My younger daughter dug this up from some distant crevice of the internet. I think its funniest line is the one I've chosen to head this post with, although the one about Belconnen was a close runner-up:
There was quite a long period in the life of our family when the Lion King loomed large in almost everything we did. As a result, I was particularly amused by this part of an unexpectedly hilarious programme on BBC radio, (it billed itself as being the ravings of a man called Thom Tuck, who has not only watched almost all the Disney films that went straight to DVD but somehow related them to the events of his love life - not a promising concept, I grant you, but it turned out to be very funny - grab it, if it's still available on the BBC podcast page):
There is a book that is getting a lot of publicity at the moment about how wonderfully well French children behave and how children in the rest of the Western world are all savages. I thought of it when I was going through one of my files of "interesting stuff" the other day and came across a postcard to my daughter from her then 10-year-old French schoolfriend one holiday:
"Cette ile longue de 2 km et large de 800 a 50 m est en realite deux ilots reunis par un isthme"
I kept it, because it seemed such an astonishing document for a 10-year-old child to write. I am not sure it is a good sign though. Furthermore, even if you do think it is a good thing that 10-year-olds are happy to spend their spare time mugging up on useless facts and figures, I think it is important to look closely at what means are used to arrive at such a result.
While the book apparently maintains that the civilising of French children is all done in a thoroughly civilised manner, my experience suggests that this is not entirely the case. My children went to French schools in various countries in their early years - (yes, I think they liked it [in a it's-great- to-bang-your-head-against-the-wall-because-it's-so-nice-when-you-stop kind of way] and I'm absolutely certain it gave them a brilliant base for their later education) - and, as a result, I got to know lots of French parents and was able to observe them with their children.
Ultimately, the one thing I noticed that separated me from my French counterparts was their uninhibited use of violence to subdue their charges. Or, to put it another way, the only reason I know the word 'baffe' is because almost without fail, if I was talking to a French mother and her four-year-old appeared at her side to ask her something, she would respond to his or her lisping attempts at communication with the question, 'Tu veux une baffe?", usually following this up with a clip around the earhole, to make her point.
So, yes, the children were well behaved, yes, they could tell you about isthmuses (isthmii?). However, they were also somewhat bruised.
Just lately I have been on a mission to murder some pests that have been taking over my vegetable garden. This is the one I have a special vendetta against:
and this is either what it emerges from or what it becomes (or both):
or possibly this is:
and these are the eggs that either Suspect 1, 2 or 3 lays and from which, I think, Suspect 1 blossoms, before becoming its thoroughly unpleasant and destructive self:
Anyway as I squashed my umpteenth Suspect 1 this morning, I did have a moment's pang of compassion, even though I hate the little furry monsters. "Sorry mate," I thought, as the thing collapsed beneath my fingers. "The trouble is I've got to look after these poor, defenceless, little plants, you see".
And as I felt the revolting squish of the little invertebrate's body and saw the resulting squirt of brilliant yellow, (quite possibly chrome yellow, for all I know, [and yes, I am aware that the Huxley one is actually Crome Yellow, named after a place and blah blah blah, but I thought I'd shove the reference in anyway, partly to add a touch of class amid the horror, Mr Kurtz, the horror]) goo splatter across my cucumber plant's leaves, it crossed my mind that, when people point to unexpected, pointless suffering as a reason for dismissing the existence of a deity, when they suggest that sudden accidents and senseless deaths are an argument against the likelihood of there being a divine being, they may actually be looking at things from the wrong perspective.
Maybe humanity is not the focal point of anything. Perhaps there is a deity, but one whose main priority isn't in fact us.
Having become slightly too obsessively interested in the leadership fight going on in the Australian Labor Party at the moment, I decided to stop thinking about it and start reading a new book instead. But what did I find on the opening page:
Perhaps it's just tunnel vision, but that strikes me as a message aimed straight at the ALP.
I have long known that I am not entirely what a film director would look for in an audience. Although I don't take it as far as the man I interviewed in Locks, the hatters many years ago, who asked me, seemingly apropos of nothing, whether I'd seen Death in Venice and, when I replied that I had, went into a moment's reverie before remarking, "Oh, the hats - what hats that film had," I have to admit that I too am prone to distraction from a film's "overarching and compelling story", (to borrow a phrase from one of Australia's former Prime Ministers).
It was thanks to this habit, actually, that I managed to sit through What Lies Beneath without a moment of fearfulness - at the time I was busy planning renovations to our bathroom, and, as a result, my entire attention was diverted from the scary story and applied instead to the "shabby chic" features of the bathroom in which many of the film's scenes took place.
Similarly, last night, when I went to see My Week with Marilyn,, my mind went off wandering, despite the fact that I found the film quite enchanting. Even though I loved every minute of it - especially its insight into the foolishness of men and the way that good looks are a mixed blessing, a weapon handed to a woman, without any accompanying instruction, and removed from her just as she is beginning to understand the exact nature of her dangerous power - the whole thing was spoilt by the niggling fact that over the door of the pub called The Dog and Duck, where one of the main characters is housed for the film's duration, the sign advertising accommodation is misspelt.
I'm not mad enough to say don't go though - it's a really lovely film and I wouldn't have missed it: Michelle Williams should win a prize for her performance, if she hasn't already, and Kenneth Branagh is superb, as always.
For anyone wondering what the hell is going on in Australian politics at the moment, I am very grateful to my friend Helen for pointing me in the direction of this succinct but informative video, which pretty well explains the situation:
For some reason my daughter chooses to live in Bristol. She could live in Australia, where there are no unsavoury people at all, (as any fule know), but instead she chooses to live in Bristol, and to read the Bristol Evening Post, which carries reports about her fellow Bristolians - such as this one about a man who mistook a bunch of flowers for 'a small Chinese boy':
' Bristol burglar found in his pants, trying on ladies' clothes
A MIND-bending pill was the reason a burglar was found in his underpants, trying to decide what to wear from a selection of clothes which included women's dresses.
Jimmy Nash was under the after-effects of drugs when he entered the Knowle home, made himself a cup of tea and laid out the householders' clothes on their bed, Bristol Crown Court was told.
When he was disturbed he apologised, said he meant no harm and would send any clothes he borrowed back, with "a few quid".
His defence team told the court he believed a small Chinese boy had invited him into the house – the "boy" turned out to be a bunch of flowers.
Nash, 43, of Kildare Road, Knowle, admitted burglary in October.
Judge Carol Hagen described the episode as incomprehensible, especially as Nash lived nearby, and said the most serious aspect was the impact caused to the family. She told him to do 200 hours of unpaid work over the next 12 months.
Julian Howells, prosecuting, said the occupants of a terraced home in Andover Road returned to find the family dog outside. The man of the house found the back door unlocked and went in, the court heard.
Mr Howells said: "He went upstairs and found the defendant standing there in his underpants, next to a bed. He was drying himself off and in front of him there was clothes laid out, including clothes of the lady of the house.
"The defendant apologised and said he had not come to cause problems and he had just wanted a cup of tea and some food. He said he was being chased by the police."
When interviewed Nash said he had caught his girlfriend with a friend, there had been a confrontation and he left the area.
He said he saw a helicopter and went into "stupid mode and ran off like a crazy man".
When he got the urge for a cup of tea he went into the victim's home, let the dog out and had some tea.
He said he planned to change from his wet clothes and accepted that even though he would have sent borrowed clothes back the householders would find his conduct "freaky".
He said he was under the influence of cocaine at the time, and later said he may have taken a hallucinogenic pill.
The court heard the intrusion left a "sickly effect" on the householders, and women's clothing was thrown away in case Nash tried them on.
David Martin, defending, said: "It's completely bizarre.
"This was completely out of character. He genuinely does not want them to feel any insecurity. He was behaving extremely bizarrely." '
My younger daughter sent me this list, which is meant to show French people how they sound when they speak English - or possibly to instruct them in how to speak English:
Etes-vous prêt ?
Ail ou radis ?
Are you ready ?
Qu'on gratte tous les jeunes !
Passer un coup de fil personnel
Ma queue perd son alcool
Make a personal call
Mors mon nez
Marie qui se masse
Nous sommes en retard
We are late
C'est que ça pèle
Le dîner est prêt
Dix nourrices raidies
Dinner is ready
Fabriqué en France
Mais dîne Frantz
Made in France
J'ai fait un bon voyage
Ahmed a l'goût d'tripes
I made a good trip
Deux bouts d'chair
Il parle Allemand
Il se pique Germaine
He speaks german
Tu as sauvé toute ma famille !
Youssef vole ma femme au lit !
You saved all my family !
Asseyez-vous sur la chaise
Six tonnes de chair
Sit on the chair
Le sel et le poivre
Sale teint de pépère
Salt and pepper
Né pour perdre
Beaune - Toulouse
Born to loose
Délicate et saine
Où est l'épicier ?
Varices de grosseur ?
Where is the grocer ?
Donne-moi de l'argent !
Guy vomit sous mon nez !
Give-me some money !
Prendre le train
Toute ta queue traîne
To take a train
It reminded me of the wonderful Colin Crisp, who taught me French in first year at the Australian National University (another day I'll tell the exciting story of when he lost our French proses) and who also showed us this book, which contained recently discovered medieval French texts:
This was one of the poems it contained, with its accompanying explanatory footnotes:
Un petit d'un petit 
S'étonne aux Halles 
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent 
Indolent qui ne sort cesse 
Indolent qui ne se mène 
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes. 
1. The inevitable result of a child marriage
2. The subject of this epigrammatic poem is obviously from the provinces, since a native of Paris would take this famous old market for granted.
3. Since this personage bears no titles, we are led to believe that the poet writes of one of those unfortunate idiot children that in former times existed as a living skeleton in their family's closet. I am inclined to believe, however, that this is a fine piece of misdirection and the poet is actually writing of a famous political prisoner or the illegitimate offspring of some noble house (the Man in the Iron Mask, perhaps?)
4 & 5.Another misdirection: obviously it was not laziness that prevented this person from going about and taking himself places
6. He was obviously prevented from fulfilling his destiny since his is compared to Gai de Reguennes. This was a young squire (to one of his uncles, a Gaillard of Normandy) who died at the tender age of twelve, of a surfeit of Saracen arrows before the walls of Acre in 1191.
Almost a year ago, we spent a happy evening poring over the Canberra Continuing Education Institute's brochure, with its enticing array of courses to improve our lives. The one that particularly caught our eye (we pass it round and put it in a glass with the dentures every night before we turn the light out) was the one conducted by a person called Kevin Norton, entitled 'Social Chit Chat' ('ever wondered how some people mingle with ease, saying the right thing at the right time to people they hardly know?', Oh yes, yes, yes - would I be sitting here staring at a computer screen, if I'd ever unlocked the art of conversation? No, of course not.)
Anyway, Canberra does not merely offer its citizens this enticing opportunity. No, indeed - Canberra has also introduced the idea to the wider world. I mean why else would Alain de Botton, with that hideously sensitive looking shiny bald pate of his - an invitation to disastrous interaction with our fierce unrelenting sunshine, (shhh, don't tell them the climate's changed and we don't have fierce unrelenting sunshine any more, or you'll ruin the tourist industry) - have dared to venture all the way to the Antipodes if it wasn't to make sure that, (having taken inspiration from Kevin Norton - or possibly stolen his brilliant innovation - and established a course for Londoners called "How to Have Better Conversations"), he had in fact implemented (to use the kind of lingo that is all the rage with trainers) his master's strategy properly?
Once again (I'm sure if you look on Wikipedia you'll find another thrilling example, although nothing comes to mind immediately) the nation's capital has broken new ground, charged forth to new horizons and demonstrated to the entire international community exactly how things should be done.
Gadjo Dilo, the sage of Kolozsvar responded to my question of the week with a link to a Wikipedia article about Entomophagy, which is, apparently, the word for the eating of insects and insect products. It was fascinating in a gruesome way, especially the bit about Sicilian cheese:
"Within Western culture, entomophagy (barring some food dyes) is seen as taboo. There are some exceptions. Casu marzu, for example, also called casu modde, casu cundhídu, or in Italian formaggio marcio, is a cheese made in Sardinia notable for being riddled with live insect larvae. Casu marzu means "rotten cheese" in Sardinian and is known colloquially as maggot cheese."
My question of this week is now: can Casu marzu be included in a vegetarian diet. No, maybe my question of this week is actually: why would anyone want to eat Casu marzu??
As so often, where I groped towards something in a foggy, inarticulate manner, someone else - well, someone infinitely cleverer, actually - had already said it with a great deal more clarity. In this case, the person who said it better was Alice Munro, and what she was talking about was what she thinks makes a short story resonate for a reader - something I tried to address at the end of Battered Penguins XVII.
Here is my burbling:
"Until I read this book, I'd had a vague idea that the short story was supposed to be sealed somehow, to contain a description of a significant moment that encapsulates the existence of a character, that provides them with an epiphany that sheds light on everything that has gone before. Few of these stories function in that way and, for me, the ones that are least bubble-like are the most successful. That is to say, the stories, like Pritchett's, where readers arrive at the end but, instead of having the impression that something has finished, have the sensation of having been plunged briefly into the river of these characters' lives and pulled out again, (the lives continuing to flow on, regardless), work best for me."
Here is what Munro said, succinctly:
“I want the story to exist somewhere so that in a way it’s still happening, or happening over and over again. I don’t want it to be shut up in the book and put away – oh well, that’s what happened.”
I have moaned in the past about the local chemist deciding to increase its clientele by taking on the role of methadone dispensary for the area, but I'm beginning to revise my views. After all, now if I sit in my front garden at the right time in the morning I'm almost guaranteed to overhear a conversation, (don't ask me why, but the methadone-taking community seems to conduct its conversations at a very high volume, [which I imagine is why they've recently put up a thick glass wall between the dispensary section of the chemist and the rest of the shop - in order to seal off some of the noise]) and almost always that conversation makes me realise that there is a rich tapestry of life going on in the suburbs around me and my bit of the tapestry is probably nicer than most.
Lately though it's been oddly stormy which has meant there's been very little opportunity to sit in the front garden. But yesterday was lovely - at least to begin with (late afternoon brought astonishing thunder and lightning and a smattering of rain as well). Anyway seeing the sun out at around 10. 30, I got the newspapers and a cup of coffee and took my position on the warm brick of my front step. I hadn't been there long when I heard two foghorn voices coming down the street.
One sounded middle-aged; the other sounded younger, (but not youthful). Both of them were female and this is what they said:
"Yeah well, I don't care. I'm happy on my own anyway."
"Yeah well, you wait till you're 59 and on your own like me and tell me you're still happy."
"Yeah well, you should have made dad happy and then he wouldn't have drunk himself to death - and anyway that's just another kind of materialism, that finding someone stuff. You've got to find your own happiness from within you, not look for someone else to give you happiness."
"Yeah well, if I'd known what a little prick you were going to turn out to be, I wouldn't have had you, that's for sure."
I may be wrong, but I think something's up with our Prime Minister. Although there are one or two other clues out there in the papers, the thing that indicates this to me is the fact that there is barely an article about her or a news report that doesn't include either the phrase "brushed aside" or "brushed off".
Mind you, I don't think anyone's a dead cert goner, provided they are still brushing things aside. However, what I've noticed in the past few days is that our Prime Minister is no longer reported as even doing that. As a consequence each new stinging verbal tendril is springing back painfully into her face.
BBC Radio Four's comedy programme, The Now Show, has just begun a new season. While it usually runs out of steam by about episode three, the first episode of this series is not unamusing, particularly the audience's answers to the question: If Scotland votes yes in a referendum, the United Kingdom will have to change its name: what should the country subsequently be called?
My brother had to get some boots made. Shoemakers are few and far between in modern day Sydney, but he found a little shop in Surry Hills where two old men were still plying their trade (although, sadly, they haven't managed to find apprentices to carry on their craft). While they measured him up, they told my brother their story. It is a great listen.
Is honey the only thing that humans eat that is produced by insects or, indeed, has anything to do with them? I suppose that's a question that is very much a product of the culture I come from - I know that some strange exotic population somewhere in the world eats grilled grasshoppers or something, but I think they only do that because they haven't got meat pies or Chiko rolls, whereas honey is eaten because we genuinely think it is delicious.
I loved this collection, which was published in 1972. It begins with The Distracted Preacher by Thomas Hardy, the story of a young minister called Stockdale, "a lonely young fellow, who had for weeks felt a great craving for somebody on whom to throw away superfluous interest, and even tenderness." This is followed by Rudyard Kipling's William the Conqueror, set in India and including a description of how useless aid applied without reference to local culture can be, (and, in reverse, if that makes sense, a perfect illustration of what led to the death of Burke and Wills):
"They clamoured for rice - unhusked paddy, such as they were accustomed to - and, when they found that there was none, broke away weeping from the sides of the cart. What was the use of these strange hard grains that choked their throats? They would die. And then and there were many of them kept their word...Scott understood dimly that many people in the India of the South ate rice, as a rule, but he had spent his service in a grain Province, had seldom seen rice in the blade or the ear, and least of all would have believed that, in time of deadly need, men would die at arm's length of plenty, sooner than touch food they did not know."
As well as illustrating the well-meaning hopelessness that the Empire sometimes created, Kipling's story is really perceptive about humans in general. Until now I've only read the Just So Stories and various bits of his poetry, but, after reading this, I'm going to hunt down other short stories by him.
After William the Conqueror comes The Bucket and the Rope by T.F Powys, which is one of the most original stories I have ever read - it's narrators are, in fact, a bucket and a rope. E.M Forster follows Powys, with a story called The Road from Colonus. I am mildly allergic to E.M. Forster, so probably cannot provide a fair assessment of the story. It deals with an Englishman abroad who has an epiphany, a theme that I have the impression was regularly on Forster's mind. Its tone is mildly flippant, I think - or perhaps I just took it the wrong way. It irritated me.
Joyce's Ivy Day in the Committee Room follows The Road from Colonus and, for me at least, provides a bracing antidote to Forster's faint archness. The Mark on the Wall, Virginia Woolf's contribution, plunges us back into the stifling world of the English middle classes. It is essentially three pages of stream of consciousness, marred by a rather silly punchline. The phrase I liked best in it was, " Wood is a pleasant thing to think about."
After Woolf, we are given D.H Lawrence's The Horsedealer's Daughter. I have always liked Lawrence, even though I recognise he was maddening and fairly bonkers. This story is also fairly bonkers, with the usual Lawrentian love of PASSION over mere emotions. The editor of the book has placed it cleverly in the collection - after the pale, (mildly insipid?), Woolf piece, this comes across like an ungenteel howl.
Next up, there is the breathless romantic hopefulness of Katherine Mansfield's Feuille d'Album. As always when I read Mansfield, I admire her but find her a bit lispingly charming and clinging to a rather girlish femininity.
There is no girlish femininity about Joyce Cary's Government Baby, which follows Mansfield's story. It, like Kipling's story, tells a story of expatriates in an outpost of the British Empire called Dabbi, "where there was no butter, no potatoes, no ice; where newspapers were a fortnight old, the library consisted of two Edgar Wallaces and somebody's Auction Bridge with all the middle pages torn out, and nothing ever happened except in the native town which was a perfect nuisance in any case." As I have an irrational aversion to the medical profession, I was particularly pleased by Cary's comment that, "All doctors tend to autocracy, and Government doctors are tyrants."
Robert Graves is the next contributor to the collection, with The Lost Chinese, quite an amusing satire of show business and celebrity. Handsome is as Handsome Does by VS Pritchett follows, a chilling but compelling account of the mutual bonds and lonely loyalties of an unhappy marriage between 'two ugly people living in their desert island', marred for modern readers by repeated references to one character as 'The Jew', (this character is not portrayed as a villain, but the very acknowledgment of race these days is discomfiting). Pritchett's understanding of the strange, ignoble motivations of his characters is extraordinary and his descriptions are exceptionally precise.
If the editor wanted to highlight Graham Greene's shortcomings by placing his story, The Destructors, straight after Pritchett's masterly work, he succeeded, as far as I'm concerned. Once again, I was struck by the didacticism and lack of complexity or subtlety in Greene's writing. Angus Wilson, who comes next, with a story called After the Show, is not really a very great writer either, but he does manage to create a world that is particularly his and that I am quite fond of entering from time to time, partly because I like the sense of the absurdity of human nature that I think lies beneath all of his writing - no-one is ever heroic in a work by Wilson.
Penultimately, there is a Muriel Spark story, You Should have Seen the Mess, which I thought was really disappointing, as I admire Spark generally - this, however, was snobbish and silly. Never mind. To end the book there is Kingsley Amis's Interesting Things, which is as good and funny as Lucky Jim, and also, surprisingly given his reputation as a misogynist, told very perceptively from a woman's point of view. The recurrent motif of the forgotten packet of crisps is wonderfully hilarious.
Until I read this book, I'd had a vague idea that the short story was supposed to be sealed somehow, to contain a description of a significant moment that encapsulates the existence of a character, that provides them with an epiphany that sheds light on everything that has gone before. Few of these stories function in that way and, for me, the ones that are least bubble-like are the most successful. That is to say, the stories, like Pritchett's, where readers arrive at the end but, instead of having the impression that something has finished, have the sensation of having been plunged briefly into the river of these characters' lives and pulled out again, (the lives continuing to flow on, regardless), work best for me.
As usual, Saturday morning and the fat bundles of newspapers that come with it, brought both things you never knew you were looking for and, in fact, will almost certainly never, ever want:
and sudden glimpses of things that you couldn't see anywhere else and that make every penny of their price worthwhile:
Look at those clenched fists. Poor Ms Lagarde. She reminds me of a mother - okay, me, I admit it - at the end of a long day with fractious children. Unlike me, as far as one knows, she retained her self-control. But perhaps, in fact, she ought to have punched him? It might have achieved nothing - or even been counter-productive - but at least she'd have felt better.
I thought I was safe. I'd read things by Peter Robb before - while he can sometimes be a bit wordy, he did produce an interesting article about Marcia Langton and I very much enjoyed Midnight in Sicily (especially the bits about food). Although not hugely interested in things to do with fashion, I've got a daughter who is. Therefore, all things considered, Robb's article in the current issue of the Monthly about the designer called Akira Isogawa seemed like a reasonable choice to pass fifteen minutes with, while I waited for my mother at the doctor's. Probably not entirely gripping, I thought, but I'd be able to talk to Anna about it - maybe.
What I did not expect, sitting in a scruffy waiting room in Yass, New South Wales, listening to the receptionists discussing the baby shower they'd just attended and the extraordinary increase in the weight of the showeree, was a trip to the deepest darkest crevices (and I use the word advisedly) of Pseuds' Corner:
"Akira's dresses express a female eroticism unknown in the West since the end of the French dix-huitième. The ineluctable metaphor is the flower. The overlapping petals, the seductive colours, the opening outward around the central fleshly fact of sex.
The meticulour renderings of beautifully cut and exquisite fabrics remind me of shunga. Akira's eyes widen again: 'You mean the very detailed...?' Yes, I do. The erotic prints that show male and female genitalia vastly enlarged and maniacally detailed. Every fine black pubic hair, every little raised vein on a huge engorged phallus. The myriad folds of a moistly receptive vagina. Impeccable coiffures, the intertwined folds of rich silks. Sex as an expression of the social arts.
A deep eroticism is at the heart of Akira's dresses and their appeal for adult women. In one beautiful image from a follower of Hokusai, the woman is on all fours, seen largely from behind and her hindquarters are at the centre of the image. A mostly concealed man delicately probes the pleats of her vagina with his fingers. A commentary explains redundantly that 'the focal point of the scene is the female genital organ, re-echoed in the sexual symbology of the oysters next to the basket.'
This delicate and voluptuous image leaps to blazing life in its single piece of fabric, a shred of it still wound around the woman's waist, the rest cascading to the floor between the two bodies. It's a beautiful plain deep red, and its outline seems almost jagged because the fine material has been treated to create an expanse of tiny peaks in its surface, like a distant mountain range. I've just seen this colour and this material on one of Akira's racks.
Leaving Christiane in Akira's Woolahra shop one day, I find I want to wear a dress."
I, on the other hand, doubt if I will ever want to wear one again.
Look, I don't pretend for a moment that I would maintain as indefatigable and stolidly but politely unengaged a demeanour as the current occupant of the position manages, shaking hands with her three hundred and ninety seventh stranger for the day. In fact, I'm not even sure that I would actually be prepared to go through with every single one of the duties that come with the job - and I almost certainly wouldn't be up for many of those hats, (not that I don't like hats; it's quality control I'm after). The point is though that, despite these minor details, I do have to be made Queen of England soon, because I need this picture. As it belongs to the Queen of England, I suppose becoming Queen of England is the only way I can be sure of getting a look at it every day:
The reasons I need this picture - which was painted by the great George Stubbs in 1793 and is called William Anderson with Two Saddle Horses - are as follows:
1. I love it. I love the lonely silence of the landscape, the solitary figures of Mr Anderson and his horses, the almost dreamlike atmosphere that is created by the sight of the three of them moving through an otherwise empty universe.
2. I could spend forever puzzling about the expression on the face of the rider - is he a kind man or a tough one, is he friendly, hostile or slightly self-conscious at being given the painter's attention? I don't know. I find him entirely enigmatic, apart from one thing: it is absolutely clear that he is a master of the art of riding - he sits beautifully, he betrays no sign of tension as he rides along, the reins of one animal caught loosely in his left hand, along with his riding crop, his other hand holding the reins of the animal he is leading. His whole position is one of relaxed competence, which I admire greatly:
3. In the unlikely event that I were to lose interest in the rider, I would happily look at the horses forever. Stubbs has made them much easier to empathise with than he has made their master. Both have wonderfully expressive eyes, which meet the viewer's just as consciously as the rider's do. Both give the impression of having something sad and rather wise to say, but being poignantly aware that they will never be able to express it, and this is combined with a weary indulgence, like kindly mothers toward their children, a forgiveness for the indignities visited on them by man:
4. I like the slightly eery quality which is added to the scene by the empty saddle of the second horse, with the empty stirrups swinging beneath the girth bringing to mind - to mine, at least - the idea of a ghostly absent rider:
5. When I said I loved the peaceful, empty landscape, I forgot to mention that I love the sky above the landscape as well:
6.I also love the second horse's apparent weightlessness - Stubbs really did know horse anatomy, so presumably this is anatomically correct, but those hind legs floating above the ground, with the distant tranquil world in the background, adds some kind of extra magical element to the whole picture, for me at least:
7. All in all, I need to see this picture on a daily basis so that I can be soothed by its calm beauty. Perhaps, if she doesn't want to give up the job for the moment, the Queen might be prepared to lend it to me for the time being. I would look after it. I'd hang it in our bedroom so that I could wake up and look at it every morning. I know she has a lot of pictures so she'd probably barely miss it. I wonder then if we could work something out between us. I suppose, if she didn't make too much noise, or splash too much, I could, in exchange, sometimes let her use our pool.
Once upon a time (and, no, I am not ever going to start saying "back in the day"), the Canberra Times used to have consistently good cartoonists. There was Pickering, who perfected the fly-blown look for certain politicians, most particularly John Gorton. Then there was Geoff Pryor. After he retired, the standard of the paper's cartoons declined for a while, to the extent that at times their quality was even worse than that of the paper's written content.
But luckily David Pope took over. He now seems to be restoring the finer traditions of cartooning at the paper. For example, yesterday this example of his work appeared. (of course, if you are not a follower of Australian federal politics, it will mean almost nothing at all to you):
I shall think of the Speaker as Mr Sticklepomp from now on.
According to Perth Now, Australia's wealthiest person has written this breathtaking poem:
The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy are [sic] better life
Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth
And the enterprise and capital which give each project worth
Is our future threatened with massive debts run up by political hacks
Who dig themselves out by unleashing rampant tax
The end result is sending Australian investment, growth and jobs offshore
This type of direction is harmful to our core
Some envious unthinking people have been conned
To think properity [sic] is created by waving a magic wand
Through such unfortunate ignorance, too much abuse is hurled
Against miners, workers and related industries who strive to build the world
Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores
To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores
The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate
Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late.
If ever proof were needed that money cannot do anything except buy you stuff, this is it, surely.
Here I was, longing for mindless noise on the radio, and all the time those cunning Germans have been giving me what I want, only I wasn't listening. Until this morning that is, when I switched on Deutschlandradio Kultur - why, you ask, well someone has to - and heard this (I've only put up two minutes, but I've loads and loads more, [it's sound art apparently]):
While I was ill the other day, (yes, I was, as a matter of fact: I felt quite dreadful, thanks for asking, and for quite a few days I had a REALLY high temperature and you know I actually don't think I got anywhere near enough sympathy, but that's another story [the story of my life, possibly, blub, blub, blub]), I spent quite a lot of time in an odd state where I wasn't quite asleep but I wasn't in any sense sensible, (not unusual, some might say).
Anyway, I could vaguely hear the radio mumbling to itself in another room for a lot of the time that I was lying in this insensible - or semi-sensible - state, and I found the sound rather comforting. I wasn't up to listening to anything coherent but I liked hearing a soothing kind of burbling noise.
That led me to thinking about radio stations that I might set up, if I were rich, to serve a similar calming kind of purpose for their listeners. I decided that I would quite like the following sounds to be available on the airwaves at all times, just in case I wanted to switch them on:
Cricket commentary (well, we have that pretty nearly full time already, come to think of it);
The sea - for connoisseurs there could be sections of the day devoted to different seas and oceans of the world and people could form groups to discuss which they enjoyed most and why, (or not - they might prefer to continue with book clubs as usual; it was merely a suggestion);
Insect noise - that kind of background static that you get on a hot day in Victoria;
The distant, impossible to quite make out conversations you hear on telephone wires sometimes, while you are waiting for a number to connect - very often these seem to be quite vehement arguments being conducted by Chinese people, from what little one can tell;
Shipping forecasts - Dogger, Cromarty, Finisterre et cetera;
The applause of audiences following really superb concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic or the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra;
Football results, like the ones that seemed to run for hours on a Saturday afternoon on the television in my childhood: West Bromwich Albion nil; Westham Wanderers 2 et cetera et cetera, all in that slightly liturgical lilt, as if reading out a psalm;
Country auctioneers calling cattle sales;
Rain on a corrugated iron roof - again different times of the day could be allotted for different rain patterns and, possibly, for the true afficionadoes, for different qualities of corrugated iron;
School playgrounds - we used to live next door to a school and I enjoyed the way the day was punctuated with eruptions of shrieks and laughter and shouts. Mind you, just like a school day, the station should only broadcast such sounds at times that coincided with the school breaks themselves; the rest of the time listeners should be able to hear simply the noise of the streets around the school;
Country racecallers calling picnic races;
A full list of prices on the stock exchange for the day, with rolling updates, (just a continuing drone, in other words - not broadcast for the purposes of the information contained within the reports).
I look forward to many more equally tranquilising suggestions.
That was the only thing that came into my head, when I read this piece of news:
"...Puffin's celebrations for Puffin Classics' 30th anniversary this year, with other 2012 plans including publication of actress Emma Thompson's The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, which will see Beatrix Potter's character travelling to Scotland."
You take something that is quite perfect within its own terms, you add a celebrity who, as far as I know, has never been associated with either the writing or illustrating of children's books, you rub your hands together with glee at the thought of all those sales.
Today I was reading Charles Moore's Diary column in the UK Spectator of 28 January, which included this item:
"What terrible rents in our social fabric have been caused by the phone-hacking scandal. Last year, Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse gave a private dinner party in London, at which the guests included Rebekah Brooks, then still at News International, her husband the equestrian hero Charlie Brooks, and Lord and Lady Rothermere. In the good old days, the party would have gone with a swing, but the News of the World row has fostered bad blood between the rival gang chiefs, and Lady Rothermere launched into a passionate account of what a force for good the Daily Mail was and what an absolute disgrace was News International. Robust argument ensued, with Mrs Brooks suggesting that Lady Rothermere was not Mother Teresa. Poor Mr Dunstone tried to calm things down, but this failed, and the Rothermeres left early."
On this the 200th anniversary of his birthday, I think yet again, "If only Charles Dickens were here to do justice to scenes such as this". I know of no-one who writes a better satiric dinner party scene, (although would love to hear of any writer I have missed who does come near).
Here is the first of several wonderful examples from our Mutual Friend, (all of them set around the Veneerings' dinner table. [and surely a modern Veneering would be a Carphone Warehouse millionaire?]):
"Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was new, their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from the Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown of his head.
For, in the Veneering establishment, from the hall-chairs with the new coat of arms, to the grand pianoforte with the new action, and upstairs again to the new fire-escape, all things were in a state of high varnish and polish. And what was observable in the furniture, was observable in the Veneerings—the surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.
There was an innocent piece of dinner-furniture that went upon easy castors and was kept over a livery stable-yard in Duke Street, Saint James's, when not in use, to whom the Veneerings were a source of blind confusion. The name of this article was Twemlow. Being first cousin to Lord Snigsworth, he was in frequent requisition, and at many houses might be said to represent the dining-table in its normal state. Mr and Mrs Veneering, for example, arranging a dinner, habitually started with Twemlow, and then put leaves in him, or added guests to him. Sometimes, the table consisted of Twemlow and half a dozen leaves; sometimes, of Twemlow and a dozen leaves; sometimes, Twemlow was pulled out to his utmost extent of twenty leaves. Mr and Mrs Veneering on occasions of ceremony faced each other in the centre of the board, and thus the parallel still held; for, it always happened that the more Twemlow was pulled out, the further he found himself from the center, and nearer to the sideboard at one end of the room, or the window-curtains at the other.
But, it was not this which steeped the feeble soul of Twemlow in confusion. This he was used to, and could take soundings of. The abyss to which he could find no bottom, and from which started forth the engrossing and ever-swelling difficulty of his life, was the insoluble question whether he was Veneering's oldest friend, or newest friend. To the excogitation of this problem, the harmless gentleman had devoted many anxious hours, both in his lodgings over the livery stable-yard, and in the cold gloom, favourable to meditation, of Saint James's Square. Thus. Twemlow had first known Veneering at his club, where Veneering then knew nobody but the man who made them known to one another, who seemed to be the most intimate friend he had in the world, and whom he had known two days—the bond of union between their souls, the nefarious conduct of the committee respecting the cookery of a fillet of veal, having been accidentally cemented at that date. Immediately upon this, Twemlow received an invitation to dine with Veneering, and dined: the man being of the party. Immediately upon that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine with the man, and dined: Veneering being of the party. At the man's were a Member, an Engineer, a Payer-off of the National Debt, a Poem on Shakespeare, a Grievance, and a Public Office, who all seem to be utter strangers to Veneering. And yet immediately after that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine at Veneerings, expressly to meet the Member, the Engineer, the Payer-off of the National Debt, the Poem on Shakespeare, the Grievance, and the Public Office, and, dining, discovered that all of them were the most intimate friends Veneering had in the world, and that the wives of all of them (who were all there) were the objects of Mrs Veneering's most devoted affection and tender confidence.
Thus it had come about, that Mr Twemlow had said to himself in his lodgings, with his hand to his forehead: 'I must not think of this. This is enough to soften any man's brain,'—and yet was always thinking of it, and could never form a conclusion.
This evening the Veneerings give a banquet. Eleven leaves in the Twemlow; fourteen in company all told. Four pigeon-breasted retainers in plain clothes stand in line in the hall. A fifth retainer, proceeding up the staircase with a mournful air—as who should say, 'Here is another wretched creature come to dinner; such is life!'—announces, 'Mis-ter Twemlow!'
Mrs Veneering welcomes her sweet Mr Twemlow. Mr Veneering welcomes his dear Twemlow. Mrs Veneering does not expect that Mr Twemlow can in nature care much for such insipid things as babies, but so old a friend must please to look at baby. 'Ah! You will know the friend of your family better, Tootleums,' says Mr Veneering, nodding emotionally at that new article, 'when you begin to take notice.' He then begs to make his dear Twemlow known to his two friends, Mr Boots and Mr Brewer—and clearly has no distinct idea which is which.
But now a fearful circumstance occurs.
'Mis-ter and Mis-sus Podsnap!'
'My dear,' says Mr Veneering to Mrs Veneering, with an air of much friendly interest, while the door stands open, 'the Podsnaps.'
A too, too smiling large man, with a fatal freshness on him, appearing with his wife, instantly deserts his wife and darts at Twemlow with:
'How do you do? So glad to know you. Charming house you have here. I hope we are not late. So glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'
When the first shock fell upon him, Twemlow twice skipped back in his neat little shoes and his neat little silk stockings of a bygone fashion, as if impelled to leap over a sofa behind him; but the large man closed with him and proved too strong.
'Let me,' says the large man, trying to attract the attention of his wife in the distance, 'have the pleasure of presenting Mrs Podsnap to her host. She will be,' in his fatal freshness he seems to find perpetual verdure and eternal youth in the phrase, 'she will be so glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'
In the meantime, Mrs Podsnap, unable to originate a mistake on her own account, because Mrs Veneering is the only other lady there, does her best in the way of handsomely supporting her husband's, by looking towards Mr Twemlow with a plaintive countenance and remarking to Mrs Veneering in a feeling manner, firstly, that she fears he has been rather bilious of late, and, secondly, that the baby is already very like him.
It is questionable whether any man quite relishes being mistaken for any other man; but, Mr Veneering having this very evening set up the shirt-front of the young Antinous in new worked cambric just come home, is not at all complimented by being supposed to be Twemlow, who is dry and weazen and some thirty years older. Mrs Veneering equally resents the imputation of being the wife of Twemlow. As to Twemlow, he is so sensible of being a much better bred man than Veneering, that he considers the large man an offensive ass.
In this complicated dilemma, Mr Veneering approaches the large man with extended hand and, smilingly assures that incorrigible personage that he is delighted to see him: who in his fatal freshness instantly replies:
'Thank you. I am ashamed to say that I cannot at this moment recall where we met, but I am so glad of this opportunity, I am sure!'
Then pouncing upon Twemlow, who holds back with all his feeble might, he is haling him off to present him, as Veneering, to Mrs Podsnap, when the arrival of more guests unravels the mistake. Whereupon, having re-shaken hands with Veneering as Veneering, he re-shakes hands with Twemlow as Twemlow, and winds it all up to his own perfect satisfaction by saying to the last-named, 'Ridiculous opportunity—but so glad of it, I am sure!'
Now, Twemlow having undergone this terrific experience, having likewise noted the fusion of Boots in Brewer and Brewer in Boots, and having further observed that of the remaining seven guests four discrete characters enter with wandering eyes and wholly declined to commit themselves as to which is Veneering, until Veneering has them in his grasp;—Twemlow having profited by these studies, finds his brain wholesomely hardening as he approaches the conclusion that he really is Veneering's oldest friend, when his brain softens again and all is lost, through his eyes encountering Veneering and the large man linked together as twin brothers in the back drawing-room near the conservatory door, and through his ears informing him in the tones of Mrs Veneering that the same large man is to be baby's godfather.
'Dinner is on the table!'
Thus the melancholy retainer, as who should say, 'Come down and be poisoned, ye unhappy children of men!'
Twemlow, having no lady assigned him, goes down in the rear, with his hand to his forehead. Boots and Brewer, thinking him indisposed, whisper, 'Man faint. Had no lunch.' But he is only stunned by the unvanquishable difficulty of his existence.
Revived by soup, Twemlow discourses mildly of the Court Circular with Boots and Brewer. Is appealed to, at the fish stage of the banquet, by Veneering, on the disputed question whether his cousin Lord Snigsworth is in or out of town? Gives it that his cousin is out of town. 'At Snigsworthy Park?' Veneering inquires. 'At Snigsworthy,' Twemlow rejoins. Boots and Brewer regard this as a man to be cultivated; and Veneering is clear that he is a remunerative article. Meantime the retainer goes round, like a gloomy Analytical Chemist: always seeming to say, after 'Chablis, sir?'—'You wouldn't if you knew what it's made of.'
The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and the company. Reflects the new Veneering crest, in gold and eke in silver, frosted and also thawed, a camel of all work. The Heralds' College found out a Crusading ancestor for Veneering who bore a camel on his shield (or might have done it if he had thought of it), and a caravan of camels take charge of the fruits and flowers and candles, and kneel down be loaded with the salt. Reflects Veneering; forty, wavy-haired, dark, tending to corpulence, sly, mysterious, filmy—a kind of sufficiently well-looking veiled-prophet, not prophesying. Reflects Mrs Veneering; fair, aquiline-nosed and fingered, not so much light hair as she might have, gorgeous in raiment and jewels, enthusiastic, propitiatory, conscious that a corner of her husband's veil is over herself. Reflects Podsnap; prosperously feeding, two little light-coloured wiry wings, one on either side of his else bald head, looking as like his hairbrushes as his hair, dissolving view of red beads on his forehead, large allowance of crumpled shirt-collar up behind. Reflects Mrs Podsnap; fine woman for Professor Owen, quantity of bone, neck and nostrils like a rocking-horse, hard features, majestic head-dress in which Podsnap has hung golden offerings. Reflects Twemlow; grey, dry, polite, susceptible to east wind, First-Gentleman-in-Europe collar and cravat, cheeks drawn in as if he had made a great effort to retire into himself some years ago, and had got so far and had never got any farther. Reflects mature young lady; raven locks, and complexion that lights up well when well powdered—as it is—carrying on considerably in the captivation of mature young gentleman; with too much nose in his face, too much ginger in his whiskers, too much torso in his waistcoat, too much sparkle in his studs, his eyes, his buttons, his talk, and his teeth. Reflects charming old Lady Tippins on Veneering's right; with an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon, and a dyed Long Walk up the top of her head, as a convenient public approach to the bunch of false hair behind, pleased to patronize Mrs Veneering opposite, who is pleased to be patronized. Reflects a certain 'Mortimer', another of Veneering's oldest friends; who never was in the house before, and appears not to want to come again, who sits disconsolate on Mrs Veneering's left, and who was inveigled by Lady Tippins (a friend of his boyhood) to come to these people's and talk, and who won't talk. Reflects Eugene, friend of Mortimer; buried alive in the back of his chair, behind a shoulder—with a powder-epaulette on it—of the mature young lady, and gloomily resorting to the champagne chalice whenever proffered by the Analytical Chemist. Lastly, the looking-glass reflects Boots and Brewer, and two other stuffed Buffers interposed between the rest of the company and possible accidents.
The Veneering dinners are excellent dinners—or new people wouldn't come—and all goes well. Notably, Lady Tippins has made a series of experiments on her digestive functions, so extremely complicated and daring, that if they could be published with their results it might benefit the human race. Having taken in provisions from all parts of the world, this hardy old cruiser has last touched at the North Pole, when, as the ice-plates are being removed, the following words fall from her:
'I assure you, my dear Veneering—'
(Poor Twemlow's hand approaches his forehead, for it would seem now, that Lady Tippins is going to be the oldest friend.)
'I assure you, my dear Veneering, that it is the oddest affair! Like the advertising people, I don't ask you to trust me, without offering a respectable reference. Mortimer there, is my reference, and knows all about it.'
Mortimer raises his drooping eyelids, and slightly opens his mouth. But a faint smile, expressive of 'What's the use!' passes over his face, and he drops his eyelids and shuts his mouth.
'Now, Mortimer,' says Lady Tippins, rapping the sticks of her closed green fan upon the knuckles of her left hand—which is particularly rich in knuckles, 'I insist upon your telling all that is to be told about the man from Jamaica.'
'Give you my honour I never heard of any man from Jamaica, except the man who was a brother,' replies Mortimer.
'Nor yet from Tobago.'
'Except,' Eugene strikes in: so unexpectedly that the mature young lady, who has forgotten all about him, with a start takes the epaulette out of his way: 'except our friend who long lived on rice-pudding and isinglass, till at length to his something or other, his physician said something else, and a leg of mutton somehow ended in daygo.'
A reviving impression goes round the table that Eugene is coming out. An unfulfilled impression, for he goes in again.
'Now, my dear Mrs Veneering,' quoth Lady Tippins, I appeal to you whether this is not the basest conduct ever known in this world? I carry my lovers about, two or three at a time, on condition that they are very obedient and devoted; and here is my oldest lover-in-chief, the head of all my slaves, throwing off his allegiance before company! And here is another of my lovers, a rough Cymon at present certainly, but of whom I had most hopeful expectations as to his turning out well in course of time, pretending that he can't remember his nursery rhymes! On purpose to annoy me, for he knows how I doat upon them!'
A grisly little fiction concerning her lovers is Lady Tippins's point. She is always attended by a lover or two, and she keeps a little list of her lovers, and she is always booking a new lover, or striking out an old lover, or putting a lover in her black list, or promoting a lover to her blue list, or adding up her lovers, or otherwise posting her book. Mrs Veneering is charmed by the humour, and so is Veneering. Perhaps it is enhanced by a certain yellow play in Lady Tippins's throat, like the legs of scratching poultry.
'I banish the false wretch from this moment, and I strike him out of my Cupidon (my name for my Ledger, my dear,) this very night. But I am resolved to have the account of the man from Somewhere, and I beg you to elicit it for me, my love,' to Mrs Veneering, 'as I have lost my own influence. Oh, you perjured man!' This to Mortimer, with a rattle of her fan.
'We are all very much interested in the man from Somewhere,' Veneering observes.
Then the four Buffers, taking heart of grace all four at once, say:
'Man from Nowhere, perhaps!'
And then Mrs Veneering—for the Lady Tippins's winning wiles are contagious—folds her hands in the manner of a supplicating child, turns to her left neighbour, and says, 'Tease! Pay! Man from Tumwhere!' At which the four Buffers, again mysteriously moved all four at once, explain, 'You can't resist!'
'Upon my life,' says Mortimer languidly, 'I find it immensely embarrassing to have the eyes of Europe upon me to this extent, and my only consolation is that you will all of you execrate Lady Tippins in your secret hearts when you find, as you inevitably will, the man from Somewhere a bore. Sorry to destroy romance by fixing him with a local habitation, but he comes from the place, the name of which escapes me, but will suggest itself to everybody else here, where they make the wine.'
Eugene suggests 'Day and Martin's.'
'No, not that place,' returns the unmoved Mortimer, 'that's where they make the Port. My man comes from the country where they make the Cape Wine. But look here, old fellow; its not at all statistical and it's rather odd.'
It is always noticeable at the table of the Veneerings, that no man troubles himself much about the Veneerings themselves, and that any one who has anything to tell, generally tells it to anybody else in preference.
'The man,' Mortimer goes on, addressing Eugene, 'whose name is Harmon, was only son of a tremendous old rascal who made his money by Dust.'
'Red velveteens and a bell?' the gloomy Eugene inquires.
'And a ladder and basket if you like. By which means, or by others, he grew rich as a Dust Contractor, and lived in a hollow in a hilly country entirely composed of Dust. On his own small estate the growling old vagabond threw up his own mountain range, like an old volcano, and its geological formation was Dust. Coal-dust, vegetable-dust, bone-dust, crockery dust, rough dust and sifted dust,—all manner of Dust.'
A passing remembrance of Mrs Veneering, here induces Mortimer to address his next half-dozen words to her; after which he wanders away again, tries Twemlow and finds he doesn't answer, ultimately takes up with the Buffers who receive him enthusiastically.
'The moral being—I believe that's the right expression—of this exemplary person, derived its highest gratification from anathematizing his nearest relations and turning them out of doors. Having begun (as was natural) by rendering these attentions to the wife of his bosom, he next found himself at leisure to bestow a similar recognition on the claims of his daughter. He chose a husband for her, entirely to his own satisfaction and not in the least to hers, and proceeded to settle upon her, as her marriage portion, I don't know how much Dust, but something immense. At this stage of the affair the poor girl respectfully intimated that she was secretly engaged to that popular character whom the novelists and versifiers call Another, and that such a marriage would make Dust of her heart and Dust of her life—in short, would set her up, on a very extensive scale, in her father's business. Immediately, the venerable parent—on a cold winter's night, it is said—anathematized and turned her out.'
Here, the Analytical Chemist (who has evidently formed a very low opinion of Mortimer's story) concedes a little claret to the Buffers; who, again mysteriously moved all four at once, screw it slowly into themselves with a peculiar twist of enjoyment, as they cry in chorus, 'Pray go on.'
'The pecuniary resources of Another were, as they usually are, of a very limited nature. I believe I am not using too strong an expression when I say that Another was hard up. However, he married the young lady, and they lived in a humble dwelling, probably possessing a porch ornamented with honeysuckle and woodbine twining, until she died. I must refer you to the Registrar of the District in which the humble dwelling was situated, for the certified cause of death; but early sorrow and anxiety may have had to do with it, though they may not appear in the ruled pages and printed forms. Indisputably this was the case with Another, for he was so cut up by the loss of his young wife that if he outlived her a year it was as much as he did.'
There is that in the indolent Mortimer, which seems to hint that if good society might on any account allow itself to be impressible, he, one of good society, might have the weakness to be impressed by what he here relates. It is hidden with great pains, but it is in him. The gloomy Eugene too, is not without some kindred touch; for, when that appalling Lady Tippins declares that if Another had survived, he should have gone down at the head of her list of lovers—and also when the mature young lady shrugs her epaulettes, and laughs at some private and confidential comment from the mature young gentleman—his gloom deepens to that degree that he trifles quite ferociously with his dessert-knife.
If, by chance, you are still with me, you may enjoy this, from Little Dorrit, as well:
"The famous name of Merdle became, every day, more famous in the land. Nobody knew that the Merdle of such high renown had ever done any good to any one, alive or dead, or to any earthly thing; nobody knew that he had any capacity or utterance of any sort in him, which had ever thrown, for any creature, the feeblest farthing-candle ray of light on any path of duty or diversion, pain or pleasure, toil or rest, fact or fancy, among the multiplicity of paths in the labyrinth trodden by the sons of Adam; nobody had the smallest reason for supposing the clay of which this object of worship was made, to be other than the commonest clay, with as clogged a wick smouldering inside of it as ever kept an image of humanity from tumbling to pieces. All people knew (or thought they knew) that he had made himself immensely rich; and, for that reason alone, prostrated themselves before him, more degradedly and less excusably than the darkest savage creeps out of his hole in the ground to propitiate, in some log or reptile, the Deity of his benighted soul.
Nay, the high priests of this worship had the man before them as a protest against their meanness. The multitude worshipped on trust—though always distinctly knowing why—but the officiators at the altar had the man habitually in their view. They sat at his feasts, and he sat at theirs. There was a spectre always attendant on him, saying to these high priests, 'Are such the signs you trust, and love to honour; this head, these eyes, this mode of speech, the tone and manner of this man? You are the levers of the Circumlocution Office, and the rulers of men. When half-a-dozen of you fall out by the ears, it seems that mother earth can give birth to no other rulers. Does your qualification lie in the superior knowledge of men which accepts, courts, and puffs this man? Or, if you are competent to judge aright the signs I never fail to show you when he appears among you, is your superior honesty your qualification?' Two rather ugly questions these, always going about town with Mr Merdle; and there was a tacit agreement that they must be stifled. In Mrs Merdle's absence abroad, Mr Merdle still kept the great house open for the passage through it of a stream Of visitors. A few of these took affable possession of the establishment. Three or four ladies of distinction and liveliness used to say to one another, 'Let us dine at our dear Merdle's next Thursday. Whom shall we have?' Our dear Merdle would then receive his instructions; and would sit heavily among the company at table and wander lumpishly about his drawing-rooms afterwards, only remarkable for appearing to have nothing to do with the entertainment beyond being in its way.
The Chief Butler, the Avenging Spirit of this great man's life, relaxed nothing of his severity. He looked on at these dinners when the bosom was not there, as he looked on at other dinners when the bosom was there; and his eye was a basilisk to Mr Merdle. He was a hard man, and would never bate an ounce of plate or a bottle of wine. He would not allow a dinner to be given, unless it was up to his mark. He set forth the table for his own dignity. If the guests chose to partake of what was served, he saw no objection; but it was served for the maintenance of his rank. As he stood by the sideboard he seemed to announce, 'I have accepted office to look at this which is now before me, and to look at nothing less than this.' If he missed the presiding bosom, it was as a part of his own state of which he was, from unavoidable circumstances, temporarily deprived, just as he might have missed a centre-piece, or a choice wine-cooler, which had been sent to the Banker's.
Mr Merdle issued invitations for a Barnacle dinner. Lord Decimus was to be there, Mr Tite Barnacle was to be there, the pleasant young Barnacle was to be there; and the Chorus of Parliamentary Barnacles who went about the provinces when the House was up, warbling the praises of their Chief, were to be represented there. It was understood to be a great occasion. Mr Merdle was going to take up the Barnacles. Some delicate little negotiations had occurred between him and the noble Decimus—the young Barnacle of engaging manners acting as negotiator—and Mr Merdle had decided to cast the weight of his great probity and great riches into the Barnacle scale. Jobbery was suspected by the malicious; perhaps because it was indisputable that if the adherence of the immortal Enemy of Mankind could have been secured by a job, the Barnacles would have jobbed him—for the good of the country, for the good of the country.
Mrs Merdle had written to this magnificent spouse of hers, whom it was heresy to regard as anything less than all the British Merchants since the days of Whittington rolled into one, and gilded three feet deep all over—had written to this spouse of hers, several letters from Rome, in quick succession, urging upon him with importunity that now or never was the time to provide for Edmund Sparkler. Mrs Merdle had shown him that the case of Edmund was urgent, and that infinite advantages might result from his having some good thing directly. In the grammar of Mrs Merdle's verbs on this momentous subject, there was only one mood, the Imperative; and that Mood had only one Tense, the Present. Mrs Merdle's verbs were so pressingly presented to Mr Merdle to conjugate, that his sluggish blood and his long coat-cuffs became quite agitated.
In which state of agitation, Mr Merdle, evasively rolling his eyes round the Chief Butler's shoes without raising them to the index of that stupendous creature's thoughts, had signified to him his intention of giving a special dinner: not a very large dinner, but a very special dinner. The Chief Butler had signified, in return, that he had no objection to look on at the most expensive thing in that way that could be done; and the day of the dinner was now come.
Mr Merdle stood in one of his drawing-rooms, with his back to the fire, waiting for the arrival of his important guests. He seldom or never took the liberty of standing with his back to the fire unless he was quite alone. In the presence of the Chief Butler, he could not have done such a deed. He would have clasped himself by the wrists in that constabulary manner of his, and have paced up and down the hearthrug, or gone creeping about among the rich objects of furniture, if his oppressive retainer had appeared in the room at that very moment. The sly shadows which seemed to dart out of hiding when the fire rose, and to dart back into it when the fire fell, were sufficient witnesses of his making himself so easy.
They were even more than sufficient, if his uncomfortable glances at them might be taken to mean anything.
Mr Merdle's right hand was filled with the evening paper, and the evening paper was full of Mr Merdle. His wonderful enterprise, his wonderful wealth, his wonderful Bank, were the fattening food of the evening paper that night. The wonderful Bank, of which he was the chief projector, establisher, and manager, was the latest of the many Merdle wonders. So modest was Mr Merdle withal, in the midst of these splendid achievements, that he looked far more like a man in possession of his house under a distraint, than a commercial Colossus bestriding his own hearthrug, while the little ships were sailing into dinner.
Behold the vessels coming into port! The engaging young Barnacle was the first arrival; but Bar overtook him on the staircase. Bar, strengthened as usual with his double eye-glass and his little jury droop, was overjoyed to see the engaging young Barnacle; and opined that we were going to sit in Banco, as we lawyers called it, to take a special argument?
'Indeed,' said the sprightly young Barnacle, whose name was Ferdinand; 'how so?'
'Nay,' smiled Bar. 'If you don't know, how can I know? You are in the innermost sanctuary of the temple; I am one of the admiring concourse on the plain without.'
Bar could be light in hand, or heavy in hand, according to the customer he had to deal with. With Ferdinand Barnacle he was gossamer. Bar was likewise always modest and self-depreciatory—in his way. Bar was a man of great variety; but one leading thread ran through the woof of all his patterns. Every man with whom he had to do was in his eyes a jury-man; and he must get that jury-man over, if he could.
'Our illustrious host and friend,' said Bar; 'our shining mercantile star;—going into politics?'
'Going? He has been in Parliament some time, you know,' returned the engaging young Barnacle.
'True,' said Bar, with his light-comedy laugh for special jury-men, which was a very different thing from his low-comedy laugh for comic tradesmen on common juries: 'he has been in Parliament for some time. Yet hitherto our star has been a vacillating and wavering star? Humph?'
An average witness would have been seduced by the Humph? into an affirmative answer, But Ferdinand Barnacle looked knowingly at Bar as he strolled up-stairs, and gave him no answer at all.
'Just so, just so,' said Bar, nodding his head, for he was not to be put off in that way, 'and therefore I spoke of our sitting in Banco to take a special argument—meaning this to be a high and solemn occasion, when, as Captain Macheath says, "the judges are met: a terrible show!" We lawyers are sufficiently liberal, you see, to quote the Captain, though the Captain is severe upon us. Nevertheless, I think I could put in evidence an admission of the Captain's,' said Bar, with a little jocose roll of his head; for, in his legal current of speech, he always assumed the air of rallying himself with the best grace in the world; 'an admission of the Captain's that Law, in the gross, is at least intended to be impartial. For what says the Captain, if I quote him correctly—and if not,' with a light-comedy touch of his double eye-glass on his companion's shoulder, 'my learned friend will set me right: "Since laws were made for every degree, To curb vice in others as well as in me, I wonder we ha'n't better company Upon Tyburn Tree!"'
These words brought them to the drawing-room, where Mr Merdle stood before the fire. So immensely astounded was Mr Merdle by the entrance of Bar with such a reference in his mouth, that Bar explained himself to have been quoting Gay. 'Assuredly not one of our Westminster Hall authorities,' said he, 'but still no despicable one to a man possessing the largely-practical Mr Merdle's knowledge of the world.'
Mr Merdle looked as if he thought he would say something, but subsequently looked as if he thought he wouldn't. The interval afforded time for Bishop to be announced. Bishop came in with meekness, and yet with a strong and rapid step as if he wanted to get his seven-league dress-shoes on, and go round the world to see that everybody was in a satisfactory state. Bishop had no idea that there was anything significant in the occasion. That was the most remarkable trait in his demeanour. He was crisp, fresh, cheerful, affable, bland; but so surprisingly innocent.
Bar sidled up to prefer his politest inquiries in reference to the health of Mrs Bishop. Mrs Bishop had been a little unfortunate in the article of taking cold at a Confirmation, but otherwise was well. Young Mr Bishop was also well. He was down, with his young wife and little family, at his Cure of Souls. The representatives of the Barnacle Chorus dropped in next, and Mr Merdle's physician dropped in next. Bar, who had a bit of one eye and a bit of his double eye-glass for every one who came in at the door, no matter with whom he was conversing or what he was talking about, got among them all by some skilful means, without being seen to get at them, and touched each individual gentleman of the jury on his own individual favourite spot. With some of the Chorus, he laughed about the sleepy member who had gone out into the lobby the other night, and voted the wrong way: with others, he deplored that innovating spirit in the time which could not even be prevented from taking an unnatural interest in the public service and the public money: with the physician he had a word to say about the general health; he had also a little information to ask him for, concerning a professional man of unquestioned erudition and polished manners—but those credentials in their highest development he believed were the possession of other professors of the healing art (jury droop)—whom he had happened to have in the witness-box the day before yesterday, and from whom he had elicited in cross-examination that he claimed to be one of the exponents of this new mode of treatment which appeared to Bar to—eh?—well, Bar thought so; Bar had thought, and hoped, Physician would tell him so. Without presuming to decide where doctors disagreed, it did appear to Bar, viewing it as a question of common sense and not of so-called legal penetration, that this new system was—might be, in the presence of so great an authority—say, Humbug? Ah! Fortified by such encouragement, he could venture to say Humbug; and now Bar's mind was relieved.
Mr Tite Barnacle, who, like Dr johnson's celebrated acquaintance, had only one idea in his head and that was a wrong one, had appeared by this time. This eminent gentleman and Mr Merdle, seated diverse ways and with ruminating aspects on a yellow ottoman in the light of the fire, holding no verbal communication with each other, bore a strong general resemblance to the two cows in the Cuyp picture over against them.
But now, Lord Decimus arrived. The Chief Butler, who up to this time had limited himself to a branch of his usual function by looking at the company as they entered (and that, with more of defiance than favour), put himself so far out of his way as to come up-stairs with him and announce him. Lord Decimus being an overpowering peer, a bashful young member of the Lower House who was the last fish but one caught by the Barnacles, and who had been invited on this occasion to commemorate his capture, shut his eyes when his Lordship came in.
Lord Decimus, nevertheless, was glad to see the Member. He was also glad to see Mr Merdle, glad to see Bishop, glad to see Bar, glad to see Physician, glad to see Tite Barnacle, glad to see Chorus, glad to see Ferdinand his private secretary. Lord Decimus, though one of the greatest of the earth, was not remarkable for ingratiatory manners, and Ferdinand had coached him up to the point of noticing all the fellows he might find there, and saying he was glad to see them. When he had achieved this rush of vivacity and condescension, his Lordship composed himself into the picture after Cuyp, and made a third cow in the group.
Bar, who felt that he had got all the rest of the jury and must now lay hold of the Foreman, soon came sidling up, double eye-glass in hand. Bar tendered the weather, as a subject neatly aloof from official reserve, for the Foreman's consideration. Bar said that he was told (as everybody always is told, though who tells them, and why, will ever remain a mystery), that there was to be no wall-fruit this year. Lord Decimus had not heard anything amiss of his peaches, but rather believed, if his people were correct, he was to have no apples. No apples? Bar was lost in astonishment and concern. It would have been all one to him, in reality, if there had not been a pippin on the surface of the earth, but his show of interest in this apple question was positively painful. Now, to what, Lord Decimus—for we troublesome lawyers loved to gather information, and could never tell how useful it might prove to us—to what, Lord Decimus, was this to be attributed? Lord Decimus could not undertake to propound any theory about it. This might have stopped another man; but Bar, sticking to him fresh as ever, said, 'As to pears, now?'
Long after Bar got made Attorney-General, this was told of him as a master-stroke. Lord Decimus had a reminiscence about a pear-tree formerly growing in a garden near the back of his dame's house at Eton, upon which pear-tree the only joke of his life perennially bloomed. It was a joke of a compact and portable nature, turning on the difference between Eton pears and Parliamentary pairs; but it was a joke, a refined relish of which would seem to have appeared to Lord Decimus impossible to be had without a thorough and intimate acquaintance with the tree. Therefore, the story at first had no idea of such a tree, sir, then gradually found it in winter, carried it through the changing season, saw it bud, saw it blossom, saw it bear fruit, saw the fruit ripen; in short, cultivated the tree in that diligent and minute manner before it got out of the bed-room window to steal the fruit, that many thanks had been offered up by belated listeners for the trees having been planted and grafted prior to Lord Decimus's time. Bar's interest in apples was so overtopped by the wrapt suspense in which he pursued the changes of these pears, from the moment when Lord Decimus solemnly opened with 'Your mentioning pears recalls to my remembrance a pear-tree,' down to the rich conclusion, 'And so we pass, through the various changes of life, from Eton pears to Parliamentary pairs,' that he had to go down-stairs with Lord Decimus, and even then to be seated next to him at table in order that he might hear the anecdote out. By that time, Bar felt that he had secured the Foreman, and might go to dinner with a good appetite.
It was a dinner to provoke an appetite, though he had not had one. The rarest dishes, sumptuously cooked and sumptuously served; the choicest fruits; the most exquisite wines; marvels of workmanship in gold and silver, china and glass; innumerable things delicious to the senses of taste, smell, and sight, were insinuated into its composition. O, what a wonderful man this Merdle, what a great man, what a master man, how blessedly and enviably endowed—in one word, what a rich man!
He took his usual poor eighteenpennyworth of food in his usual indigestive way, and had as little to say for himself as ever a wonderful man had. Fortunately Lord Decimus was one of those sublimities who have no occasion to be talked to, for they can be at any time sufficiently occupied with the contemplation of their own greatness. This enabled the bashful young Member to keep his eyes open long enough at a time to see his dinner. But, whenever Lord Decimus spoke, he shut them again.
The agreeable young Barnacle, and Bar, were the talkers of the party. Bishop would have been exceedingly agreeable also, but that his innocence stood in his way. He was so soon left behind. When there was any little hint of anything being in the wind, he got lost directly. Worldly affairs were too much for him; he couldn't make them out at all.
This was observable when Bar said, incidentally, that he was happy to have heard that we were soon to have the advantage of enlisting on the good side, the sound and plain sagacity—not demonstrative or ostentatious, but thoroughly sound and practical—of our friend Mr Sparkler.
Ferdinand Barnacle laughed, and said oh yes, he believed so. A vote was a vote, and always acceptable.
Bar was sorry to miss our good friend Mr Sparkler to-day, Mr Merdle.
'He is away with Mrs Merdle,' returned that gentleman, slowly coming out of a long abstraction, in the course of which he had been fitting a tablespoon up his sleeve. 'It is not indispensable for him to be on the spot.'
'The magic name of Merdle,' said Bar, with the jury droop, 'no doubt will suffice for all.'
'Why—yes—I believe so,' assented Mr Merdle, putting the spoon aside, and clumsily hiding each of his hands in the coat-cuff of the other hand. 'I believe the people in my interest down there will not make any difficulty.'
'Model people!' said Bar. 'I am glad you approve of them,' said Mr Merdle.
'And the people of those other two places, now,' pursued Bar, with a bright twinkle in his keen eye, as it slightly turned in the direction of his magnificent neighbour; 'we lawyers are always curious, always inquisitive, always picking up odds and ends for our patchwork minds, since there is no knowing when and where they may fit into some corner;—the people of those other two places now? Do they yield so laudably to the vast and cumulative influence of such enterprise and such renown; do those little rills become absorbed so quietly and easily, and, as it were by the influence of natural laws, so beautifully, in the swoop of the majestic stream as it flows upon its wondrous way enriching the surrounding lands; that their course is perfectly to be calculated, and distinctly to be predicated?'
Mr Merdle, a little troubled by Bar's eloquence, looked fitfully about the nearest salt-cellar for some moments, and then said hesitating:
'They are perfectly aware, sir, of their duty to Society. They will return anybody I send to them for that purpose.'
'Cheering to know,' said Bar. 'Cheering to know.'
The three places in question were three little rotten holes in this Island, containing three little ignorant, drunken, guzzling, dirty, out-of-the-way constituencies, that had reeled into Mr Merdle's pocket. Ferdinand Barnacle laughed in his easy way, and airily said they were a nice set of fellows. Bishop, mentally perambulating among paths of peace, was altogether swallowed up in absence of mind.
'Pray,' asked Lord Decimus, casting his eyes around the table, 'what is this story I have heard of a gentleman long confined in a debtors' prison proving to be of a wealthy family, and having come into the inheritance of a large sum of money? I have met with a variety of allusions to it. Do you know anything of it, Ferdinand?'
'I only know this much,' said Ferdinand, 'that he has given the Department with which I have the honour to be associated;' this sparkling young Barnacle threw off the phrase sportively, as who should say, We know all about these forms of speech, but we must keep it up, we must keep the game alive; 'no end of trouble, and has put us into innumerable fixes.'
'Fixes?' repeated Lord Decimus, with a majestic pausing and pondering on the word that made the bashful Member shut his eyes quite tight. 'Fixes?'
'A very perplexing business indeed,' observed Mr Tite Barnacle, with an air of grave resentment.
'What,' said Lord Decimus, 'was the character of his business; what was the nature of these—a—Fixes, Ferdinand?'
'Oh, it's a good story, as a story,' returned that gentleman; 'as good a thing of its kind as need be. This Mr Dorrit (his name is Dorrit) had incurred a responsibility to us, ages before the fairy came out of the Bank and gave him his fortune, under a bond he had signed for the performance of a contract which was not at all performed. He was a partner in a house in some large way—spirits, or buttons, or wine, or blacking, or oatmeal, or woollen, or pork, or hooks and eyes, or iron, or treacle, or shoes, or something or other that was wanted for troops, or seamen, or somebody—and the house burst, and we being among the creditors, detainees were lodged on the part of the Crown in a scientific manner, and all the rest Of it. When the fairy had appeared and he wanted to pay us off, Egad we had got into such an exemplary state of checking and counter-checking, signing and counter-signing, that it was six months before we knew how to take the money, or how to give a receipt for it. It was a triumph of public business,' said this handsome young Barnacle, laughing heartily, 'You never saw such a lot of forms in your life. "Why," the attorney said to me one day, "if I wanted this office to give me two or three thousand pounds instead of take it, I couldn't have more trouble about it." "You are right, old fellow," I told him, "and in future you'll know that we have something to do here."' The pleasant young Barnacle finished by once more laughing heartily. He was a very easy, pleasant fellow indeed, and his manners were exceedingly winning.
Mr Tite Barnacle's view of the business was of a less airy character. He took it ill that Mr Dorrit had troubled the Department by wanting to pay the money, and considered it a grossly informal thing to do after so many years. But Mr Tite Barnacle was a buttoned-up man, and consequently a weighty one. All buttoned-up men are weighty. All buttoned-up men are believed in. Whether or no the reserved and never-exercised power of unbuttoning, fascinates mankind; whether or no wisdom is supposed to condense and augment when buttoned up, and to evaporate when unbuttoned; it is certain that the man to whom importance is accorded is the buttoned-up man. Mr Tite Barnacle never would have passed for half his current value, unless his coat had been always buttoned-up to his white cravat.
'May I ask,' said Lord Decimus, 'if Mr Darrit—or Dorrit—has any family?'
Nobody else replying, the host said, 'He has two daughters, my lord.'
'Oh! you are acquainted with him?' asked Lord Decimus.
'Mrs Merdle is. Mr Sparkler is, too. In fact,' said Mr Merdle, 'I rather believe that one of the young ladies has made an impression on Edmund Sparkler. He is susceptible, and—I—think—the conquest—' Here Mr Merdle stopped, and looked at the table-cloth, as he usually did when he found himself observed or listened to.
Bar was uncommonly pleased to find that the Merdle family, and this family, had already been brought into contact. He submitted, in a low voice across the table to Bishop, that it was a kind of analogical illustration of those physical laws, in virtue of which Like flies to Like. He regarded this power of attraction in wealth to draw wealth to it, as something remarkably interesting and curious—something indefinably allied to the loadstone and gravitation. Bishop, who had ambled back to earth again when the present theme was broached, acquiesced. He said it was indeed highly important to Society that one in the trying situation of unexpectedly finding himself invested with a power for good or for evil in Society, should become, as it were, merged in the superior power of a more legitimate and more gigantic growth, the influence of which (as in the case of our friend at whose board we sat) was habitually exercised in harmony with the best interests of Society.
Thus, instead of two rival and contending flames, a larger and a lesser, each burning with a lurid and uncertain glare, we had a blended and a softened light whose genial ray diffused an equable warmth throughout the land. Bishop seemed to like his own way of putting the case very much, and rather dwelt upon it; Bar, meanwhile (not to throw away a jury-man), making a show of sitting at his feet and feeding on his precepts.
The dinner and dessert being three hours long, the bashful Member cooled in the shadow of Lord Decimus faster than he warmed with food and drink, and had but a chilly time of it. Lord Decimus, like a tall tower in a flat country, seemed to project himself across the table-cloth, hide the light from the honourable Member, cool the honourable Member's marrow, and give him a woeful idea of distance. When he asked this unfortunate traveller to take wine, he encompassed his faltering steps with the gloomiest of shades; and when he said, 'Your health sir!' all around him was barrenness and desolation.
At length Lord Decimus, with a coffee-cup in his hand, began to hover about among the pictures, and to cause an interesting speculation to arise in all minds as to the probabilities of his ceasing to hover, and enabling the smaller birds to flutter up-stairs; which could not be done until he had urged his noble pinions in that direction. After some delay, and several stretches of his wings which came to nothing, he soared to the drawing-rooms.
And here a difficulty arose, which always does arise when two people are specially brought together at a dinner to confer with one another. Everybody (except Bishop, who had no suspicion of it) knew perfectly well that this dinner had been eaten and drunk, specifically to the end that Lord Decimus and Mr Merdle should have five minutes' conversation together. The opportunity so elaborately prepared was now arrived, and it seemed from that moment that no mere human ingenuity could so much as get the two chieftains into the same room. Mr Merdle and his noble guest persisted in prowling about at opposite ends of the perspective. It was in vain for the engaging Ferdinand to bring Lord Decimus to look at the bronze horses near Mr Merdle. Then Mr Merdle evaded, and wandered away. It was in vain for him to bring Mr Merdle to Lord Decimus to tell him the history of the unique Dresden vases. Then Lord Decimus evaded and wandered away, while he was getting his man up to the mark.
'Did you ever see such a thing as this?' said Ferdinand to Bar when he had been baffled twenty times.
'Often,' returned Bar.
'Unless I butt one of them into an appointed corner, and you butt the other,' said Ferdinand,'it will not come off after all.'
'Very good,' said Bar. 'I'll butt Merdle, if you like; but not my lord.'
Ferdinand laughed, in the midst of his vexation. 'Confound them both!' said he, looking at his watch. 'I want to get away. Why the deuce can't they come together! They both know what they want and mean to do. Look at them!'
They were still looming at opposite ends of the perspective, each with an absurd pretence of not having the other on his mind, which could not have been more transparently ridiculous though his real mind had been chalked on his back. Bishop, who had just now made a third with Bar and Ferdinand, but whose innocence had again cut him out of the subject and washed him in sweet oil, was seen to approach Lord Decimus and glide into conversation.
'I must get Merdle's doctor to catch and secure him, I suppose,' said Ferdinand; 'and then I must lay hold of my illustrious kinsman, and decoy him if I can—drag him if I can't—to the conference.'
'Since you do me the honour,' said Bar, with his slyest smile, to ask for my poor aid, it shall be yours with the greatest pleasure. I don't think this is to be done by one man. But if you will undertake to pen my lord into that furthest drawing-room where he is now so profoundly engaged, I will undertake to bring our dear Merdle into the presence, without the possibility of getting away.'
'Done!' said Ferdinand.
'Done!' said Bar.
Bar was a sight wondrous to behold, and full of matter, when, jauntily waving his double eye-glass by its ribbon, and jauntily drooping to an Universe of jurymen, he, in the most accidental manner ever seen, found himself at Mr Merdle's shoulder, and embraced that opportunity of mentioning a little point to him, on which he particularly wished to be guided by the light of his practical knowledge. (Here he took Mr Merdle's arm and walked him gently away.) A banker, whom we would call A. B., advanced a considerable sum of money, which we would call fifteen thousand pounds, to a client or customer of his, whom he would call P. q. (Here, as they were getting towards Lord Decimus, he held Mr Merdle tight.) As a security for the repayment of this advance to P. Q. whom we would call a widow lady, there were placed in A. B.'s hands the title-deeds of a freehold estate, which we would call Blinkiter Doddles. Now, the point was this. A limited right of felling and lopping in the woods of Blinkiter Doddles, lay in the son of P. Q. then past his majority, and whom we would call X. Y.—but really this was too bad! In the presence of Lord Decimus, to detain the host with chopping our dry chaff of law, was really too bad! Another time! Bar was truly repentant, and would not say another syllable. Would Bishop favour him with half-a-dozen words? (He had now set Mr Merdle down on a couch, side by side with Lord Decimus, and to it they must go, now or never.)
And now the rest of the company, highly excited and interested, always excepting Bishop, who had not the slightest idea that anything was going on, formed in one group round the fire in the next drawing-room, and pretended to be chatting easily on the infinite variety of small topics, while everybody's thoughts and eyes were secretly straying towards the secluded pair. The Chorus were excessively nervous, perhaps as labouring under the dreadful apprehension that some good thing was going to be diverted from them! Bishop alone talked steadily and evenly. He conversed with the great Physician on that relaxation of the throat with which young curates were too frequently afflicted, and on the means of lessening the great prevalence of that disorder in the church. Physician, as a general rule, was of opinion that the best way to avoid it was to know how to read, before you made a profession of reading. Bishop said dubiously, did he really think so? And Physician said, decidedly, yes he did.
Ferdinand, meanwhile, was the only one of the party who skirmished on the outside of the circle; he kept about mid-way between it and the two, as if some sort of surgical operation were being performed by Lord Decimus on Mr Merdle, or by Mr Merdle on Lord Decimus, and his services might at any moment be required as Dresser. In fact, within a quarter of an hour Lord Decimus called to him 'Ferdinand!' and he went, and took his place in the conference for some five minutes more. Then a half-suppressed gasp broke out among the Chorus; for Lord Decimus rose to take his leave. Again coached up by Ferdinand to the point of making himself popular, he shook hands in the most brilliant manner with the whole company, and even said to Bar, 'I hope you were not bored by my pears?' To which Bar retorted, 'Eton, my lord, or Parliamentary?' neatly showing that he had mastered the joke, and delicately insinuating that he could never forget it while his life remained.
All the grave importance that was buttoned up in Mr Tite Barnacle, took itself away next; and Ferdinand took himself away next, to the opera. Some of the rest lingered a little, marrying golden liqueur glasses to Buhl tables with sticky rings; on the desperate chance of Mr Merdle's saying something. But Merdle, as usual, oozed sluggishly and muddily about his drawing-room, saying never a word.
In a day or two it was announced to all the town, that Edmund Sparkler, Esquire, son-in-law of the eminent Mr Merdle of worldwide renown, was made one of the Lords of the Circumlocution Office; and proclamation was issued, to all true believers, that this admirable appointment was to be hailed as a graceful and gracious mark of homage, rendered by the graceful and gracious Decimus, to that commercial interest which must ever in a great commercial country—and all the rest of it, with blast of trumpet. So, bolstered by this mark of Government homage, the wonderful Bank and all the other wonderful undertakings went on and went up; and gapers came to Harley Street, Cavendish Square, only to look at the house where the golden wonder lived.
And when they saw the Chief Butler looking out at the hall-door in his moments of condescension, the gapers said how rich he looked, and wondered how much money he had in the wonderful Bank. But, if they had known that respectable Nemesis better, they would not have wondered about it, and might have stated the amount with the utmost precision."
And in case I haven't made the point often enough, I don't think much of the beauty of either of those scenes can be conveyed by television adaptations. The book's the thing, and Dickens was the man who did it best. What a pity he's no more.if Mr Darrit
I wrote a novel that the London literary agency Sheil Land tried to sell for me. One publisher thought it was "compelling". Another said, "It’s pacy and gripping, and the plot is great." A third commented that it "is a warm, engaging and easy read", while a fourth considered that, "It is a good story (stories) well told". If you want to see what you think, you can find it here.
I wrote a novel that Sheil Land represented, unsuccessfully. One publisher thought it was "compelling, but it wouldn’t be easy to categorize – it is somewhere between ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’, and would need to be one or the other to be pitched for successfully in an acquisition meeting." Another said, 'It’s pacy and gripping, and the plot is great, but it lacks that lighter women’s fiction feeling. The writing is undeniably good but I’m not quite sure how I would position it on our list.'A third commented that it "is a warm, engaging and easy read but this ‘middle market fiction’ is a really tough area', while a fourth considered that, "It is a good story (stories) well told, but just missing the X-factor that would make me fall in love with it." I wanted to write an entertaining novel that I would like when I was in the mood for something thoughtful & amusing that I could enjoy without too much effort. If you would like to read it yourself, you can find it at http://cargocollective.com/Unrealities/Holding-On-a-novel.
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