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Not That it Matters
by
A. A. Milne



CONTENTS

The Pleasure of Writing
Acacia Road
My Library
The Chase
Superstition
The Charm of Golf
Goldfish
Saturday to Monday
The Pond
A Seventeenth-century Story
Our Learned Friends
A Word for Autumn
A Christmas Number
No Flowers by Request
The Unfairness of Things
Daffodils
A Household Book
Lunch
The Friend of Man
The Diary Habit
Midsummer Day
At the Bookstall
"Who's Who"
A Day at Lord's
By the Sea
Golden Fruit
Signs of Character
Intellectual Snobbery
A Question of Form
A Slice of Fiction
The Label
The Profession
Smoking as a Fine Art
The Path to Glory
A Problem in Ethics
The Happiest Half-hours of Life
Natural Science
On Going Dry
A Misjudged Game
A Doubtful Character
Thoughts on Thermometers
For a Wet Afternoon
Declined with Thanks
On Going into a House
The Ideal Author





Not That it Matters





The Pleasure of Writing



Sometimes when the printer is waiting for an article which really
should have been sent to him the day before, I sit at my desk and
wonder if there is any possible subject in the whole world upon
which I can possibly find anything to say. On one such occasion I
left it to Fate, which decided, by means of a dictionary opened
at random, that I should deliver myself of a few thoughts about
goldfish. (You will find this article later on in the book.) But
to-day I do not need to bother about a subject. To-day I am
without a care. Nothing less has happened than that I have a new
nib in my pen.

In the ordinary way, when Shakespeare writes a tragedy, or Mr.
Blank gives you one of his charming little essays, a certain
amount of thought goes on before pen is put to paper. One cannot
write "Scene I. An Open Place. Thunder and Lightning. Enter Three
Witches," or "As I look up from my window, the nodding daffodils
beckon to me to take the morning," one cannot give of one's best
in this way on the spur of the moment. At least, others cannot.
But when I have a new nib in my pen, then I can go straight from
my breakfast to the blotting-paper, and a new sheet of foolscap
fills itself magically with a stream of blue-black words. When
poets and idiots talk of the pleasure of writing, they mean the
pleasure of giving a piece of their minds to the public; with an
old nib a tedious business. They do not mean (as I do) the
pleasure of the artist in seeing beautifully shaped "k's" and
sinuous "s's" grow beneath his steel. Anybody else writing this
article might wonder "Will my readers like it?" I only tell
myself "How the compositors will love it!"

But perhaps they will not love it. Maybe I am a little above
their heads. I remember on one First of January receiving an
anonymous postcard wishing me a happy New Year, and suggesting
that I should give the compositors a happy New Year also by
writing more generously. In those days I got a thousand words
upon one sheet 8 in. by 5 in. I adopted the suggestion, but it
was a wrench; as it would be for a painter of miniatures forced
to spend the rest of his life painting the Town Council of
Boffington in the manner of Herkomer. My canvases are bigger now,
but they are still impressionistic. "Pretty, but what is it?"
remains the obvious comment; one steps back a pace and saws the
air with the hand; "You see it better from here, my love," one
says to one's wife. But if there be one compositor not carried
away by the mad rush of life, who in a leisurely hour (the
luncheon one, for instance) looks at the beautiful words with the
eye of an artist, not of a wage-earner, he, I think, will be
satisfied; he will be as glad as I am of my new nib. Does it
matter, then, what you who see only the printed word think of it?

A woman, who had studied what she called the science of
calligraphy, once offered to tell my character from my
handwriting. I prepared a special sample for her; it was full of
sentences like "To be good is to be happy," "Faith is the lode-
star of life," "We should always be kind to animals," and so on.
I wanted her to do her best. She gave the morning to it, and told
me at lunch that I was "synthetic." Probably you think that the
compositor has failed me here and printed "synthetic" when I
wrote "sympathetic." In just this way I misunderstood my
calligraphist at first, and I looked as sympathetic as I could.
However, she repeated "synthetic," so that there could be no
mistake. I begged her to tell me more, for I had thought that
every letter would reveal a secret, but all she would add was
"and not analytic." I went about for the rest of the day saying
proudly to myself "I am synthetic! I am synthetic! I am
synthetic!" and then I would add regretfully, "Alas, I am not
analytic!" I had no idea what it meant.

And how do you think she had deduced my syntheticness? Simply
from the fact that, to save time, I join some of my words
together. That isn't being synthetic, it is being in a hurry.
What she should have said was, "You are a busy man; your life is
one constant whirl; and probably you are of excellent moral
character and kind to animals." Then one would feel that one did
not write in vain.

My pen is getting tired; it has lost its first fair youth.
However, I can still go on. I was at school with a boy whose
uncle made nibs. If you detect traces of erudition in this
article, of which any decent man might be expected to be
innocent, I owe it to that boy. He once told me how many nibs his
uncle made in a year; luckily I have forgotten. Thousands,
probably. Every term that boy came back with a hundred of them;
one expected him to be very busy. After all, if you haven't the
brains or the inclination to work, it is something to have the
nibs. These nibs, however, were put to better uses. There is a
game you can play with them; you flick your nib against the other
boy's nib, and if a lucky shot puts the head of yours under his,
then a sharp tap capsizes him, and you have a hundred and one in
your collection. There is a good deal of strategy in the game
(whose finer points I have now forgotten), and I have no doubt
that they play it at the Admiralty in the off season. Another
game was to put a clean nib in your pen, place it lightly against
the cheek of a boy whose head was turned away from you, and then
call him suddenly. As Kipling says, we are the only really
humorous race. This boy's uncle died a year or two later and left
about œ80,000, but none of it to his nephew. Of course, he had
had the nibs every term. One mustn't forget that.

The nib I write this with is called the "Canadian Quill"; made, I
suppose, from some steel goose which flourishes across the seas,
and which Canadian housewives have to explain to their husbands
every Michaelmas. Well, it has seen me to the end of what I
wanted to say - if indeed I wanted to say anything. For it was
enough for me this morning just to write; with spring coming in
through the open windows and my good Canadian quill in my hand, I
could have copied out a directory. That is the real pleasure of
writing.





Acacia Road




Of course there are disadvantages of suburban life. In the fourth
act of the play there may be a moment when the fate of the erring
wife hangs in the balance, and utterly regardless of this the
last train starts from Victoria at 11.15. It must be annoying to
have to leave her at such a crisis; it must be annoying too to
have to preface the curtailed pleasures of the play with a meat
tea and a hasty dressing in the afternoon. But, after all, one
cannot judge life from its facilities for playgoing. It would be
absurd to condemn the suburbs because of the 11.15.

There is a road eight miles from London up which I have walked
sometimes on my way to golf. I think it is called Acacia Road;
some pretty name like that. It may rain in Acacia Road, but never
when I am there. The sun shines on Laburnum Lodge with its pink
may tree, on the Cedars with its two clean limes, it casts its
shadow on the ivy of Holly House, and upon the whole road there
rests a pleasant afternoon peace. I cannot walk along Acacia Road
without feeling that life could be very happy in it - when the sun
is shining. It must be jolly, for instance, to live in Laburnum
Lodge with its pink may tree. Sometimes I fancy that a suburban
home is the true home after all.

When I pass Laburnum Lodge I think of Him saying good-bye to Her
at the gate, as he takes the air each morning on his way to the
station. What if the train is crowded? He has his newspaper. That
will see him safely to the City. And then how interesting will be
everything which happens to him there, since he has Her to tell
it to when he comes home. The most ordinary street accident
becomes exciting if a story has to be made of it. Happy the man
who can say of each little incident, "I must remember to tell Her
when I get home." And it is only in the suburbs that one "gets
home." One does not "get home" to Grosvenor Square; one is simply
"in" or "out."

But the master of Laburnum Lodge may have something better to
tell his wife than the incident of the runaway horse; he may have
heard a new funny story at lunch. The joke may have been all over
the City, but it is unlikely that his wife in the suburbs will
have heard it. Put it on the credit side of marriage that you can
treasure up your jokes for some one else. And perhaps She has
something for him too; some backward plant, it may be, has burst
suddenly into flower; at least he will walk more eagerly up
Acacia Road for wondering. So it will be a happy meeting under
the pink may tree of Laburnum Lodge when these two are restored
safely to each other after the excitements of the day. Possibly
they will even do a little gardening together in the still
glowing evening.

If life has anything more to offer than this it will be found at
Holly House, where there are babies. Babies give an added
excitement to the master's homecoming, for almost anything may
have happened to them while he has been away. Dorothy perhaps has
cut a new tooth and Anne may have said something really clever
about the baker's man. In the morning, too, Anne will walk with
him to the end of the road; it is perfectly safe, for in Acacia
Road nothing untoward could occur. Even the dogs are quiet and
friendly. I like to think of the master of Holly House saying
good-bye to Anne at the end of the road and knowing that she will
be alive when he comes back in the evening. That ought to make
the day's work go quickly.

But it is the Cedars which gives us the secret of the happiness
of the suburbs. The Cedars you observe is a grander house
altogether; there is a tennis lawn at the back. And there are
grown-up sons and daughters at the Cedars. In such houses in
Acacia Road the delightful business of love-making is in full
swing. Marriages are not "arranged" in the suburbs; they grow
naturally out of the pleasant intercourse between the Cedars, the
Elms, and Rose Bank. I see Tom walking over to the Elms, racket
in hand, to play tennis with Miss Muriel. He is hoping for an
invitation to remain to supper, and indeed I think he will get
it. Anyhow he is going to ask Miss Muriel to come across to lunch
to-morrow; his mother has so much to talk to her about. But it
will be Tom who will do most of the talking.

I am sure that the marriages made in Acacia Road are happy. That
is why I have no fears for Holly House and Laburnum Lodge. Of
course they didn't make love in this Acacia Road; they are come
from the Acacia Road of some other suburb, wisely deciding that
they will be better away from their people. But they met each
other in the same way as Tom and Muriel are meeting; He has seen
Her in Her own home, in His home, at the tennis club, surrounded
by the young bounders (confound them!) of Turret Court and the
Wilderness; She has heard of him falling off his bicycle or
quarrelling with his father. Bless you, they know all about each
other; they are going to be happy enough together.

And now I think of it, why of course there is a local theatre
where they can do their play- going, if they are as keen on it as
that. For ten shillings they can spread from the stage box an air
of luxury and refinement over the house; and they can nod in an
easy manner across the stalls to the Cedars in the opposite box -
in the deep recesses of which Tom and Muriel, you may be sure,
are holding hands.





My Library



When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was
natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them
into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing
Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with
them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids
of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an
emptier room. Together we hurried the books into the new white
shelves which awaited them, the order in which they stood being
of no matter so long as they were off the floor. Armful after
armful was hastily stacked, the only pause being when (in the
curious way in which these things happen) my own name suddenly
caught the eye of the foreman. "Did you write this one, sir?" he
asked. I admitted it. "H'm," he said noncommittally. He glanced
along the names of every armful after that, and appeared a
little surprised at the number of books which I hadn't written.
An easy-going profession, evidently.

So we got the books up at last, and there they are still. I told
myself that when a wet afternoon came along I would arrange them
properly. When the wet afternoon came, I told myself that I would
arrange them one of these fine mornings. As they are now, I have
to look along every shelf in the search for the book which I
want. To come to Keats is no guarantee that we are on the road to
Shelley. Shelley, if he did not drop out on the way, is probably
next to How to Be a Golfer Though Middle-aged.

Having written as far as this, I had to get up and see where
Shelley really was. It is worse than I thought. He is between
Geometrical Optics and Studies in New Zealand Scenery. Ella
Wheeler Wilcox, whom I find myself to be entertaining unawares,
sits beside Anarchy or Order, which was apparently "sent in the
hope that you will become a member of the Duty and Discipline
Movement" - a vain hope, it would seem, for I have not yet paid my
subscription. What I Found Out, by an English Governess, shares a
corner with The Recreations of a Country Parson; they are
followed by Villette and Baedeker's Switzerland. Something will
have to be done about it.
But I am wondering what is to be done. If I gave you the
impression that my books were precisely arranged in their old
shelves, I misled you. They were arranged in the order known as
"all anyhow." Possibly they were a little less "anyhow" than they
are now, in that the volumes of any particular work were at least
together, but that is all that can be claimed for them. For years
I put off the business of tidying them up, just as I am putting
it off now. It is not laziness; it is simply that I don't know
how to begin.

Let us suppose that we decide to have all the poetry together. It
sounds reasonable. But then Byron is eleven inches high (my
tallest poet), and Beattie (my shortest) is just over four
inches. How foolish they will look standing side by side. Perhaps
you don't know Beattie, but I assure you that he was a poet. He
wrote those majestic lines: -

"The shepherd-swain of whom I mention made
On Scotia's mountains fed his little flock;
The sickle, scythe or plough he never swayed -
An honest heart was almost all his stock."

Of course, one would hardly expect a shepherd to sway a plough in
the ordinary way, but Beattie was quite right to remind us that
Edwin didn't either. Edwin was the name of the shepherd- swain.
"And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy," we are told a little
further on in a line that should live. Well, having satisfied you
that Beattie was really a poet, I can now return to my argument
that an eleven-inch Byron cannot stand next to a four-inch
Beattie, and be followed by an eight-inch Cowper, without making
the shelf look silly. Yet how can I discard Beattie - Beattie who
wrote: -

"And now the downy cheek and deepened voice
Gave dignity to Edwin's blooming prime."

You see the difficulty. If you arrange your books according to
their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf. If you
arrange your books according to their size and colour you get an
effective wall, but the poetically inclined visitor may lose
sight of Beattie altogether. Before, then, we decide what to do
about it, we must ask ourselves that very awkward question, "Why
do we have books on our shelves at all?" It is a most
embarrassing question to answer.

Of course, you think that the proper answer (in your own case) is
an indignant protest that you bought them in order to read them,
and that yon put them on your shelves in order that you could
refer to them when necessary. A little reflection will show you
what a stupid answer that is. If you only want to read them, why
are some of them bound in morocco and half-calf and other
expensive coverings? Why did you buy a first edition when a
hundredth edition was so much cheaper? Why have you got half a
dozen copies of The Rubaiyat? What is the particular value of
this other book that you treasure it so carefully? Why, the fact
that its pages are uncut. If you cut the pages and read it, the
value would go.

So, then, your library is not just for reference. You know as
well as I do that it furnishes your room; that it furnishes it
more effectively than does paint or mahogany or china. Of course,
it is nice to have the books there, so that one can refer to them
when one wishes. One may be writing an article on sea-bathing,
for instance, and have come to the sentence which begins: "In the
well-remembered words of Coleridge, perhaps almost too familiar
to be quoted" - and then one may have to look them up. On these
occasions a library is not only ornamental but useful. But do not
let us be ashamed that we find it ornamental. Indeed, the more I
survey it, the more I feel that my library is sufficiently
ornamental as it stands. Any reassembling of the books might
spoil the colour-scheme. Baedeker's Switzerland and Villette are
both in red, a colour which is neatly caught up again, after an
interlude in blue, by a volume of Browning and Jevons' Elementary
Logic. We had a woman here only yesterday who said, "How pretty
your books look," and I am inclined to think that that is good
enough. There is a careless rapture about them which I should
lose if I started to arrange them methodically.

But perhaps I might risk this to the extent of getting all their
heads the same way up. Yes, on one of these fine days (or wet
nights) I shall take my library seriously in hand. There are
still one or two books which are the wrong way round. I shall put
them the right way round.





The Chase



The fact, as revealed in a recent lawsuit, that there is a
gentleman in this country who spends œ10,000 a year upon his
butterfly collection would have disturbed me more in the early
nineties than it does to-day. I can bear it calmly now, but
twenty-five years ago the knowledge would have spoilt my pride in
my own collection, upon which I was already spending the best
part of threepence a week pocket-money. Perhaps, though, I should
have consoled myself with the thought that I was the truer
enthusiast of the two; for when my rival hears of a rare
butterfly in Brazil, he sends a man out to Brazil to capture it,
whereas I, when I heard that there was a Clouded Yellow in the
garden, took good care that nobody but myself encompassed its
death. Our aims also were different. I purposely left Brazil out
of it.

Whether butterfly-hunting is good or bad for the character I
cannot undertake to decide. No doubt it can be justified as
clearly as fox- hunting. If the fox eats chickens, the
butterfly's child eats vegetables; if fox-hunting improves the
breed of horses, butterfly-hunting improves the health of boys.
But at least, we never told ourselves that butterflies liked
being pursued, as (I understand) foxes like being hunted. We were
moderately honest about it. And we comforted ourselves in the end
with the assurance of many eminent naturalists that "insects
don't feel pain."

I have often wondered how naturalists dare to speak with such
authority. Do they never have dreams at night of an after-life in
some other world, wherein they are pursued by giant insects eager
to increase their "naturalist collection" - insects who assure
each other carelessly that "naturalists don't feel pain"? Perhaps
they do so dream. But we, at any rate, slept well, for we had
never dogmatized about a butterfly's feelings. We only quoted the
wise men.

But if there might be doubt about the sensitiveness of a
butterfly, there could be no doubt about his distinguishing
marks. It was amazing to us how many grown-up and (presumably)
educated men and women did not know that a butterfly had knobs on
the end of his antennae, and that the moth had none. Where had
they been all these years to be so ignorant? Well-meaning but
misguided aunts, with mysterious promises of a new butterfly for
our collection, would produce some common Yellow Underwing from
an envelope, innocent (for which they may be forgiven) that only
a personal capture had any value to us, but unforgivably ignorant
that a Yellow Underwing was a moth. We did not collect moths;
there were too many of them. And moths are nocturnal creatures. A
hunter whose bed-time depends upon the whim of another is
handicapped for the night-chase.

But butterflies come out when the sun comes out, which is just
when little boys should be out; and there are not too many
butterflies in England. I knew them all by name once, and could
have recognized any that I saw - yes, even Hampstead's Albion Eye
(or was it Albion's Hampstead Eye?), of which only one specimen
had ever been caught in this country; presumably by Hampstead - or
Albion. In my day-dreams the second specimen was caught by me.
Yet he was an insignificant-looking fellow, and perhaps I should
have been better pleased with a Camberwell Beauty, a Purple
Emperor, or a Swallowtail. Unhappily the Purple Emperor (so the
book told us) haunted the tops of trees, which was to take an
unfair advantage of a boy small for his age, and the Swallowtail
haunted Norfolk, which was equally inconsiderate of a family
which kept holiday in the south. The Camberwell Beauty sounded
more hopeful, but I suppose the trams disheartened him. I doubt
if he ever haunted Camberwell in my time.

With threepence a week one has to be careful. It was necessary to
buy killing-boxes and setting-boards, but butterfly-nets could be
made at home. A stick, a piece of copper wire, and some muslin
were all that were necessary. One liked the muslin to be green,
for there was a feeling that this deceived the butterfly in some
way; he thought that Birnam Wood was merely coming to Dunsinane
when he saw it approaching, arid that the queer- looking thing
behind was some local efflorescence. So he resumed his dalliance
with the herbaceous border, and was never more surprised in his
life than when it turned out to be a boy and a butterfly-net.
Green muslin, then, but a plain piece of cane for the stick. None
of your collapsible fishing-rods - "suitable for a Purple
Emperor." Leave those to the millionaire's sons.

It comes back to me now that I am doing this afternoon what I did
more than twenty-five years ago; I am writing an article upon the
way to make a butterfly-net. For my first contribution to the
press was upon this subject. I sent it to the editor of some
boys' paper, and his failure to print it puzzled me a good deal,
since every word in it (I was sure) was correctly spelt. Of
course, I see now that you want more in an article than that. But
besides being puzzled I was extremely disappointed, for I wanted
badly the money that it should have brought in. I wanted it in
order to buy a butterfly-net; the stick and the copper wire and
the green muslin being (in my hands, at any rate) more suited to
an article.





Superstition



I have just read a serious column on the prospects for next year.
This article consisted of contributions from experts in the


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