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Not that it Matters Part 8

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To avoid accidents of this nature it is better to play "clumps," a guessing game in which the procedure is slightly varied. In "clumps" two people go into the hall and think of something, while the rest remain before the fire. Thus, however long the interval of waiting, all are happy; for the people inside can tell each other stories (or, as a last resort, play some other game) and the two outside are presumably amusing themselves in arranging something very difficult. Personally I adore clumps; not only for this reason, but because of its revelation of hidden talent. There may be a dozen persons in each clump, and in theory every one of the dozen is supposed to take a hand in the cross- examination, but in practice it is always one person who extracts the information required by a cataract of searching questions. Always one person and generally a girl. I love to see her coming out of her sh.e.l.l. She has excelled at none of the outdoor games perhaps; she has spoken hardly a word at meals. In our little company she has scarcely seemed to count. But suddenly she awakes into life. Clumps is the family game at home; she has been brought up on it. In a moment she discovers herself as our natural leader, a leader whom we follow humbly. And however we may spend the rest of our time together, the effect of her short hour's triumph will not wholly wear away. She is now established.

But the paper games will always be most popular, and once you are over the difficulty of the pencils you may play them for hours without wearying. But of course you must play the amusing ones and not the dull ones. The most common paper game of all, that of making small words out of a big one, has nothing to recommend it; for there can be no possible amus.e.m.e.nt in hearing somebody else read out "but," "bat," "bet," "bin," "ben," and so forth, riot even if you spend half an hour discussing whether "ben" is really a word. On the other hand your game, however amusing, ought to have some finality about it; a game is not really a game unless somebody can win it. For this reason I cannot wholly approve "telegrams." To concoct a telegram whose words begin with certain selected letters of the alphabet, say the first ten, is to amuse yourself anyhow and possibly your friends; whether you say, "Am bringing camel down early Friday. Got hump. Inform Jamrach"; or, "Afraid better cancel dinner engagement. Fred got horrid indigestion.-JANE." But it is impossible to declare yourself certainly the winner. Fortunately, however, there are games which combine amus.e.m.e.nt with a definite result; games in which the others can be funny while you can get the prize-or, if you prefer it, the other way about.

When I began to write this, the rain was streaming against the window-panes. It is now quite fine. This, you will notice, often happens when you decide to play indoor games on a wet afternoon. Just as you have found the pencils, the sun comes out.

Declined with Thanks

A paragraph in the papers of last week recorded the unusual action of a gentleman called Smith (or some such name) who had refused for reasons of conscience to be made a justice of the peace. Smith's case was that the commission was offered to him as a reward for political services, and that this was a method of selecting magistrates of which he did not approve. So he showed his contempt for the system by refusing an honour which most people covet, and earned by this such notoriety as the papers can give. "Portrait (on page 8) of a gentleman who has refused something!" He takes his place with Brittlebones in the gallery of freaks.

The subject for essay has frequently been given, "If a million pounds were left to you, how could you do most good with it?" Some say they would endow hospitals, some that they would establish almshouses; there may even be some who would go as far as to build half a Dreadnought. But there would be a more decisive way of doing good than any of these. You might refuse the million pounds. That would be a shock to the systems of the comfortable -a blow struck at the great Money G.o.d which would make it totter; a thrust in defence of pride and freedom such as had not been seen before. That would be a moral tonic more needed than all the draughts of your newly endowed hospitals. Will it ever be administered? Well, perhaps when the D.W.T. club has grown a little stronger.

Have you heard of the D.W.T.-the Declined- with-Thanks Club? There are no club rooms and not many members, but the balance sheet for the last twelve months is wonderful, showing that more than 11,000 was refused. The entrance fee is one hundred guineas and the annual subscription fifty guineas; that is to say, you must have refused a hundred guineas before you can be elected, and you are expected to refuse another fifty guineas a year while you retain membership. It is possible also to compound with a life refusal, but the sum is not fixed, and remains at the discretion of the committee.

Baines is a life member. He saved an old lady from being run over by a motor bus some years ago, and when she died she left him a legacy of 1000. Baines wrote to the executors and pointed out that he did not go about dragging persons from beneath motor buses as a profession; that, if she had offered him 1000 at the time, he would have refused it, not being in the habit of accepting money from strangers, still less from women; and that he did not see that the fact of the money being offered two years later in a will made the slightest difference. Baines was earning 300 a year at this time, and had a wife and four children, but he will not admit that he did anything at all out of the common.

The case of Sedley comes up for consideration at the next committee meeting. Sedley's rich uncle, a cantankerous old man, insulted him grossly; there was a quarrel; and the old man left, vowing to revenge himself by disinheriting his nephew and bequeathing his money to a cats' home. He died on his way to his solicitors, and Sedley was told of his good fortune in good legal English. He replied, "What on earth do you take me for? I wouldn't touch a penny. Give it to the cats' home or any blessed thing you like." Sedley, of course, will be elected as an ordinary member, but as there is a strong feeling on the committee that no decent man could have done anything else, his election as a life member is improbable.

Though there are one or two other members like Baines and Sedley, most of them are men who have refused professional openings rather than actual money. There are, for instance, half a dozen journalists and authors. Now a journalist, before he can be elected, must have a black-list of papers for which he will refuse to write. A concocted wireless message in the Daily Blank, which subsequent events proved to have been invented deliberately for the purpose of raking in ha'pennies, so infuriated Henderson (to take a case) that he has pledged himself never to write a line for any paper owned by the same proprietors. Curiously enough he was asked a day or two later to contribute a series to a most respectable magazine published by this firm. He refused in a letter which breathed hatred and utter contempt in every word. It was Henderson, too, who resigned his position as dramatic critic because the proprietor of his paper did rather a shady thing in private life. "I know the paper isn't mixed up in it at all," he said, "but he's my employer and he pays me. Well, I like to be loyal to my employers, and if I'm loyal to this man I can't go about telling everybody that he's a dirty cad. As I particularly want to."

Then there is the case of Bolus the author. He is only an honorary member, for he has not as yet had the opportunity of refusing money or work. But he has refused to be photographed and interviewed, and he has refused to contribute to symposia in the monthly magazines. He has declined with thanks, moreover, invitations to half a dozen houses sent to him by hostesses who only knew him by reputation. Myself, I think it is time that he was elected a full member; indirectly he must have been a financial loser by his action, and even if he is not actually a.s.sisting to topple over the Money G.o.d, he is at least striking a blow for the cause of independence. However, there he is, and with him goes a certain M.P. who contributed 20,000 to the party chest, and refused scornfully the peerage which was offered to him.

The Bar is represented by P. J. Brewster, who was elected for refusing to defend a suspected murderer until he had absolutely convinced himself of the man's innocence. It was suggested to him by his legal brothers that counsel did not pledge themselves to the innocence of their clients, but merely put the case for one side in a perfectly detached way, according to the best traditions of the Bar. Brewster replied that he was also quite capable of putting the case for Tariff Reform in a perfectly detached way according to the best traditions of The Morning Post, but as he was a Free Trader he thought he would refuse any such offer if it were made to him. He added, however, that he was not in the present case worrying about moral points of view; he was simply expressing his opinion that the luxury of not having little notes pa.s.sed to him in court by a probable murderer, of not sharing a page in an ill.u.s.trated paper with him, and of not having to shake hands with him if he were acquitted, was worth paying for. Later on, when as K.C., M.P., he refused the position of standing counsel to a paper which he was always attacking in the House, he became a life member of the club.

But it would be impossible to mention all the members of the D.W.T. by name. I have been led on to speaking about the club by the mention of that Mr. Smith (or whatever his name was) who refused to be made a justice of the peace. If Mr. Smith cared to put up as an honorary member, I have no doubt that he would be elected; for though it is against the Money G.o.d that the chief battle is waged, yet the spirit of refusal is the same. "Blessed are they who know how to refuse," runs the club's motto, "for they will have a chance to be clean."

On Going into a House

It is nineteen years since I lived in a house; nineteen years since I went upstairs to bed and came downstairs to breakfast. Of course I have done these things in other people's houses from time to time, but what we do in other people's houses does not count. We are holiday-making then. We play cricket and golf and croquet, and run up and down stairs, and amuse ourselves in a hundred difierent ways, but all this is no fixed part of our life. Now, however, for the first time for nineteen years, I am actually living in a house. I have (imagine my excitement) a staircase of my own.

Flats may be convenient (I thought so myself when I lived in one some days ago), but they have their disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that you are never in complete possession of the flat. You may think that the drawing-room floor (to take a case) is your very own, but it isn't; you share it with a man below who uses it as a ceiling. If you want to dance a step-dance, you have to consider his plaster. I was always ready enough to accommodate myself in this matter to his prejudices, but I could not put up with his old-fashioned ideas about bathroom ceilings. It is very cramping to one's style in the bath to reflect that the slightest splash may call attention to itself on the ceiling of the gentleman below. This is to share a bathroom with a stranger-an intolerable position for a proud man. To-day I have a bathroom of my own for the first time in my life.

I can see already that living in a house is going to be extraordinarily healthy both for mind and body. At present I go upstairs to my bedroom (and downstairs again) about once in every half-hour; not simply from pride of ownership, to make sure that the bedroom is still there, and that the staircase is continuing to perform its functions, but in order to fetch something, a letter or a key, which as likely as not I have forgotten about again as soon as I have climbed to the top of the house. No such exercise as this was possible in a flat, and even after two or three days I feel the better for it. But obviously I cannot go on like this, if I am to have leisure for anything else. With practice I shall so train my mind that, when I leave my bedroom in the morning, I leave it with everything that I can possibly require until nightfall. This, I imagine, will not happen for some years yet; meanwhile physical training has precedence.

Getting up to breakfast means something different now; it means coming down to breakfast. To come down to breakfast brings one immediately in contact with the morning. The world flows past the window, that small and (as it seems to me) particularly select portion of the world which finds itself in our quiet street; I can see it as I drink my tea. When I lived in a flat (days and days ago) anything might have happened to London, and I should never have known it until the afternoon. Everybody else could have perished in the night, and I should settle down as complacently as ever to my essay on making the world safe for democracy. Not so now. As soon as I have reached the bottom of my delightful staircase I am one with the outside world.

Also one with the weather, which is rather convenient. On the third floor it is almost impossible to know what sort of weather they are having in London. A day which looks cold from a third- floor window may be very sultry down below, but by that time one is committed to an overcoat. How much better to live in a house, and to step from one's front door and inhale a sample of whatever day the G.o.ds have sent. Then one can step back again and dress accordingly.

But the best of a house is that it has an outside personality as well as an inside one. n.o.body, not even himself, could admire a man's flat from the street; n.o.body could look up and say, "What very delightful people must live behind those third-floor windows." Here it is different. Any of you may find himself some day in our quiet street, and stop a moment to look at our house; at the blue door with its jolly knocker, at the little trees in their blue tubs standing within a ring of blue posts linked by chains, at the bright-coloured curtains. You may not like it, but we shall be watching you from one of the windows, and telling each other that you do. In any case, we have the pleasure of looking at it ourselves, and feeling that we are contributing something to London, whether for better or for worse. We are part of a street now, and can take pride in that street. Before, we were only part of a big unmanageable building. It is a solemn thought that I have got this house for (apparently) eighty-seven years. One never knows, and it may be that by the end of that time I shall be meditating an article on the advantages of living in a flat. A flat, I shall say, is so convenient.

The Ideal Author

Samuel Butler made a habit (and urged it upon every young writer) of carrying a notebook about with him. The most profitable ideas, he felt, do not come from much seeking, but rise unbidden in the mind, and if they are not put down at once on paper, they may be lost for ever. But with a notebook in the pocket you are safe; no thought is too fleeting to escape you. Thus, if an inspiration for a five-thousand word story comes suddenly to you during the dessert, you murmur an apology to your neighbour, whip out your pocket-book, and jot down a few rough notes. "Hero choked peach- stone eve marriage Lady Honoria. Pchtree planted by jltd frst love. Ironyofthings. Tragic." Next morning you extract your notebook from its white waistcoat, and prepare to develop your theme (if legible) a little more fully. Possibly it does not seem so brilliant in the cold light of morning as it did after that fourth gla.s.s of Bollinger. If this be so, you can then make another note-say, for a short article on "Disillusionment." One way or another a notebook and a pencil will keep you well supplied with material.

If I do not follow Butler's advice myself, it is not because I get no brilliant inspirations away from my inkpot, nor because, having had the inspirations, I am capable of retaining them until I get back to my inkpot again, but simply because I should never have the notebook and the pencil in the right pockets. But though I do not imitate him, I can admire his wisdom, even while making fun of it. Yet I am sure it was unwise of him to take the public into his confidence. The public prefers to think that an author does not require these earthly aids to composition. It will never quite reconcile itself to the fact that an author is following a profession- a profession by means of which he pays the rent and settles the weekly bills. No doubt the public wants its favourite writers to go on living, but not in the sordid way that its barrister and banker friends live. It would prefer to feel that manna dropped on them from Heaven, and that the ravens erected them a residence; but, having regretfully to reject this theory, it likes to keep up the pretence that the thousand pounds that an author received for his last story came as something of a surprise to him-being, in fact, really more of a coincidence than a reward.

The truth is that a layman will never take an author quite seriously. He regards authorship, not as a profession, but as something between au inspiration and a hobby. In as far as it is an inspiration, it is a gift from Heaven, and ought, therefore, to be shared with the rest of the world; in as far as it is a hobby, it is something which should be done not too expertly, but in a casual, amateur, haphazard fashion. For this reason a layman will never hesitate to ask of an author a free contribution for some local publication, on such slender grounds as that he and the author were educated at the same school or had both met Robinson. But the same man would be horrified at the idea of asking a Harley Street surgeon (perhaps even more closely connected with him) to remove his adenoids for nothing. To ask for this (he would feel) would be almost as bad as to ask a gift of ten guineas (or whatever the fee is), whereas to ask a writer for an article is like asking a friend to decant your port for you-a delicate compliment to his particular talent. But in truth the matter is otherwise; and it is the author who has the better right to resent such a request. For the supply of available adenoids is limited, and if the surgeon hesitates to occupy himself in removing one pair for nothing, it does not follow that in the time thus saved he can be certain of getting employment upon a ten-guinea pair. But when a Harley Street author has written an article, there are a dozen papers which will give him his own price for it, and if he sends it to his importunate schoolfellow for nothing, he is literally giving up, not only ten or twenty or a hundred guineas, but a publicity for his work which he may prize even more highly. Moreover, he has lost what can never be replaced- an idea; whereas the surgeon would have lost nothing.

Since, then, the author is not to be regarded as a professional, he must by no means adopt the professional notebook. He is to write by inspiration; which comes as regularly to him (it is to be presumed) as indigestion to a lesser-favoured mortal. He must know things by intuition; not by experience or as the result of reading. This, at least, is what one gathers from hearing some people talk about our novelists. The hero of Smith's new book goes to the Royal College of Science, and the public says scornfully: "Of course, he WOULD. Because Smith went to the Royal College himself, all his heroes have to go there. This isn't art, this is photography." In his next novel Smith sends his hero to Cambridge, and the public says indignantly, "What the deuce does SMITH know about Cambridge? Trying to pretend he is a 'Varsity man, when everybody knows that he went to the Royal College of Science! I suppose he's been mugging it up in a book." Perhaps Brown's young couple honeymoons in Switzerland. "So did Brown," sneer his acquaintances. Or they go to Central Africa. "How ridiculous," say his friends this time. "Why, he actually writes as though he'd been there! I suppose he's just spent a week-end with Sir Harry Johnston." Meredith has been blamed lately for being so secretive about his personal affairs, but he knew what he was doing. Happy is the writer who has no personal affairs; at any rate, he will avoid this sort of criticism.

Indeed, Isaiah was the ideal author. He intruded no private affairs upon the public. He took no money for his prophecies, and yet managed to live on it. He responded readily, I imagine, to any request for "something prophetic, you know," from acquaintances or even strangers. Above all, he kept to one style, and did not worry the public, when once it had got used to him, by tentative gropings after a new method. And Isaiah, we may be sure, did NOT carry a notebook.

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Not that it Matters Part 8 summary

You're reading Not that it Matters. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): A. A. Milne. Already has 519 views.

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