Frank Harris.

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Daughters of Eve







Including Frank Harris
By Gerald Cumberland




Including Frank Harris
By Gerald Cumberland


Copyright, IMO
by Frank Harris


Set Down in Malice





Reprinted from his latest book published by


FRAMC ll.uuus

IT MUST have been five or six years ago that a
friend came to me with the news that Frank
Harris had expressed a desire to see some of my
verse. Precisely what my friend had told Harris about
me, I do not know; something very exaggerated, per-
haps; something complimentary, doubtless; something
that piqued Harris's curiosity, it was evident. As Harris
is one of the few modern writers for whom my boyish
admiration has survived manhood, I felt subtly gratified
that he should take even a fleeting interest in me, and
I sat down at once and copied out various poems that
had already appeared in The Academy, under Lord
Alfred Douglas's editorship, and in The English Re-
view in the days of Ford Madox Hueffer, and, more
recently, when edited by Austin Harrison. With my
verses I sent a letter, hypocritically modest as regards
myself, honestly full of admiration as regards Harris.
He replied from his villa in Nice, sending me a long
letter in which he did me the honour to enter fully into
the supposed merits and demerits of my work. Of
one poem he said that it was not sufficiently sensual,
and I have never been able quite to understand what
he meant, for I had, with some particularity, described
seven naked ladies swimming in a pool, and I had felt
that my verses had obviously enough expressed my

The correspondence continued until, one day, Harris
wrote to tell me he was returning to London and to
invite me to visit him there. In the event, however,
my first meeting with Harris was in Manchester,
whither he came to lecture on Shakespeare to the local
dramatic society. Jack Kahane (a great friend of
mine) and I met him at the Midland Hotel upon his
arrival, and from the very first moment he intoxicated


me. Whilst he changed from his travelling clothes to
evening dress he talked and ejaculated, beseeching us
to remain with him as he had had "a rotten journey
from London and felt unutterably bored." I remember
very little of what he said except that, with some
venom, he called Browning "a not unprospexous
gentleman." He refused to eat or drink before his
lecture and, presently, we went down to the large room
in the hotel where he was to speak.

We found there a mixed assembly. Everybody in
Manchester, it should be explained, writes plays; at
least, I never yet met a man in that delectable city
who does not. Moreover, they "study" them. They
weigh and compare the merits of Stanley Houghton
and Ibsen, Harold Brighouse and Strindberg, Allan
Monkhouse and Bjornson, Arnold Bennett and Haupt-
mann, Laurence Housman and Brieux, and so forth.
They search for "inner meanings; the more earnest of
them hunt for "messages"; the more delicate seek to
perceive Fine Shades. They are veritable disciples of
Miss Horniman priggishly intellectual, self-consci-
ously superior. And, of course, the rock of their salva-
tion is St. Bernard. Innocuous people enough, but
impossible to live with in the same city.

To this assembly of earnest, pale men and spectacled
women Harris was to lecture, and I looked from them
to Harris and from Harris to them with joyful expecta-
tions. From the very first sentence he was fiery and
provocative, throwing out daring theories, anathematis-
ing all forms of respectability, upholding with unparal-
leled fierceness a wonderful ideal of chivalry and
nobility and condemning, en bloc, the whole human
race, and particularly that portion of it seated before
him. Ladies rustled; men stirred uneasily. Then,
having delivered himself of a passage of hot eloquence,


he paused. A clock ticked. He looked defiantly at
us and still paused. A fat lady in the front row, palp'
ably embarrassed by the long silence and, no doubt,
feeling that she had reached one oT the most dramatic
moments of her existence, banged her plump hands
together and ejaculated: "Bravo!" A few other ladies
of both sexes joined her, but Harris was not to be
placated. Thrusting out his chin, he began again. And
this time he attacked the Mancunian literary idol, Pro-
fessor C. H. Herford, a great scholar, but a more than
suitable object for Harris's ridicule. Herford is a man
who has not lived fully: a semi-invalid, asthmatic,
bloodless and spectacled ; a man of books and rather
dusty books; in effect, a professor. He had recently
reviewed Harris's book, The Man Shakespeare, in The
Manchester Guardian, and had called it "a disgrace
to British scholarship." Why this should have annoyed
the author I cannot tell, but Harris is at times a little
unreasonable. Indeed, "annoyance" but feebly de-
scribes the feeling that spent itself in scalding invective
and the most terrible irony. Each sentence he spoke
appeared to be the last word in bitterness; but each
succeeding sentence leaped above and beyond its pre-
decessor, until at length the speaker had lashed himself
into a state of feeling to express which words were
useless. He stopped magnificently, and this time the
room rang with applause. It is probable that not a
half-a-dozen people present believed his attack on
Professor Herford was justified; indeed, it is probable
that not half-a-dozen were qualified to form any opin-
ion of value on the matter. Nevertheless, they ap-
plauded him with enthusiasm, and they did so because
they had been deeply stirred by eloquence that can
only be described as superb and by anger that was lava
hot in its sincerity. Briefly, the lecture was an over-
whelming success.


I was soon to discover that Harris, like all the men
of genius I have met, is vain. I do not mean that he
overrates his gifts; he does not; nor that his recognition
of his own genius is offensively insistent: such is very
far from being the case. I mean that he is inordinately
proud, innocently and childlikely proud, of things that
are not of the last consequence. At supper in the
French Restaurant the head waiter slipped noiselessly
across to the table at which Harris, Kahane and I were
sitting. (Harris is the kind of a man who acts as a
magnet to all head waiters a high tribute to his
dominating personality.) When our orders had been
given the waiter, turning to go, said: "Very good, Mr.
Harris." On the instant Harris looked up. "So you
know me?" he asked. "Yes, sir. I have had the
pleasure of waiting on you in Monte Carlo and, if I
am not mistaken, in New York as well." It is difficult
to describe the naive pleasure Harris took in this: it
stamped him at once as a man of the world he who,
of all people, required, in our opinion, no such stamp.

For six hours we talked talked long after every
other visitor in the hotel had retired, and we were left
alone in the Octagon Court in a pool of dim light.
Harris is the only brilliant talker I have met who has
not made me feel an abject idiot. To begin with,
though he has a pronounced strain of violence, almost
of brutality, in his nature, he is always infinitely court-
eous. He will listen to your (I mean my) feeble con-
tributions to a discussion with interest which, if feigned,
is so admirably feigned that you are completely de-
ceived. And he can keep this sort of thing up in-
definitely. Moreover, though his mind is agile enough,
his speech is rarely quick; it is slow and deliberate,
but without hesitation, without a single word of


I cannot hope, after so long a lapse of time, to re-
produce, however faintly, the true quality of Harris's
conversation, but I remember the substance of it most
vividly. In his lecture earlier in the evening he had
mentioned Jesus Christ, and the reference to our
Saviour had been so original in its implication, yet so
reverent in its manner, that I felt he must have much
that is new to say on a subject that has aroused more
discussion than any other during the last two thousand
years. So I broached it tentatively. He was aroused
immediately, and skilfully drew me out to discover if
I had anything new to say. I had not. I merely voiced
what must be an age-long regret, that only one side of
Christ's nature has been presented to us in the Gospels;
that the feasting, joyous Christ has been only faintly
indicated; and that His tolerance towards the weak-
nesses of the body's passions had always been shirked
by those of the priestly craft. It thought it possible
that at some future crisis in the world's history Christ
might come again and, on His second coming, present
to the world a more complete embodiment of all the
potentialities inherent in human nature.

With much of this Harris agreed, though I soon per-
ceived that his mind had for long been intuitively
building up, and giving true proportion to, those ele-
ments in Christ's nature that are only hinted at in the
Gospels. He was all for a full-blooded, passionate
Jesus, for a Jesus who had tested the body's powers,
for a Jesus who was crucified by passion before He
was crucified by Pilate. In a word, he applied to
Jesus the same intuitive method that he had already
applied to Shakespeare. The danger of his method,
of course, is that one is tempted (and it is almost im-
possible not to succumb to the temptation) to project


one's own personality into that of the man one is

"My next book shall be about Jesus Christ," said
Harris. "No man in these days has written honestly
about Him."

"Shall you write as a believer?" I asked.

"Most assuredly," he replied.

Then Harris told us some stories stories he had
written, stories he had yet to write. I remember Austin
Harrison once saying to me: "Frank Harris is the most
astounding creature! He will tell you a story and tell
it so marvellously that, when he has finished, you say
to yourself: 'That is the most wonderful thing I have
ever heard.' And you say to him: 'Why, in God's
name, don't you write that?' Well, he does write it,
and when you read it you see that, after all, it is by
no means so wonderful a thing as you had thought it."
But this is only half true. The story that is told is a
very different thing from the story that is written: so
different, indeed, that one cannot find any basis for
comparison. In telling a story Harris is elliptical; a
faint gesture serves for a sentence; a momentary
silence is an innuendo; a lifting of the eyebrows, a look,
a dropping of the voice, a slowness in his speech all
these take the place of words. He is an exquisite actor
and he is at his best when he is sinister and menacing.
One need scarcely say that the effect of one of Harris's
stories, told in private, with only one or two listeners,
is extremely powerful, for his personality, so quick to
melt and suffuse his speech colouring it and vital-
ising it is strong and strange and full of tropical
richness. . . .

But the actor's gift is not rare, whereas that combina-
tion of talents that makes a great short-story writer is
met with only once or twice in a generation. Harris's


claims to greatness in this direction cannot justly be
denied, though of late years there has been a notice-
able tendency to treat his work as though it were not
of first-rate importance. His choice of subject, the
violence of his thought, his strict honesty of mind, his
open contempt for many of his contemporaries these
have brought him enemies whose only method of re-
taliation is to decry work they will not understand.

But Harris could not be happy without hostility.
There is something of the jaguar in his nature; he
must, for his soul's peace, have his teeth in the flesh
of an enemy. And, if he is not fighting an individual,
he is offending society at large. Years ago, so Harris
told me, when he was editing The Fortnightly Review
with such distinction, he printed one of his own short
stories in that magazine a story that, for one reason
or another, gave great offence to a large section of
readers. Within twenty-four hours he had a hornet's
nest about his ears, and the directors of the firm,
Messrs Chapman & Hall, who published the Fort-
nightly, met in solemn conclave to discuss what should
be done with so injudicious and reckless an editor.
Needless to say, Harris stood by his guns, and one can
imagine the splendidly arrogant way in which he would
uphold his right to insert anything he chose in a
magazine edited by himself. But discussion made mat-
ters only more critical, and Harris told me he would
have been compelled to hand in his resignation if an
unforeseen event had not occurred. That event was
the entrance of George Meredith, who, at that time,
was a reader for Messrs Chapman & Hall. As soon
as his eyes lit on Harris he held out his hand, and
walked quickly up to him, saying: "My warmest con-
gratulations! Your story in the new number is quite
the finest thing you have done an honour to yourself


and the Fortnightly!" That left no further room for
discussion and, needless to say, Harris retained his
editorship of the great magazine.

My first meeting with Harris was of the friendliest
nature, and on his return to London he wrote to me
thanking me for something I had written about him
in The Manchester Courier. (I noticed with amuse-
ment that The Manchester Guardian, unable, no doubt,
to forgive Harris for attacking Professor Herford, had
absolutely ignored the Shakespeare lecture, except to
announce baldly that it had been given.)

Very soon after this meeting in Manchester I went
to live in London, and called on Harris in Chancery
Lane. He was running a curious illustrated weekly,
entitled Hearth and Home, and I remember sitting in
a little back room in his office turning over the files
of his magazine and wondering what on earth he
hoped to do with such a production. It was tame; it
was watery; it was feeble. I looked at him quizzically.
"What do you think of it?" he asked.
"Well, don't you see, ..." I began hesitatingly;
"don't you see that . . . well, now, look at the title!"
"Title's good enough, don't you think?"
"Oh yes, good enough . . . good enough for Fleet-
way House. Why not sell it to Northcliffe? But
you've got no Aunt Maggie's column, and no Beauty
Hints, and no Cupid's Corner! Oh, Harris!"
He laughed, and invited me out to lunch.
I never discovered what strange circumstances had
conspired to make him the possessor of this extra-
ordinary production. No doubt he bought it for noth-
ing, with the intention of rapidly improving it and sell-
ing it for something substantial later on. But I believe
it died soon after perhaps urged on to its grave by


some verses of mine which were printed close to an
advertisement of ladies' .

On our way out of the office we were joined by a
very beautiful lady who, it soon transpired, shared my
admiration for Harris's genius. We jumped on to a
bus running at full speed and alighted, a couple of
minutes later, at Simpson's.

Harris should write a book on cookery. Perhaps he
will. Harris should run a hotel. But he has already
done so. Harris should be induced to print all the in-
discreet things he says over coffee and liqueurs. . . .

It was a close study of Simpson's menu that started
the cookery discussion. The Beautiful Lady and I
were told what was wrong and what was right with
the menu. And then began a discourse, profound,
full of strange knowledge and recondite wisdom, a
discourse that Balsac should have heard, that the de
Goncourts would have envied. We listened, amazed.
And a waiter, having rushed to our table in the stress
of his work, stood anchored, his mouth slightly open,
his whole attention riveted on the Master from whom
no gastronomic secrets were hid. Truly, Harris was

After a considerable time his enthusiasm evaporated
and we began to eat. And then ensued a long talk,
full of indiscretions, of most enjoyable malice. Harris
told us many things that, perhaps, it would have been
wiser if he had kept to himself. But, in spite of his
venom, his real hatred of certain individuals, he never
for a moment permits himself to be blinded to the
quality of a man's work.

"So-and-so is the most detestable person," he said,
speaking of a well-known writer, "but he is one of the
few real poets alive." Again: "X is the most generous-


hearted man I have ever met; it's a pity he can't learn
to write."

Mention of Richard Middleton, who had only re-
cently died by his own hand in Brussels, troubled him,
and it was clear that he had not yet recovered from
the shock of this tragedy.

"He killed himself in a mood of sheer disgust dis-
gust at his lack of success. True, he was still young,
and was becoming more widely known month by
month; also, he had many friends. Nevertheless, life
did not give him what he asked and, tired of asking,
he ended life. I remember him coming to me just be-
fore, he left England. He wanted to get away. Some
mood of loathing had come to him; he was fretful, yet
determined. I offered him my villa at Nice; it was
empty, the caretaker would attend to his wants and he
would have ample leisure for his work. He hesitated,
stayed in London a day or two longer and then dis-
appeared to Brussels. ... I know the poison he used,
and a score of times I have gone over in my mind the
tortures he must have endured."

Harris paled ; his face twitched and, involuntarily,
as it seemed, his shoulders twisted themselves. Brood-
ing, he was silent for a few minutes, and then, collect-
ing himself with a little shudder, began to speak of
other things.

A little later the Beautiful Lady departed and we
were left alone.

"And now," said Harris, "tell me about yourself.
What are you doing? Why have you left Manchester?
but there is no reason to ask that. Tell me this
are you making enough money for yourself?"

"Well, I've lived in London just one week," said I,
"and my tastes are rather expensive. Just before I
left Manchester a very experienced journalist told me


I shoul'd be making a thousand pounds a year at the
end of eighteen months; another, equally experienced,
declared I should never make more than six pounds
a we'ek. I hope the second one won't prove correct."

He mused for a few moments.

"You ought to make a thousand pounds a year
pretty easily, I should think," he said at length. "Whom
do you know?"

I knew nobody, and said so. He thereupon took a
piece of paper from his pocket and wrote a list of
names; at the top of the list stood J. L. Garvin; at the
bottom Lord Northcliffe.

"Northcliffe's away," he said, "buying forests in
Newfoundland to make paper with. However, he'll
be back in a week or two, and in the meantime I'll
write you a letter to give to him. And now we'll take
a taxi and see people."

Harris gave up the whole of that day to me and,
largely owing to him, I had within the next few days
more work offered to me than I could possibly get
through. From time to time, months later, good things
would come my way, and nearly always I could trace
them to something generous and fine that Harris had
said for me.

It was chiefly because he was so generous with his
time that I so rarely called upon him. Often I would
curb a strong desire to see him, feeling that however
embarassing my visit might be, he would, out of a
quixotic kindness, throw up his work and come with
me to talk. For this reason I had not seen him for
some little time, when, one morning, I received a letter
from him reproaching me foi my absence. "Why have
you hidden yourself for so long?" he asked. "I go
to the Cafe every night; come, you will find me there."

"The Cafe," of course, was the Cafe Royal. It so


chanced that, that very afternoon, my duties took me
to a symphony concert in the Queen's Hall; the concert
over, I found myself passing the Cafe Royal on my
way from the Queen's Hall to Piccadilly Circus, and
turned in on the remote chance of finding Harris.

At the end of the passage, near the windows where
French papers are displayed, I found a crowd of a
dozen excited men, all talking and gesitculating. The
rest of the Cafe was empty, as one would expect at
that time of the day. In the middle of the small crowd
was Harris, who caught my eye almost at once. He
came to me, and I saw that he was rather agitated.

"Come and sit over here, Cumberland," he said.
"I've just been through a beastly quarter of an hour."

It appeared that a well-known and very disting-
uished litterateur had quarrelled with him in the Cafe.
. . . Blows had been exchanged. . . .

We talked of money an ever-absorbing topic both
to Harris and to me. He told me his books had
brought him practically nothing. For The Bomb, if I
remember correctly, he received fifty pounds cer-
tainly not more than one hundred pounds.

"If I had been compelled to live by what my books
have brought me," he said, "I should have starved.
Yet it is not long ago that Arnold Bennett assured me
that I should be able to earn five thousand pounds a
year if I gave my whole time to fiction. But Bennett
is wrong. My books, ever since Elder Conklin was
published, have been enthusiastically praised, but they
have not had large sales. Most authors must find book-
writing the most unremunerative work in the world.
I put an enormous amount of labour into The Bomb,
as I do into all my books, and the labour was not made
any the less from the fact that much of the earliest
part of the book is autobiographical. In my young


manhood I worked as a labourer, deep under water,
at the foundations of Brooklyn Bridge; it is all de-
scribed in my book."

Though I went to the Cafe Royal at frequent in-
tervals after that I very rarely -saw Harris there. He
had abandoned Hearth and Home, or it had aban-
doned him, and he was now throwing away his bril-
liant gifts on Modern Society. I was elected an
honorary member of the Cabaret Cluib, run by Madame
Strindberg, the widow of the great Swedish writer, and
I used to look in there occasionally in the early hours
of the morning, expecting to run across Harris, who,
I heard, also visited the exotic, underground and
rather riotous place. But I never chanced to see him,
and two or three months must have passed without
my hearing of him.

In March, 1914, I went to Athens for a holiday.
Something brave and wonderful in that city, some an-
cient Bacchic madness, some fierce exaltation of soul
took hold of me, and I remember sitting down one
night, after a visit to fever-stricken Eleusis, to write to
Harris, feeling the necessity of expressing myself to
one who would understand. The reader may be
amused that I should think Harris akin to ancient
Greece, but if the reader is amused he does not know
Harris. Only A. R. Orage is more Greek in spirit than
he is. In reply Harris wrote at great length, full of the
fervour of a young student. He told me that in his
young manhood he had spent a year of study in that
wonderful city, and urged me to visit him on my return
to England.

But I was destined not to see him again. Very soon
after my return to England he got into trouble with
reference to something libellous that he had published
in Modern Society. He was kept in prison, if I re-


member rightly, for about a month. I sought per-
mission to visit him there, but was refused, and I was
staying in Oxford when he was released.

Soon after the war broke out he wrote me the follow-
ing letter from Paris:


23, Avenue Du Bois De Boulogne, Paris,
29th Aug. '14.

My dear Cumberland, I'm just back from the
frontier. . . . This war of nations is going to test
every man as by fire before it's over. It will be long
in spite of Mr Kipps and Bernard Shaw. The Russian
masses will hardly come decisively into action (they
have scarcely any railways and no good roads) till
next May or June, and long before then, or rather in
a couple of months from now, the French will be
pressed back to within twenty miles of besieged Paris,
when I hope the English forces on the flank will stop

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