revolution is known to all, as well as Newton’s ‘Fido, Fido, you little know what you have done.’
There are many dangers in preserving the labours of years in MS. form. Samuel Butler (of Erewhon) advised writing in copying ink and then pressing off a second copy to be kept in another and separate locality. My own precautions for these Journals are more elaborate. Those who know about it think I am mad. I wonder. . . . But I dare say I am a pathetic fool — an incredible self-deceiver!
Anyhow — the ‘coffin’ of raw material I sent down to T—— while I retain the two current volumes. This is to avoid Zeppelins. R—— took the ‘coffin’ down for me on her way home from school, and at Taunton, inquisitive porters mistaking it, I suppose, for an infant’s coffin carried it reverently outside the station and laid it down. She caught them looking at it just in time before her train left. Under her instructions they seized it by the brass handles and carried it back again. I sit now and with a good deal of curiosity fondle the idea of porters carrying about my Journals of confession. It’s like being tickled in the palm of the hand. . . . Two volumes of abstracted entries I keep here, and, as soon as I am married, I intend to make a second copy of these. . . . Then all in God’s good time I intend getting a volume ready for publication.
January 10, 1915
To the Queen’s Hall and heard Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies.
Before the concert began I was in a fever. I kept on saying to myself, ‘I am going to hear the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies.’ I regarded myself with the most ridiculous self-adulation — I smoothed and purred over myself — a great contented Tabby cat — and all because I was so splendidly fortunate as to be about to hear Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies.
It certainly upset me a little to find there were so many other people who were singularly fortunate as well, and it upset me still more to find some of them knitting and some reading newspapers as if they waited for sausage and mashed.
How I gloried in the Seventh! I can’t believe there was any one present who gloried in it as I did! To be processing majestically up the steps of a great, an unimaginable palace (in the ‘Staircase’ introduction), led by Sir Henry, is to have had at least a crowded ten minutes of glorious life — a suspicion crossed the mind at one time ‘Good Heavens, they’re going to knight me.’ I cannot say if that were their intentions. But I escaped however . . .
I love the way in which a beautiful melody flits around the Orchestra and its various components like a beautiful bird.
January 19, 1915
An Average Day
After a morning of very mixed emotions and more than one annoyance . . . at last sat down to lunch and a little peace and quiet with R——. We began by quoting verse at one another in open competition. Of course neither of us listened to the other’s verses. We merely enjoyed the pleasure of recollecting and repeating our own. I began with Tom Moore’s ‘Row gently here, my Gondolier.’ R—— guessed the author rightly at once and fidgeted until he burst out with, ‘The Breaths of kissing night and day’ — to me an easy one. I gave, ‘The Moon more indolently sleeps to-night’ (Baudelaire), and in reply he did a great stroke by reciting some of the old French of François Villon which entirely flummuxed me.
I don’t believe we really love each other, but we cling to each other out of ennui and discover in each other a certain cold intellectual sympathy.
At the pay desk (Lyons’ is our rendezvous) we joked with the cashier — a cheerful, fat little girl, who said to R—— (indicating me),—
‘He’s a funny boy, isn’t he?’
‘Dangerous,’ chirped R——, and we laughed. In the street we met an aged, decrepit newsvendor — very dirty and ragged — but his voice was unexpectedly fruity.
‘British Success,’ he called, and we stopped for the sake of the voice.
‘I’m not interested,’ I said — as an appetiser.
‘What! Not . . . Just one, sir: I haven’t sold a single copy yet and I’ve a wife and four children.’
‘That’s nothing to me — I’ve three wives and forty children,’ I remarked.
‘What!’ in affected surprise, turning to R——, ‘he’s Brigham Young from Salt Lake City. Yes I know it — I’ve been there myself and been dry ever since. Give us a drink, sir — just one.’
In consideration of his voice we gave him 2d. and passed on. . . .
After giving a light to a Belgian soldier whose cigarette had gone out, farther along we entered a queer old music shop where they sell flageolets, serpents, clavichords, and harps. We had previously made an appointment with the man to have Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony played to us, so as to recall one or two of the melodies which we can’t recall and it drives us crazy. ‘What is that one in the second movement which goes like this?’ and R—— whistled a fragment. ‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘but let’s go in here and ask.’ In the shop, a youth was kind enough to say that if we cared to call next day, Madame A——, the harp player would be home and would be ready to play us the symphony.
So this morning, before Madame’s appearance, this kind and obliging youth put a gramophone record of it on, to which we listened like two intelligent parrots with heads sideways. Presently, the fat lady harpist appeared and asked us just what we wanted to find out — a rather awkward question for us, as we did not want to ‘find out’ anything excepting how the tunes went.
I therefore explained that as neither of us had sisters or wives, and we both wanted, etc. . . . so would she . . .? In response, she smiled pleasantly and played us the second movement on a shop piano. Meanwhile, Henry the boy, hid himself behind the instruments at the rear of the shop and as we signed to her she would say,—
‘What’s that, Henry?’
And Henry would duly answer from his obscurity, ‘Wood wind,’ or ‘Solo oboe,’ or whatever it was, and the lad really spoke with authority. In this way, I began to find out something about the work. Before I left, I presented her with a copy of the score, which she did not possess and because she would not accept any sort of remuneration.
‘Won’t you put your name on it?’ she inquired.
I pointed gaily to the words ‘Ecce homo,’ which I had scribbled across Schubert’s name and said, ‘There you are.’ Madame smiled incredulously and we said, ‘Good-bye.’
It was a beautifully clement almost springlike day, and at the street corner, in a burst of joyousness, we each bought a bunch of violets off an old woman, stuck them on the ends of our walking-sticks, and marched off with them in triumphant protest to the B. M. Carried over our shoulders, our flowers amused the police and ——, who scarcely realised the significance of the ritual. ‘This is my protest,’ said R——, ‘against the war. It’s like Oscar Wilde’s Sunflower.’
On the way, we were both bitterly disappointed at a dramatic meeting between a man and woman of the artizan class which instead of beginning with a stormy, ‘Robert, where’s the rent, may I ask?’ fizzled out into, ‘Hullo, Charlie, why you are a stranger.’
At tea in the A.B.C. shop, we had a violent discussion on Socialism, and on the station platform, going home, I said that before marriage I intended saving up against the possibility of divorce — a domestic divorce fund.
‘Very dreadful,’ said R—— with mock gravity, ‘to hear a recently affianced young man talk like that.’
. . . What should I do then? Marry? I suppose so. Shadows of the prison-house. At first I said I ought not to marry for two years. Then when I am wildly excited with her I say ‘next week.’ We could. There are no arrangements to be made. All her furniture — flat, etc. But I feel we ought to wait until the War is over.
At dinner-time to-night I was feverish to do three things at once: write out my day’s Journal, eat my food, and read the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff. Did all three — but unfortunately not at once, so that when I was occupied with one I would surreptitiously cast a glance sideways at the other — and repined.
After dinner, paid a visit to the —— and found Mrs —— playing Patience. I told her that 12,000 lives had been lost in the great Italian earthquake. Still going on dealing out the cards, she said in her gentle voice that that was dreadful and still absorbed in her cards inquired if earthquakes had aught to do with the weather.
‘An earthquake must be a dreadful thing,’ she gently piped, as she abstractedly dealt out the cards for a new game in a pretty Morris-papered room in Kensington.
January 20, 1915
At a Public Dinner
. . . The timorous man presently took out his cigarette-case and was going to take out a cigarette, when he recollected that he ought first to offer one to the millionaire on his right. Fortunately the cigarette case was silver and the cigarettes appeared — from my side of the dinner-table — to be fat Egyptians. Yet the timorous and unassuming bug-hunter hesitated palpably. Ought he to offer his cigarettes? He thought of his own balance at the bank and then of the millionaire’s and trembled. The case after all was only silver and the cigarettes were not much more than a halfpenny each. Was it not impertinent? He sat a moment studying the open case which he held in both hands like a hymn book, while the millionaire ordered not wines — but a bass! At last courage came, and he inoffensively pushed the cigarettes towards his friend.
‘No, thanks!’ smiled the millionaire, ‘I don’t smoke.’
And so, ’twas a unicorn dilemma after all.
February 15, 1915
Spent Xmas week at work in her studio, transcribing my Journals while she made drawings. All unbeknown to her I was copying out entries of days gone by — how scandalised she would be if . . .!
February 22, 1915
What an amazing Masque is Rotten Row on a Sunday morning! I sat on a seat there this morning and watched awhile.
It was most exasperating to be in this kaleidoscope of human life without the slightest idea as to who they all were. One man in particular, I noticed — a first-class ‘swell’ — whom I wanted to touch gently on the arm, slip a half-a-crown into his hand and whisper, ‘There, tell me all about yourself.’
Such ‘swells’ there were that out in the fairway, my little cockle-shell boat was wellnigh swamped. To be in the wake of a really magnificent Duchess simply rocks a small boat in an alarming fashion. I leaned over my paddles and gazed up. They steamed past unheeding. but I kept my nerve all right and pulled in and out quizzing and observing.
It is nothing less than scandalous that here I am aged 25 with no means of acquainting myself with contemporary men and women even of my own rank and station. The worst of it is, too, that I have no time to lose — in my state of health. This accursed ill-health cuts me off from everything. I make pitiful attempts to see the world around me by an occasional visit (wind, weather, and health permitting) to Petticoat Lane, the Docks, Rotten Row, Leicester Square, or the Ethical Church. To-morrow I purpose going to the Christian Scientists’. Meanwhile, the others participate in Armageddon.
February 23, 1915
Looking for Lice at the Zoo
The other day went to the Zoological Gardens, and, by permission of the Secretary, went round with the keepers and searched the animals for ectoparasites.
Some time this year I have to make a scientific Report to the Zoological Society upon all the Lice which from time to time have been collected on animals dying in the gardens and sent me for study and determination.
We entered the cages, caught and examined several Tinamous, Rhinochetus, Eurypygia, and many more, to the tune of ‘The Policeman’s Holiday’ whistled by a Mynah! It was great fun.
Then we went into the Ostrich House and thoroughly searched two Kiwis. These, being nocturnal birds, were roosting underneath a heap of straw. When we had finished investigating their feathers, they ran back to their straw at once, the keeper giving them a friendly tap on the rear to hurry them up a bit. They are just like little old women bundling along.
The Penguins, of course, were the most amusing, and, after operating fruitlessly for some time on a troublesome Adèle, I was amused to find, on turning around, all the other Adèles clustered close around my feet in an attitude of mute supplication.
The Armadillo required all the strength of two keepers to hold still while I went over his carcase with lens and forceps. I was also allowed to handle and examine the Society’s two specimens of that amazing creature the Echidna.
Balæniceps rex like other royalty had to be approached decorously. He was a big, ill-tempered fellow, and quite unmanageable except by one keeper for whom he showed a preference. While we other conspirators hid ourselves outside, this man entered the house quietly and ap- proached the bird with a gentle cooing sound. Then suddenly he grabbed the bill and held on. We entered at the same moment and secured the wings, and I began the search — without any luck. We must have made an amusing picture — three men holding on for dear life to a tall, grotesque bird with an imperial eye, while a fourth searched the feathers for parasites!
February 28, 1915
What a boon is Sunday! I can get out of bed just when the spirit moves me, dress and bath leisurely, even with punctilio. How nice to dawdle in the bath with a cigarette, to hear the holiday sound of Church bells! Then comes that supreme moment when, shaven, clean, warm and hungry for breakfast and coffee, I stand a moment before the looking-glass and comb out my towzled hair with a parting as straight as a line in Euclid. That gives the finishing touch of self-satisfaction, and I go down to breakfast ready for the day’s pleasure. I hate this weekday strain of having to be always each day at a set time in a certain place.
March 3, 1915
I often sit in my room at the B. M. and look out at the traffic with a glassy, mesmerised face — a fainéant. How different from that extremely busy youth who came to London in 1912. Say — could that lad be I? How many hours do I waste day-dreaming. This morning I dreamed and dreamed and could not stop dreaming — I had not the will to shake myself down to my task. . . . My memories simply trooped the colour.
It surprised me to find how many of them had gone out of my present consciousness and with what poignancy of feeling I recognised them again! How selfishly for the most part we all live in our present selves or in the selves that are to be.
Then I raced thro’ all sorts of future possibilities — oh! when and how is it all going to end? How do you expect me to settle down to scientific research with all this internal unrest! The scientific man above all should possess the ‘quiet mind in all changes of fortune’ — Sir Henry Wotton’s How happy is he born and taught.
The truth is I am a hybrid: a mixture of two very distinct temperaments and they are often at war. To keep two different natures and two different mental habits simultaneously at work is next to impossible. Consequently plenty of waste and fever and — as I might have discovered earlier for myself — success almost out of the question. If only I were pure-bred science or pure-bred art!
March 4, 1915
Life is a dream and we are all somnambuloes. We know that for a fact at all times when we are most intensely alive — at crises of unprecedented change, in sorrow or catastrophe, or in any unusual incident brought swiftly to a close like a vision!
I sit here writing this — a mirage! Who am I? No one can say. What am I? ‘A soap-bubble hanging from a reed.’
Every man is an inexhaustible treasury of human personality. He can go on burrowing in it for an eternity if he have the desire — and a taste for introspection. I like to keep myself well within the field of the microscope, and, with as much detachment as I can muster, to watch myself live, to report my observations of what I say, feel, think. In default of others, I am myself my own spectator and self-appreciator — critical, discerning, vigilant, fond! — my own stupid Boswell, shrewd if silly. This spectator of mine, it seems to me, must be a very moral gentleman and eminently superior. His incessant attentions, while I go on my way misconducting myself, goad me at times into a surly, ill-tempered outbreak, like Dr. Johnson. I hate being shadowed and reported like this. Yet on the whole — like old Samuel again — I am rather pleased to be Boswelled. It flatters me to know that at least one person takes an unremitting interest in all my ways.
And, mind you, there are people who have seen most things but have never seen themselves walking across the stage of life. If someone shows them glimpses of themselves they will not recognise the likeness. How do you walk? Do you know your own idiosyncrasies of gait, manner of speech, etc.?
I never cease to interest myself in the Gothic architecture of my own fantastic soul. 1
March 6, 1915
The Punch and Judy Show
Spent a most delightful half-an-hour to-day reading an account in the Encyclopædia Britannica (one of my favourite books — it’s so ‘gey disconnekkit’) the history of the Punch and Judy Show. It’s a delightful bit of antiquarian lore and delighted me the more because it had never occurred to me before that it had an ancient history. I am thoroughly proud of this recent acquisition of knowledge and as if it were a valuable freehold I have been showing it off saying, ‘Rejoice with me — see what I have got here.’ I fired it off first in detail at ——; and H—— and D—— will probably be my victims to-morrow. After all, it is a charming little cameo of history: compact, with plenty of scope for conjecture, theory, research, and just that combination of all three which would suit my taste and capacity if I had time for a Monograph.
March 22, 1915
I waste much time gaping and wondering. During a walk or in a book or in the middle of an embrace, suddenly I awake to a stark amazement at everything. The bare fact of existence paralyses me — holds my mind in mortmain. To be alive is so incredible that all I do is to lie still and merely breathe — like an infant on its back in a cot. It is impossible to be interested in anything in particular while overhead the sun shines or underneath my feet grows a single blade of grass. ‘The things immediate to be done,’ says Thoreau, ‘I could give them all up to hear this locust sing.’ All my energies become immobilised, even my self-expression frustrated. I could not exactly master and describe how I feel during such moments.
March 23, 1915
Johnson v. Yves Delage
I expect we have all of us at one time or another heard ourselves addressing to annoying, objectionable acquaintances some such stinging castigation as Hazlitt’s letter to Gifford, or Burke’s letter to a Noble Lord, or Johnson’s letter to Lord Chesterfield, or Rousseau’s letter to the Archbishop of Paris. If only I could indulge my self! At this moment I could glut my rancours on six different persons at least!
What a raging discontent I have suffered to-day! What cynicism, what bitterness of spirit, what envy, hate, exasperation, childish petulance, what pusillanimous feelings and desires, what crude efforts to flout simple, ingenuous folk with my own thwarted, repressed self-assertiveness!
A solemn fellow told me he had heard from Johnson who said he had already had much success from collecting in moss. 1 With an icy politeness I asked who Johnson was. Who the Hell is Johnson? As a quid pro quo I began to talk of Yves Delage, which left him as much in the dark as he left me. Our Gods differ, we have a different hierarchy.
‘Well, how’s your soul?’ said R——, bursting in with a sardonic smile.
I gave him a despairing look and said:
‘Oh! a pink one with blue spots,’ and he left me to my fate.
Had tea with the —— and was amazed to find on the music tray in the drawing-room of these inoffensive artists a copy of ——’s Memoir on Synapta. Within his hearing, I said, ‘Did you and Mrs —— find this exciting reading?’ And I held it up with a sneer. I felt I had laid bare a nerve and forthwith proceeded to make it twinge. ——, of course, was glib with an explanation, yet the question remains incalculable — just how pleased that young man is with himself.
After tea went out into the Studio and watched these two enthusiasts paint. I must have glowered at them. I — the energetic, ambitious, pushing youth — of necessity sitting down doing nought, as unconsidered as a child playing on the floor. I recollected my early days in my attic laboratory and sighed. Where is my energy now?
Mrs —— plays Chopin divinely well. How I envied this man — to have a wife play you Chopin!
March 24, 1915
It is fortunate I am ill in one way for I need not make my mind up about this War. I am not interested in it —this filth and lunacy. I have not yet made up my mind about myself. I am so steeped in myself — in my moods, vapours, idiosyncrasies, so self-sodden, that I am unable to stand clear of the data, to marshal and classify the multitude of facts and thence draw the deduction what manner of man I am. I should like to know — if only as a matter of curiosity. So what in God’s name am I? A fool, of course, to start with — but the rest of the diagnosis?
One feature is my incredible levity about serious matters. Nothing matters, provided the tongue is not furred. I have coquetted with death for so long now, and endured such prodigious ill-health that my main idea when in a fair state of repair is to seize the passing moment and squeeze it dry. The thing that counts is to be drunken; as Baudelaire says, ‘One must be for ever drunken; that is the sole question of importance. If you would not feel the horrible burden of time that oruises your shoulders and bends you to the earth, you must be drunken without cease.’
Another feature is my insatiable curiosity. My purpose is to move about in this ramshackle, old curiosity shop of a world sampling existence. I would try everything, meddle lightly with everything. Religions and philosophies I devour with a relish, Pragmatism and Bishop Berkeley and Bergson have been my favourite, bagatelles in turn. My consciousness is a ragbag of things: all quips, quirks, and quillets, all excellent passes of pate, all the ‘obsolete curiosities of an antiquated cabinet’ take my eye for a moment ere I pass on. In Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia, I am interested to find ‘why Jews do not stink, what is the superstition of sneezing after saluting, wherefore negroes are black,’ and so forth. There is a poetic appropriateness that in A.D. 1915 I should be occupied mainly in the study of Lice. I like the insolence of it.
They tell me that if the Germans won it would put back the clock of civilisation for a century. But what is a meagre 100 years? Consider the date of the first Egyptian dynasty! We are now only in A.D. 1915 — surely we could afford to chuck away a century or two? Why not evacuate the whole globe and give the ball to the Boches to play with — just as an experiment to see what they can make of it. After all there is no desperate hurry. Have we a train to catch? Before I could be serious enough to fight, I should want God first to dictate to me his programme of the future of mankind.
March 25, 1915
Often in the middle of a quite vivid ten seconds of life, I find I have switched myself off from myself to make room for the person of a disinterested and usually vulgar spectator. Even in the thrill of a devotional kiss I have overheard myself saying, ‘Hot stuff, this witch.’ Or in a room full of agreeable and pleasant people, while I am being as agreeable as I know how, comes the whisper in a cynical tone, ‘These damned women.’ I am apparently a triple personality:
(2) The foul-mouthed commentator and critic.
(3) The real but unknown I.
Curious that these three should live together amiably in the same tenement!
In a Crowd
A crowd makes egotists of us all. Most men find it repugnant to them to submerge themselves in a sea of their fellows. A silent, listening crowd is potentially full of commotion. Some poor devils suffocating and unable any longer to bear the strain will shout, ‘Bravo,’ or ‘Hear, hear,’ at every opportunity. At the feeblest joke we all laugh loudly, welcoming this means of self-survival. Hence the success of the Salvation Army. To be preached at and prayed for in the mass for long on end is what human nature can’t endure in silence and a good deal of self can be smuggled by an experienced Salvationist into ‘Alleluia’ or ‘The Lord be praised.’
I had to determine the names of some exotic cockroaches to-day and finding it very difficult and dull raised a weak smile in two enthusiasts who know them as ‘Blattids’ by rechristening them with great frivolity, ‘Fat ’eds.’
‘These bloody insects,’ I said to an Australian entomologist of rare quality.
‘A good round oath,’ he answered quietly.
‘If it was a square one it wouldn’t roll properly,’ I said. It is nice to find an entomologist with whom I can swear and talk bawdy.
March 26, 1915
A Test of Happiness
The true test of happiness is whether you know what day of the week it is. A miserable man is aware of this even in his sleep. To be as cheerful and rosy-cheeked on Monday as on Saturday, and at breakfast as at dinner is to — well, make an ideal husband.
. . . It is a strange metempsychosis, this transformation of an enthusiast — tense, excitable, and active, into a sceptic, nerveless, ironical, and idle. That’s what ill-health can do for a man. To be among enthusiasts — zoologists, geologists, entomologists — as I frequently am, makes me feel a very old man, regarding them as children, and provokes painful retrospection and sugary sentimentality over my past flame now burnt out.
I do wonder where I shall end up; what shall I be twenty years hence? It alarms me to find I am capable of such remarkable changes in character. I am fluid and can be poured into any mould. I have moments when I see in myself the most staggering possibilities. I could become a wife-beater, and a drug-taker (especially the last). My curiosity is often such a ridiculous weakness that I have found myself playing Peeping Tom and even spying into private documents. In a railway carriage I will twist my neck and risk any rudeness to see the title of the book my neighbour is reading or how the letter she is reading begins.
April 10, 1915
‘Why,’ asks Samuel Butler, ’should not chicken be born and clergymen be laid and hatched? Or why, at any rate, should not the clergyman be born full grown and in Holy Orders, not to say already beneficed? The present arrangement is not convenient . . . it is not only not perfect but so much the reverse that we could hardly find words to express our sense of its awkwardness if we could look upon it with new eyes. . . .
As soon as we are born, if we could but get up, bath dress, shave, breakfast once for all, if we could ‘cut’ these monotonous cycles of routine. If once the sun rose it would stay up, or once we were alive we were immortal! — how much forrader we should all get — always at the heart of things, working without let or hindrance in a straight line for the millennium! Now we waltz along instead. Even planets die off and new ones come in their place. How infinitely wearisome it seems. When an old man dies what a waste, and when a baby is born what a redundancy of labour in front!
Two People I hate in particular
The man walking along the pavement in front of me giving me no room to pass under the satisfactory impression that he is the only being on the pavement or in the street, city, country, world, universe: and it all belongs to him even the moon and sun and stars.
The woman on the ’bus the other night — pouring out an interminable flow of poisonous chatter into the ear of her man — poor, exhausted devil who kept answering dreamily ‘Oom’ and ‘Yes’ and ‘Oom’ — how I hated her for his sake!
April 11, 1915
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
If music moves me, it always generates images — a procession of apparently disconnected images in my mind. In the Fifth Symphony, for example, as soon as the first four notes are sounded and repeated, this magic population springs spontaneously into being. A nude, terror-stricken figure in headlong flight with hands pressed to the ears and arms bent at the elbows — a staring, bulgy-eyed mad-woman such as one sees in Raemaeker’s cartoons of the Belgian atrocities. A man in the first onset of mental agony on hearing sentence of death passed upon him. A wounded bird, fluttering and flopping in the grass. It is the struggle of a man with a steam-hammer — Fate. As tho’ thro’ the walls of a closed room — some mysterious room, a fearful spot — I crouch and listen and am conscious that inside some brutal punishment is being meted out —there are short intervals, then unrelenting pursuit, then hammerlike blows — melodramatic thuds, terrible silences (I crouch and wonder what has happened), and the pursuit begins again. I see clasped hands and appealing eyes and feel very helpless and mystified outside. An epileptic vision or an opium dream — Dostoievsky or De Quincey set to music.
In the Second Movement the man is broken, an unrecognisable vomit. I see a pale youth sitting with arms hanging limply between the knees, hands folded, and with sad, impenetrable eyes that have gazed on unspeakable horrors. I see the brave, tearful smile, the changed life after personal catastrophe, the Cross held before closing eyes, sudden absences of mind, reveries, poignant retrospects, the rustle of a dead leaf of thought at the bottom of the heart, the tortuous pursuit of past incidents down into the silence of yesterday, the droning of comfortable words, the painful collection of the wreckage of a life with intent to ‘carry on’ for a while in duty bound, for the widow consolation in the child; a greyhound’s cold wet nose nozzling into a listless hand, and outside a Thrush singing after the storm, etc., etc.
In the Third Movement comes the crash by which I know something final and dreadful has happened. Then the resurrection with commotion in Heaven: tempests and human faces, scurryings to and fro, brazen portcullises clanging to, never to open more, the distant roll of drums and the sound of horses’ hoofs. From behind the inmost veil of Heaven I faintly catch the huzzas of a great multitude. Then comes a great healing wind, then a few ghost-like tappings on the window pane till gradually the Avenue of Arches into Heaven comes into view with a solemn cortège advancing slowly along.
Above the great groundswell of woe, Hope is restored and the Unknown Hero enters with all pomp into his Kingdom, etc., etc.
I am not surprised to learn that Beethoven was once on the verge of suicide.
April 15, 1915
There is an absurd fellow . . . who insists on taking my pirouettes seriously. I say irresponsibly, ‘All men are liars,’ and he replies with the jejuneness and exactitude of a pronouncing dictionary, ‘A liar is one who makes a false statement with intent to deceive.’ What can I do with him? ‘Did I ever meet a lady,’ he asked, ‘who wasn’t afraid of mice?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I told him, ‘I never experiment with ladies in that way.’
He hates me.
April 26, 1915
In the spirit of pious resignation Thomas à Kempis wrote: “Meddle not with things that be too high for thee, but study such things as yield compunction to the heart rather than elevation to the head.” I like to put alongside this the delightful passage from Sir Thomas Browne’s “Religio": “I love to lose myself in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an O altitudo! ’Tis my solitary recreation to pose my apprehension with those involved enigmas and riddles of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection.” Recreation is great!
Like Sir Thomas Browne I have always meddled with things that are too high for me, not, certainly, as a recreation, but as a result of intense intellectual discomfort. I find a sulky delight in pulverizing the intellect by thinking on the time for example it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth, upon the number of stars in the Milky Way, upon the infinite divisibility of matter, upon Sir Oliver Lodge’s dictum that there are more atoms in a thimble-full of water than there are thimble-fulls of water in the Atlantic Ocean. When a geologist speaks of the Cambrian, I want to cross myself; when great formulas like “intrastellar space” or “secular time” thunder in my ears, I want to crawl away like a rat into a hole and die.
I have always meddled with things that are too high for me, my first adventure being Berkeley at the age of fifteen, a philosopher who captured my amazement over a period of many months. Like a little London gamin, I run about the great city of the mind and hang on behind the big motor lorries of thought. “Looked at from the point of view of multiplicity, duration disintegrates into a powder of moments, none of which endures, each being an instantaneity.” No matter if I do not understand Bergson: in a sentence like that I catch at least the rumour of some tremendous thought. Again under the heading “Wall Street": “Some securities showed the effects of distribution under cover of an advance in volatile issues.” It is like putting one’s ear to a telegraph pole on top of a wind-swept heath. . . . Then there is William James and Schiller, Pragmatism and Humanism, those other grand peut-êtres.
It may be that ultimately all speculation and belief will become extinguished by one universal certainty. Man’s mind that animates this globe may continue to ripen and develop into complete knowledge able to wing its way throughout the universe. Mental telepathy will dispense with our present clumsy means of intercourse; the Spiritualists perhaps, will investigate the next world as exactly as the scientific men will have done this; all disease be vanquished and all perfection attained by easy miracles (vide the Christian Scientists), and even God Himself a familiar figure walking abroad upon the earth, the well-pleased captain of the planet. In other words, a cosmic enterprise brought to a thoroughly successful conclusion by the triumph of infinite mind over matter.
May 11, 1915
This mysterious world makes me chilly. It is chilly to be alive among ghosts in a nightmare of calamity. This Titanic war reduces me to the size and importance of a debilitated housefly. So what is a poor egotist to do? To be a common soldier is to become a pawn in the game between ambitious dynasts and their ambitious marshals. You lose all individuality, you become a ‘bayonet’ or a ‘machine gun,’ or ‘cannon fodder,’ or ‘fighting material.’
May 22, 1915
Generosity may be only weakness, philanthropy (beautiful word), self-advertisement, and praise of others sheer egotism. One can almost hear a eulogist winding himself up to strike his eulogy that comes out sententious, pompous, and full of self.
May 23, 1915
The following is a description of Lermontov by Maurice Baring:
‘He had except for a few intimate friends an impossible temperament; he was proud, over-bearing, exasperated and exasperating, filled with a savage amour-propre and he took a childish delight in annoying; he cultivated “le plaisir aristocratique de déplaire.” . . . He could not bear not to make himself felt and if he felt he was unsuccessful in this by fair means he resorted to unpleasant ones. Yet he was warm-hearted, thirsting for love and kindness and capable of giving himself up to love if he chose. . . . At the bottom of all this lay no doubt a deep-seated disgust with himself and with the world in general, and a complete indifference to life resulting from large aspirations which could not find an outlet and recoiled upon himself.’
This is an accurate description of Me.
May 26, 1915
The time will come — it’s a great way off — when a joke about sex will be not so much objectionable as unintelligible. Thanks to Christian teaching, a nude body is now an obscenity, of the congress of the sexes it is indecent to speak and our birth is a corruption. Hence come a legion of evils: reticence, therefore ignorance and therefore venereal disease; prurience especially in adolescence, poisonous literature, and dirty jokes. The mind is contaminated from early youth; even the healthiest-minded girl will blush at the mention of the wonder of creation. Yet to the perfectly enfranchised mind it should be as impossible to joke about sex as about mind or digestion or physiology. The perfectly enfranchised poet — and Walt Whitman in ‘The Song of Myself’ came near being it — should be as ready to sing of the incredible raptures of the sexual act between ‘twin souls’ as of the clouds or sunshine. Every man or woman who has loved has a heart full of beautiful things to say but no man dare — for fear of the police, for fear of the coarse jests of others and even of a breakdown in his own highmindedness. I wonder just how much wonderful lyric poetry has thus been lost to the world!
May 27, 1915
The Pool: A Retrospect
From above, the pool looked like any little innocent sheet of water. But down in the hollow itself it grew sinister. The villagers used to say and to believe that it had no bottom and certainly a very great depth in it could be felt if not accurately gauged as one stood at the water’s edge. A long time ago, it was a great limestone quarry, but to-day the large mounds of rubble on one side of it are covered with grass and planted with mazzard trees, grown to quite a large girth. On the other side one is confronted by a tall sheet of black, carboniferous rock, rising sheer out of the inky water — a bare sombre surface on which no mosses even — ‘tender creatures of pity,’ Ruskin calls them — have taken compassion by softening the jagged edges of the strata or nestling in the scars. It is an excellent example of ‘Contortion’ as Geologists say, for the beds are bent into a quite regular geometrical pattern — syncline and anticline in waves — by deep-seated plutonic force that makes the mind quake in the effort to imagine it.
On the top of this rock and overhanging the water — a gaunt, haggard-looking Fir tree impends, as it seems in a perilous balance, while down below, the pool, sleek and shiny, quietly waits with a catlike patience.
In summer time, successive rows of Foxgloves one behind the other in barbaric splendour are ranged around the grassy rubble slopes like spectators in an amphitheatre awaiting the spectacle. Fire-bellied Efts slip here and there lazily thro’ the water. Occasionally a Grasssnake would swim across the pool and once I caught one and on opening his stomach found a large fire-bellied Eft inside. The sun beats fiercely into this deep hollow and makes the water tepid. On the surface grows a glairy Alga, which was once all green but now festers in yellow patches and causes a horrible stench. Everything is absolutely still, air and water are stagnant. A large Dytiscus beetle rises to the surface to breathe and every now and then large bubbles of marsh gas come sailing majestically up from the depth and explode quietly into the fetid air. The horrificness of this place impressed me even when I was intent only on fishing there for bugs and efts. Now, seen in retrospect, it haunts me.
May 28, 1915
It is only by accident that certain of our bodily functions are distasteful. Many birds eat the fæces of their young. The vomits of some Owls are formed into shapely pellets, often of beautiful appearance, when composed of the glittering multi-coloured elytra of Beetles, etc. The common Eland is known to micturate on the tuft of hair on the crown of its head, and it does this habitually, when lying down, by bending its head around and down — apparently because of the aroma, perhaps of sexual importance during mating time, as it is a habit of the male alone.
At lunch time, had an unpleasant intermittency period in my heart’s action and this rather eclipsed my anxiety over a probable Zeppelin Raid. Went home to my rooms by ’bus, and before setting off to catch my train for West Wycombe to stay for the week-end at a Farm with E—— swallowed two teaspoonfuls of neat brandy, filled my flask, and took-a taxi to Paddington. At 3.50 started to walk to C—— H—— Farm from W. Wycombe Station, where E—— has been lodging for some weeks taking a rest cure after a serious nervous breakdown thro’ overwork. As soon as I stepped out of the train, I sniffed the fresh air and soon made off down the road, happy to have left London and the winter and the war far behind. The first man of whom I inquired the way happened to have been working at the Farm only a few weeks ago, so I relied implicitly on his directions, and as it was but a mile and a half decided that my wobbly heart could stand the strain. I set out with a good deal of pleasurable anticipation. I was genuinely looking forward to seeing E——, altho’ in the past few weeks our relations had become a little strained, at least on my part, mainly because of her little scrappy notes to me scribbled in pencil, undated, and dull! Yet I could do with a volume of ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese.’ These letters chilled me. In reply, I wrote with cold steel short, lifeless formal notes, for I felt genuinely aggrieved that she should care so little how she wrote to me or how she expressed her love. I became ironical with myself over the prospect of marrying a girl who appeared so little to appreciate my education and mental habits. [What a popinjay!—1917.] My petty spirit grew disenchanted, out of love. I was false to her in a hundred inconsiderable little ways and even deliberately planned the breaking off of the engagement some months hence when she should be restored to normal health.
But once in the country and, as I thought, nearing my love at every step and at every bend in the road, even anticipating her arms around me with real pleasure (for she promised to meet me half way), I on a sudden grew eager for her again and was assured of a happy week-end with her. Then the road grew puzzling and I became confused, uncertain of the way. I began to murmur she should have given me instructions. Every now and then I had to stop and rest as my heart was beating so furiously. Espying a farm on the left I made sure I had arrived at my destination and walked across a field to it and entered the yard where I heard some one milking a cow in a shed. I shouted over the five-barred gate into empty space, ‘Is this C—— H—— Farm?’ A labourer came out of the shed and redirected me. It was now ten to five. I was tired and out of sorts, and carried a troublesome little handbag. I swore and cursed and found fault with E—— and the Universe.
I trudged on, asking people, as I went, the way, finally emerging from the cover of a beautiful wood thro’ a wicket gate almost at the entrance to the Farm I sought. At the front door we embraced affectionately and we entered at once, I putting a quite good face upon my afternoon’s exertions — when I consider my unbridled fury of a short time before. E——, as brown as a berry, conducted me to my bedroom and I nearly forgot to take this obvious opportunity of kissing her again.
‘How are you?’ I asked.
‘All right,’ she said, fencing.
(A little nettled): ‘My dear, that isn’t going to satisfy me. You will have to tell me exactly how you are.’
After tea, I recovered myself and we went for a walk together. The beauty of the country warmed me up, and in the wood we kissed — I for my part happy and quite content with the present state of our relations, i.e., affectionate but not perfervid.
May 29, 1915
Got up early and walked around the Farm before breakfast. Everything promises to be delightful — young calves, broods of ducklings, and turkeys, fowls, cats and dogs. In the yard are two large Cathedral barns, with enormous pent roofs sloping down to within about two feet of the ground and entered by way of great double doors that open with the slowness and solemnity of a Castle’s portal studded with iron knobs. It thrilled me to the marrow on first putting my head outside to be greeted with the grunt of an invisible pig that I found scraping his back on the other side of the garden wall.
In the afternoon, E—— and I sat together in the Beech Wood: E—— on a deck chair and I on a rug on the ground. In spite of our beautiful surroundings we did not progress very well, but I attributed her slight aloofness to the state of her nerves. She is still far from recovered. These wonderful Beech Woods are quite new to me. The forest beech is a very different plant from the solitary tree. In the struggle to reach the light the Forest Beech grows lean and tall and gives an extraordinary suggestion of wiry powerful strength. On the margins of the wood, Bluebells were mobilised in serried ranks. Great Tits whistled — in the language of our allies — ‘Bijou, Bijou’ and I agreed with every one of them.
Some folk don’t like to walk over Bluebells or Buttercups or other flowers growing on the ground. But it is foolish to try to pamper Nature as if she were a sickly child. She is strong and can stand it. You can stamp on and crush a thousand flowers — they will all come up again next year.
By some labyrinthine way which I cannot now recall, the conversation worked round to a leading question by E. — if in times like these we ought not to cease being in love? She was quite calm and serious. I said ‘No, of course not, silly.’ My immediate apprehension was that she had perceived the coldness in my letters and I was quite satisfied that she was so well able to read the signs in the sky. ‘But you don’t wish to go on?’ she persisted. I persisted that I did, that I had no misgivings, no second thoughts, that I was not merely taking pity on her, etc. The wild temptation to seize this opportunity for a break I smothered in reflecting how ill she was and how necessary to wait first till she was well again. These thoughts passed swiftly, vaguely like wraiths thro’ my mind: I was barely conscious of them. Then I recalled the sonnet about coming in the rearward of a conquered woe and mused thereon. But I took no action. [Fortunately — for me. 1916.]
Presently with cunning I said that there was no cloud on my horizon whatever — only her ‘letters disappointed me a little — they were so cold,’ but ‘as soon as I saw you again darling, those feelings disappeared.’
As soon as they were spoken I knew they were not as they might seem, the words of a liar and hypocrite. They became true. E—— looked very sweet and helpless and I loved her again as much as ever.
‘It’s funny,’ she said, ‘but I thought your letters were cold. Letters are so horrid.’
The incident shews how impossible is intellectual honesty between lovers. Truth is at times a hound which must to kennel.
“Write as you would speak,’ said I. ‘You know I’m not one to carp about a spelling mistake!’
The latter remark astonished me. Was it indeed I who was speaking? All the week I had been fuming over this. Yet I was honest: the Sun and E.’s presence were dispelling my ill-humours and crochets. We sealed our conversation with a kiss and swore never to doubt each other again. E.’s spell was beginning to act. It is always the same. I cannot resist the actual presence of this woman. Out of her sight, I can in cold blood plan a brutal rupture. I can pay her a visit when the first kiss is a duty and the embrace a formality. But after 5 minutes I am as passionate and devoted as before. It is always thus. After leaving her, I am angry to think that once more I have succumbed.
In the evening we went out into a field and sat together in the grass. It is beautiful. We lay flat on our backs and gazed up at the sky.
S. H. has died of enteric at Malta. In writing to Mrs H., instead of dwelling on what a splendid fellow he was I belaboured the fact that I still remembered our boyish friendship in every detail and still kept his photo on my mantelpiece and altho’ ‘in later years’ I didn’t suppose we ‘had a great deal in common I discovered that a friendship even between two small boys cannot wholly disappear into the void.’ Discussing myself when I ought to have been praising him! Ugh! She will think what a conceited, puff-breasted Jackanapes. These phrases have rankled in my mind ever since I dropped the letter into the letter-box. ‘Your Stanley, Mrs H., was of course a very inferior sort of person and naturally, you could hardly expect me to remain friendly with him but rest assured I hadn’t forgotten him,’ etc.
The Luxury of Lunacy
Yesterday, I read a paper at the Zoological Society about lice. There was a goodly baldness of sconce and some considerable length of beard present that listened or appeared to listen to my innocent remarks with great solemnity and sapience. . . . I badly wanted to tell them some horrid stories about human lice but I had not the courage. I wanted to jolt these middle-aged gentlemen by performing a few tricks but I am too timid for such adventures. But before going to sleep I imagined a pandemonium in which with a perfectly glacial manner I produced lice alive from my pockets, conjured them down from the roof in a rain, with skilful sleight of hand drew them out of the chairman’s beard, made the ladies scream as I approached, dared to say they were all lousy and unclean and finished up with an eloquent apostrophe after the manner of Thomas de Quincey (and of Sir Walter Raleigh before him) beginning:
‘O just, subtle and eloquent avenger, pierce the hides of these abominable old fogies, speckle their polished calvaria with the scarlet blood drops. . . .’
But I hadn’t the courage. Shelley in a crowded omnibus suddenly burst out: ‘O let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the deaths of Kings, etc.’ I’ve always wanted to do something like that and when I have £5 to spare I hope to pull the communication cord of an express train — my hands tingle as often as I look at it. Dr. Johnson’s courage in tapping the lamp-posts is really everyone’s envy tho’ we laugh at him for it and say, green-eyed, that he was mad. In walking along the pavement, I sometimes indulge myself in the unutterable, deeply rooted satisfaction of stepping on a separate flagstone where this is possible with every stride. And if this is impossible or not easy, there arises in me a vague mental uneasiness, some subconscious suspicion that the world is not properly geometrical and that the whole universe perhaps is working out of truth. I am also rather proud of my courageous self-surrender to the daemon of laughter, especially in those early days when H. and I used to sit opposite one another and howl like hyenas. After the most cacophonous cachinnations as soon as we had recovered ourselves he or I would regularly remark in serious and confidential tones, ‘I say — we really are going mad.’ But what a delightful luxury to be thus mad amid the great, spacious, architectural solemnity with gargoyles and effigies of a scientific meeting! Some people never do more than chuckle or smile — and they are often very humorous happy people, ignorant nevertheless of the joy of riding themselves on the snaffle and losing all control.
While boating on —— last summer, we saw two persons. a man and a girl sitting together on the beach reading a book with heads almost touching.
‘I wonder what they’re reading?’ I said, and I was dying to know. We made a few facetious guesses.
‘Shall I ask?’
‘Yes, do,’ said Mrs ——.
The truth is we all wanted to know. We were suddenly mad with curiosity as we watched the happy pair turning over leaf alter leaf.
While R—— leaned on his oars, I stood up in the boat and threatened to shout out a polite enquiry — just to prove that the will is free. But seeing my intention the boatload grew nervous and said seriously, ‘No,” which unnerved me at the last moment so I sat down again. Why was I so afraid of being thought a lunatic by two persons in the distance whom I had never seen and probably would never see again? Besides I was a lunatic — we all were.
In our post-prandial perambulations about S. Kensington G—— and I often pass the window of a photographer’s shop containing always a profusion of bare arms, chests, necks, bosoms belonging to actresses, aristocrats and harlots — some very beautiful indeed. Yet on the whole the window annoys us, especially one picture of a young thing with an arum lily (ghastly plant!) laid exquisitely across her breast.
‘Why do we suffer this?’ I asked G——, tapping the window ledge as we stood.
‘I don’t know,’ he answered lamely — morose. (Pause while the two embittered young men continue to look in and the beautiful young women continue to look out.)
Thoroughly disgruntled I said at last: ‘If only we had the courage of our innate madness, the courage of children, lunatics and men of genius, we should get some stamp paper, and stick a square beneath each photograph with our comments.’
Baudelaire describes how he dismissed a glass vendor because he had no coloured glasses — ‘glasses of rose and crimson, magical glasses, glasses of Paradise’—and, stepping out on to his balcony, threw a flowerpot down on the tray of glasses as soon as the man issued into the street below, shouting down furiously, ‘The Life Beautiful! The Life Beautiful.’
Bergson’s theory is that laughter is a ‘social gesture’ so that when a man in a top hat treads on a banana skin and slips down we laugh at him for his lack ‘of living pliableness.’ At this rate we ought to be profoundly solemn at Baudelaire’s action and moreover a ‘social gesture’ is more likely to be an expression of society’s will to conformity in all its members rather than any dangerous ‘living pliableness.’ Society hates living pliableness and prefers drill, routine, orthodoxy, conformity. It hated the living pliableness of Turner, of Keats, of Samuel Butler and a hundred others.
But to return to lunacy: the truth is we are all mad fundamentally and are merely schooled into sanity by education. Pascal wrote: ‘Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.’ And, in fact, the man who has succeeded in extirpating this intoxication of life is usually said to be ‘temporarily insane.’ In those melancholy interludes of sanity when the mind becomes rationalised we all know how much we have been deceived and gulled, what an extraordinary spectacle humanity presents rushing on in noise and tumult no one knows why or whither. Look at that tailor in his shop — why does he do it? Some day in the future he thinks he will. . . . But the day never comes and he is nevertheless content.
May 30, 1915
A brilliantly sunny day. This funny old farm-house where we are staying quite delights me. It is pleasant, too, to dawdle over dressing, to put away shaving tackle for a day or so, to jump out of bed in the morning and thrust my head out of the window into the fresh and stock-scented air of the garden, listen to the bird chorus or watch a ‘scrap’ in the poultry-run. Then all unashamed, I dress myself before a dear old lady in a flowery print gown concealing 4 thin legs and over the top of the mirror a piece of lace just like a bonnet, caught up in front by a piece of pink ribbon. On the walls Pear’s Soap Annuals, on a side table Swiss Family Robinson and Children of the New Forest. Then there are rats under the floors, two wooden staircases which wind up out of sight, two white dairies, iron hapses on all the doors and a privy at the top of the orchard. (Tell me — how do you explain the psychosis of a being who on a day must have seized hammer and nail and an almanac picture of a woman in the snow with a basket of goodies — ‘An Errand of Mercy’ —carried all three to the top of the orchard and nailed the picture up on the dirty wall in the semi-darkness of an earthcloset?)
Got up quite early before breakfast and went birds’-nesting. . . . It would take too long and be too sentimental for me to record my feelings on looking into the first nest I found — a Chaffinch’s, the first wild bird’s eggs I have seen for many years. As I stood with an egg between thumb and forefinger, my memories flocked down like white birds and surrounded me. I remained still, fed them with my thoughts and let them perch upon my person — a second St. Francis of Assisi. Then I shoo’ed them all away and prepared for the more palpitating enjoyment of to-day.
After breakfast we sat in the Buttercup field — my love and I — and ‘plucked up kisses by the roots that grew upon our lips.’ The sun was streaming down and the field thickly peopled with Buttercups. From where we sat we could see the whole of the valley below and Farmer Whaley — a speck in the distance — working a machine in a field. We watched him idly. The gamekeeper’s gun went off in one of the covers. It was jolly to put our heads together right down deep in the Buttercups and luxuriously follow the pelting activities of the tiny insects crawling here and there in the forest of grass, clambering over a broken blade athwart another like a wrecked tree or busily enquiring into some low scrub at the roots. A chicken came our way and he seemed an enormous bird from the grass-blade’s point of view. How nice to be a chicken in a field of Buttercups and see them as big as Sunflowers! or to be a Gulliver in the Beech Woods! to be so small as to be able to climb a Buttercup, tumble into the corolla and be dusted yellow or to be so big as to be able to pull up a Beech-tree with finger and thumb! If only a man were a magician, could play fast and loose with rigid Nature? what a multitude of rich experiences he could discover for himself!
I looked long and steadily this morning at the magnificent torso of a high forest Beech and tried to project myself into its lithe tiger-like form, to feel its electric sap vitalising all my frame out to the tip of every tingling leaf, to possess its splendid erectness in my own bones. I could have flung my arms around its fascinating body but the austerity of the great creature forbad it. Then a Hawk fired my ambition!— to be a Hawk, or a Falcon, to have a Falcon’s soul, a Falcon’s heart — that splendid muscle in the cage of the thorax — and the Falcon’s pride and sagacious eye! 1
When the sun grew too hot we went into the wood where waves of Bluebells dashed up around the foot of the Oak in front of us. . . . I never knew before, the delight of offering oneself up — an oblation of one’s whole being; I even longed for some self-sacrifice, to have to give up something for her sake. It intoxicated me to think I was making another happy. . . .
After a lunch of scrambled eggs and rhubarb and cream went up into the Beech Wood again and sat on a rug at the foot of a tree. The sun filtered in thro’ the greenery casting a ‘dim, religious light.’
‘It’s like a cathedral,’ I chattered away, ‘stained glass windows, pillars, aisles — all complete.’
‘It would be nice to be married in a Cathedral like this,’ she said. ‘At C—— Hall Cathedral, by the Rev. Canon Beech. . .’
‘Sir Henry Wood was the organist.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘and the Rev. Blackbird the precentor.’
We laughed over our silliness!
Shrew-mice pattered over the dead leaves and one came boldly into view under a bramble bush — she had never seen one before. Overhead, a ribald fellow of a Blackbird whistled a jaunty tune. E—— laughed. ‘I am sure that Blackbird is laughing at us,’ she said. ‘It makes me feel quite hot.’
This evening we sat on the slope of a big field where by lowering our eyes we could see the sun setting behind the grass blades — a very pretty sight which I do not remember ever to have noted before. A large blue Carabus beetle was stumbling about, Culvers cooed in the woods near by. It was delightful to be up 600 feet on a grassy field under the shadow of a large wood at sunset with my darling.
May 31, 1915
Sitting at tea in the farm house to-day E—— cried suddenly, pointing to a sandy cat in the garden:
‘There,— he’s the father of the little kittens in the barn and I’ll tell you how we know. P—— noticed the kittens had big feet and later on saw that old Tom stalking across the garden with big feet of exactly the same kind.’
‘So you impute the paternity of the kittens to the gentleman under the laurel bushes?’
I looked at the kittens to-night and found they had extra toes. ‘Mr Sixtoes,’ as E—— calls him also possesses six toes, so the circumstantial evidence looks black against him.
June 1, 1915
In the Beech Wood all the morning. Heigh-ho! it’s grand to lie out as straight as a line on your back, gaze upwards into the tree above, and with a caressing eye follow its branches out into their multitudinous ramifications forward and back — luxurious travel for the tired eye. . . . Then I would shut my eyes and try to guess where her next kiss would descend. Then I opened my eyes and watched her face in the most extravagant detail, I counted the little filaments on her precious mole and saw the sun thro’ the golden down of her throat. . . .
Sunlight and a fresh wind. A day of tiny cameos, little coups d’oeil, fleeting impressions snapshotted on the mind: the glint on the keeper’s gun as he crossed a field a mile away below us, sunlight all along a silken hawser which some Spider engineer had spun between the tops of two tall trees spanning the whole width of a bridle path, the constant patter of Shrew-mice over dead leaves, the pendulum of a Bumble-bee in a flower, and the just perceptible oscillation of the tree tops in the wind. While we are at meals the perfume of Lilac and Stocks pours in thro’ the window and when we go to bed it is still pouring in bv the open lattice.
June 2, 1915
Each day I drop a specially selected Buttercup in past the little ‘Peeler,’ at the apex of the ‘V’ to lie among the blue ribbons of her camisoles — those dainty white leaves that wrap around her bosom like the petals around the heart of a Rose. Then at night when she undresses, it falls out and she preserves it.
In the woods, hearing an extra loud patter on the leaves, we turned our heads and saw a Frog hopping our way. I caught him and gave an elementary lesson in Anatomy. I described to her the brain, the pineal organ in Anguis, Sphenodon’s pineal eye, etc. Then we fell to kissing again. . . . Every now and then she raises her head and listens (like a Thrush on the lawn) thinking she hears someone approach. We neither of us speak much . . . and at the end of the day, the nerve endings on my lips are tingling.
Farmer Whaley is a funny old man with a soft pious voice. When he feeds the Fowls, he sucks in a gentle, caressing noise between his lips for all the world as if he fed them because he loved them, and not because he wants to fatten them up for killing. His daughter Lucy, aged 22, loves all the animals of the farm and they all love her; the Cows stand monumentally still while she strokes them down the blaze or affectionately waggles their dewlaps. This morning, she walked up to a little Calf in the farmyard scarce a fortnight old which started to ‘back’ in a funny way, spraddling out its legs and lowering its head. Miss Lucy laughed merrily and cried ‘Ah! you funny little thing,’ and went off on her way to feed the Fowls who all raced to the gate as soon as they heard her footsteps. She brought in two double-yolked Ducks’ eggs for us to see and marvel at. In the breakfast room stands a stuffed Collie dog in a glass case. I’d as soon embalm my grandmother and keep her on the sideboard.
I asked young George, the farm-boy, what bird went like this: I whistled it. He looked abashed and said a Chaffinch. I told Miss Lucy, who said George was a silly boy, and Miss Lucy told Farmer Whaley, who said George ought to know better — it was a Mistle-Thrush.
The letters are brought us each morning by a tramp with a game leg who secretes his Majesty’s Mails in a shabby bowler hat, the small packages and parcels going to the roomy tail pocket of a dirty morning coat. A decayed gentleman of much interest to us.
June 3, 1915
We have made a little nest in the wood and I lead her into it by the hand over the briars and undergrowth as if conducting her to the grand piano on a concert platform. I kissed her. . . .
Then in a second we switch back to ordinary conversation. In an ordinary conversational voice I ask the trees, the birds, the sky.
‘What’s become of all the gold?’
‘What’s become of Waring?’
‘What is Love? ’Tis not hereafter.’
‘Where are the snows of yesteryear?’
‘Who killed Cock Robin?’
And so on thro’ all the great interrogatives that I could think of till she stopped my mouth with a kiss and we both laughed.
‘Miss Penderkins,’ I say. ‘Miss Penderlet, Miss Pender-au-lait, Miss Pender-filings.’
‘What do I mean?’ she cries. ‘What’s the point of the names? Why take my name in vain? Why? What? How?’
She does not know that clever young men sometimes trade on their reputation among simpler folk by pretending that meaningless remarks conceal some subtlety or cynicism, some little Attic snap.
I have been teaching her to distinguish the songs of different birds and often we sit a long while in the Cathedral Wood while I say, ‘What’s that?’ and ‘What’s that?’ and she tells me. It is delightful to watch her dear serious face as she listens. . . . This evening I gave a viva voce examination as per below:
‘What does the Yellow Hammer say?’
‘What colour are the Hedge Sparrow’s eggs?
‘Describe the Nightjar’s voice.’
‘How many eggs does it lay?’
‘Oh! you never told me about the Nightjar,’ she cried outraged.
‘No: it’s a difficult question put in for candidates taking honours.’
Then we rambled on into Tomfoolery. ‘Describe the call-note of a motor omnibus.’ ‘Why does the chicken cross the road?’ and ‘What’s that?’ — when a railway engine whistled in the distance.
Measure by this our happiness!
June 4, 1915
At a quarter past eight, this morning, the horse and trap were awaiting me outside, and bidding her ‘Goodbye’ I got in and drove off — she riding on the step down so far as the gate. Then we waved till we were out of sight. Back in London by 10 a.m. She makes slow progress, poor dear — her nerves are still very much of a jangle. But I am better, my heart is less wobbly.
June 5, 1915
R—— cannot make me out. He says one day I complain bitterly at not receiving a Portuguese sonnet once a week, and the next all is well and Love reigneth. ‘Verily a Sphinx.’
June 7, 1915
Spent the afternoon at the Royal Army Medical College in consultation with the Professor of Hygiene. Amid all the paraphernalia of research, even when discussing a serious problem with a serious Major, I could not take myself seriously. I am incurably trivial and always feel myself an irresponsible youth, wondering and futile, among owlish grown-ups.
At 4 p.m. departed and went down on Vauxhall Bridge and watched a flour-barge being unloaded before returning to the Museum. I could readily hang on behind a cart, stare at an accident, pull a face at a policeman and then run away.
June 20, 1915
. . . It annoys me to find the laissez-faire attitude of our relatives. Not one with a remonstrance for us and yet all the omens are against our marriage. In the state of my nervous system and in the state of hers — we have both had serious nervous break-downs — how impossible it seems! Yet they say all the old conventional things to us, about our happiness and so on! . . .
. . . Am I a moral monster? Surely a man who can combine such calculating callousness with really generous impulses of the heart is — what?
The truth is I think I am in love with her: but I am also mightily in love with myself. One or the other has to give.
June 25, 1915
If sometimes you saw me in my room by myself, you would say I was a ridiculous coxcomb. For I walk about, look out of the window then at the mirror — turning my head sideways perhaps so as to see it in profile. Or I gaze down into my eyes — my eyes always impress me — and wonder what effect I produce on others. This, I believe, is not so much vanity as curiosity. I know I am not prepossessing in appearance — my nose is crooked and my skin is blotched. Yet my physique — because it is mine — interests me. I like to see myself walking and talking. I should like to hold myself in my hand in front of me like a Punchinello and carefully examine myself at my leisure.
June 28, 1915
Saw my brother A—— off at Waterloo en route for Armageddon. Darling fellow. He shook hands with P—— and H——, and P—— wished him ‘Goodbye, and good luck.’ Then he held my hand a moment, said ‘Goodbye, old man,’ and for a second gave me a queer little nervous look. I could only say ‘Goodbye,’ but we understand each other perfectly. . . . It is horrible. I love him tenderly.
June 29, 1915
Sleep means unconsciousness: unconsciousness is a solemn state — you get it for example from a blow on the head with a mallet. It always weightily impresses me to see someone asleep — especially someone I love as to-day, stretched out as still as a log — who perhaps a few minutes ago was alive, even animated. And there is nothing so welcome, unless it be the sunrise, as the first faint gleam of recognition in the half-opened eye when consciousness like a mighty river begins to flow in and restore our love to us again.
When I go to bed myself, I sometimes jealously guard my faculties from being filched away by sleep. I almost fear sleep: it makes me apprehensive — this wonderful and unknowable Thing which is going to happen to me for which I must lay myself out on a bed and wait, with an elaborate preparedness. Unlike Sir Thomas Browne, I am not always so content to take my leave of the sun and sleep, if need be, into the resurrection. And I sometimes lie awake and wonder when the mysterious Visitor will come to me and call me away from this thrilling world, and how He does it, to which end I try to remain conscious of the gradual process and to understand it: an impossibility of course involving a contradiction in terms. So I shall never know, nor will anybody else.
July 2, 1915
I’ve had such a successful evening — you’ve no idea! The pen simply flew along, automatically easy, page after page in perfect sequence. My style trilled and bickered and rolled and ululated in an infinite variety; you will find in it all the subtlest modulations, inflections and suavities. My afflatus came down from Heaven in a bar of light like the Shekinah — straight from God, very God of very God. I worked in a golden halo of light and electric sparks came off my pen nib as I scratched the paper.
July 3, 1915
The Clever Young Man
Argued with R—— this morning. He is a type specimen of the clever young man. We both are. Our flowers of speech are often forced hot-house plants, paradoxes and cynicisms fly as thick as driving rain and Shaw is our great exemplar. I could write out an exhaustive analysis of the clever young man and being one myself can speak from ‘inspired sources’ as the newspapers say.
A common habit is to underline and memorise short, sharp, witty remarks he sees in books and then on future occasions dish them up for his own self-glorification. If the author be famous he begins, ‘As —— says, etc.’ If unknown the quotation is quietly purloined. He is always very self-conscious and at the same time very self-possessed and very conceited. You tell me with tonic candour that I am insufferably conceited. In return, I smile, making a sardonic avowal of my good opinion of myself, my theory being that as conceit is, as a rule, implicit and, as a rule, blushingly denied, you will mistake my impudent confession for bluff and conclude there is really something far more substantial and honest beneath my apparent conceit. If, on the other hand, I am conceited, why I have admitted it — I agree with you — but tho’ there is no virtue in the confession being quite detached and unashamed — still you haven’t caught me by the tail. It is very difficult to circumvent a clever young man. He is as agile as a monkey.
His principal concern of course is to arouse and maintain a reputation for profundity and wit. This is done by the simple mechanical formula of antithesis: if you like winkles he proves that cockles are inveterately better; if you admire Ruskin he tears him to ribbons. If you want to learn to swim — as it is safer, he shows it is more dangerous to know how to swim and so on. I know his whole box of tricks. I myself am now playing the clever young man by writing out this analysis just as if I were not one myself.
You doubt my cleverness? Well, some years ago in R——’s presence I called —— ‘the Rev. Fastidious Brisk,’ — the nickname be it recalled which Henley gave to Stevenson (without the addition of ‘Rev.’). At the time I had no intention of appropriating the witticism as I quite imagined R—— was acquainted with it. His unexpected explosion of mirth, however, made me uncomfortably uncertain of this, yet for the life of me I couldn’t muster the honesty to assure him that my feather was a borrowed one. A few weeks later he referred to it again as ‘certainly one of my better ones’ — but still I remained dumb and the time for explanations went for once and all. Now see what a pretty pickle I am in: the name ‘Brisk’ or ‘F. B.’ is in constant use by us for this particular person — he goes by no other name, meanwhile I sit and wonder how long it will be before R—— finds me out. There are all sorts of ways in which he might find out: he might read about it for himself, someone might tell him or — worst of all — one day when we are dining out somewhere he will announce to the whole company my brilliant appellation as a little after-dinner diversion: I shall at once observe that the person opposite me knows and is about to air his knowledge; then I shall look sternly at him and try to hold him: he will hesitate and I shall land him with a left and right: ‘I suppose you’ve read Henley’s verses on Stevenson?’ I remark easily and in a moment or so later the conversation has moved on.
August 1, 1915
Am getting married at —— Register Office on September 15th. It is impossible to set down here all the labyrinthine ambages of my will and feelings in regard to this event. Such incredible vacillations, doubts, fears. I have been living at a great rate below surface recently. ‘If you enjoy only twelve months’ happiness,’ the Doctor said to me, ‘it is worth while.’ But he makes a recommendation. . . . At his suggestion E—— went to see him and from his own mouth learnt all the truth about the state of my health, to prevent possible mutual recriminations in the future. 1 To marry an introspective dyspeptic — what a prospect for her! . . . I exercise my microscopic analysis on her now as well as on myself. . . . This power in me is growing daily more automatic and more repugnant. It is a nasty morbid unhealthy growth that I want to hide if I cannot destroy. It amounts to being able at will to switch myself in and out of all my most cherished emotions; it is like the case in Sir Michael Foster’s Physiology of a man who, by pressing a tumour in his neck could stop or at any rate control the action of his heart.
August 2, 1915
House pride in newly-wed folk, for example, H. and D. to-day at Golder’s Green or the Teignmouth folk, is very trying to the bachelor visitor. They will carry a chair across the room as tenderly as tho’ it were a child and until its safe transit is assured, all conversation goes by the board. Or the wife suddenly makes a remark to the husband sotto voce, both thereupon start up simultaneously (leaving the fate of Warsaw undecided) while you, silenced by this unexpected manœuvre, wilt away in your chair, the pregnant phrase still-born on your lips. Presently they re-enter the room with the kitten that was heard in the scullery or with a big stick used to flourish at a little Tomtit on the rose tree. She apologises and both settle down again, recompose their countenances into a listening aspect and with a devastating politeness, pick up the poor, little, frayed-out thread of the conversation where it left off with: ‘Europe? you were saying . . .’ I mobilise my scattered units of ideas but it is all a little chilly for the lady of the house if she listens with her face and speaks with her lips — her heart is far from me: she fixes a glassy eye on the tip of my cigarette, waiting to see if the ash will fall on her carpet.
August 6, 1915
The most intimate and extensive journal can only give each day a relatively small sifting of the almost infinite number of things that flow thro’ the consciousness. However vigilant and artful a diarist may be, plenty of things escape him and in any event re-collection is not re-creation. . . .
To keep a journal is to have a secret liaison of a very sentimental kind. A journal intime is a super-confidante to whom everything is told and confessed. For an engaged or married man to have a secret super-confidante who knows things which are concealed from his lady seems to me to be deliberate infidelity. I am as it were engaged to two women and one of them is being deceived. The word ‘Deceit’ comes up against me in this double life I lead, and insists I shall name a plain thing bluntly. There is something very like sheer moral obliquity in these entries behind her back. . . . Is this journal habit slowly corrupting my character? Can an engaged or married man conscientiously continue to write his journal intime?
This question of giving up my faithful friend after September I must consider.
Of course most men have something to conceal from someone. Most married men are furtive creatures, and married women too. But I have a Gregers Werle-like passion for life to be lived on a foundation of truth in every intercourse. I would have my wife know all about me and if I cannot be loved for what I surely am, I do not want to be loved for what I am not. If I continue to write therefore she shall read what I have written. . . .
My Journal keeps open house to every kind of happening in my soul. Provided it is a veritable autochthon — I don’t care how much of a tatterdemalion or how ugly or repulsive — I take him in and — I fear sponge him down with excuses to make him more creditable in other’s eyes. You may say why trouble whether you do or whether you don’t tell us all the beastly little subterranean atrocities that go on in your mind. Any eminently ‘right-minded’ Times or Spectator reader will ask: ‘Who in Faith’s name is interested in your introspective muck-rakings — in fact, who the Devil are you?’ To myself, a person of vast importance and vast interest, I reply,— as are other men if I could but understand them as well. And in the firm belief that whatever is inexorably true however unpleasant and discreditable (in fact true things can never lack a certain dignity), I would have you know Mr Times- and Mr Spectator-reader that actual crimes have many a time been enacted in the secrecy of mv own heart and the only difference between me and an habitual criminal is that the habitual criminal has the courage and the nerve and I have not. What, then, may these crimes be? Nothing much — only murders, theft, rape, etc. None of them thank God! fructify in action — or at all events only the lesser ones. My outward and visible life if I examine it is merely a series of commonplace, colourless and thoroughly average events. But if I analyse myself, my inner life, I find I am both incredibly worse and incredibly better than I appear. I am Christ and the Devil at the same time — or as my sister once called me — a child, a wise man, and the Devil all in one. Just as no one knows my crimes so no one knows of my good actions. A generous impulse seizes me round the heart and I am suddenly moved to give a poor devil a £5 note. But no one knows this because by the time I come to the point I find myself handing him a sixpenny-bit and am quite powerless to intervene. Similarly my murders end merely in a little phlegm.
August 7, 1915
On a ’bus the other day a woman with a baby sat opposite, the baby bawled, and the woman at once began to unlace herself, exposing a large, red udder, which she swung into the baby’s face. The infant, however, continued to cry and the woman said,—
‘Come on, there’s a good boy — if you don’t, I shall give it to the gentleman opposite.’
Do I look ill-nourished?
‘"Arma virumque cano,"’ a beggar said to me this morning in the High Street, ‘or as the boy said, “Arms and the man with a dog,” mistaking the verb for the noun. Oh! yes, sir, I remember my Latin. Of course, I feel it’s rather invidious my coming to you like this, but everything is absolutely “non est” with me,’ and so on.
‘My dear sir,’ I answered expansively, ‘I am as poor as you are. You at least have seen better days you say — but I never have.’
He changed in a minute his cringeing manner and rejoined:
‘No I shouldn’t think you had,’ eyeing me critically and slinking off.
Am I so shabby?
August 8, 1915
By Jove! I hope I live! . . . Why does an old crock like myself go on living? It causes me genuine amazement. I feel almost ashamed of myself because I am not yet dead seeing that so many of my full-blooded contemporaries have perished in this War. I am so grateful for being allowed to live so long that nothing that happens to me except death could upset me much. I should be happy in a coal mine.
August 12, 1915
Suffering from indigestion. The symptoms include:
A desiccated epidermis.
August 16, 1915
Lice or ‘Creeping Ferlies’
I probably know more about Lice than was ever before stored together within the compass of a single human mind! I know the Greek for Louse, the Latin, the French, the German, the Italian. I can reel off all the best remedies for Pediculosis: I am acquainted with the measures adopted for dealing with the nuisance in the field by the German Imperial Board of Health, by the British R.A.M.C., by the armies of the Russians, the French, the Austrians, the Italians. I know its life history and structure, how many eggs it lays and how often, the anatomy of its brain and stomach and the physiology of all its little parts. I have even pursued the Louse into ancient literature and have read old medical treatises about it, as, for example, the De Phthiriasi of Gilbert de Frankenau. Mucius the lawgiver died of this disease, so also did the Dictator Scylla, Antiochus Epiphanes, the Emperor Maximilian, the philosopher Pherecydes, Philip II. of Spain, the fugitive Ennius, Callisthenes, Alcman and many other distinguished people including the Emperor Arnauld in 899. In 955, the Bishop of Noyon had to be sewn up in a leather sack before he could be buried. (See Des Insectes reputés venimeux, par M. Amoureux Fils, Doctor of Medicine in the University of Montpellier, Paris, 1789.) In Mexico and Peru, a poll-tax of Lice was exacted and bags of these treasures were found in the Palace of Montezuma (see Bingley, Animal Biog., first edition, iii.). In the United Service Magazine for 1842 (clix., 169) is an account of the wreck of the Wager, a vessel found adrift, the crew in dire straits and Captain Cheap lying on the deck — ‘like an ant-hill.’
So that as an ancient writer puts it, ‘you must own that for the quelling of human pride and to pull down the high conceits of mortal man, this most loathesome of all maladies (Pediculosis) has been the inheritance of the rich, the wise, the noble and the mighty — poets, philosophers, prelates, princes, Kings and Emperors.’
In his well-known Bridgewater Treatise, the Rev. Dr Kirby, the Father of English Entomology, asked: ‘Can we believe that man in his pristine state of glory and beauty and dignity could be the receptacle of prey so loathesome as these unclean and disgusting creatures?’ (Vol. I., p. 13). He therefore dated their creation after the Fall.
The other day a member of the staff of the Lister Institute called to see me on a lousy matter, and presently drew some live Lice from his waistcoat pocket for me to see. They were contained in pill boxes with little bits of muslin stretched across the open end thro’ which the Lice could thrust their little hypodermic needles when placed near the skin. He feeds them by putting these boxes into a specially constructed belt and at night ties the belt around his waist and all night sleeps in Elysium. He is not married.
In this fashion, he has bred hundreds from the egg upwards and even hybridised the two different species!
In the enfranchised mind of the scientific naturalist, the usual feelings of repugnance simply do not exist. Curiosity conquers prejudice.
August 27, 1915
Am spending my summer holidays in the Lakes at Coniston with G—— and R——. . . . I am simply consumed with pride at being among the mountains at last! It is an enormous personal success to have arrived at Coniston!
August 29, 1915
Climbed a windy eminence on the other side of the Lake and had a splendid view of Helvellyn — like a great hog’s back. It is fine to walk over the elastic turf with the wind bellowing into each ear and swirling all around me in a mighty sea of air until I was as clean-blown and resonant as a sea-shell. I moved along as easily as a disembodied spirit and felt free, almost transparent. The old earth seemed to have soaked me up into itself, I became dissolved into it, my separate body was melted away from me, and Nature received me into her deepest communion — until, UNTIL I got on the lee side of a hedge where the calm brought me back my gaol of clay.
September 1, 1915
Fourteen days hence I shall be a married man. But I feel most dejected about it. When I fell down the other day, I believe I slightly concussed my spinal column, with the result that my 1913 trouble has returned, but this time on the left side! paralysis and horrible vertigo and presentiments of sudden collapse as I walk.
September 2, 1915
I fear I have been overdoing it in this tempting mountain region. Walking too far, etc. So I am slacking. It was fortunate I did not get concussion of the brain — I came within an inch of it: the hair of my head brushed the ground!
A Buxom Rogue in Earthenware
I knocked at the door of Sunbeam Cottage the other morning to know if they had a boat for hire. The door was promptly opened by a plump, charming little wench of about 17, and I caught a glimpse of the kitchen with its gunrack holding two fowling pieces, a grandfather clock in one corner and a dresser full of blueish china.
‘We don’t let our boat out for hire,’ she answered with a smile so honest and natural and spontaneous that I was already saying to myself I had never met with anything like it at all when she stretched up her bare, dairy-maid arm — strong, creamy and soft, just reached a big key strung to a wooden block and lying on the top shelf of the dresser and at once handed it to me with:
‘But you are quite welcome to use it and here is the key to the boathouse.’
I now felt certain that she was one in a million and thanked her most awfully. I have never met such swiftly-moving generosity.
‘It’s very nice on the Lake just now,’ she said. ‘I like to lie in the boat with a book and let her drift.’
I asked her if she would not come too, but this tight little fairy was too busy in the house. She is Clara Middleton done in earthenware.
Subsequently R—— and I often visited the cottage and we became great friends, her mother showing us some letters she received as a girl from John Ruskin — a great friend of hers. The gamekeeper himself said that for his part he could never read Ruskin’s books — it was like driving a springless cart over a rocky road. We all laughed and I said he was prejudiced in view of the letters which began: ‘My darling,’ and finished up ‘Yr loving J. R.’ But Mrs —— said he had never read them, and Madge (ah! that name!) said her father had never shewn the least interest in them at which we laughed again, and the gamekeeper laughed too. He is such a jolly man — they all are delightfully simple, charming folk and we talked of Beasts and Birds that live on the mountains.
September 4, 1915
Bathed in the Lake from the boat. It was brilliantly fine. R—— dipped her paddles in occasionally just to keep the boat from grounding. Then I clambered over the bows and stood up to dry myself in the sun like one of Mr. Tuke’s young men.
September 7, 1915
My 26th birthday. In London again. Went straight to the Doctor and reported myself. I quite expected him to forbid the marriage as I could scarcely hobble to his house. To my amazement, he apparently made light of my paralysis, said it was a common accident to bruise the os coccyx, etc.
September 8, 1915
Am staying at —— for a few days to rest and try to be better by that fateful 11th, when I am married.
Later: My first experience of a Zeppelin raid. Bombs dropped only a quarter of a mile away and shrapnel from the guns fell on our roof. We got very panicky and went into a neighbour’s house, where we cowered down in our dressing-gowns in absolute darkness while bombs exploded and the dogs barked.
I was scared out of my life and had a fit of uncontrollable trembling. Later we rang up —— and ——, and thank Heavens both are safe. A great fire is burning in London, judging by the red glare. At midnight sat and drank sherry and smoked a cigar with Mr ——, my braces depending from my trousers like a tail and shewing in spite of dressing-gown. Then went home and had some neat brandy to steady my heart. H—— arrived soon after midnight. A motor-omnibus in Whitechapel was blown to bits. Great scenes in the city.
September 9, 1915
Very nervy to-day. Hobbled down the road to see the damage done by the bombs.
September 10, 1915
A swingeing cold in the head thro’ running about on the night of the raid. Too feeble to walk far, so Mrs —— went into the town for me and purchased my wedding-ring, which cost £2 5s. 0d.