Christopher Morley.

Plum pudding, of divers ingredients, discreetly blended & seasoned online

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Christopher Mo r ley













Of divers Ingredients, ^Discreetly
'Blended & Seasoned

By Christopher Morley

*And merrily embellished by WALTER JACK DUNCAN

Printed at GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK, by
and are to be sold by <^All W^orthy
booksellers^ together with OTHER
WORKS by the Same Author ', th^s
modestly offered to your Attention







Pint Edition






Almost all these sketches were originally published
in the New York Evening Post and the Literary Review.
One comes from TAe Outlook, one from 1^0 Atlantic
Monthly, one from the Haverford Alumni Quarterly,
and one from the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger.
The author is indebted to these publishers for per-
mission to reprint.

Roslyn, Long Island
July, 1921





The Perfect Reader

The Autogenesis of a Poet

The Old Reliable

In Memoriam, Francis Barton Gummere .

Adventures at Lunch Time

Secret Transactions of the Three Hours for Lunch

Club 36

Initiation 42

Creed of the Three Hours for Lunch Club . . 47
A Preface to the Profession of Journalism . . 51
Fulton Street, and Walt Whitman .... 57

McSorley's 63

A Portrait 69

Going to Philadelphia 7&




Our Tricolour Tie 86

The Club of Abandoned Husbands .... 95

West Broadway 100

The Rudeness of Poets 106

1100 Words 110

Some Inns 115

The Club in Hoboken 124

The Club at Its Worst 129

A Suburban Sentimentalist 133

Gissing 138

A Dialogue 143

At the Gasthof zum Ochsen 147

Mr. Conrad's New Preface 151

The Little House 155

Tadpoles 158

Magic in Salamis 162

Consider the Commuter 167

The Permanence of Poetry 178

Books of the Sea 182

Fallacious Meditations on Criticism . . . 192

Letting Out the Furnace 202

By the Fireplace 206

A City Note-Book 210

Thoughts in the Subway 229

Dempsey vs. Carpentier 234

A Letter to a Sea Captain 239

[ viii ]



ON CHRISTMAS EVE, while the Perfect Reader
sits in his armchair immersed in a book so ab-
sorbed that he has let the fire go out I propose to slip
gently down the chimney and leave this tribute in
his stocking. It is not a personal tribute. I speak, on
behalf of the whole fraternity of writers, this word of
gratitude and envy.

No one who has ever done any writing, or has any
ambition toward doing so, can ever be a Perfect Reader.
Such a one is not disinterested. He reads, inevitably,
in a professional spirit. He does not surrender himself
with complete willingness of enjoyment. He reads "to


Plum Pudding

see how the other fellow does it"; to note the turn of a
phrase, the cadence of a paragraph; carrying on a con-
stant subconscious comparison with his own work.
He broods constantly as to whether he himself, in some
happy conjuncture of quick mind and environing silence
and the sudden perfect impulse, might have written
something like that. He is (poor devil) confessedly
selfish. On every page he is aware of his own mind
running with him, tingling him with needle-pricks of
conscience for the golden chapters he has never written.
And so his reading is, in a way, the perfection of ex-
quisite misery and his writing also. When he writes,
he yearns to be reading; when he reads, he yearns to
be writing.

But the Perfect Reader, for whom all fine things are
written, knows no such delicate anguish. When he
reads, it is without any arriere pensSe, any twingeing
consciousness of self. I like to think of one Perfect
Reader of my acquaintance. He is a seafaring man,
and this very evening he is in his bunk, at sea, the day's
tasks completed. Over his head is a suitable electric
lamp. In his mouth is a pipe with that fine wine-dark
mahogany sheen that resides upon excellent briar of
many years' service. He has had (though I speak only
by guess) a rummer of hot toddy to celebrate the great-
est of all Evenings. At his elbow is a porthole, brightly
curtained with a scrap of clean chintz, and he can hear
the swash of the seas along his ship's tall side. And
now he is reading. I can see him reading. I know
just how his mind feels! Oh, the Perfect Reader!
There is not an allusion that he misses; in all those


The Perfect Reader

lovely printed words he sees the subtle secrets that a
lesser soul would miss. He (bless his heart!) is not
thinking how he himself would have written it; his
clear, keen, outreaching mind is intent only to be one
in spirit with the invisible and long-dead author. I
tell you, if there is anywhere a return of the vanished,
it is then, at such moments, over the tilted book held
by the Perfect Reader.

And how quaint it is that he should diminish himself
so modestly. "Of course" (he says), "I'm only a

Reader, and I don't know anything about writing "

Why, you adorable creature, You are our court of final
appeal, you are the one we come to, humbly, to know
whether, anywhere in our miserable efforts to set out
our unruly hearts in parallel lines, we have done an
honest thing. What do we care for what (most of) the
critics say? They (we know only too well) are not
criticising us, but, unconsciously, themselves. They
skew their own dreams into their comment, and blame
us for not writing what they once wanted to. You
we can trust, for you have looked at life largely
and without pettifogging qualms. The parallel lines
of our eager pages meet at Infinity that is, in the
infinite understanding and judgment of the Perfect

The enjoyment of literature is a personal communion;
it cannot be outwardly instilled. The utmost the critic
can do is read the marriage service over the reader and
the book. The union is consummated, if at all, in
secret. But now and then there comes up the aisle a
new Perfect Reader, and all the ghosts of literature wait


Plum Pudding

for him, starry-eyed, by the altar. And as long as
there are Perfect Readers, who read with passion, with
glory, and then speed to tell their friends, there will
always be, ever and anon, a Perfect Writer.

And so, dear Perfect Reader, a Merry Christmas to
you and a New Year of books worthy your devotion!
When you revive from that book that holds you in
spell, and find this little note on the cold hearth, I hope
you may be pleased.



THE mind trudges patiently behind the senses.
Day by day a thousand oddities and charms out-
line themselves tenderly upon consciousness, but
it may be long before understanding comes with brush
and colour to fill in the tracery. One learns nothing
until he rediscovers it for himself. Every now and
then, in reading, I have come across something which
has given me the wild surmise of pioneering mingled
with the faint magic of familiarity for instance, some
of the famous dicta of Wordsworth and Coleridge and
Shelley about poetry. I realized, then, that a teacher
had told me these things in my freshman year at col-
lege fifteen years ago. I jotted them down at that
time, but they were mere catchwords. It had taken
me fifteen years of vigorous living to overhaul those


Plum Pudding

catchwords and fill them with a meaning of my own.
The two teachers who first gave me some suspicion
of what lies in the kingdom of poetry who gave
"so sweet a prospect into the way as will entice any
man to enter into it" are both dead. May I mention
their names? Francis B. Gummere and Albert Elmer
Hancock, both of Haverford College. I cannot thank
them as, now, I would like to. For I am (I think)
approaching a stage where I can somewhat understand
and relish the things of which they spoke. And I
wonder afresh at the patience and charity of those
who go on lecturing, unabated in zest, to boys of
whom one in ten may perhaps, fifteen years later,
begin to grasp their message.

In so far as any formal or systematic discipline of
thought was concerned, I think I may say my educa-
tion was a complete failure. For this I had only my
own smattering and desultory habit of mind to blame
and also a vivid troublesome sense of the beauty of it
all. The charm of the prismatic fringe round the
edges made juggling with the lens too tempting, and
a clear persistent focus was never attained. Considered
(oddly enough) by my mates as the pattern of a
diligent scholar, I was in reality as idle as the
idlest of them, which is saying much; though I confess
that my dilettantism was not wholly disreputable.
My mind excellently exhibited the Heraclitean doc-
trine: a constant flux of information passed through
it, but nothing remained. Indeed, my senses were
so continually crammed with new enchanting im-
pressions, and every field of knowledge seemed so


The Autogenesis of a Poet

alluring, it was not strange I made little progress in

Perhaps it was unfortunate that both in America
and in England I found myself in a college atmosphere
of extraordinary pictorial charm. The Arcadian love-
liness of the Haverford campus and the comfortable
simplicity of its routine; and then the hypnotizing
beauty and curiosity and subtle flavour of Oxford life
(with its long, footloose, rambling vacations) these
were aptly devised for the exercise of the imagination,
which is often a gracious phrase for loafing. But these
surroundings were too richly entertaining, and I was
too green and soft and humorous (in the Shakespearean
sense) to permit any rational continuous plan of study.
Like the young man to whom Coleridge addressed a
poem of rebuke, I was abandoned, a greater part of
the time, to "an Indolent and Causeless Melancholy";
or to its partner, an excessive and not always tasteful
mirth. I spent hours upon hours, with little profit,
in libraries, flitting aimlessly from book to book. With
something between terror and hunger I contemplated
the opposite sex. In short, I was discreditable and
harmless and unlovely as the young Yahoo can be.
It fills me with amazement to think that my preceptors
must have seen, in that ill-conditioned creature, some
shadow of human semblance, or how could they have
been so uniformly kind?

Our education such of it as is of durable import-
ance comes haphazard. It is tinged by the enthusi-
asms of our teachers, gleaned by suggestions from oir


Plum Pudding

friends, prompted by glimpses and footnotes and mar-
gins. There was a time, I think, when I hung in tender
equilibrium among various possibilities. I was enam-
oured of mathematics and physics: I went far enough
in the latter to be appointed undergraduate assistant
in the college laboratory. I had learned, by my junior
year, exploring the charms of integral calculus, that
there is no imaginable mental felicity more serenely
pure than suspended happy absorption in a mathemat-
ical problem. Of course I attained no higher than
the dregs of the subject; on that grovelling level I
would still (in Billy Sunday's violent trope) have had
to climb a tree to look a snake in the eye; but I could
see that for the mathematician, if for any one, Time
stands still withal; he is winnowed of vanity and sin.
French, German, and Latin, and a hasty tincture of
Xenophon and Homer (a mere lipwash of Helicon) gave
me a zeal for philology and the tongues. I was a
member in decent standing of the college classical club,
and visions of life as a professor of languages seemed
to me far from unhappy. A compulsory course in
philosophy convinced me that there was still much to
learn; and I had a delicious hallucination in which I
saw myself compiling a volume of commentaries on the
various systems of this queen of sciences. "The Gram-
mar of Agnostics," I think it was to be called: it would
be written in a neat and comely hand on thousands of
pages of pure white foolscap: I saw myself adding to
it night by night, working ohne Hast, ohne East. And
there were other careers, too, as statesman, philanthro-
pist, diplomat, that I considered not beneath my horo-


The Autogenesis of a Poet

scope. I spare myself the careful delineation of these
projects, though they would be amusing enough.

But beneath these preoccupations another influence
was working its inward way. My paramount interest
had always been literary, though regarded as a gentle
diversion, not degraded to a bread-and-butter concern.
Ever since I had fallen under the superlative spell of
R. L. S., in whom the cunning enchantment of the
written word first became manifest, I had understood
that books did not grow painlessly for our amusement,
but were the issue of dexterous and intentional skill.
I had thus made a stride from Conan Doyle, Cutcliffe
Hyne, Anthony Hope, and other great loves of my
earliest teens; those authors' delicious mysteries and
picaresques I took for granted, not troubling over their
method; but in Stevenson, even to a schoolboy the
conscious artifice and nicety of phrase were puzzingly
apparent. A taste for literature, however, is a very
different thing from a determination to undertake the
art in person as a means of livelihood. It takes brisk
stimulus and powerful internal fevers to reduce a
healthy youth to such a contemplation. All this is a
long story, and I telescope it rigorously, thus setting
the whole matter, perhaps, in a false proportion. But
the central and operative factor is now at hand.

There was a certain classmate of mine (from Chicago)
whose main devotion was to scientific and engineering
studies. But since his plan embraced only two years
at college before "going to work," he was (in the fashion
traditionally ascribed to Chicago) speeding up the


Plum Pudding

cultural knick-knacks of his education. So, in our
freshman year, he was attending a course on "English
Poets of the Nineteenth Century," which was, in the
regular schedule of things, reserved for sophomores
(supposedly riper for matters of feeling). Now I was
living in a remote dormitory on the outskirts of the
wide campus (that other Eden, demi-paradise, that
happy breed of men, that little world!) some distance
from the lecture halls and busy heart of college doings.
It was the custom of those quartered in this colonial
and sequestered outpost to make the room of some cen-
tral classmate a base for the day, where books might be
left between lectures, and so on. With the Chicagoan,

whom we will call "J ," I had struck up a mild

friendship; mostly charitable on his part, I think, as he
was from the beginning one of the most popular and
influential men in the class, whereas I was one of the
rabble. So it was, at any rate ; and often in the evening,
returning from library or dining hall on the way to my
distant Bceotia, I would drop in at his room, in a lofty
corner of old Barclay Hall, to pick up note-books or any-
thing else I might have left there.

What a pleasant place is a college dormitory at night !
The rooms with their green-hooded lights and boyish
similarity of decoration, the amiable buzz and stir of a
game of cards under festoons of tobacco smoke, the wiry
tinkle of a mandolin distantly heard, sudden clatter sub-
siding again into a general humming quiet, the happy
sense of solitude in multitude, these are the partial in-
gredients of that feeling no alumnus ever forgets. In
his pensive citadel, my friend J would be sitting,


The Autogenesis of a Poet

with his pipe (one of those new "class pipes" with inlaid
silver numerals, which appear among every college gene-
ration toward Christmas time of freshman year). In
his lap would be the large green volume ("British Poets
of the Nineteenth Century," edited by Professor Curtis
Hidden Page) which was the textbook of that sopho-
more course. He was reading Keats. And his eyes were
those of one who has seen a new planet swim into his ken.
I don't know how many evenings we spent there
together. Probably only a few. I don't recall just
how we communed, or imparted to one another our
juvenile speculations. But I plainly remember how
he would sit beside his desk-lamp and chuckle over the
Ode to a Nightingale. He was a quizzical and quickly
humorous creature, and Keats's beauties seemed to
fill him not with melancholy or anguish, but with a
delighted prostration of laughter. The "wormy cir-
cumstance" of the Pot of Basil, the Indian Maid
nursing her luxurious sorrow, the congealing Beads-
man and the palsied beldame Angela these and a
thousand quaintnesses of phrase moved him to a gush
of glorious mirth. It was not that he did not appreciate
the poet, but the unearthly strangeness of it all, the
delicate contradiction of laws and behaviours known to
freshmen, tickled his keen wits and emotions until
they brimmed into puzzled laughter. * * Away ! Away ! ' '
he would cry

For I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards-


Plum Pudding

and he would shout with merriment. Beaded bubbles
winking at the brim; Throbbing throats* long, long
melodious moan; Curious conscience burrowing like a
mole; Emprison her soft hand and let her rave; Men
slugs and human serpentry; Bade her steep her hair
in weird syrops; Poor weak palsy-stricken churchyard
thing; Shut her pure sorrow-drops with glad exclaim
such lines were to him a constant and exhilarating
excitement. In the very simplicity and unsophistica-
tion of his approach to the poet was a virgin naivete of
discernment that an Edinburgh Reviewer would rarely
attain. Here, he dimly felt, was the great key

To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
. . . aye, to all the mazy world

. . . aye, to an tne r
Of silvery enchantment

And in line after line of Endymion, as we pored over
them together, he found the clear happiness of a magic
that dissolved everything into lightness and freedom.
It is agreeable to remember this man, preparing to be
a building contractor, who loved Keats because he
made him laugh. I wonder if the critics have not too
insistently persuaded us to read our poet in a black-
edged mood? After all, his nickname was "Junkets."

So it was that I first, in any transcending sense,
fell under the empire of a poet. Here was an endless
fountain of immortal drink: here was a history potent
to send a young mind from its bodily tenement. The
pleasure was too personal to be completely shared; for

The Autogenesis of a Poet

the most part J and I read not together, but each

by each, he sitting in his morris chair by the desk,
I sprawled upon his couch, reading, very likely, dif-
ferent poems, but communicating, now and then, a
sudden discovery. Probably I exaggerate the subtlety
of our enjoyment, for it is hard to review the unself-
scrutinizing moods of freshmanhood. It would be
hard, too, to say which enthusiast had the greater en-
joyment: he, because these glimpses through magic
casements made him merry; I, because they made me
sad. Outside, the snow sparkled in the pure winter
night; the long lance windows of the college library
shone yellow-panelled through the darkness, and there
would be the occasional interruption of light-hearted
classmates. How perfectly it all chimed into the mood
of St. Agnes' Eve! The opening door would bring a
gust of lively sound from down the corridor, a swelling
jingle of music, shouts from some humorous "rough-
house" (probably those sophomores on the floor

The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion

The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarionet

Affray his ears, though but in dying tone-^

The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.

It did not take very long for J to work through

the fifty pages of Keats reprinted in Professor Hidden
Page's anthology; and then he, a lone and laughing
faun among that pack of stern sophomores so flewed,
so sanded, out of the Spartan kind, crook-knee 'd and


Plum Pudding

dewlapped like Thessalian bulls sped away into
thickets of Landor, Tennyson, the Brownings. There
I, an unprivileged and unsuspected hanger-on, lost
their trail, returning to my own affairs. For some
reason I don't know just why I never "took" that
course in Nineteenth Century Poets, in the classroom
at any rate. But just as Mr. Chesterton, in his glori-
ous little book, "The Victorian Age in Literature,"
asserts that the most important event in English his-
tory was the event that never happened at all (you
yourself may look up his explanation) so perhaps the
college course that meant most to me was the one
I never attended. What it meant to those sophomores
of the class of 1909 is another gentle speculation.
Three years later, when I was a senior, and those
sophomores had left college, another youth and myself
were idly prowling about a dormitory corridor where
some of those same sophomores had previously lodged.
An unsuspected cupboard appeared to us, and rum-
maging in it we found a pile of books left there, for-
gotten, by a member of that class. It was a Saturday
afternoon, and my companion and I had been wonder-
ing how we could raise enough cash to go to town
for dinner and a little harmless revel. To shove those
books into a suitcase and hasten to Philadelphia by
trolley was the obvious caper; and Leary's famous old
bookstore ransomed the volumes for enough money to
provide an excellent dinner at Lauber's, where, in those
days, the thirty-cent bottle of sour claret was con-
sidered the true, the blushful Hippocrene. But among
the volumes was a copy of Professor Page's anthology


The Autogenesis of a Poet

which had been used by one of J 's companions in

that poetry course. This seemed to me too precious
to part with, so I retained it; still have it; and have
occasionally studied the former owner's marginal
memoranda. At the head of The Eve of St. Agnes
he wrote: "Middle Ages. N. Italy. Guelph, Gui-
billine." At the beginning of Endymion he recorded:
"Keats tries to be spiritualized by love for celestials."
Against Sleep and Poetry: "Desultory. Genius in the
larval state." The Ode on a Grecian Urn, he noted:
"Crystallized philosophy of idealism. Embalmed an-
ticipation." The Ode on Melancholy: "Non-Gothic.
Not of intellect or disease. Emotions."

Darkling I listen to these faint echoes from a van-
ished lecture room, anpl ponder. Did J keep his

copy of the book, I wonder, and did he annotate it
with lively commentary of his own? He left college
at the end of our second year, and I have not seen or
heard from him these thirteen years. The last I knew
six years ago he was a contractor in an Ohio city;
and (is this not significant?) in a letter written then
to another classmate, recalling some waggishness of
our own sophomore days, he used the phrase "Like
Ruth among the alien corn."

In so far as one may see turning points in a tangle
of yarn, or count dewdrops on a morning cobweb, I

may say that a few evenings with my friend J were

the decisive vibration that moved one more minor poet
toward the privilege and penalty of Parnassus. One
cannot nicely decipher such fragile causes and effects,
It was a year later before the matter became serious


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enough to enforce abandoning library copies of Keats
and buying an edition of my own. And this, too, may
have been not unconnected with the gracious influence
of the other sex as exhibited in a neighbouring athen-
seum; and was accompanied by a gruesome spate of
florid lyrics: some (happily) secret, and some exposed
with needless hardihood in a college magazine. The
world, which has looked leniently upon many poetical
minorities, regards such frenzies with tolerant charity
and forge tfulness. But the wretch concerned may be
pardoned for looking back in a mood of lingering en-
largement. As Sir Philip Sidney put it, "Self-love is

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Online LibraryChristopher MorleyPlum pudding, of divers ingredients, discreetly blended & seasoned → online text (page 1 of 14)