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Produced by Stan Goodman and Curtis Weyant



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Named by _Life_ in its issue of October 28, 1920, as one of the best
six current books.

"No better book for vacation reading." - _Review_


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All Rights Reserved

_First Edition_, October, 1921

_New Popular Edition_, 1925

Printed in the United States of America

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These essays are reprinted, with such alterations and additions as
seemed proper, from _The Sphere_, _The Outlook_, _The Daily News_,
_The Sunday Express_ (London) and _Vanity Fair_ (New York).

A. A. M.

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The Case for the Artist

By an "artist" I mean Shakespeare and Me and Bach and Myself and
Velasquez and Phidias, and even You if you have ever written four
lines on the sunset in somebody's album, or modelled a Noah's Ark for
your little boy in plasticine. Perhaps we have not quite reached the
heights where Shakespeare stands, but we are on his track. Shakespeare
can be representative of all of us, or Velasquez if you prefer him.
One of them shall be President of our United Artists' Federation. Let
us, then, consider what place in the scheme of things our federation
can claim.

Probably we artists have all been a little modest about ourselves
lately. During the war we asked ourselves gloomily what use we were to
the State compared with the noble digger of coals, the
much-to-be-reverenced maker of boots, and the god-like grower of wheat.
Looking at the pictures in the illustrated papers of brawny, half-dressed
men pushing about blocks of red-hot iron, we have told ourselves that
these heroes were the pillars of society, and that we were just an
incidental decoration. It was a wonder that we were allowed to live.
And now in these days of strikes, when a single union of manual
workers can hold up the rest of the nation, it is a bitter refection
to us that, if we were to strike, the country would go on its way
quite happily, and nine-tenths of the population would not even know
that we had downed our pens and brushes.

If there is any artist who has been depressed by such thoughts as
these, let him take comfort. _We are all right._

I made the discovery that we were all right by studying the life of
the bee. All that I knew about bees until yesterday was derived from
that great naturalist, Dr. Isaac Watts. In common with every one who
has been a child I knew that the insect in question improved each
shining hour by something honey something something every something
flower. I had also heard that bees could not sting you if you held
your breath, a precaution which would make conversation by the
herbaceous border an affair altogether too spasmodic; and, finally,
that in any case the same bee could only sting you once - though,
apparently, there was no similar provision of Nature's that the same
person could not be stung twice.

Well, that was all that I knew about bees until yesterday. I used to
see them about the place from time to time, busy enough, no doubt, but
really no busier than I was; and as they were not much interested in
me they had no reason to complain that I was not much interested in
them. But since yesterday, when I read a book which dealt fully, not
only with the public life of the bee, but with the most intimate
details of its private life, I have looked at them with a new interest
and a new sympathy. For there is no animal which does not get more out
of life than the pitiable insect which Dr. Watts holds up as an
example to us.

Hitherto, it may be, you have thought of the bee as an admirable and
industrious insect, member of a model community which worked day and
night to but one end - the well-being of the coming race. You knew
perhaps that it fertilized the flowers, but you also knew that the bee
didn't know; you were aware that, it any bee deliberately went about
trying to improve your delphiniums instead of gathering honey for the
State, it would be turned down promptly by the other workers. For
nothing is done in the hive without this one utilitarian purpose. Even
the drones take their place in the scheme of things; a minor place in
the stud; and when the next generation is assured, and the drones
cease to be useful and can now only revert to the ornamental, they are
ruthlessly cast out.

It comes, then, to this. The bee devotes its whole life to preparing
for the next generation. But what is the next generation going to do?
It is going to spend its whole life preparing for the third
generation... and so on for ever.

An admirable community, the moralists tell us. Poor moralists! To miss
so much of the joy of life; to deny oneself the pleasure (to mention
only one among many) of reclining lazily on one's back in a
snap-dragon, watching the little white clouds sail past upon a sea of
blue; to miss these things for no other reason than that the next
generation may also have an opportunity of missing them - is that
admirable? What do the bees think that they are doing? If they live a
life of toil and self-sacrifice merely in order that the next
generation may live a life of equal toil and self-sacrifice, what has
been gained? Ask the next bee you meet what it thinks it is doing in
this world, and the only answer it can give you is, "Keeping up the
supply of bees." Is that an admirable answer? How much more admirable
if it could reply that it was eschewing all pleasure and living the
life of a galley-slave in order that the next generation might have
leisure to paint the poppy a more glorious scarlet. But no. The next
generation is going at it just as hard for the same unproductive end;
it has no wish to leave anything behind it - a new colour, a new scent,
a new idea. It has one object only in this world - more bees. Could any
scheme of life be more sterile?

Having come to this conclusion about the bee, I took fresh courage. I
saw at once that it was the artist in Man which made him less
contemptible than the Bee. That god-like person the grower of wheat
assumed his proper level. Bread may be necessary to existence, but
what is the use of existence if you are merely going to employ it in
making bread? True, the farmer makes bread, not only for himself, but
for the miner; and the miner produces coal - not only for himself, but
for the farmer; and the farmer also Produces bread for the maker of
boots, who Produces boots, not only for himself, but for the farmer
and the miner. But you are still getting ting no further. It is the
Life of the Bee over again, with no other object in it but mere
existence. If this were all, there would be nothing to write on our
tombstones but "Born 1800; Died 1880. _He lived till then._"

But it is not all, because - and here I strike my breast
proudly - because of us artists. Not only can we write on Shakespeare's
tomb, "He wrote _Hamlet_" or "He was not for an age, but for all
time," but we can write on a contemporary baker's tomb, "He provided
bread for the man who wrote _Hamlet_," and on a contemporary
butcher's tomb, "He was not only for himself, but for Shakespeare."
We perceive, in fact, that the only matter upon which any worker,
other than the artist, can congratulate himself, whether he be
manual-worker, brain-worker, surgeon, judge, or politician, is that he
is helping to make the world tolerable for the artist. It is only the
artist who will leave anything behind him. He is the fighting-man, the
man who counts; the others are merely the Army Service Corps of
civilization. A world without its artists, a world of bees, would be
as futile and as meaningless a thing as an army composed entirely of
the A.S.C.

Possibly you put in a plea here for the explorer and the scientist.
The explorer perhaps may stand alone. His discovery of a peak in
Darien is something in itself, quite apart from the happy possibility
that Keats may be tempted to bring it into a sonnet. Yes, if a
Beef-Essence-Merchant has only provided sustenance for an Explorer he
has not lived in vain, however much the poets and the painters recoil
from his wares. But of the scientist I am less certain. I fancy that
his invention of the telephone (for instance) can only be counted to
his credit because it has brought the author into closer touch with
his publisher.

So we artists (yes, and explorers) may be of good faith. They may try
to pretend, these others, in their little times of stress, that we are
nothing - decorative, inessential; that it is they who make the world
go round. This will not upset us. We could not live without them;
true. But (a much more bitter thought) they would have no reason for
living at all, were it not for us.

A London Garden

I have always wanted a garden of my own. Other people's gardens are
all very well, but the visitor never sees them at their best. He comes
down in June, perhaps, and says something polite about the roses. "You
ought to have seen them last year," says his host disparagingly, and
the visitor represses with difficulty the retort, "You ought to have
asked me down to see them last year." Or, perhaps, he comes down in
August, and lingers for a moment beneath the fig-tree. "Poor show of
figs," says the host, "I don't know what's happened to them. Now we
had a record crop of raspberries. Never seen them so plentiful
before." And the visitor has to console himself with the thought of
the raspberries which he has never seen, and will probably miss again
next year. It is not very comforting.

Give me, therefore, a garden of my own. Let me grow my own flowers,
and watch over them from seedhood to senility. Then shall I miss
nothing of their glory, and when visitors come I can impress them with
my stories of the wonderful show of groundsel which we had last year.

For the moment I am contenting myself with groundsel. To judge by the
present state of the garden, the last owner must have prided himself
chiefly on his splendid show of canaries. Indeed, it would not
surprise me to hear that he referred to his garden as "the
back-yard." This would take the heart out of anything which was
trying to flower there, and it is only natural that, with the
exception of the three groundsel beds, the garden is now a wilderness.
Perhaps "wilderness" gives you a misleading impression of space, the
actual size of the pleasaunce being about two hollyhocks by one, but
it is the correct word to describe the air of neglect which hangs over
the place. However, I am going to alter that.

With a garden of this size, though, one has to be careful. One cannot
decide lightly upon a croquet-lawn here, an orchard there, and a
rockery in the corner; one has to go all out for the one particular
thing, whether it is the last hoop and the stick of a croquet-lawn, a
mulberry-tree, or an herbaceous border. Which do we want most - a fruit
garden, a flower garden, or a water garden? Sometimes I think fondly
of a water garden, with a few perennial gold-fish flashing swiftly
across it, and ourselves walking idly by the margin and pointing them
out to our visitors; and then I realize sadly that, by the time an
adequate margin has been provided for ourselves and our visitors,
there will be no room left for the gold-fish.

At the back of my garden I have a high brick wall. To whom the bricks
actually belong I cannot say, but at any rate I own the surface rights
on this side of it. One of my ideas is to treat it as the back cloth
of a stage, and paint a vista on it. A long avenue of immemorial elms,
leading up to a gardener's lodge at the top of the wall - I mean at the
end of the avenue - might create a pleasing impression. My workroom
leads out into the garden, and I have a feeling that, if the door of
this room were opened, and then hastily closed again on the plea that
I mustn't be disturbed, a visitor might obtain such a glimpse of the
avenue and the gardener's lodge as would convince him that I had come
into property. He might even make an offer for the estate, if he were
set upon a country house in the heart of London.

But you have probably guessed already the difficulty in the way of my
vista. The back wall extends into the gardens of the householders on
each side of me. They might refuse to co-operate with me; they might
insist on retaining the blank ugliness of theirs walls, or
endeavouring (as they endeavour now, I believe) to grow some
unenterprising creeper up them; with the result that my vista would
fail to create the necessary illusion when looked at from the side,
This would mean that our guests would have to remain in one position,
and that even in this position they would have to stand to
attention - a state of things which might mar their enjoyment of our
hospitality. Until, then, our neighbours give me a free hand with
their segments of the wall, the vista must remain a beautiful dream.

However, there are other possibilities. Since there is no room in the
garden for a watchdog and a garden, it might be a good idea to paint a
phosphorescent and terrifying watchdog on the wall. Perhaps a
watchlion would be even more terrifying - and, presumably, just as easy
to paint. Any burglar would be deterred if he came across a lion
suddenly in the back garden. One way or another, it should be possible
to have something a little more interesting than mere bricks at the
end of the estate.

And if the worst comes to the worst - if it is found that no flowers
(other than groundsel) will flourish in my garden, owing to lack of
soil or lack of sun - then the flowers must be painted on the walls.
This would have its advantages, for we should waste no time over the
early and uninteresting stages of the plant, but depict it at once in
its full glory. And we should keep our garden up to date. When
delphiniums went out of season, we should rub them out and give you
chrysanthemums; and if an untimely storm uprooted the chrysanthemums,
in an hour or two we should have a wonderful show of dahlias to take
their place. And we should still have the floor-space free for a
sundial, or - if you insist on exercise - for the last hoop and the
stick of a full-sized croquet-lawn.

The Game of Kings

I do not claim to be an authority on either the history or the
practice of chess, but, as the poet Gray observed when he saw his old
school from a long way off, it is sometimes an advantage not to know
too much of one's subject. The imagination can then be exercised more
effectively. So when I am playing Capablanca (or old Robinson) for the
championship of the home pastures, my thoughts are not fixed
exclusively upon the "mate" which is threatening; they wander off
into those enchanted lands of long ago, when flesh-and-blood knights
rode at stone-built castles, and thin-lipped bishops, all smiles and
side-long glances, plotted against the kings who ventured to oppose
them. This is the real fascination of chess.

You observe that I speak of castles, not of rooks. I do not know
whence came this custom of calling the most romantic piece on the
board by the name of a very ordinary bird, but I, at least, will not
be a party to it. I refuse to surrender the portcullis and the moat,
the bastion and the well-manned towers, which were the features of
every castle with which hitherto I have played, in order to take the
field with allies so unromantic as a brace of rooks. You may tell me
that "rook" is a corruption of this or that word, meaning something
which has never laid an egg in its life. It may be so, but in that
case you cannot blame me for continuing to call it the castle which
its shape proclaims it.

Knowing nothing of the origin of the game, I can tell myself stories
about it. That it was invented by a woman is obvious, for why else
should the queen be the most powerful piece of them all? She lived,
this woman, in a priest-ridden land, but she had no love for the
Church. Neither bland white bishop nor crooked-smiling black bishop
did she love; that is why she made them move sideways. Yet she could
not deny them their power. They were as powerful as the gallant young
knight who rode past her window singing to battle, where he swooped
upon the enemy impetuously from this side and that, heedless of the
obstacles in the way, or worked two of them into such a position that,
though one might escape, the other was doomed to bite the dust, Yet
the bishop, man of peace though he proclaimed himself, was as powerful
as he, but not so powerful as a baron in his well-fortified castle.
For sometimes there were places beyond the influence of the Church, if
one could reach them in safety; though when the Church hunted in
couples, the king's priest and the queen's priest out together, then
there was no certain refuge, and one must sally upon them bravely and
run the risk of being excommunicated.

No, she did not love the Church. Sometimes I think that she was
herself a queen, who had suffered at the hands of the bishops; and,
just as you or I put our enemies into a book, thereby gaining much
private satisfaction even though they do not recognize themselves, so
she made a game of her enemies and enjoyed her revenge in secret. But
if she were a queen, then she was a queen-mother, and the king was not
her husband but her little son. This would account for the perpetual
intrigues against him, and the fact that he was so powerless to aid
himself. Probably the enemy was too strong for him in the end, and he
and his mother were taken into captivity together. It was in prison
that she invented the royal game, the young king amused himself by
carving out the first rough pieces.

But was she a queen? Sometimes I think that I have the story wrong;
for what queen in those days would have assented to a proposition so
democratic as that a man-at-arms (a "pawn" in the language of the
unromantic) could rise by his own exertions to the dignity of Royalty
itself? But if she were a waiting-maid in love with the king's own
man-at-arms, then it would be natural that she should set no limit to
her ambitions for him. The man-at-arms crowned would be in keeping
with her most secret dreams.

These are the things of which I think when I push my king's
man-at-arms two leagues forward. A game of chess is a romance sport
when it is described in that dull official notation "P to K4 Kt to
KB3"; a story should be woven around it. One of these days, perhaps,
I shall tell the story of my latest defeat. Lewis Carroll had some
such intention when he began _Alice Through the Looking Glass_, but he
went at it half-heartedly. Besides, being a clergyman and writing as
he did for children, he was handicapped; he dared not introduce the
bishops. I shall have no such fears, and my story will be serious.

Consider for a moment the romance which underlies the most ordinary
game. You push out the king's pawn and your opponent does the same. It
is plain (is it not?) that these are the heralds, meeting at the
border-line between the two kingdoms - Ivoria and Ebonia, let us say.
There I have my first chapter: The history of the dispute, the
challenge by Ivoria, the acceptance of the challenge by Ebonia.
Chapter Two describes the sallying forth of the knights - "Kt to KB3,
Kt to QB3." In the next chapter the bishop gains the queen's ear and
suggests that he should take the field. He is no fighter, but he has
the knack of excommunicating. The queen, a young and beautiful widow,
with an infant son, consents ("B to QB4"), and set about removing
her child to a place of safety. She invokes the aid of Roqueblanc, an
independent chieftain, who, spurred on by love for her, throws all his
forces on to her side, offering at the same time his well-guarded
fastness as a sanctuary for her boy. ("Castles.") Then the queen
musters all her own troops and leads them into battle by the side of
the Baron Roqueblanc....

But I must not tell you the whole story now. You can imagine for
yourself some of the more exciting things which happen. You can
picture, for instance, that vivid chapter in which the young king, at
a moment when his very life is threatened by an Ebonian baron, is
saved by the self-sacrifices of Roqueblanc, who hurls himself in front
of the royal youth's person and himself falls a victim, to be avenged
immediately by a watchful man-at-arms. You can follow, if you will,
the further adventures of that man-at-arms, up to that last chapter
when he marries the still beautiful queen, and henceforward acts in
her name, taking upon himself a power similar to her own. In fact, you
can write the book yourself. But if you do not care to do this, let me
beg you at least to bring a little imagination to the next game which
you play. Then whether you win or (as is more likely) you lose, you
will at least be worthy of the Game of Kings.

Fixtures and Fittings

There was once a young man who decided to be a poodle-clipper. He felt
that he had a natural bent for it, and he had been told that a
fashionable poodle-clipper could charge his own price for his
services. But his father urged him to seek another profession. "It is
an uncertain life, poodle-clipping," he said, "To begin with, very
few people keep poodles at all. Of these few, only a small proportion
wants its poodles clipped. And, of this small proportion, a still
smaller proportion is likely to want its poodles clipped by _you_."
So the young man decided to be a hair-dresser instead.

I thought of this story the other day when I was bargaining with a
house-agent about "fixtures," and I decided that no son of mine
should become a curtain-pole manufacturer. I suppose that the price of
a curtain-rod (pole or perch) is only a few shillings, and, once made,
it remains in a house for ever. Tenants come and go, new landlords buy
and sell, but the old brass rod stays firm at the top of the window,
supporting curtain after curtain. How many new sets are made in a
year? No more, it would seem, than the number of new houses built. Far
better, then to manufacture an individual possession like a
tooth-brush, which has the additional advantage of wearing out every
few months.

But from the consumer's point of view, a curtain-rod is a pleasant
thing. He has the satisfaction of feeling that, having once bought it,
he has bought it for the rest of his life. He may change his house and
with it his Fixtures, but there is no loss on the brass part of the
transaction, however much there may be on the bricks and mortar. What
he pays out with one hand, he takes in with the other. Nor is his
property subject to the ordinary mischances of life. There was an
historic character who "lost the big drum," but he would become even
more historic who had lost a curtain-rod, and neither parlour-maid nor
cat is ever likely to wear a guilty conscience over the breaking of

I have not yet discovered, in spite of my recent familiarity with
house-agents, the difference between a fixture and a fitting. It is
possible that neither word has any virtue without the other, as is the
case with "spick" and "span." One has to be both; however dapper,
one would never be described as a span gentleman. In the same way it

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Online LibraryA.A. MilneIf I May → online text (page 1 of 11)