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A Man from the North

Anna of the Five Towns


A Great Man

Sacred and Profane Love

Whom God hath Joined

Buried Alive

The Old Wives' Tale

The Glimpse

Helen with the High Hand


The Card

Hilda Lessways

The Regent


The Grand Babylon Hotel

The Gates of Wrath

Teresa of Watling Street

The Loot of Cities


The Ghost

The City of Pleasure


Tales of the Five Towns

The Grim Smile of the Five Towns

The Matador of the Five Towns


Journalism for Women

Fame and Fiction

How to become an Author

The Reasonable Life

How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day

The Human Machine

Literary Taste

The Feast of St Friend

Those United States

The Plain Man and His Wife

Paris Nights


Polite Farces

Cupid and Common Sense

What the Public Wants

The Honeymoon

The Great Adventure

(In Collaboration with EDEN PHILLPOTTS)
The Sinews of War : A Romance
The Statue : A Romance

(In Collaboration with EDWARD KNOBLAUCH)
Milestones : A Play






Printed in 19 14

(9 003










A young dog, inexperienced, sadly lack-
ing in even primary education, ambles
and frisks along the footpath of Fulham
Road, near the mysterious gates of a
Marist convent. He is a large puppy,
on the way to be a dog of much dignity,
but at present he has little to recommend
him but that gawky elegance, and that
bounding gratitude for the gift of life,
which distinguish the normal puppy. He
is an ignorant fool. He might have
entered the convent of nuns and had a
fine time, but instead he steps off the
pavement into the road, the road being
a vast and interesting continent im-
perfectly explored. His confidence in
his nose, in his agility, and in the goodness
of God is touching, absolutely painful to
witness. He glances casually at a huge,
towering vermilion construction that is


The Author's Craft

whizzing towards him on four wheels,
preceded by a glint of brass and a wisp of
steam ; and then with disdain he ignores
it as less important than a mere speck
of odorous matter in the mud. The
next instant he is lying inert in the mud.
His confidence in the goodness of God
had been misplaced. Since the begin-
ning of time God had ordained him a

An impressive thing happens. The
motor-bus reluctantly slackens and stops.
Not the differential brake, nor the foot-
brake, has arrested the motor-bus, but
the invisible brake of public opinion,
acting by administrative transmission.
There is not a policeman in sight. Theo-
retically, the motor- 'bus is free to whiz
onward in its flight to the paradise of
Shoreditch, but in practice it is paralysed
by dread. A man in brass buttons and
a stylish cap leaps down from it, and the
blackened demon who sits on its neck also
leaps down from it, and they move gingerly
towards the puppy. A little while ago


Seeing Life

the motor-bus might have overturned
a human cyclist or so, and proceeded non-
chalant on its way. But now even a
puppy requires a post-mortem : such
is the force of public opinion aroused.
Two policemen appear in the distance.

1 ' A street accident ' ' is now in being,
and a crowd gathers with calm joy and
stares, passive and determined. The
puppy offers no sign whatever ; just lies
in the road. Then a boy, destined pro-
bably to a great future by reason of his
singular faculty of initiative, goes to the
puppy and carries him by the scruff of
the neck, to the shelter of the gutter.
Relinquished by the boy, the lithe puppy
falls into an easy horizontal attitude,
and seems bent upon repose. The boy
lifts the puppy's head to examine it,
and the head drops back wearily. The
puppy is dead. No cry, no blood, no dis-
figurement ! Even no perceptible jolt of
the wheel as it climbed over the obstacle
of the puppy's body ! A wonderfully
clean and perfect accident !


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The increasing crowd stares with
beatific placidity. People emerge im-
patiently from the bowels of the throbbing
motor-bus and slip down from its back,
and either join the crowd or vanish.
The two policemen and the crew of the
motor-bus have now met in parley.
The conductor and the driver have an air
at once nervous and resigned ; their
gestures are quick and vivacious. The
policemen, on the other hand, indicate
by their slow and huge movements that
eternity is theirs. And they could not be
more sure of the conductor and the driver
if they had them manacled and leashed.
The conductor and the driver admit the
absolute dominion of the elephantine
policemen ; they admit that before the
simple will of the policemen incon-
venience, lost minutes, shortened leisure,
docked wages, count as less than naught.
And the policemen are carelessly sublime,
well knowing that magistrates, jails, and
the very Home Secretary on his throne —
yes, and a whole system of conspiracy


Seeing Life

and perjury and brutality — are at their
beck in case of need. And yet occasion-
ally in the demeanour of the policemen
towards the conductor and the driver there
is a silent message that says : ' ' After all,
we, too, are working men like you, over-
worked and under-paid and bursting
with grievances in the service of the piti-
less and dishonest public. We, too, have
wives and children and privations and
frightful apprehensions. We, too, have
to struggle desperately. Only the awful
magic of these garments and of the garter
which we wear on our wrists sets an abyss
between us and you." And the conductor
writes and one of the policemen writes,
and they keep on writing, while the traffic
makes beautiful curves to avoid them.

The still increasing crowd continues to
stare in the pure blankness of pleasure.
A close-shaved, well-dressed, middle-aged
man, with a copy of The Sportsman in his
podgy hand, who has descended from the
motor-bus, starts stamping his feet. " I
was knocked down by a taxi last year, ' ' he


The Author's Craft

says fiercely. " But nobody took no
notice of that ! Are they going to stop
here all the blank morning for a blank
tyke ? " And for all his respectable
appearance, his features become debased,
and he emits a jet of disgusting profanity
and brings most of the Trinity into the
thunderous assertion that he has paid his
fare. Then a man passes wheeling a
muck-cart. And he stops and talks a
long time with the other uniforms, because
he, too, wears vestiges of a uniform.
And the crowd never moves nor ceases
to stare. Then the new arrival stoops and
picks up the unclaimed, masterless puppy,
and flings it, all soft and yielding, into
the horrid mess of the cart, and passes
on. And only that which is immortal
and divine of the puppy remains behind,
floating perhaps like an invisible vapour
over the scene of the tragedy.

The crowd is tireless, all eyes. The
four principals still converse and write.
Nobody in the crowd comprehends what
they are about. At length the driver


Seeing Life

separates himself, but is drawn back, and
a new parley is commenced. But every-
thing ends. The policemen turn on their
immense heels. The driver and conductor
race towards the motor-bus. The bell
rings, the motor-bus, quite empty, dis-
appears snorting round the corner into
Walham Green. The crowd is now lessen-
ing. But it separates with reluctance,
many of its members continuing to stare
with intense absorption at the place where
the puppy lay or the place where the
policemen stood. An appreciable interval
elapses before the " street accident "
has entirely ceased to exist as a pheno-

The members of the crowd follow their
noses, and during the course of the day
remark to acquaintances :

1 ' Saw a dog run over by a motor-bus
in the Fulham Road this morning !
Killed dead ! "

And that is all they do remark. That
is all they have witnessed. They will not,
and could not, give intelligible and in-


The Author's Craft

teresting particulars of the affair (unless
it were as to the breed of the dog or the
number of the bus-service). They have
watched a dog run over. They analyse
neither their sensations nor the pheno-
menon. They have witnessed it whole,
as a bad writer uses a cliche. They have
observed— that is to say, they have really
seen — nothing.



It will be well for us not to assume an
attitude of condescension towards the
crowd. Because in the matter of looking
without seeing we are all about equal.
We all go to and fro in a state of the ob-
serving faculties which somewhat re-
sembles coma. We are all content to
look and not see.

And if and when, having comprehended
that the role of observer is not passive but
active, we determine by an effort to rouse
ourselves from the coma and really to see
the spectacle of the world (a spectacle
surpassing circuses and even street
accidents in sustained dramatic interest),
we shall discover, slowly in the course of
time, that the act of seeing, which seems
so easy, is not so easy as it seems. Let a
man resolve : "I v/ill keep my eyes
open on the way to the office of a morning,"


The Author's Craft

and the probability if that for many
mornings he will see naught that is not
trivial, and that his system of perspective
will be absurdly distorted. The unusual,
the unaccustomed, will infallibly attract
him, to the exclusion of what is funda-
mental and universal. Travel makes
observers of us all, but the things which
as travellers we observe generally show
how unskilled we are in the new

A man went to Paris for the first time,
and observed right off that the carriages
of suburban trains had seats on the roof
like a tramcar. He was so thrilled by
the remarkable discovery that he ob-
served almost nothing else. This enor-
mous fact occupied the whole foreground
of his perspective. He returned home
and announced that Paris was a place
where people rode on the tops of trains.
A Frenchwoman came to London for the
first time — and no English person would
ever guess the phenomenon which
vanquished all others in her mind on the


Seeing Life

opening day. She saw a cat walking
across a street. The vision excited her.
For in Paris cats do not roam in thorough-
fares, because there are practically no
houses with gardens or ' ' areas ' ' ; the
flat system is unfavourable to the enlarge-
ment of cats. I remember once, in the
days when observation had first pre-
sented itself to me as a beautiful pastime,
getting up very early and making the
circuit of inner London before summer
dawn in quest of interesting material.
And the one note I gathered was that the
ground in front of the all-night coffee-
stalls was white with egg-shells ! What
I needed then was an operation for
cataract. I also remember taking a man
to the opera who had never seen an opera.
The work was Lohengrin. When we came
out he said : " That swan's neck was
rather stiff." And it was all he did say.
We went and had a drink. He was not
mistaken. His observation was most
just ; but his perspective was that of those
literary critics who give ten lines to point-


The Author's Craft

ing out three slips of syntax, and three
lines to an ungrammatical admission
that the novel under survey is not wholly

But a man may acquire the ability to
observe even a large number of facts,
and still remain in the infantile stage of
observation. I have read, in some work
of literary criticism, that Dickens could
walk up one side of a long, busy street
and down the other, and then tell you
in their order the names on all the shop-
signs ; the fact was alleged as an illustra-
tion of his great powers of observation.
Dickens was a great observer, but he would
assuredly have been a still greater observer
had he been a little less pre-occupied
with trivial and unco-ordinated details.
Good observation consists not in multi-
plicity of detail, but :'n co-ordination of
detail according to a true perspective of
relative importance, so that a finally just
general impression may be reached in the
shortest possible time. The skilled ob-
server is he who does not have to change


Seeing Life

his mind. One has only to compare
one's present adjusted impression of an
intimate friend with one's first impression
of him to perceive the astounding in-
adequacy of one's powers of observation.
The man as one has learnt to see him is
simply not the same man who walked
into one's drawing-room on the day of

There are, by the way, three sorts of
created beings who are sentimentally
supposed to be able to judge individuals
at the first glance : women, children, and
dogs. By virtue of a mystic gift with
which rumour credits them, they are
never mistaken. It is merely not true.
Women are constantly quite wrong in
the estimates based on their " feminine
instinct " ; they sometimes even admit
it ; and the matrimonial courts prove it
passim. Children are more often wrong
than women. And as for dogs, it is
notorious that they are for ever being
taken in by plausible scoundrels ; the
perspective of dogs is grotesque. Not


The Author's Craft

seldom have I grimly watched the gradual
disillusion of deceived dogs. Nevertheless,
the sentimental legend of the infallibility
of women, children, and dogs, will persist
in Anglo-Saxon countries.



One is curious about one's fellow-creat-
ures : therefore one watches them. And
generally the more intelligent one is,
the more curious one is, and the more one
observes. The mere satisfaction of this
curiosity is in itself a worthy end, and
would alone justify the business of
systematised observation. But the aim
of observation may, and should, be ex-
pressed in terms more grandiose. Human
curiosity counts among the highest social
virtues (as indifference counts among the
basest defects), because it leads to the
disclosure of the causes of character and
temperament and thereby to a better
understanding of the springs of human
conduct. Observation is not practised
directly with this high end in view (save
by prigs and other futile souls) ; never-
theless it is a moral act and must inevitably
b 17

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promote kindliness — whether we like it
or not. It also sharpens the sense of
beauty. An ugly deed — such as a deed
of cruelty — takes on artistic beauty when
its origin and hence its fitness in the
general scheme begin to be comprehended.
In the perspective of history we can derive
an aesthetic pleasure from the tranquil
scrutiny of all kinds of conduct — as well,
for example, of a Renaissance Pope as
of a Savonarola. Observation endows
our day and our street with the romantic
charm of history, and stimulates charity
— not the charity which signs cheques,
but the more precious charity which puts
itself to the trouble of understanding.
The one condition is that the observer
must never lose sight of the fact that what
he is trying to see is life, is the woman
next door, is the man in the train — and
not a concourse of abstractions. To
appreciate all this is the first inspiring pre-
liminary to sound observation.



The second preliminary is to realise
that all physical phenomena are inter-
related, that there is nothing which does
not bear on everything else. The whole
spectacular and sensual show — what the
eye sees, the ear hears, the nose scents,
the tongue tastes and the skin touches-
is a cause or an effect of human conduct.
Naught can be ruled out as negligible,
as not forming part of the equation.
Hence he who would beyond all others see
life for himself — I naturally mean the
novelist and playwright — ought to embrace
all phenomena in his curiosity. Being
finite, he cannot. Of course he cannot !
But he can, by obtaining a broad notion
of the whole, determine with some ac-
curacy the position and relative import-
ance of the particular series of phenomena
to which his instinct draws him. If he


The Author's Craft

does not thus envisage the immense back-
ground of his special interests, he will lose
the most precious feeling for interplay and
proportion without which all specialism
becomes distorted and positively darkened.
Now, the main factor in life on this
planet is the planet itself. Any logically
conceived survey of existence must begin
with geographical and climatic pheno-
mena. This is surely obvious. If you
say that you are not interested in meteor-
ology or the configurations of the earth,
I say that you deceive yourself. You are.
For an east wind may upset your liver
and cause you to insult your wife. Be-
yond question the most important fact
about, for example, Great Britain is that
it is an island. We sail amid the
Hebrides, and then talk of the fine qualities
and the distressing limitations of those
islanders ; it ought to occur to us English
that we are talking of ourselves in little.
In moments of journalistic vainglory we
are apt to refer to the " sturdy island
race," meaning us. But that we are


Seeing Life

insular in the full significance of the horrid
word is certain. Why not ? A genuine
observation of the supreme phenomenon
that Great Britain is surrounded by water
— an effort to keep it always at the back
of the consciousness — will help to explain
all the minor phenomena of British ex-
istence. Geographical knowledge is the
mother of discernment, for the varying
physical characteristics of the earth are the
sole direct terrestrial influence determin-
ing the evolution of original vital energy.
All other influences are secondary, and
have been effects of character and tem-
perament before becoming causes. Per-
haps the greatest of them are roads
and architecture. Nothing could be more
English than English roads, or more
French than French roads. Enter Eng-
land from France, let us say through
the gate of Folkestone, and the archi-
tectural illustration which greets you (if
you can look and see) is absolutely
dramatic in its spectacular force. You
say that there is no architecture in Folke-


The Author's Craft

stone. But Folkestone, like other towns,
is just as full of architecture as a wood is
full of trees. As the train winds on its
causeway over the sloping town you per-
ceive below you thousands of squat little
homes, neat, tended, respectable, comfort-
able, prim, at once unostentatious and
conceited. Each a separate, clearly-
defined entity ! Each saying to the
others : " Don't look over my wall,
and I won't look over yours ! " Each
with a ferocious jealousy bent on guard-
ing its own individuality ! Each a
stronghold — an island ! And all care-
less of the general effect, but making
a very impressive general effect. The
English race is below you. Your own son
is below you insisting on the inviolability
of his own den of a bedroom ! . . . And
contrast all that with the immense com-
munistic and splendid fagades of a French
town, and work out the implications. If
you really intend to see life you cannot
afford to be blind to such thrilling pheno-


Seeing Life

Yet an inexperienced, unguided curi-
osity would be capable of walking through
a French street and through an English
street, and noting chiefly that whereas
English lamp-posts spring from the kerb,
French lamp-posts cling to the side of
the house ! Not that that detail is not
worth noting. It is — in its place. French
lamp-posts are part of what we call the
' ' interesting character " of a French
street. We say of a French street that
it is ''full of character." As if an
English street was not ! Such is blind-
ness — to be cured by travel and the ex-
ercise of the logical faculty, most properly
termed common sense. If one is struck
by the magnificence of the great towns of
the Continent, one should ratiocinate,
and conclude that a major characteristic
of the great towns of England is their
shabby and higgledy-piggledy slovenli-
ness. It is so. But there are people
who have lived fifty years in Manchester,
Leeds, Hull and Hanley without noticing
it. The English idiosyncrasy is in that


The Author's Craft

awful external slovenliness too, causing
it, and being caused by it. Every street
is a mirror, an illustration, an exposition,
an explanation, of the human beings
who live in it. Nothing in it is to be
neglected. Everything in it is valuable,
if the perspective is maintained. Never-
theless, in the narrow individualistic
novels of English literature — and in some
of the best — you will find a domestic
organism described as though it existed
in a vacuum, or in the Sahara, or between
Heaven and earth ; as though it reacted
on nothing and was reacted on by no-
thing ; and as though it could be ade-
quately rendered without reference to
anything exterior to itself. How can such
novels satisfy a reader who has acquired
or wants to acquire the faculty of seeing



The net result of the interplay of in-
stincts and influences which determine
the existence of a community is shown in
the general expression on the faces of the
people. This is an index which cannot
lie and cannot be gainsaid. It is fairly
easy, and extremely interesting, to de-
cipher. It is so open, shameless, and uni-
versal, that not to look at it is impossible.
Yet the majority of persons fail to see it.
We hear of inquirers standing on London
Bridge and counting the number of
motor-buses, foot-passengers, lorries,
and white horses that pass over the bridge
in an hour. But we never hear of any-
body counting the number of faces happy
or unhappy, honest or rascally, shrewd
or ingenuous, kind or cruel, that pass over
the bridge. Perhaps the public may be
surprised to hear that the general ex-


The Author's Craft

pression on the faces of Londoners of all
ranks varies from the sad to the morose ;
and that their general mien is one of haste
and gloomy preoccupation. Such a
staring fact is paramount in sociological
evidence. And the observer of it would be
justified in summoning Heaven, the legis-
lature, the county council, the churches,
and the ruling classes, and saying to
them : " Glance at these faces, and don't
boast too much about what you have
accomplished. The climate and the in-
dustrial system have so far triumphed
over you all."



When we come to the observing of the
individual — to which all human observ-
ing does finally come if there is any right
reason in it — the aforesaid general con-
siderations ought to be ever present in
the hinterland of the consciousness, aid-
ing and influencing, perhaps vaguely,
perhaps almost imperceptibly, the forma-
tion of judgments. If they do nothing
else, they will at any rate accustom the
observer to the highly important idea of
the correlation of all phenomena. Es-
pecially in England a haphazard particu-
larity is the chief vitiating element in the
operations of the mind.

In estimating the individual we are apt
not only to forget his environment, but
— really strange !— to ignore much of the
evidence visible in the individual himself.
The inexperienced and ardent observer,


The Author's Craft

will, for example, be astonishingly blind
to everything in an individual except his
face. Telling himself that the face must
be the reflection of the soul, and that every
thought and emotion leaves inevitably
its mark there, he will concentrate on the
face, singling it out as a phenomenon
apart and self-complete. Were he a god
and infallible, he could no doubt learn
the whole truth from the face. But he
is bound to fall into errors, and by limit-
ing the field of vision he minimises the
opportunity for correction. The face is,
after all, quite a small part of the
individual's physical organism. An
Englishman will look at a woman's face
and say she is a beautiful woman or a
plain woman. But a woman may have
a plain face, and yet by her form be en-
titled to be called beautiful, and (perhaps)
vice versa. It is true that the face is the
reflexion of the soul. It is equally true
that the carriage and gestures are the
reflection of the soul. Had one eyes, the
tying of a bootlace is the reflection of the

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Online Librarycraft00The author's craft → online text (page 1 of 5)