Copyright
Owen Seaman.

Borrowed plumes online

. (page 8 of 9)
Online LibraryOwen SeamanBorrowed plumes → online text (page 8 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


My eyes will not close. Why will not my
eyes close ? I must very soon say something
to somebody.

>{c ;|; >|t jjc

Oh ! Oh ! I have a pain in my destiny. It
is just here. It is not indigestion. Oh, no!
it is certainly not indigestion. [TJiis makes
a very good ending.]

^ 4= ^ >k

[At the Royalty Theatre.]

Pelleas. It is dark, Melisande. Can you
see to work in the dark, Melisande?

Melisande. Yes. I can see to work in
the dark. But it is not dark, Pelleas. The
limelight goes all round me. Cannot you
see the limelight all round me?

YnioJd {at the window). There's little



M. Maurice Maeterlinck 175

papa ! there's little papa ! I am going to
meet little papa ! [Exit.

Pelleas. Your husband will find us in the
dark together,

Melisande. No; he will not find us in the
dark together. There is limelight all about
me. Did I not tell you there is limelight all
about me?

[Enter-Golaud and little Yniold, the latter
with a wax-candle. '\

Golaud. You two were in the dark to-
gether.

Melisande {fretfully). No; we were not
in the dark together. There is limelight all
over me. Cannot you see the limelight all
over me? I called the attention of Pelleas
to it just now; but he keeps on forgetting
about it.

Yniold. I have brought a candle. Oh,
look, little papa ; she has been crying ! Little
mamma has been crying!

Golaud. Do not hold the candle under her
eyes!

Melisande. I do not mind the candle if he
likes to hold it under my eyes. The candle
is of no use whatever. Tlie candle is less



1 76 Borrowed Plumes

than the Hmehght. Anybody can see by the
hmehght that I have been crying.

Golaiid. I do not hke the look of things.
Still, there is the limelight, as she says. The
limelight must have somebody to work it.
I will go and ask some questions of the
limelight-man.



[II.— Philosophy.']

Events happen ; but sometimes they tarry
and need encouragement from us. At the
age of fourteen we may be aware that we
are ordained to die at thirty ; yet we may go
to meet destiny halfway, by jumping off a
precipice at two-and-twenty.

^ ^ ^ 5^

One could always tell which of one's
schoolfellows was going to die accidentally
young. They used to walk apart under
trees ; generally willows.

^ ^ ^ 5(:

I have known people who began by being
beside themselves, and gradually got quite a



M. Maurice Maeterlinck 177

long distance away. And they never knew
till somebody called their attention to it.

* ■'.' •■I- *

Each one of us has a star from which
descends one woman only, however multi-
fold her disguises. Superficially, one would
say that Bluebeard had several wives. This
is an error. He was actually monogamous.

>fi ^ ^ Jfc

It matters not on what subject the pre-
destined talks. It may be that her speech is
of a new bangle that she covets. None the
less it is on the roof-tiles of the immeasurable
that we float together.

^ >fi ^ ^

Some people are less fortunate than
others ; some are more so. For these an event
beckons behind every blasted willow. They
cannot open a door at the end of the simplest
subterranean passage, without running into
a booby-trap, or a crouching allegory, or
something.

* * * *

The persons of the Old Tragedy had no

leisure left from the thousand and thousand

claims of murder or suicide. Yet the real
12



1/8 Borrowed Plumes

tragedy of life is found in the domestic bliss
of the family circle.

* * * *

The spectacle of a plain, fourfooted cow
sitting alone with her destiny, chewing the
cud, and altogether unconscious of the laws
of the Equinox, has in it I know not what of
tragic that moves me more than the crash of
conflicting mastodons.

* * * *

The true force of the drama lies not in
making your characters say the things that
are indispensable to the situation; but in
making them think the thoughts that do not
occur to them. Sometimes these may be
represented by a loud aside without paren-
theses. But silence is also good ; for it is, I
know not how, by the things we omit to say
that the sources of the soul become intel-
ligible. Still, it is all very difficult.



XVI.
MR. G. BERNARD SHAW.

It was never my intention that the dis-
abihties which hampered the many strong-
men who preceded Agamemnon should
hamper me. They were, I take it, a brainless
crew, busy with doing things instead of get-
ting themselves talked about. There is
always a solution (which seems to have
escaped them) for the difficulty of finding a
sacred bard to record you. Be your own
sacred bard.

* * * *

In most periods the lonely genius, who is
afterwards described as the outcome of his
age, though he invariably has to create the
taste by which he is ultimately appreciated,
has been regarded, if regarded at all by his
jejune contemporaries, as a poseur. It hap-
pens that I have been so regarded, and
179



i8o Borrowed Plumes

rightly. Now, to correct the unhappy results
of such an impression, in itself accurate,
there is one salutary antidote. It is to pose
about your pose. That is what I am doing
now.

* * * *

The middle classes, fed to suffocation on
the Romanticism of drawing-room drama
and the Family Herald, take unkindly to the
social iconoclast. It is, therefore, the busi-
ness of this, the highest type of philanthropic
reformer, to include his ow^n image, or eikon,
among those that he sets out to pulverise
beyond hope of recognition. Let him engage
himself as his own Aunt Sally, and so estab-
lish the impartiality of his critical attitude.
^ ^ ^ ^

1 have a right horror of the egoism which
finds amusement in making an enigma of
itself at the expense of a public that has an
itch for personal revelation. My moral posi-
tion is of an almost pellucid transparency. I
am an intellectual Puritan to the finger-tips,
with an affectionate tolerance for the can-
dour of a Merciitio. That is a conjunction,
surely, that asks no apologia explication.



Mr. G. Bernard Shaw 1 8 1

And I will be yet more open with the world,
and declare myself the charlatan I am. If
I have given my friends to understand that I
am immeasurably superior to Shakespear, I
was trading- upon their credulity. In point
of fact, he is very nearly my equal; as a
dramatic technician, that is; not, of course,
as an exponent of latter-day philosophy.

* :[; * *

Perhaps the most pathetic feature in the
modern drama — and Shakespear himself is
not altogether blameless in this connection —
is its fatuous pencJiant for associating action
with motive. Yet, in real life, if there is one
thing more obvious than another (which I
doubt) it is that the commonest motive for
action is to have none at all. Take arson.
You will say that arson is a relatively un-
typical expression of energy. On the con-
trary, I see it mentioned in the papers at
least once a quarter. Take arson, then. Do
we ever find that jealousy, hatred, revenge —
those darling bugbears of the Romantic
stage — have been the motives for this form
of action? Seldom, or never. People in
actual life commit arson as a medicine for



1 82 Borrowed Plumes

ennui, to make pass the time; or else out of a
morbid curiosity for noting the play of fire-
light on neighbouring scenery; motives so
inconspicuous that they are habitually
ignored, just as they would most certainly
be flouted in those hotbeds of Romanticism,
the theatre and the law-courts.

* * * *

Or, again, take Love, which is popularly
supposed to be more common than arson.
When has Love ever constituted a motive
for action? Only in the last decade or so,
under the influence of sentimental drama.
So vacant, indeed, are my countrymen of all
original imagination that the decadent stage,
masquerading as the mirror of humanity,
has actually imposed its own conventions
of Love upon the very lives from which it
professed to draw them.

^ ^ '¥ ^

I have elsewhere said that "ten years of
cheap reading have changed the English
from the most stolid nation in Europe to the
most theatrical and hysterical." I would go
further and point to the terrible corruption in



Mr. G. Bernard Shaw 183

foreign manners bred of contact with British
decadence. Travel, as I have done, among
the Latin races, and mark the recent changes
in their demeanour. In rural byways they
still retain that decorum of carriage and
behaviour which comes of unspoiled inter-
course with earth. But in the cities, and
even in those villages that lie upon the tour-
ist's beaten track, you will recognise the
growth of demonstrativeness in their ges-
tures, and of pseudo-dramatic methods in
their deportment. What is the cause of this
degeneracy ? They have become infected by
the deadly germs of that Anglomania which
is also responsible for their recent adoption
of manly sports, so-called, and other intoler-
able brutalities.



To recur to the subject of accepted con-
ventions — what hope is there for the salva-
tion of audiences saturated with artificiality ?
None, though it were my own lips that
essayed to recall them to the real. Go back
to Italy's Venice, after witnessing its
counterfeit in Olympia, and you will never



184 Borrowed Plumes

" recapture the first fine careless rapture."
I am, so to speak, the original Venice.

* * * * ,

There is a tale told of certain visitors at
the court of a semi-barbaric king, who of-
fered to supply him with a nightingale, a
bird of which hitherto he had no cognisance.
During a temporary delay in its arrival they
sought to appease the monarch by producing
an instrument guaranteed to emit music of
the same order. So beglamored was the king
by its ravishing melodies that on the ultimate
appearance of the actual warbler he dis-
missed the latter with contumely as a poor
imitation of the original. I am, as it were,
the real nightingale.

Jji 5jC 5jC ^

A constant and fatal error with play-
mongers is to imagine that there are themes,
within the scope of their intelligence, which
can appeal at once to the gilded Semite of
the Stalls and the School Board alumni of
the gallery. I say they have no single senti-
ment of pleasure in common. At times they
are bored by the same things, but interested
in the same things never. It may satisfy



Mr. G. Bernard Shaw 185

Mr. Kipling's sense of the realities to assert
that " the Colonel's Lady and Judy
O'Grady " (on the strength) " are sisters
under their skins." But, to take him on his
own restricted lines, I happen myself to have
made a study of armies (see my Amis and
the Man), and I differ from him fearlessly
and without pity.

^ ^ ^ ^

I have little sympathy for the writer who
is lured from the strait road of Art by a
passion for pedantic consistency in the gen-
eral purposes, if any, of his drama. I hesi-
tate to cjuote myself as a brilliant example of
the contrary method ; but I still think it was
a happy thought to put my most modern
criticisms into the mouth of a contemporary
of Octavian; and another, though not quite
so happy, to assign the exposition of my
best twenty-first century philosophy (for it
will take till then for the public to apprehend
me) to a " Devil's Disciple " of the eight-
eenth. I may have faults, but a taste for
academic purity is not one of them.
* * * *

Nor do I pretend to say beforehand



1 86 Borrowed Plumes

whether any given play of mine is intended
for a tragedy or a farce. I choose to leave
this matter to the audience to decide, having
a rooted belief in the subjective plasticity of
all great work. I have known my senti-
ments elicit laughter when I had privately
anticipated tears; and I have seen the house
divided, pit from stalls, as to which of these
two receptions should be accorded to a
speech of which the intention was equally
ambiguous to myself. In the game of jx)ker,
as I am given to believe, the most accom-
plished artists are those who play without
any settled principles of their own, thus per-
mitting their motives to escape observation.
Misunderstand yourself, if you would make
doubly sure of a position as one of the Great
Misunderstood.

^ :!; sjs 5JC

I merit, of course, the abuse of the critics,
who find themselves at a loss to arrange their
labels on accepted lines; and the public is
inclined to grow captious through inability
to confirm their suspicions of an underlying
sense in my plays; but, without some guar-
antee of popular disfavour, one trembles to



Mr. G. Bernard Shaw 187

imagine what would become of one's hesita-
ting self-esteem.



To the great Artist there is always some-
thing inebriative in unsuccess; and though
there may be danger of over-exultation in-
duced by a run of splendid failures, it is
better to perish this way than to die, as some
successful authors have died, of a fatty de-
generation of the brain.

* * * *

In conclusion I would join issue with
those rash intellects that have assigned to
me, thus early, a permanent seat among the
Immortals. Admitted that I have the ad-
vantage of Sophocles and Goethe in enjoying
a wider range of vision, I am very little, if at
all, their superior in point of actual genius.
But in my own case, as in theirs, I protest
against the indefinite survival of reputations.
The ages should always advance from great
to greater, as their purview of humanity
largens. And if this little collection of
homilies should avail to check that tendency
to Cock-Shawolatry which threatens, among



1 88 Borrowed Plumes

the chosen few, to perpetuate my claims as
an Authority, neither I nor my readers will
rightly grudge the pains we shall severally
have expended upon this result.



XVII.

MR. STEPHEN PHILLIPS.
[Ou the Fro duct to ft of " Herod.'"']

How like a timorous sloth of tender years

My reputation hangs upon a Tree !

Bravely it bears my weight ; and yet the blood

Sings in my brain, not altogether used

To being upside-down.

I seem to hear
The strain of all the heart-strings in the stalls
And all the public breathing in the pit !
Now is the climax when the author's pulse
Is at its hottest ; now the crucial scene,
When everything is blank, besides the verse,
And either Herod or myself goes mad !

{Later^
We stand together wreathed in wedded smiles ;
I never thought a Tree could spread such bows.
* * * * ^

\0n Australian Federation^

I heard a Cherub sitting up aloft
Cry : " She shall build a mighty M^tropole
189



190 Borrowed Plumes

Almost at once ; and in its port shall swim
The Universal Sailor girt with sharks ;
And bastioned forts shall beetle over that

Locality where comes to birth."

(This space is left for the New City's name,
A vexed and indeterminate question ; I
Will pay a topaz for the Missing Word.)

\_Murmurs of satisfactio7i.
There shall the kangaroo bound at his ease,
And there the Federated Lands shall build
(Australia ! do you notice this remark ?)
A Stock Exchange, where Ophir and the East
Shall vie for options ; with whose hoarded

wealth
The fabled pearls of Solomon, deceased.
Shall relatively rank as pumpkin-pips !
There the Coagulated Parliament,
Incurious of cost, shall house itself
In walls barbarically fine and large,
Shaped to discapitol that ancient Arx,
The tutelary haunt of Roman geese !

One night I dreamed (Australia 1 please attend)
About this Chamber, how its dome should shine
With burnished nuggets drawn from neighbour-
ing deeps.
Great Boulder's ore, and ooze of Ivanhoe,
To be an educative object-lesson



Mr. Stephen Phillips 191

To the great L. C. C.'s artificers

Absorbed in wedding Holborn with the Strand.

Only a few more words and I have done.

^Repressed applause.
There shall the Sun replace his blighted beams,
And there about a new Endymion's neck
Pale Artemis shall arch her ambient arms.
Before the glamour of its aureate rays
The scalp-compelling South-Sea islanders
Shall veil their tomahawks ; and it shall be
A joy to earnest heliographists,
And warm the chattering spooks of Diemen's

Land.
There shall the wide-world wombat flap his

wings,
And there, itself a prey to fascination,
The boa-constrictor, stealing up to town,
Shall ask the rabbit what the deuce it means.



XVIII.
MR. HENRY SETON MERRIMAN.

" I WANT a new place to be a hero in! "
The speaker ended, as he began, abruptly.
Silence is golden, but the next best thing is
that your words should be fit and few. He
was a strong man, but his eye had the quiet
reserve that may sometimes be found with
strength, a combination always attractive.
There were lines, too, about his mouth that
revealed a capacity for pathos as well as
humour.

None of these characteristics, except per-
haps his strength (a dangerous thing if
allied to madness), imposed itself upon the
observation of the young man whom he ad-
dressed — a clerk in the office of Messrs.
Gaze, Catchem and Cook.

"Is it a holiday tour you want?" he
asked, tentatively.

192



Mr. Henry Seton Merriman 193

" Mention a few novelties," replied the
strong, quiet man.

" We are booking a good deal for the
interior of Turkey," said the clerk.

" Fought at Plevna," replied the strong,
quiet man.

" Then we have the Steppes of Russia on
our new list."

" Sbogoni — Lord love you ! Sowed wild
oats there years ago."

" Or a little round in Spain or Holland,
personally conducted ? "

'' Quien sahef Hoe laat is hetf Speak
the languages."

" Or say West Africa, perhaps? We are
fitting out a small punitive expedition."

" Played with Edged Tools there in my
youth."

" Or Patagonia ? The very latest thing
in explorations ! "

" Ah ! I have never been a hero there.
Any other heroes pioneering in those
parts?"

" Only one that I know of, and he's just
back from tracking the Big Sloth."



13



194 Borrowed Plumes

" Sloth is a great impediment to enter-
prise."

" I said the Big Sloth."

" That makes it no better. Quantity is
no excuse for bad quality. But, tell me, are
the natives of Patagonia good and beauti-
ful?"

" We have no reports to the contrary,"
said the clerk.

" A noble wife is a gift of the gods," said
the strong, quiet man, absent-mindedly.
Then, recovering himself, he added, " I will
trouble you for a Tierra del Fuego Conver-
sation Guide. Mille remerciinents! Leh'
wohl. Hasta manana. Che sard sard."



XIX.

MR. ANDREW LANG.

[In one of his many collaborations, this time
zvith Ouida.'\

It is a commonplace of your anthropo-
logist that the symptoms of heredity are
more marked in early Spring. In the case
of young Bamborough, a strain of the old
Jacobite stock of Northumberland which
stood for the " King " at Preston always
announced itself with a certain exigency
about the close of Lent. It was apparent
not so much in an attitude of direct opposi-
tion to the House of Hanover as in a general
restlessness under authority, a penchant for
rising to occasions. Had Oxford known
him in the '15, when Ormond failed to rouse
Devon, he would probably have risked his
head in the North with Mar and Derwent-
water and the boy Radcliffe. As it was, he
19s



196 Borrowed Plumes

was merely gated by his Dean for cutting
chapel. [Here Ouida takes up the work.

Sitting in his tapestried chambers after
College Mess, his oak was suddenly un-
sported, and in burst the Hon. Bobbie Lack-
land in a gold and purple dressmg-gown.
" Just had a wire from Mortlake, old boy,"
he cried, slapping Bamborough on the chest.
" No. I in the boat has wrung his withers,
and they want you to stroke Oxford in the
race to-morrow."

"When do they start?" asked Bambor-
ough, wearily.

" Eleven sharp, against the ebb," replied
Lackland.

" As you please, then," said Bamborough,
with a yawn. " I have a wine here to-night;
but I can run up to town in the tandem about
daybreak, instead of turning in. Suppose
a tenner would see the porter ? Have a cigar
or two." [Here Mr. Lang resumes.

The reader will draw his own conclusions
from the data here submitted. I, for one,
shall not be hurt if he traces in the methods
of these young gentlemen an inherent lack of
probability.



XX.

MR. GEORGE MOORE.

Rebecca Gins walked down the lane put-
ting her feet forward alternately. There
were hedges on both sides; one on the left,
one on the right. The young leaves were a
pale green. Overhead ran the telegraph-
wires. The poles were about thirty-five yards
apart. A thrush sat on a spray of black-
thorn, which moved under its weight, now
down, now up. Rain had fallen and the
ground was wet, especially in the ruts. The
second-hand feather in Rebecca's hat
drooped a little over her left ear; and the
third button of her off boot was wanting.
Smoke went up from the chimneys, taking
the direction of the wind. All these essential
details (including the feather, which was out
of sight) escaped Rebecca's notice. She was
197



198 Borrowed Plumes

not gifted with that grasp of actuality which
is the sign of an artistic nature.



My Dear Yeats^ — You, who have taught
me what Poetry means, in the original Fe-
nian (I had already, at different epochs of my
career, been introduced to Music and the
Fine Arts, and pursued my investigation of
these branches of culture without prejudice
or pedantry, fascinated always by the charm
of novelty and the delight of breaking virgin
soil), you and I will offer welcome and the
homage of hearts to the noble victim of that
Tyrant w'hose foot is on the neck of our
distressful Erin. We w'ill cross by the
Ostend Packet. It will start from Dover,
either from the east or the w-est side of the
pier, according to the state of the wind and
tide. We will have deck-chairs, made pos-
sibly of wicker, and at any rate of wood and
canvas. I shall sit with my back to the
engines, watching the gulls flying with white
wings in our wake. When you throw a bun
to them they dip their bills in the foam to
secure it. I have often observed this detail,



Mr. George Moore 199

and drawn the attention of careless people to
it. Life is full of phenomena, all equally
valuable, from a pimple to a sunset. And you
will croon a Song cf the Secret Pomegran-
ate, and I will set it to music on the deck.
Have you noticed how the planks of a ship's
deck-timber run parallel to one another, like
the lines of a musical score before you fill
in the notes? And when we arrive we will
embrace the Champion of Freedom, and you
will recite something to him, in ancient Erse
verse, about me and the Irish revival; and
the general idea will be as follows : —

By the lustrous waves of Liffey, by the ledge of
Cuddy Reeks,
By the Lough of White-foot Deirdre, by the
Blasted Hill of Shee,
By the Headland of the Daughters of the Snipe
with Seven Beaks,
I have carolled in the Gaelic, I have whispered
Erse to thee,
O 'Moore, the terror of Saxon Tyrants !

Where the levin split asunder Dermott's bog at
dead of morn,
Where the ozier-wattled heifer left her tail in
Eogan's stall,



200 Borrowed Plumes

Where O'Brien shed his Breeches, we have met
and we have sworn
We would crown the crest of Kruger in the
old Rotunda hall,
I and O 'Moore, the terror of Tyrants !

Since St. Patrick coursed for vermin on the Dun
of Druid's Doom,
When the Sleuth Hound felled the banshee
in the rift of Bleeding Gorge ;
Since the High-King up in Tara heard the
beetle's dying boom,
There has never, to my knowledge, been a
genius like George
O'Moore, the terror of Saxon Tyrants !



XXI.

MRS. MEYNELL.

Detached in his equilibrium, the Young
Child is instinct with the ichor of Spring".
He flushes a rhythmic pink, the implicit
Colour of Life.

* * * *

The vital movement of grass is tov^ard
reticence rather than greenness. By the
highways you shall see its embroidery, a
mute protest to shame the scarlet resonance
of the pillar-box. That is why the vestries
will not have it so.

* * * ■*

To the glazed eye, dull with yearlong
routine, Yarmouth brings relief with the
bronze of her kippers. On your seaward
breakfast-table they lie, a point of diurnal
pungency ; eloquent, too, of suggestion. Salt,
that was the breath of their life, is the stuff



202 Borrowed Plumes

of their embalming. Not here, in the trite
phrase, was death the cure of ill, save for a
brief interspace. Then that which gave its
savour to existence was itself made the cure
of death, last ill of all.

That is why Yarmouth, for all its pier and
sable minstrelsy, is still the inviolable hermi-
tage of tired hearts. Its salt is something
better than Attic. It breathes, as Athens
never wholly breathed in her prime, the con-
tinuity of existence. It is vocal with the
rhythm of death cured and corrected.

>fi 5jC 5;C JjC

Khaki has the colour of secretiveness ; but


1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryOwen SeamanBorrowed plumes → online text (page 8 of 9)