On This And That

Suspicion is a beast with a thousand eyes, but most of them are blind, or colour-blind, or askew, or rolling, or yellow. There is too little respect paid to the good resolutions which are so popular a feature of the New Year. It is a pleasure to see a modern clergyman expressing his horror of the dancing of the moment as Canon Newbolt did in St Paul’s. It is not easy to decide what is the dullest feature in the Tango Teas upon which Londoners are now wasting their afternoons and their silver.

Almost everyone who has committed a murder knows that the business has its tragic side. It is significant of the change that has come over the religious imagination that a number of representative clergymen have issued a manifesto of disbelief in Hell and no heresy-hunt has begun. There has been an increasing demand lately for cheerful books.

There has been a delightful correspondence going on in the Times about Mdlle Gaby Deslys. Surely honest men may thank God they belong to ‘the Stupid Party’! When Mr Churchill referred in Manchester to the piling up of armaments as so much misdirected human energy, he said something with which men of all parties will agree, except those few romantic souls who believe that it is a bracing thing to shed the blood of a foreigner every now and then. There is a cant of Christmas, and there is a cant of anti-Christmas.

It is still the custom in civilised countries for the politicians to call each other names. An amazing story of coincidences appears in the Westminster Gazette. There is nothing in which the newspapers deal more generously than indignation. Mr Galsworthy has been writing to the Times on “the heartlessness of Parliament.” In spite of the progress of civilisation, there are still women to whom the returning Spring is mainly a festival of dresses.

It is easy to imagine the enthusiasm of the audience at Manchester when a black cat walked on to the platform at a meeting of Sir Edward Carson’s. Being shocked is evidently still one of the favourite pastimes of the British people. Father Hugh Benson has been praised for his courage in confessing that he could not read Sir Walter Scott. There is a good deal to be said for Mr Lloyd George’s complaint against the world for its treatment of politicians. It is a remarkable thing that human beings have never yet got reconciled to disaster.

Mr Justice Darling, before passing a sentence of seven years’ penal servitude on Julia Decies for wounding her lover with intent to kill him, made a remark which must interest all students of the morals of murder. It was only the other day that Mr G. A. Birmingham gave us a play about a hoax at the expense of an Irish village, in course of which a statue was erected to an imaginary Irish-American General, the aide-de-camp of the Lord-Lieutenant coming down from Dublin to perform the unveiling ceremony. There does not at first glance seem to be any great similarity between Mr Thomas Hardy and M. Anatole France, the latter of whom has come to London to see how enthusiastically Englishmen can dine when they wish to express their feelings about literature.

It is only now and then, when some great disaster like the sinking of the Empress of Ireland occurs, that man recovers his ancient dread of the sea. The appearance of the first number of Blast ought to put an end to the Futurist movement in England. Mr E. F. Benson has been attacking the critics, and reviving against them the old accusation that they are merely men who have failed in the arts. One of the most unexpected pages in Sir Edward Cook’s Life of Florence Nightingale, is that in which he describes Miss Nightingale, in a phrase Lord Goschen once used about himself, as a “passionate statistician.”

You see? This and that, as promised by my title. There’s never a dull moment at Hooting Yard, is there? Well, I grant that not every one of the above sentences is scintillating, but you never quite knew what was coming next, and if you were yawning your head off at one thing, you likely snapped back to attention soon enough. And think how educative it has been, the this and that. You will have learned several things I bet you did not know before. Next time you are invited to a sophisticated cocktail party and there is a discomfiting lull in the blather, you can pipe up with a titbit about Canon Newbolt’s views on modern dance or the tragic side of murder or black cats or Florence Nightingale the passionate statistician.

This is where I fear I have been going astray in my daily thousandish-word essays. There has been far too much airy persiflage (to borrow a phrase from Mister Nizz) and witterings of questionable or indeed no consequence. Instead I ought to have been writing on superstition, on good resolutions, on the sin of dancing, on thoughts at a tango tea, on the humours of murder, on stupidity and waste and demagogues and coincidences and disasters and the sea and all the other subjects addressed in The Book Of This And That by Robert Lynd, published by Mills & Boon in 1915. What I have given you is the opening sentence from each of the twenty-eight essays in the book, all of which first appeared in the New Statesman. Hard to imagine that clapped-out husk of a magazine being even half-way readable, but that was the past.

We are nearly two thirds of the way through the year and I have managed to keep up my daily quota, but I think as we approach the final few months I need to get my noggin screwed on tight. The time has come for more this and further that, and much, much less of whatever isn’t this and that. Hold on to your hats!

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