Monday, September 10, 2012

Ashley Sterne and the Soul

This set of articles by Ashley Sterne examines the qualities of the soul in the early 20th century and deals with the topics of introspection, temperament, psychology, and personal philosophy.

The first article, Know Yourself, is one of Mr. Sterne's earliest essays to be republished by colonial newspapers and labors under a weight of heavy-handed moralizing that all but crushes the humor.  Perhaps this moralizing was meant to balance some of his very light and silly submissions to Punch from roughly the same period (to be posted on this blog in the near future).  By 1916, Mr. Sterne had come to fully appreciate that his talents were more suited to humor than to serious social commentary; and he began to hit his stride as one of London's best comic writers.(If you have little patience with moralizing, I suggest that you read this post from the bottom up.)

Know Yourself: A Critical Study of You  [Apr 1914]
Futile Philosophy  [Nov 1915]
Why We Have Hobbies  [Nov 1915]
The Artistic Temperament  [Feb 1916]
My Calligraphoscope  [Feb 1916]
Confession Albums  [Apr 1916]
The Simple Life  [Sep 1916]

Know Yourself: A Critical Study of You

By Ashley Sterne

Frankly, good people, you interest me. Why, I do not pretend to say. Inasmuch as the renowned Dr. Fell inspired dislike for some reason, only to be dimly hinted at, so do you evoke my concern, and as incomprehensibly. Now I know not what particular virtue attaches to the ipsissima verba [the very words] of a Dutch uncle that is denied to those of a British one, yet I believe the phrase "to talk like a Dutch uncle" is the synonym for speaking one's mind irrespective of the emotions that may be called up thereby in the breast of the reluctant listener. Hence this critique of You, which, though you may regard it as unwarranted, is, nevertheless, for your heal, and—for the matter of that—your soul, too. Therefore let the fact that your entities have wakened an interest in me, who am hard to please, and fastidious withal, be put to the credit of this little account between you and me, and every incision of bistory [long, narrow surgical knife] and cut of scalpel, whereby I shall strive to lay bare the vitals of your vanities, albeit with the loving care of the demonstrating physiologist—appear upon the debit. Then, when the balance is struck, be it in your favour or mine, let us agree—in the parlance of accountancy—to write it off, as this seems to me to be the most equable basis to right it on. Now are you ready? Then on to the operating table with you! No, I am not giving anesthetics for I shall require the plenitude of your attention and your fullest consciousness. There! Now I can see you as you really are, and not as you believe yourselves to be. But do not misunderstand me; for you are not hypocrites in the generally accepted meaning of the word. Hypocrites, as a rule die under the knife; but you are alive, and— bless my soul!—actually kicking. Well, I am not surprised. Now, the point about you all that strikes me most forcibly is that you haven't any. I see protuberances, but not what a critic would call points. Your contours are all so many jellies turned out of the same hemispherical mould, though—as one of you very kindly suggests— there is a slight difference in the flavour, if not in the shape. In this particular you vary from the ordinary jellies, of commerce, for, whatever their respective names be, they always taste the same.

—The "Average" Person—

And yet the commonest foible among you all is to regard yourselves as each a little superior to the others. I do not go so far as to say that you place yourselves in the relative positions of Napoleon and his callowest subaltern; but you assume the "little more," and marvel "how much it is!" A few pounds more for rent than the Smiths, a few feet more of garden than the Browns, a trifle more elaborate cuisine than the Robinsons, and lo! you are above the most despised unit of social measurement—"the average." Why, judging from the number of you who claim this higher distinction, one is forced to conclude, ipso facto, that there is no such thing as the "average" person—or, rather, that the "above-the-average" person is the "average" person! If, therefore, I wished to number myself among the glorious company of eclectics, I should take as good care to be below this hypothetical standard as you are above it. The pity of all this striving is that its object is so very transparent. It is the people who have nothing inside them that find the necessity for making a show outside. The flutter of their caparisons is as the thumping of a drum, which—itself containing nothing—nevertheless serves to rouse, when beaten, the attention of the passersby. It has not occurred to you, I suppose, that you must be lacking in the finer qualities of human nature if, in order to support your claim to a pseudo-superiority, you have to resort to such threadbare devices as displaying—in however small a way—your silver and gold, your sheep and oxen, your chariots and horses, all for the social belittlement of the man next door! The raison d'etre of this is that you have been wrongly taught how to assess yourselves, the modern method being to appraise a man by what he has rather than by what he is, the consequence being that your lives are ordered by of code of absurd syllogisms which you fondly imagine display your strong points and conceal your weak ones. But, to put it paradoxically, your weaknesses are your one strong point; that is to say, that in them at least you are consistent. You doubtless know the phrase "we all have our little failings," and have—doubtless, too—applied it to more than one of your intimate friends. But have you ever admitted that "we" includes yourself, and examined your failings analytically? Well, let me do it for you.

—A Few Failings.—

The failing of you, Mrs. A., is that by a curious coincidence Lady B's visiting card is always the top one in the tray. You naturally wish to convey to your visitors that you are on terms of the closest intimacy with the only titled person within a radius of five miles. But you conceal the fact that Lady B. has merely called in the cause of charity or a by-election. The failing of you, Miss C, is a total disability to apply the laws of mathematics to the passing of the years. The infinity of numbers in your opinion becomes finite at 28—a working hypothesis which you adopted a baker's dozen of years ago, and of the truth of which, you are now more than ever convinced. The failing of you, Mr. D., best summed up in the words of Rudyard Kipling, which (you will doubtless note) include myself:—

'Twelve hundred million men are spread
About this earth, and I and you
Wonder, when you and I are dead,
What will those luckless millions do?"

Yet it is no mere petty world that will mourn you when you are gathered to your reluctant fathers. It will be the local council! For years you have assumed that the orderliness of the whole solar system has depended upon your attendance at the council meeting, and the advice which you have always been so eager to proffer, but which has never been asked for. For a decade you have lived in a constant an ever-increasing hope of being made a justice of the peace, and if pigheadedness, undue self-assertion, and a total ignorance of all local matters were the only necessary qualifications, you would not have had to await the tardy recognition of the Lord Chancellor! You would have been from birth a J.P. by divine right. Then, again, take your case, young Mr. E. Your little foible is to parade as a man about town, with a nicety of taste in socks and ties which, you imagine, Piccadilly tries in vain to copy—with disastrous results to Piccadilly. You are manicured once a week. You belong to the local Constitutional Club, where, to a select circle of admirers, you attribute the state of the crops and the unrest in the Balkans indiscriminately to the malign influence of Mr. Lloyd George. You part your sleek hair amidships and use aggressively scented brilliantine. You refer to actresses by their Christian name, and to royalty by the nicknames. Your conversation is interlarded with allusions to polo at Hurlingham, pigeon shooting at "Monte," the royal enclosure at Ascot, the stalls at Covent Garden, and Lord Dash's yacht at Cowes. And yet, when I look in at the local branch of the London and Suburban bank to demand my passbook it is you, young Mr. E., who hand it over the counter to me!

—Genuine virtue.—

But happily there are some of you who exhibit peculiarities which, though at first sight they appear to be failings are on closer examination real, genuine virtues. You, Dr. F. have the reputation of being gruff and brusque with your patients; of picking only the wealthy ones for your personal attention, and of assigning your side-street clientele to the ministrations of your qualified, yet raw, assistant. But was it not you, Dr. F. who sat up all night in a squalid attic while a little child held your great hand in her fever-weakened grasp, fearing that if you moved you would wake her from the first natural sleep she had had for days! Is it not also true that you omitted to send in your bill, throwing away the Squire's guineas for a humble woman's thanks? And there is you, Miss G.—withered old maiden lady that you are!— who is referred to in the same breath as being the wealthiest and stingiest person in the district; whose name never figures in the charity subscription list; whose patronage none dares ever canvass for the big bazaars and fetes which the church you attend is constantly organising? Is it not you, old Miss G., who prefer that your charity shall be done by stealth (lest, finding it fame, it shall cause you to blush), and that your kindly identity should be hidden 'neath that elusory cognomen "Anonymous?" Was it not you, dear, faded, but ever blooming soul, who, during the cruel winter of a few years ago refused the rents of your poorer tenantry (who provide 'the bulk of your well-nigh five-figure income) by instructing your old family solicitor "to forget to call." O, gruff, yet good, Dr. F.! O grey, yet golden, Miss G.! Would that all the world's deceit were as honest as yours!

—"Know Then Thyself."—

And now I hear you cry, "Hold! Enough!" So be it; I will be merciful, much as I should like to refer to you, fair ladies, who are ignorant of the fact that when you stand in the light the powder upon your cheeks and noses is distinctly visible; and to you, good gentlemen, who minister to the needs of your womenkind insofar as to pay them a handsome dress allowance, but yet forget to pass them the mustard. But before I lay down this caustic pen I should like to draw your individual attention to the fact that, whereas you are eaca aware of the others' faults, you are ignorant of your own. This is very curious, very human; but the explanation is not far to seek. Unsuspected in you all is the tendency to look "at," not to look "in;" to observe your friends' foibles at the neglect of observing your own. You naturally quote Pope to me, and say that "the proper study of mankind is man" and how are you to study man if your time is occupied in examining the minutae of your own selves? Well, you might quote the poet more fully in solution of your difficulty:—"Know then Thyself. ...The proper study of  mankind is man."  From which you will gather that to know Yourself is the first essential towards acquiring the faculty for knowing and criticising others. Do not think that this introspection and analysis of yourself necessarily implies egotism. A correct valuation of You is a duty owing to the community, and a proper association of yourself will not cause others to deduce conceit so long as you keep your appreciation with the rest of your archives. It is the flaunting of yourself in the faces of others that is the red rag to the bull, and who can blame the bull if he use the only means bestowed upon him by Nature for taking the rise out of the red rag waver? Not I, for one.


Futile Philosophy

By Ashley Sterne

While I was writing to you some time ago on the subject of what to do with pessimists [cf. Pessimists, August 1915] I could not help thinking of the man who got full marks for pessimism every time. I refer to the German philosopher Schopenhauer. To show you how pessimistic he was I need only state that the gloomiest funeral you can possibly imagine would be a rollicking picnic compared to a day spent in Schopenhauer's society.

This will naturally cause you to wonder why a man of pessimistic tendencies voluntarily chooses the profession of philosopher when there are so many far more engaging pursuits that would tend to cheer him up a bit. You cannot conceive a youth just leaving school imploring his father that he may be allowed to spend the remainder of his life shut up in the boot-cupboard under the staircase while he contemplates upon whether or not time and space really exist.

You would naturally conclude that, even if his request were granted, the embryo philosopher, after remaining in this boot-ridden solitude for twenty minutes past his usual dinner-hour, would have solved. the problem in the affirmative as far as meal-times were concerned, and that when he had bumped his head 257 times against the various projections and inclined planes that are common to all under-stair boot-cupboards he would have been able to supply a negative—and possibly profane—answer in respect to the existence of space in cramped quarters.

But the fact remains that many men devote their entire lives—from perambulator to bath-chair—to considering abstruse problems whose solutions don't seem to matter one way or the other. For instance, one great philosopher whose name will ever be remembered (though for the moment I have forgotten it) did actually write a book proving that time and space did not exist. So far so good; we will agree with him for argument's sake that they don't exist, But neither you nor I are going to alter our mode of life in consequence. We shall still employ the usual honeyed words to the cook when she sends up our bacon and eggs ten minutes behind schedule, in spite of the fact that we've just agreed that time is both as extinct as the dodo and as unborn as the unicorn. We shall still continue to regard the intrusion of a very stout person on to our side of the railway carriage as a personal affront, in defiance of our expressed conviction that space doesn't exist, and that consequently we were just as crowded and uncomfortable before the stout person came in.

And I suppose that even the great philosopher himself occasionally found himself up the pole, as it were, with his philosophy. I cannot conceive that he never consulted his watch nor his study clock merely be. cause he had proved that since there wasn't any tempus it couldn't possibly fugit. Again, I cannot conceive that he invariably went without his dinner on the theory that there was not any space to put it in. These little fallacies are the great drawbacks which prevent the study of philosophy from ever becoming as popular as picture-palaces. A man spends twenty years in investigating and proving to his own satisfaction that all wrong is right, or that all black is white; and at the end of that time he has his house burgled, or upsets the ink-pot over his dress shirt, with the result that all his theories go bankrupt, and he spends days in urging the police to run the evil-doer to earth so that he may be prosecuted with the utmost rigor of the law, or in rubbing his ruined linen with slices of lemon over a tub in the back kitchen.

The truth is that the average man doesn't care a row of pins for even the most expensive kind of philosophy if it doesn't philosoph some thing that he can appreciate without getting a dictionary and a headache, He doesn't mind whether matter is caused by molecules in motion or by prawns in aspic. It is of infinitely greater importance to him to know whether he can safely start house-keeping on £200 a year. While, as for the average woman, she is quite content to leave the riddles of the universe to solve themselves.


Why We Have Hobbies

By Ashley Sterne

It is a curious fact that many men who in their own professions show no marked degree of proficiency nevertheless exhibit considerable talent in some side-line wherein their energies are not invoked to earn an income, but rather to assist in its expenditure. I know a solicitor, for example, who, notwithstanding his legal shortcomings, has spent a small fortune in becoming a fine performer upon the ocarina as one could wish to hear. A doctor, too, of my acquaintance, whose diagnosis of the most popular and simple ailments is frequently contradicted by the verdict of a coroner's jury, is an expert fretworker, and specimens of his handiwork are to be found, in the shape of hanging-brackets and photograph frames, in the homes of nearly all his surviving patients. Again, I know a clergyman, whose somewhat unnecessarily lurid views on the ever absorbing topics of hell and eternal punishment have served to keep his offertory-plate as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard, who is a recognised authority upon the rearing of pumpkins. Indeed, his monograph on "The Pumpkin In Sickness and in Health" has long been regarded as the standard work on this delectable though pachydermatous fruit ; while his paper, read before the Pumpkin Growers' Association, on "How to Distinguish between Pumpkins and Footballs" earned for him the association's gold medal, and secured for him the reproduction of his photograph in the Special Pumpkin Supplement of the "Fruit World."

In fact, I can think of far more men who are successful in the prosecution of their hobbies than of those who claim distinction in their legitimate callings. This is doubtless due to the fact that most men are required to decide the nature of their future careers at a time when they are least fitted for the task of selection. The youth of sixteen just leaving school naturally wants to become a schoolmaster, and to experience the ineffable joy of keeping in on Wednesday and Saturday half holidays another generation whose inability to cope with the alluring mysteries of the predicate, or to name correctly the year in which Queen Anne attained the most distinguished feature of her reign, is no less marked than was his own. This, of course, is a staggering blow to the fond parent who has been hoping for the last few years that the boy would display some singular aptitude for one of the most lucrative professions, such as company-promoting or diamond-mining ; and it is but natural that the father should express his disappointment in terms that permit of little or no discussion, with the result that his son reluctantly but dutifully abandons all hope of becoming an Arnold or a Lyttelton and proceeds forthwith to study the intricacies of selling to the public goldmines which have no gold, or concessions which have nothing to concede.

Similarly, men who have businesses of their own that will in course of time need a successor, and who are averse to fostering the Socialistic tendencies of the age by taking the clerk of twenty-five or thirty years' service into active partnership, are anxious that their sons should be ready to step into the paternal shoes at such time as the paternal feet should be withdrawn to the more comfortable environment of the list-slippers of well-earned retirement, or the surgical boots of a gout-ridden old age. Hence it is that many a young man who would be of priceless value to the community as an autograph-collector, a mandolinist, a tenor vocalist, a maker of occasional tables (so-called because they occasionally stand up, but more frequently collapse), a poker-work expert, or any one of the hundred other picturesque hobbies in which we indulge, is pitchforked on to an office-stool, presented with a ledger, a ruler, a piece of blotting-paper, and an assortment of different-coloured inks, and peremptorily instructed to make the most of the opportunities Providence has given him.

Therefore, when we observe upon a friend's dining-room wall an oleograph of Beachy Head enclosed in a dainty frame composed of acorns and sea-shells ; when we find upon the floor a three-legged stool decorated with painted robins and unripe apples ; when we remark lying open upon the piano that soulful ballad, "Wink to Me Only with One Eye," let us not see in these evidences of a misspent leisure, but rather the submerged potentialities of a Grinling Gibbins, a Burne-Jones, or a Caruso.


The Artistic Temperament

By Ashley Sterne

Why a man who only has his hair cut twice a year, whose fingers cry to heaven for a nail-brush and a manicurist, and whose general behavior leaves so much to be desired should be said to possess the Artistic Temperament is an inscrutable mystery. To the thinking mind, length of hair, ill-kept hands, and slovenly manners suggest rather a total lack of any temperament whatsoever, artistic or otherwise; for even an inartistic temperament does not necessarily imply the disuse of the comb and the soap. But we have so long been accustomed to regard the possession of matted tresses and other eccentricities as the outward and visible tokens of the fierce fire of genius which burns within that should a new poet, painter, or musician appear on the artistic horizon with a sleek head redolent of brilliantine, alabaster hands, and irreproachable manners, he would promptly be branded as an impostor. Similarly, when we encounter an individual with ragged, unkempt locks and a wild light gleaming in his eye, we at once assume him to be an artistic genius, whereas in reality he may merely be a patriotic seaside photographer who has been wandering around for the last six. months vainly endeavoring to find a hairdresser that is not a relic of German barberism.

Of course, the genuine artistic mind has its little peculiarities. One can hardly expect a person whose brain is full of blank verse, complicated sonatas, or conceptions of triangular shaped females with purple hair, lolling against expensive green sunsets, to behave exactly as an ordinary man would whose thoughts flow upon more material lines. It is a well-known fact that, at table, poets are particularly prone to become so wrapped up in their own thoughts that the business of eating is temporarily relegated to obscurity; and it is on record how one famous poet, while seated at lunch with his family, suddenly threw down the steak with which he had been absently toying, and gave utterance to the now celebrated, though somewhat irregular metred, lines: —

"O that this too, too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, resolve itself into a stew!"

In the same manner, a great painter once became so absorbed with thoughts of a picture that he had long had in mind that one evening at a dinner-party, oblivious to his surroundings, he commenced to sketch upon the table-cloth, in mustard, tomato chutney, and mint sauce, a rough study of what he ultimately developed into the most renowned picture of the year. And in this connection it is interesting to note that this very picture can be seen, together with many other noteworthy examples of modern British art, of which we, as a nation, are so justly proud, on any Tuesday or Friday in the private salon of its owner, Silas Q. Hunks, of Brawnville, Chicago.

Here I have given instances of the true Artistic Temperament at work, and such lapses from the strict code of social etiquette, though perhaps a trifle disconcerting, are, at any rate, understandable. But, unfortunately, the Artistic Temperament is often claimed by those who have no more right to the distinction than has Von Tirpitz to the Royal Humane Society's medal; and, consequently, this quaint and frequently amusing trait develops into a mere excuse for indulging in discreditable practices. It is not too much to say that the kerb-stones of Chelsea are literally strewn with beggared tailors and insolvent artists' colormen whose unhappy condition has been brought about by the disability of the pseudo-Artistic Temperament to remember that "where there's a bill there's a pay." I, too, have experienced maltreatment from it.  I once bought an alleged oil-painting from a so-called artist who got rid of his wares by the simple process of peddling them from house to house. It wasn't the slightest good to say that you didn't want pictures, as you didn't understand anything about painting or its technique. Such an avowal would simply make him stop and explain the mysteries of chiaroscuro, high lights, perspective, and so forth, until at length you were compelled to buy a picture or else indulge in a long and useless search for a policeman. By such means he succeeded in selling me "Sunrise on Popocatepetl" for seven-and-six. I went and fetched him half-a-sovereign, and he gave me half-a-crown change. It was not until the following day that I discovered that the Artistic Temperament had prompted him to clear off with my gold-mounted umbrella and plant me with a bad half-crown. More over, I discovered that "Sunrise on Popocatepetl" was an oleograph of Windsor Castle pasted upside down upon a cardboard mount. Truly has someone said: "Ars est celare ar tem!" ("Art is concealed in artfulness.")


My Calligraphoscope

By Ashley Sterne

The other day I had a most unhappy experience. Through sheer inadvertence I tipped a railway porter, who had devoted a good deal of energy to looking after me, with a half penny instead of a shilling, the result being that I was favored with a recital of the principal features in my character (coupled with trenchant sarcasms anent my physiognomical ones) that quickly reduced me to a state of unenviable melancholy. Even after I had discovered and adjusted my error, and the porter had unreservedly withdrawn all the anathema he had hurled at me, I was not cheered. I wondered if it were true that "first impressions are generally correct," and, if so, whether I habitually made the same first impression on others as I had made on the porter.

Full of vague misgivings I opened my paper, and almost at once my eye caught an advertisement of one Codem, who professed to tell character from handwriting. Though I have little faith in such methods of defining one's traits (which are never employed for the purpose of obtaining the characters of domestic servants), I nevertheless decided to write to this seer, and find out in how far his diagnosis would compare with the porter's. As soon as I reached home, therefore, I sent off a letter and a few lines from one of Mr. Asquith's speeches which I had copied out with great care as my "specimen," and begged Codem for a plain, unbiased character. The next day it arrived, and ran as follows:—

(1) You are foolishly impetuous in your conclusions. You address me as "Dear Sir," whereas I am a woman.

(2) You are devoid of all business instincts. Had you any, you would have headed your letter "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam."

(3) The paper you enclosed, which looks as if a spider with inky legs had walked up and down it, is, I presume, the specimen of your ordinary writing. If so, I place you as belonging to the literary profession. The thumb-mark in one corner helps to confirm this. (This was a libel. If there was any thumb-mark it was made by Codem's thumb, not mine.)

(4) You have omitted to dot any of your "i's" and to cross any of your "t's"—unless you have chanced to write a sentence containing neither of these letters. This betokens stinginess, especially in the matter of ink; also slovenly habits. A word which at first I took to be "tum-tum" is, I find on closer inspection, presumably "ultimatum." If you were Foreign Secretary such ambiguity would get you into trouble.

(5) I really cannot decipher any thing else which even begins to look like a word, but—.

(6) A strong odor of cheap and coarse tobacco pervades your correspondence. From this it is clear that you are a person of low and vitiated tastes. (This was another libel. The cheap and coarse tobacco was the direct result of my trying to live on half my income, as officially advised.)

(7) Your memory and power of observation are both atrocious. My fee, as advertised, is five shillings. You sent sixpence. What do you think I am—a Limerick Competition? Kindly remit balance per return.

When I had digested this summary of my character I decided that I preferred the porter's. Deleted of its swear-words, the latter's estimate of me, though coinciding at many points with his competitor's, might easily have ranked as a satire which, properly edited, would perhaps achieve a reputation second only to Juvenal's masterpieces in this direction. Codem's was a heartless and unfeeling diatribe. However, I thought I would show that lady that I had one redeeming feature, and so I sent her a postal order for four-and-six, and forthwith set about remodelling my hand writing on the most approved and virtuous pattern. Yesterday morning I was busy copying in a copybook for the seventh consecutive time that famous proverb, "Still horses run dark," when I received a letter from Codem. In it she acknowledged my postal order, returned it, and expressed her regret that, through an error, the wrong "character" had been sent to me. The one I had already received should have been sent to a client in Glasgow. She begged to enclose the correct one, and hoped that if I were satisfied I would mention her name to my friends.

I eagerly perused her enclosure, after which I tore up my copybook. According to Codem my character is not that of a human being; it is that of an archangel.


Confession Albums

By Ashley Sterne

Writing of photograph albums recently [cf. The Family Album, March 1916] has put me in mind of an other kind of domestic album which, unfortunately, shows no sign of being withdrawn from circulation. It is known as a "confession" album, and is expressly designed for probing the innermost recesses of our friends' and relations' secret souls by means of a series of intimate questions. The album consists of a number of pages of different colors, ranging from the delicate pink hue of the blanc-mange that is usually served at dances, and which is apparently flavored with tooth-powder, to the pale green tint that is so often to be seen on the face of passengers on the landing-pier at Dover when the Calais boat comes in. These colors' are known as "art shades," probably for the same reason a man whose front garden boasts an acacia tree promptly names his house "Laburnum Villa." The book is very nicely bound in solid veal, with solid gold edges, and on the cover in gold writing are the words "Confession Album." Then on each page is printed a number of questions which it is supposed to be a compliment to be requested to answer.

And very searching questions they are, too. If correctly answered I dare swear that these privately-owned confession albums would be a most valuable addition to the archives of the C.I.D, at Scotland Yard. Therefore, when an unknown female admirer—as you say, she was probably of unsound mind—recently sent me her album, accompanied by a politely-worded note informing me of the paroxysms, of joy which would be hers if I would kindly fill up a page, I determined that, while acceding to her request,  would nevertheless afford as little clue as possible to my real nature. You see, I did not know my correspondent, and she might possibly have been in the employ of Pinkerton's for all I could tell. Here, then, is a list of the questions and my answers:

What is your age?—Can't say exactly, as it varies from day to day.

How would you describe your temperament?—Don't understand the word; but if you mean temperature, mine's 98.4 deg. Fahrenheit.

What is your favorite color?—Moose.

Your favorite flower?—Cauliflower?

Your favorite hobby?—Bell-ringing, debt-collecting, and lighthouse-keeping.

Your favorite game?—Pheasant. Or if you mean the other kind, honeypots.

Your favorite domestic animal?—Sidney, my silkworm.

Your favorite article of diet?—Mixed biscuits.

Beverage?—Ammoniated quinine.

Your favorite holiday resort?—Bed.

Your favorite musical instrument?—Bronchial guitar.

Your favorite author?—Colonel Maude. [Colonel F. N. Maude, military historian and early optimist regarding the Great War]

Your favorite book?—"The Domesday Book," and "Eric, or Little by Little."

Your favorite question?—Not guilty.

Your favorite character in fiction?—Herr Wulff (of Wulff's Bureau).  

In real life?—Divided between Ananias and the Kaiser.

Your favorite actor?—Lockhart's elephants.

Actress?—The cow-elephant of the before-mentioned troupe.

Your favorite proverb?—It's a long worm that never turns.

Motto?—Habeas corpus.

Whom do you consider the greatest man in history?—Og, King of Bashan.  [Deuteronomy 3:11:  For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.]

Which do you consider the greatest of Shakespeare's plays?—Dear old Charlie.

Whom do you consider the world's greatest painter?—Winston Churchill.

Its greatest philosopher?—Axolotl. [Mexican salamander]

Our greatest statesman?—Mr. Ginnell. [From Punch, June 20th 1917: Mr. Ginnell, M.P., is responsible for the statement that "bringing an action against the police in Ireland is like bringing one against Satan in hell."]

Our greatest humorist?—Mr. Justice Darling. [Justice Charles Darling, a judge possessing acute intellect but susceptible to unbecoming levity in his less serious cases.]

Our greatest all-round man?—Mr. G. K. Chesterton.  [Height: six feet four inches; weight: 300+ pounds]

What characteristic do you most admire in a man?—Solvency.

In a woman?—Ginger hair.

Have you any bad habits? —No, unless you count drink, drugs and extravagance.

What are your politics?—See answer to bad habits.

What in your opinion is the greatest invention of the century?—Tango teas. [afternoon tea parties with Tango dancing]

If you were not yourself who would you like to be?—Crosse and Blackwell  [purveyors of seafood sauces, chutneys, etc.].

You will admit that this is a fairly comprehensive examination. You will also probably admit that my answers were sufficiently evasive for the object I had in view. Be that as it may, I could not help feeling that the wrong type of question had been asked. If I had compiled the catechism I should have asked such ques tions as:

What is your favorite disease?

Which telephone number do you like best?

What do you think of the equator?

How are they all at home?

Do you prefer Mercator's Projection or the Obliquity of the Ecliptic?

When is a jar not a door?—and so forth.

Moreover, if I had sent such an album to anyone to fill in I should have made a point of making myself au fait [fully informed] with the laws of the nation first. My admirer's book reached me on October 30, together with stamps for return. On November 2 I returned it, buy postage, you remember, had then gone up—it cost me eightpence to get rid of it.


The Simple Life

By Ashley Sterne

To every jaded mortal who is doomed to a life of servitude in one or other of the "well-ventilated, commodious offices" with which our big towns are honeycombed, there comes a time when he feels he can no longer tolerate the excitements and artificialities or what has been so truly termed "the strenuous life," and yearns instead, for the care-free bucolic existence which his forefathers enjoyed, and which is known to followers of Fabianism (and other eccentric cults suggestive of a vegetable diet and tickly underclothing) as "the simple life."

This sensation, however, is not inspired by any earnest on the part of the yearner to go through the back-breaking process of cultivating the virgin soil with the ultimate idea of subsisting entirely on the fruits thereof. He has no uncontrollable desire to get up each morning at 4 a.m., and, armed with a rich variety of unwieldy agricultural implements, to put in sixteen hours' heavy manual labor, conducive only to profuse perspiration and violent thirst, upon that stratum of his native land which as a rule, mainly consists of thistles, disused kettles, and empty boots in an advanced stage of senile decay.

Nor would he be bursting with enthusiasm to feed himself on those extraordinary dishes which strict simple livers declare to be a sine qua non of simple life. He would scarcely wish to banish forever all thoughts of, say, sausages, the very mention of which is sufficient to bring the ruby blush to any strict Fabian's cheek, rendered strangely pallid by years of feeding on the palest of bananas and the whitest of butter-milk. He would not be content to walk barefooted all the year around, a procedure from which the plea of chronic chilblains would not exempt him.

And, lastly, he would never expect to be happy if his literary tastes were forcibly confined to the reading of only such books as dealt with the principles of simple life cookery—e.g.. "Half Hours with a Brazil Nut," "Straight Talks to a Stuffed Marrow," "Imaginary Conversations With a Haricot Bean" or "Meditations Upon a Cucumber-and-Glycerine Sandwich," varied occasionally by the perusal of some of that mystical, elusive sort of poetry which chiefly consists of adverbs and notes of interrogation.

His idea is rather to discard all the drawbacks which living the simple life implies, and to retain all its obvious benefits. That is to say, he would spend his days revelling in the open air of the country instead of in the confined space and appalling draughts which is what an estate agent means by a "well-ventilated, commodious office." He would drink in the pure fresh winds of heaven instead of the intermittent coffees and liqueurs without which the commercial life of our greatest cities cannot apparently exist.

He would muse on the problem submitted by the Book of Nature rather than on those propounded by a pass-book and cash-book which for many years have remained resolutely dead to all attempts to effect a reconciliation of their differences. He would listen to what Browning calls "the C major life" as played by the instrumentalists of Nature's own orchestra, instead of to the cacophonous noises emitted all day long by motor-horns, police-whistles, and pedestrians knocked down by the traffic. In short, he would return to that idyllic Arcadian simplicity which free access to Nature, coupled with a hopelessly obsolete drainage system, alone can grant.

But—make no mistake!—he is not going to rise at some ridiculous hour in the morning to give his naked legs a "dew-bath," or to milk the cow, a process which to the unskilled means one per cent. of fluid in the designed receptacle and the remainder up your sleeve. He is not going to contract a permanent crick in the back by nurturing and tending vast masses of spring onions and turnip-tops when what his soul longs for is a steak or a mixed grill.

No, the simple life for which he hankers is that which a nice roomy cottage implies, with bath (h. and c). electric light, a sufficient income (preferably unearned), clotted cream with every meal, and three or four well trained servants whose duties it will be to remove all the simple life's complexities and difficulties. And with all due deference to those earnest disciples of that stricter sect which rejoice in all-wool clothing and lentil cutlets, he does not appear to me to be a bad judge.

No comments:

Post a Comment