J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

Broke of Covenden online

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<* When Adam delved and Eve span
W ho was then the Gentleman ? '*




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^ './. II* :-AVj/ published June ^ ^904

, ., JR^pri^te^ Sepietnker, igo4 ; June, igoj

, ' *. . ' '^j^evised •EditUn published April ^ ^9^4

Reissued in Constables Westminster Library of Fiction
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Reprinted April^ igig


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I. An English Gentleman in the Bosom of ins

Family . . ^ . . .

II. Uncle Charles . . . .

III. One of the Die-hards

IV. Lord Chesterfield to his Son
V. A Private View of the Feudal Spirit

VI.. Foreshadows the need for a Hero and a Heroine

VII. Le Nouveau Regime . . ' . .

VIII. Enter the True Prince

IX. Startling Development of the Heroine

X. Cet Animal est Tres Mechant

XI. In the Temple of Diana

XII. Maud Wayling . . . .

XIII. Affords the Spectacle of a Woman of thk World

coping with Difficulties .

XIV. In which a Bomb is thrown right into the

Middle of the Story

XV. L'Egoisme a Deux . . . .

XVI. The Nobleman out of the Novelette

XVII. An Excursion into Sentiment

XVIII. Lady Bountiful and a Young Intellectual .

XIX. Two on a Tower . . . .

XX. Preparations for Comedy

XXI. In which the First Comedian xMakes his Bow


XXII. The Jumping of the Lesser Wits
XXIIL. A Descent into the Avernus of Broad Fakce















XXIV. In which Mr. Burchell cries "Fudge!"

XXV. Iphigenia . . . . .

XXVI. In which two Matrimonial Richmonds take

THE Field . . ...

XXVII. Provides Opportunity for a little Moral

Teaching . . ...

XXVIII. Pariah in the Name of Love

XXIX. Two Women . * . . . .

XXX. In the Maelstrom . ...

XXXI. In which our Hero takes down his Battle-axe

XXXII. Encounter between a Dogcart and an Omnibus

XXXIII. Tribulations of a Middle-aged Peer at the

Hands of Woman . ...

XXXIV. Providential Behaviour of Old Pearce .
XXXV. In which we find the First Comedian once

MORE in a Happy Vein . ...

XXXVI. Enter a Messenger from the Courts of Hym^n
XXXVII. The Lady Bosket at Home
XXXVIII. In which Mr. Breffit the Younger puts a
Hyphen to his Name . ...

XXXIX. The Last Night . . . . . .

XL. In which Mr. Breffit the Elde-r writes off

another little item of his Account
XLI. Barbed Wire . . . . . .

XLII. Ad Gloriam Dei et in Memoriam Broken
XLIII. Mother and Daughter
XLIV. A Dweller on the Mountains
XLV. The Last Battle .
XLVI. At the Cottage on the Hill
XLVII. The Two Voices .
XLVIII. The Survival of the Fittest : the Curtain

1 alls m t » • • •

















Tyfy ALKING in Piccadilly yesterday morning I met the
^ ^ Complete Englishman. He was a miracle of gloss and
gravity. Civilization shone about him like an aureole ; the
University of Oxford oozed from every pore. The set of his coat,
the hang of his trousers, his hoots, his tie, his gloves, his
umbrella, all had the aplomb which means at least three genera-
tions of high feeding. Suddenly, who came ruffling it round the
corner of Bond Street but rude Boreas, saluted this paladin
with a freedom that ill became a gentleman, knocked off the hat
that Mr. Lock had ironed not a quarter of an hour before, cast
a speck of mud on the faultless spats, while in the agitation of
the moment the glass hopped from the well-trained eye and was
shivered into little bits upon the pavement.

Now, was not that a piece of poor behaviour ? The bystanders
were agreed that Arrius himself could not have been so guilty.
And while a district messenger retrieved the hat from the
threshold of the Burlingion Arcade, whither it had been carried
by the gale, while a knight of the vestry swept the glass into the
gutter, and a policeman called a hansom, I was moved to reflect
upon the melancholy affair. Newton had his mind directed to
the law of gravity by the fall of an apple ; the fall of my country-
man's hat directed my own to one hardly less momentous.

That the gods must have their jest was an old saying in the
time of Plato. All down the page of history, in point of fact,
it has been the lament of refined and educated minds. The
Olympian sense of humour is very positive, if not always
academic. That is our complaint.



The laughter of the gods is immemorial, hut unfortunately
the mode of its indulgence seems open to objection. Laughter
itself in ivorthy hands can he a salutary thing ; the pity is that
it may too readily become the agent of those ivho bring it low.
Without a spice of this saving quality nothing is worth while.
There is no game to he played. But why, we ask, should the
Immortal Gods preoccupy themselves with their child's tricks to
raise a laugh in Heave^i, ivhen we, their victims, can only stand
aghast ? The sight of a clown thwacking a donkey in a booth
is surely too primitive at this time of day. Let us frankly
admit that the " nostalgic de la vie,'' that strange unrest and
weariness of life, is quite as likely to come upon the Immortals
as upon those whose mortality is bounded by a term of days. But
we would put it to them : Can they really suppose they are
relieving this intolerable press lire upon their own nervous
systems when they place humiliations upon ours ?

To be perfectly frank, the laughter of the gods is not so
agreeable as it might be. Civilization has moved on so much of
late as to make it clear that their kind of mirth is out of touch
with our immense refinement. To use rightly this rare and
precious gift there should be an absence of guile, above all, an
absence of intention. Let it be nectar for babes and the gentle-
hearted. Alas ! the laughter of the gods is much too grim.

They can have no idea how it appals us to find ourselves the
victims of an inveterate witticism. They may feed their gaiety
by thrusting a stake through our immaculate waistcoats to
observe whether it makes us turn up the whites of our eyes ; by
wrenching a limb off our bodies to see if we can stand as well
on one leg as on two ; by stripping off the clothes of our Civili-
zation to see how we can bear a gross return to Nature ; by
gouging out our eyes to see if darkness will induce in us a
drunken stagger ; by tampering with our destiny in a thousand
ways to provide the entertainment of an afternoon ; but really
we take no greater pleasure from this form of joy than does a


fly when a wanton hoy plucks out its wings. Audiences on High
may roar at our antics, hut somehow we decline to he amused.

At one time, I am ashamed to say, their invention was even
more primitive than it is now. It was like that of a hoy who
ties a cracker to the tail of a cat, or turns himself into a hear for
the purpose of frightening his small sister. Before Genius rose
to teach them hetter, they amused themselves by divorcing char-
acter from form and species from environment. The ignoble
was beautiful of mansion. An unclean spirit inhabited a virgin
shape ; while an immortal soul in mortal clay was the consumma-
tion of their skill. Beauty mated to the Beast was a fable with a
localized significance. There was the case of Pan, himself a
god, in the body of a goat. When Mneas descended to the
realms of Dis he met a harpy with the face of a woman and
the talons of a vulture. He saw a terrible female whose head
was quick with serpents. Satyrs and half-men-horses were a
common sight. Minerva sprang from the forehead of Jupiter
in a suit of mail. There was no end to their legerdemain. The
tricks they put upon one another surprised even themselves.
But it was very inconvenient when they took to surprising us.

First, they bestowed on Man the gift of Reason, in order that
they might be diverted by the uses to which he puts it. That,
however, was the device of One to whom I must return later.
But the struggle of Man with his Grecian gift has done much
for the Immortal gaiety. Nothing has charmed it more than
the sight of the poor fellow with his rushlight, his farthing candle,
peering into the phenomena of time and space. Yes, my
Masters, that was an inspiration, a master-stroke of wit I

When our poor father Adam, the first animal the Gods en-
dowed with Reason, Looked up above his garden to scan the blue,
what a twitter of delight there was on High Olympus ! How
they doted on the perplexity of the poor bewildered rogue ! How
they feted the unique Talent that had prepared the glad surprise !
And the spectacle of the heir of all the ages groping in darkness


with his dip of tallow increases year by year its poi&er upon
them. It is this miserable Jack o' Lanthorn which gives us
such an opinion of ourselves. We are full of pity for all who
are without it ; and yet this absurd genie that a whimsical
Artist-God bestowed on us in a moment of inspiration when
his talent was running free, of which we make no better use than
the naked savage who ties a pair of trousers round his neck
instead of round his loins, simply leads us on to madness. A
footman in livery, or a king in a uniform, looks no more ridicu-
lous than we hapless humans strutting about with our Gift. The
Immortals are enchanted with us poor Monsieur Jourdains who
use our swords to eat our cheese. The gift of Reason has made
us one of the pillars of their Theatre.

Since Man learned to think for himself there has not been
a dull moment in Heaven. " Civilization " has played to
crowded houses every night. It is the keystone of the Olympian
Drama. And the August Talent that made it possible, the
great protagonist of their delight, has done more for the enter-
tainment of his fellows than all the poets known to man. His
place in the Olympian Theatre is one that Aristophanes and
Moliere might envy ; indeed, without him there had been no
Olympian Theatre at all. But I must tell you who he is.

One day, in an unhappy moment for the world, a genius like
our Shakespeare rose on High. His talents were an evidence
of his obscure origin, but his parts were so brilliant and in-
genious that almost at once he was made a god of the first class,
just as Swift was made a dean. It seemed wise to propitiate
him lest on a day he should turn his surprising talents against
his peers and hold them up to ridicule. This Immortal, like
our own Swan of Avon, has never been approached in his own
particular sphere. He is unique. He is the only one among
them who has an invention at once constructive and consecu-
tive ; he is the only one among them endowed with Cosmic
Imagination. He is an artist, a poet, a philosopher, and a


dramatist. He is of a sovereign intelligence all compact in a
milieu that has had no Beginning and is therefore unlikely to
have an End.

His first act was to build a theatre in the clouds, and for many
years now he has ravished all sorts and conditions of Immortals
by performing little things of his own with a company picked
from every corner of the world below. It was an unhappy day,
indeed, when he turned his atieniion to mankind. Hitherto the
Immortals had akvays enacted their own farces. They were so
primitive that they did not call for specialization. Before the
rise of this audacious talent their idea of a humorous piece of
mummery was confined to Vulcan's limp when he handed round
ambrosia. The gifted amateur ivas quite equal to parts so
elementary. But this Dramatist soon changed all ikat. His art
was so various, so intricate, that, like Moliere, he procured a
trained company of comedians to interpret it.

As his own fellow gods and goddesses had not enough capacity
to embody his ideas, and were in any case debarred by their
social position from becoming professional mimes, this Drama-
tist ransacked every hole and corner of the Universe to look for
players. He always said the English made the best comedians.
They would face the most exacting situations with an imper-
turbable phlegm. Their air of high seriousness was simply
invaluable whenever it was necessary to impress conviction on the
audience. Their solemnity was so fine that they could impart
verisimilitude to his most wildly improbable things. Besides,
such a demeanour was very piquant. A Frenchman might
stand on his head with more grace, more as it were to the manner
born, but an Englishman would turn up his heels as though he
were sitting in church, and contrive to look " very good form "
even with his trousers uppermost. Small wonder that the God
would always have these born comedians when he could get
them I It is recorded in his journal in time that *' whenever he
saw an Englishman he could hardly keep his fingers off him."


Consummate in his art, he merits the high-sounding titles his
admirers bestowed upon him. For he comprises and excels
Aristophanes and Moliere, Shakespeare and Sophocles. I can
hope to give you no adequate idea of the; depth and range of his
method. Human life is but a phase of it. The stars in their
courses are but another. The source of energy, the mystery of
matter, is only a third. He can employ the winds of heaven for
a chorus and its lightnings for stage fire. Its thunders may be
" a noise heard off L." But with all these resources at his
command, with a '' universality " more literal than that of our
own Swan of Avon, he is ever, in the midst of these egregious
epics and fantasies that may be said to cleave space at every
point, preoccupying himself with the comic-irony of the Part
in its relation to the Whole, the strange and pitiful spectacle of
the turbulent spirit of Man submitting to the dictates of Natural
Law. Upon that one slight theme alone he has founded a

I cannot tell you what a hero he has become on High. His
excursions into drama are the delight of all. The more cynical
and arch the combination, the more fresh and unexpected the
effects, the franker the joy of that august audience in his in-
genuity. Like a French playwright, he has the gift of doing
inimitably roguish things with the commonplace. He will espy
a Monsieur Jourdain where the untutored eye will see nothing
but the most austere and serious propriety. One of his earliest
successes was the masque of the British Matron. It was not at
all an ambitions effort. It was in his " early manner " ; it
was as trite as Marivaux, but the wonderful fecundity he
showed in the treatment of a subject with which his friends the
Critics assured him nothing could be done to add to the Im-
mortal gaiety has made it classical as a Curtain- Raiser.

You have seen a British matron with her brood about her,
impregnability in every feather , a sight very poetic and pastoral,
an emblem of the barndoor with an immemorial cluck upon her


countenance. Well, he took this virtuous fowl and threw her
into all maymer of compromising and undignified predicaments.
He stripped the feathers off her and laid her hare. He gave such
an incorrigibly witty twist to her struttings and prancings about
the farmyard that every time she cackled the audience roared
and expected her to lay an egg. At every feather he pulled off
her decorous form the tears ran down their faces. It was all so
perfectly simple but so audacious. Mrs. Grundy Toute Nue
while as innocent as Paul et Virginie became as famous for
dari7ig as a Restoration Comedy.

Like a radiant imagination playing about the realms of faery
that ruthless fancy lights the primitive theme. It sets such
wings upon her chicks that they take a flight into the empyrean
and never return to the humUe straw of the bereaved parent
bird. And when the decently clothed British Barndoor Hen
deliberately plucks out her own feathers in her despair, judges
of the Olympian Comic Drama will tell you that it is as much
a master-stroke of art as anything in Sophocles, and have com-
pared it to poor King (Edipus plucking out his eyes.

At psychological moments in the little piece this atrocious Wit
proceeds to harass the watchful female parent with Outsiders,
who will intrude after the horrid fashion of their kind. A fox
is seen to stalk across the yard in the middle of the night with
his brush outstretched and his nose upon the ground inquiring
for poultry. Again, he allows a gay Lothario in the guise of a
cock pheasant to obtrude a. flaunting presence among a suscep-
tible brood. And yoti ca?inot resist the impudent suggestion
that the sorcery of his many plumes and long tail feathers may
cause one of these fine mornings as much consternation in that
well-regulated household as the apparition of a black baby in a
Christian family . A Cochin China with a burnished breast and
a tail so long that the farmyard stands aghast may be a happy
stroke after the God's own heart, but conceive the feelings of the
Cochin China's " people "I


That is the only moral of the simple little play. How many
hundreds of times an Olympian audience has roared at it I
cannot tell you, any more than I can tell you how many thou-
sands of persons have wept over Manon Lescaut, or laughed
at The Vicar of Wakefield. But this little thing is only one
among a million of his extravagantly droll hut at the same time
adorably human fantasies. The cry among us now is all for
*' realism " in art, as you know. We must have the uncom-
promising facts of life. In this grim artist you get them ; that
is why I venture to think you will appreciate any unconsidered
trifle of his that is set before you.

It is hard to know what to select from such a mass of achieve-
ment, for this Dramatist was even more prolific than M. Dumas
the elder. His pieces are all equally characteristic in their bold-
ness of touch, but some are a little more finished than others,
which is inevitable when we consider that they are knocked off
with the careless insolence of power, while so confident is he in
his skill that he scorns to blot a line. And some of his pieces,
of course, are very ambitious ; and disciples educated to his
highest will assure you they are quite his finest things. But as
it may call for an ceon to represent them and an era of ten thou-
sand years or so to perform the first act, I am afraid that as far
as we are concerned they must remain caviare to the general.
The diligence of a hundred Gibbons would hardly be able to
outline a conception of that kind in English prose. The en-
cyclopcedic industry of the author of the Comedie Humaine
and the integrity of the author of the " Rougon-Macquart
Series," that unrelenting blue-book, would not even suffice to
draw up a list of the dramatis personcB to put on the programme.

Any little thing of this Author's of which in my feeble way
I may have the presumption to try to give you an idea miXst,
by the nature of the case, be no more than a fugitive piece in its
relation to his genius. It must be chosen from the " Civilization
Series!' a collectiqn of the veriest trifles tossed off in an idle


hour. This Series may be likened, if a comparison will help
you, to the " Snob Papers " that the late Mr. Thackeray con-
tribiiied to Punch. The Author has been known to repudiate
them with a laugh if any one had the temerity to mention them
in his presence, but they have brought him much kudos in the
past, and whenever they are performed, continue to do so at the
present day. Fur there are those among his friends who never
tire of putting forward the opinion that these trifles, light and
foolish as they are, contain many of his wittiest and happier
and most divertiitg touches. They have no significance at all
the whole series is intended to be played by human souls simply
that they may exhibit their limitations before the Gods at first
hand ; but certain old-fashioned critics on High, with the
courage of their convictions, like our Mr. Bla^ik, say that the
more high-flown comedies of this Dramatist, such as The Solar
System, Reincarnation, The Darwinian Theory, Evolution,
The Fourth Dimension, and all such elaborate art as that,
which smells of the lamp and is designed to show his virtuosity,
can go to Hades so long as they are allowed to occupy their
favourite fauteuils in the Olympian Theatre, and witness a
delectable farce, out of the belittled " Civilization Series,'* played
without a smile by adorable Englishmen and adorable English-
women. What, ask these stout fellows, can be more exquisitely
inane than Broke of Covenden, a lever de rideau performed
for the first time on the occasion of the six hundred and eighty-
fifth anniversary of the signing of Magna Charta in England ?
The Author felt bound to acknowledge the wild cheers that
greeted him at the end of the performance, for which at the
time he seemed not ungrateful, yet when two of his friends
met him in the street the next day, he said that to be applauded
for such a trifle was the most humiliating experience of his life.
The night before, however, there was no mistaking the roars
that greeted it in the theatre. Many ardent first-nighters axvoke
with aching ribs the next morning. And well they might, for


the mirth of these inveterate f easier s upon laughter may he heard
to echo on such occasions in the uttermost places of the earth.
In every nook and cranny of our system can we hear it if we
choose. And hearifig it we ought to tremble. But we seldom do.
For even if we hear it we are apt to think they laugh at others
rather than ourselves. There is really no reason why they should
laugh at us.

/ think, perhaps, I ought to tell you now the name of this
great Author, hut already you may have guessed it for your-
selves. He is called the God of Irony. He is not very popular
upon High. He is the essence of politeness to his fellow-
immortals, hut he really cannot help smiling at them now and
then. On their part they pay great deference to this solitary,
inaccessihle, hrooding spirit dwelling in their midst, yet they
can never quite forget that in the sight of Heaven he ranks hefore
them all. Even in the midst of many strange and conflicting
elements he has hecome a figure of importance, and in the sight
of Man he has emerged as the God of Love.

Wherever there is the hreath of life you may discern his
handiwork. There is not an insect or a reptile so mean in
itself that it simulates the colour of the ground for its own pro-
tection, in which you cannot find a trace. Even a fragile plant,
that adopts all manner of devices to get its head towards the
sun, exhibits it. The Irony of the Creation is hardly less than
the Irony of Circumstance. And our poor human life is full
of it. This ruthless artist takes human emotion and grinds it
into paint more luridly to illuminate the pageant of our mortal
life. He takes human endeavour and grinds that into powder
too, that it may intermix and make his colours permanent. By
his artifice we are at once the means and the subject-matter.
The theme is our comic destiny ; in order to portray it he dips
his brush into a pigment compounded of our flesh and blood.
He is the master of that rather weird revel we call existence.
He is the stage manager of our feeble little struts, our sorry little


antics. He is the deviser of this pitiful little masque of ours.
He is the author of that farrago of inconsequence through which
we ruffle it for one crowded hour before the gods on our way to
seek oblivion. He has a place to himself in the Olympian
Theatre, and is generally alone save when Clio, the Muse of
History, trips in upon him with the text of the play or a synopsis
of the scenery.

The God of Irony broods and sits apart. He may be com-
pared to an old eagle seated on a great height above the clouds ;
an old eagle with a curved beak and talons, whose bloody, mock-
ing, and humorous eyes watch below in the abyss the Soul of
Man tossing in the Purgatory of Human Life. He regards the
antic writhings of its larvcB with the same impartial zest, the
same hearty awe, whether they are real souls quick and nervous,
or cunning simulacra whose hearts are made of straw, puppets
modelled in wax, draped perfectly, regardless of expense, and
painted to look exactly like the gemmie article. They are all

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithBroke of Covenden → online text (page 1 of 38)