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IV. SPOIL! 237





It was a chilling experience, that first glimpse of New Zealand! Hour
after hour the great ship held on her way up the Cook Straits amidst
scenery that made me shudder and that scowled me out of countenance.
Rugged, massive, inhospitable, and bare, how sternly those wild and
mountainous landscapes contrasted with the quiet beauty that I had
surveyed from the same decks as the ship had dropped down Channel! I
shaded my eyes with my hands and swept the strange horizon at every
point, but nowhere could I see a sign of habitation - no man; no beast;
no sheltering roof; no winding road; no welcoming column of smoke! And
when, in the twilight of that still autumn evening, I at length
descended the gangway, and set foot for the first time on the land of my
adoption, I found myself - twelve thousand miles from home - in a country
in which not a soul knew me, and in which I knew no single soul. It was
not an exhilarating sensation.

That was on March 11, 1895 - twenty-one years ago to-night. Those
one-and-twenty years have been almost evenly divided between the old
manse at Mosgiel, in New Zealand, and my present Tasmanian home. As I
sit here, and let my memory play among the years, I smile at the odd way
in which these southern lands have belied that first austere impression.
In my fire to-night I see such crowds of faces - the faces of those with
whom I have laughed and cried, and camped and played, and worked and
worshipped in the course of these one-and-twenty years. There are
fancy-faces, too; the folk of other latitudes; the faces I have never
seen; the friends my pen has brought me. I cannot write to all to-night;
so I set aside this book as a memento of the times we have spent
together. If, by good hap, it reaches any of them, let them regard it as
a shake of the hand for the sake of auld lang syne. And if, in addition
to cementing old friendships, it creates new ones, how doubly happy I
shall be!


Hobart, Tasmania.




Everything depends on keeping up the supply of bombshells. It will be a
sad day for us all when there are no more bombs to burst, no more shocks
to be sustained, no more sensations to be experienced, no more thrills
to be enjoyed. Fancy being condemned to reside in a world that is
bankrupt of astonishments, a world that no longer has it in its power to
startle you, a world that has nothing up its sleeve! It would be like
occupying a seat at a conjuring entertainment at which the conjurer had
exhausted all his tricks, but did not like to tell you so! When I was a
small boy I used to be mildly amused by the antics of a performing bear
that occasionally visited our locality. A sickly-looking foreigner led
the poor brute by a string. Its claws were cut, and its teeth drawn. By
dint of a few kicks and cuffs it was persuaded to dance a melancholy
kind of jig, and then shamble round with a basket in search of a few
half-pence. I remember distinctly that, as I watched the unhappy
creature's dismal performance, I tried to imagine what the animal would
have looked like had no cruel captor removed him from his native lair.
The mental contrast was a very painful one. Yet it was not half so
painful as the contrast between the world as it is and a world that had
run out of bombshells. A world that could no longer surprise us would be
a world with its claws cut and its teeth drawn. Half the fun of waking
up in the morning is the feeling that you have come upon a day that is
brand new, a day that the world has never seen before, a day that is
certain to do things that no other day has ever done. Half the pleasure
of welcoming a new-born baby is the absolute certainty that here you
have a packet of amazing surprises. An individuality is here; a thing
that never was before; you cannot argue from any other child to this
one; the only thing that you can predict with confidence about this
child is that it will do things that were never done, or never done in
the same way, since this old world of ours began. Here is novelty,
originality, an infinity of bewildering possibility. Each mother thinks
that there never was a baby like her baby; and most certainly there
never was. As long as the stock of days keeps up, and as long as the
supply of babies does not peter out, there will be no lack of
bombshells. I visited the other day the ruins of an old prison. I saw
among other things the dark cells in which, in the bad old days,
prisoners languished in solitary confinement. Charles Reade and other
writers have told us how, in those black holes, convicts adopted all
kinds of ingenious expedients to secure themselves against losing their
reason in the desolate darkness. They tossed buttons about and groped
after them; they tore up their clothes and counted the pieces; they did
a thousand other things, and went mad in spite of all their pains. Now
what is this horror of the darkness? Let us analyse it. Wherein does it
differ from blindness? Why did insanity overtake these solitary men? The
horror of the darkness was not fear. A child dreads the dark because he
thinks that wolves and hobgoblins infest it. But these men had no such
terrors. The thing that unbalanced them was the maddening monotony of
the darkness. Nothing happened. In the light something happens every
second. A thousand impressions are made upon the mind in the course of
every minute. Each sensation, though it be of no more importance than
the buzz of a fly at the window-pane, the flutter of a paper to the
floor, or the sound of a footfall on the street, represents a surprise.
It is a mental jolt. It transfers the attention from one object to an
entirely different one. We pass in less than a second from the buzz of
the fly to the flutter of the paper, and again from the flutter of the
paper to the sound of the footfall. Any man who could count the separate
objects that occupied his attention in the course of a single moment
would be astonished at their variety and multiplicity. But in the dark
cell there are no sensations. The eye cannot see; the ear cannot hear.
Not one of the senses is appealed to. The mind is accustomed to flit
from sensation to sensation like a butterfly flitting from flower to
flower, but infinitely faster. But in this dark cell it languishes like
a captive butterfly in a cardboard box. If you hold me under water I
shall die, because my lungs can no longer do the work they have always
been accustomed to do. In the dark cell the mind finds itself in the
same predicament. It is drowned in inky air. The mind lives on
sensations; but here there are no sensations. And if the world gets
shorn of its surprise-power, it will become a maddening place to live
in. We only exist by being continually startled. We are kept alive by
the everlasting bursting of bombshells.

I am not so much concerned, however, with the ability of the world to
afford us a continuous series of thrills as with my own capacity to be
surprised. The tendency is to lose the power of astonishment. I am told
that, in battle, the moment in which a man finds himself for the first
time under fire is a truly terrifying experience. But after awhile the
new-comer settles down to it, and, with shells bursting all around him,
he goes about his tasks as calmly as on parade. This idiosyncrasy of
ours may be a very fine thing under such circumstances, but under other
conditions it has the gravest elements of danger. As I sit here writing,
a baby crawls upon the floor. It is good fun watching him. He plays with
the paper band that fell from a packet of envelopes. He puts it round
his wrist like a bracelet. He tears it, and lo, the bracelet of a moment
ago is a long ribbon of coloured paper. He is astounded. His wide-open
eyes are a picture. The telephone rings. He looks up with approval.
Anything that rings or rattles is very much to his taste. I go over to
his new-found toy, and begin talking to it. He is dumbfounded. My
altercation with the telephone completely bewilders him. Whilst I am
thus occupied, he moves towards my vacant chair. He tries to pull
himself up by it, but pulls it over on to himself. The savagery of the
thing appals him; he never dreamed of an attack from such a source. In
what a world of wonder is he living! Bombs are bursting all around him
all day long. A baby's life must be a thrillingly sensational affair.

But the pity of it is that he will grow out of it. He may be surrounded
with the most amazing contrivances on every hand, but the wonder of it
will make little or no appeal to him. He will be like the soldier in the
trenches who no longer notices the roar and crash of the shells. When
Livingstone set out for England in 1856, he determined to take with him
Sekwebu, the leader of his African escort. But when the party reached
Mauritius, the poor African was so bewildered by the steamers and other
marvels of civilization that he went mad, threw himself into the sea,
and was seen no more. I only wish that an artist had sketched the scene
upon which poor Sekwebu gazed so nervously as he stood on the deck of
the _Frolic_ that day sixty years ago. I suspect that the 'marvels of
civilization' that so terrified him would appear to us to be very
ramshackle and antiquated affairs. We lie back in our sumptuous
motor-cars and yawn whilst surrounded on every hand with astonishments
compared with which the things that Sekwebu saw are not worthy to be
compared. That is the tragic feature of the thing. In the midst of
marvels we tend to become blasé. It is not that we are occupying a seat
at a conjuring entertainment at which the conjurer has exhausted all his
tricks, and does not like to tell you so. On the contrary, it is like
occupying a seat at a conjuring entertainment and falling fast asleep
just as the performer is getting to his most baffling and masterly
achievements. I like to watch this baby of mine among his bombshells.
The least thing electrifies him. What a sensational world this would be
if I could only contrive to retain unspoiled that childish capacity for

I shall be told that it is the baby's ignorance that makes him so
susceptible to sensation. It is nothing of the kind. Ignorance does not
create wonder; it destroys it. I walked along a track through the bush
one day in company with two men. One was a naturalist; the other was an
ignoramus. Twenty times at least the naturalist swooped down upon some
curious grass, some novel fern, or some rare orchid. The walk that
morning was, to his knowing eyes, as sensational as a hair-raising film
at a cinematograph. But to my other companion it was absolutely
uneventful, and the only thing at which he wondered was the enthusiasm
of our common friend. When Alfred Russel Wallace was gathering in South
America his historic collection of botanical and zoological specimens,
the natives of the Amazon Valley thought him mad. He paid them
handsomely to catch creatures for which they could discover no use at
all. To him the great forests of Bolivia and Brazil were alive with
sensation. They fascinated and enthralled him. But the black men could
not understand it. They saw no reason for his rapture. Yet his wonder
was not the outcome of ignorance; it was the outcome of knowledge.
Depend upon it, the more I learn, the more sensational the world will
become. If I can only become wise enough I may recapture the glorious
amazements of the baby among his bombshells.

Now let me come to a very practical application. Half the art of life
lies in possessing effective explosives and in knowing how to use them.
In the best of his books, Jack London tells us that the secret of White
Fang's success in fighting other dogs was his power of surprise. 'When
dogs fight there are usually preliminaries - snarlings and bristlings,
and stiff-legged struttings. But White Fang omitted these. He gave no
warning of his intention. He rushed in and snapped and slashed on the
instant, without notice, before his foe could prepare to meet him. Thus
he exhibited the value of surprise. A dog taken off its guard, its
shoulder slashed open, or its ear ripped in ribbons before it knew what
was happening, was a dog half whipped.' Here is the strategy of surprise
in the wild. Has it nothing to teach me? I think it has. I remember
going for a walk one evening in New Zealand, many years ago, with a
minister whose name was at one time famous throughout the world. I was
just beginning then, and was hungry for ideas. I shall never forget
that, towards the close of our conversation, my companion stopped,
looked me full in the face, and exclaimed with tremendous emphasis,
'Keep up your surprise-power, my dear fellow; the pulpit must never,
never lose its power of startling people!' I have very often since
recalled that memorable walk; and the farther I leave the episode across
the years behind me the more the truth of that fine saying gains upon my

Let me suggest a really great question. Is it enough for a preacher to
preach the truth? In a place where I was quite unknown, I turned into a
church one day and enjoyed the rare luxury of hearing another man
preach. But, much as I appreciated the experience, I found, when I came
out, that the preacher had started a rather curious line of thought. He
was a very gracious man; it was a genuine pleasure to have seen and
heard him. And yet there seemed to be a something lacking. The sermon
was absolutely without surprise. Every sentence was splendidly true, and
yet not a single sentence startled me. There was no sting in it. I
seemed to have heard it all over and over and over again; I could even
see what was coming. Surely it is the preacher's duty to give the truth
such a setting, and present it in such a way, that the oldest truths
will appear newer than the latest sensations. He must arouse me from my
torpor; he must compel me to open my eyes and pull myself together; he
must make me sit up and think. 'Keep up your surprise-power, my dear
fellow,' said my companion that evening in the bush, speaking out of his
long and rich experience.

'The pulpit,' he said, 'must never, never lose its power of startling
people!' The preacher, that is to say, must keep up his stock of
explosives. The Bishop of London declared the other day that the Church
is suffering from too much 'dearly beloved brethren.' She would be
better judiciously to mix it with a few bombshells.

And yet, after all, I suppose it was largely my own fault that the
sermon of which I have spoken seemed to me to be so ineffective. There
are tremendous astonishments in the Christian evangel which, however
baldly stated, should fire my sluggish soul with wonder, and fill it
with amazement. The fact that I listened so blandly shows that I have
become blasé. I am like the soldier in the trenches who no longer
notices the bursting shells about him. I am like the auditor who
occupies a seat at the conjuring entertainment, but has fallen asleep
just as the thing is getting sensational.

In one of his latest books, Harold Begbie gives us a fine picture of
John Wyclif reading from his own translation of the Bible to those who
had never before listened to those stately and wonderful cadences. The
hearers look at each other with wide-open eyes, and are almost
incredulous in their astonishment. Every sentence is a sensation. They
can scarcely believe their ears. They are like the baby on the floor.
The simplicities startle them. If only I can renew the romance of my
childhood, and recapture that early sense of wonder, the world will
suddenly become as marvellous as the prince's palace in the fairy
stories, and the ministry of the Church will become life's most
sensational sensation.



Strawberries are delicious, as every one knows. 'It may be,' says Dr.
Boteler, a quaint old English writer, 'it may be that God could make a
better berry than a strawberry, but most certainly He never did.' Yes,
strawberries are delicious; but I am not going to write about
strawberries. Cream is also very nice, very nice indeed; but nothing
shall induce me to write about cream. I have promised myself a chapter,
neither on _strawberries_ nor on _cream_, but on _strawberries and
cream_. The distinction, as I shall endeavour to show, is a vitally
important one. Now the theme was suggested on this wise. I was walking
through the city this afternoon, when I met a gentleman from whom, only
this morning, I received an important letter. We shook hands, and were
just plunging into the subject-matter of his letter when a tall
policeman reminded us of the illegality of loitering on the pavement.
Yet it was too hot to walk about.

'Come in here,' my companion suggested, pointing to a café near by,
'and have a cup of afternoon tea.'

'No, thank you,' I replied, 'I had a cup not long ago.'

'Well, strawberries and cream, then?'

The temptation was too strong for me; he had touched a vulnerable point;
and I succumbed. The afternoon was very oppressive; the restaurant
looked invitingly cool; a quiet corner among the ferns seemed to beckon
us; and the strawberries and cream, daintily served, soon completed our

Strawberries and cream! It is an odd conjunction when you come to think
of it. The gardener goes off to his well-kept beds and brings back a big
basket, lined with cabbage leaves, and filled to the brim with fine
fresh strawberries. The maid slips off to the dairy and returns with a
jug of rich and foamy cream. To what different realms they belong! The
gardener lives, moves, and has his being in one world; the milkmaid
spends her life in quite another. The cream belongs to the animal
kingdom; the strawberries to the vegetable kingdom. But here, on these
pretty little plates in the fern-grot are the gardener's world and the
milkmaid's world beautifully blended. Here, on the table before us, are
the animal and the vegetable kingdom perfectly supplementing and
completing each other. It is another phase of the wonder which
suggested the nursery rhyme:

Flour of England, fruit of Spain,
Met together in a shower of rain.

Empires confront each other within the compass of a plum-pudding;
continents salute each other in a tea-cup; the great subdivisions of the
universe greet each other in a plate of strawberries and cream. What
_ententes_, and _rapprochements_, and international conferences take
place every day among the plates and dishes that adorn our tables!

It is a thousand pities that we have no authentic record of the
discoverer of strawberries and cream. For ages the world enjoyed its
strawberries, and for ages the world enjoyed its cream. But strawberries
and cream was an unheard-of mixture. Then there dawned one of the great
days of this planet's little story, a day that ought to have been
carefully recorded and annually commemorated. History, as it is written,
betrays a sad lack of perspective. It has no true sense of proportion.
There came a fateful day on which some audacious dietetic adventurer
took the cream that had been brought from his dairy, poured it on the
strawberries that had been plucked from his garden, and discovered with
delight that the whole was greater than the sum of all its parts. Yet
of that memorable day the historian takes no notice. With the amours of
kings, the intrigues of courts, and the squabbles of statesmen he has
filled countless pages; yet only in very rare instances have these
things contributed to the sum of human happiness anything comparable to
the pleasures afforded by strawberries and cream. We have never done
justice to the intellectual prowess of the men who first tried some of
the mixtures that are to us a matter of course. Salt and potatoes, for
example. I heard the other day of a little girl who defined salt as
'that which makes potatoes very nasty if you have none of it with them.'
It is not a bad definition. But, surely, something is due to the memory
of the man who discovered that the insipidity might be removed, and the
potato be made a staple article of diet, by the simple addition of a
pinch of salt! Then, too, there are the men who found out that
horseradish is the thing to eat with roast beef; that apple sauce lends
an added charm to a joint of pork; that red currant jelly enhances the
flavour of jugged hare; that mint sauce blends beautifully with lamb;
that boiled mutton is all the better for caper sauce; and that butter is
the natural corollary of bread. 'The man of superior intellect,' says
Tennyson, in vindication of his weakness for boiled beef and new
potatoes, 'knows what is good to eat.' And George Gissing in a
reference to these selfsame new potatoes, adds a corroborative word.
'Our cook,' he says, 'when dressing these new potatoes, puts into the
saucepan a sprig of mint. This is genius. Not otherwise could the
flavour of the vegetable be so perfectly, yet so delicately, emphasized.
The mint is there, and we know it; yet our palate knows only the young
potato.' There have been thousands of statues erected to the memory of
men who have done far less to promote the happiness of mankind than did
any of these. Every great invention is preceded by thousands and
thousands of fruitless attempts. Think of the nauseous conglomerations
that must have been tried and tasted, not without a shudder, before
these happy combinations were at length launched upon the world. Think
of the jeers of derision that greeted the first announcement of these
preposterous concoctions! Imagine the guffaws when a man told his
companions that he had been eating red currant jelly with jugged hare!
Imagine the nameless dietetic atrocities that that ingenious epicure
must have perpetrated before he hit upon his ultimate triumph! I have
not the initiative to attempt it. I lack the splendid daring of the
pioneer. In a thousand years' time men will smack their lips over all
kinds of mixtures of which I should shudder to hear. I am content to go
on eating this by itself and that by itself, just as for ages men were
content to eat strawberries by themselves and cream by itself, never
dreaming that this thing and that thing as much belong to each other as
do strawberries and cream.

Now this genius for mixing things is one of the hall-marks of our
humanity. Strawberry leaves are part of the crest of a duchess; but
strawberries and cream might be regarded as a suitable crest for the
race. Man is an animal, but he is more than an animal; and he proves his
superiority by mixing things. His poorer relatives of the brute creation
never do it. They eat strawberries, and they are fond of cream; but it

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Online LibraryFrank BorehamFaces in the fire, and other fancies → online text (page 1 of 14)