MY BATTLE WITH DRINK Being the First of Vanity Fair’s Great Redemption Stories Confided by the Addict to P. G.
Wodehouse Vanity Fair (December 1915) (Editor’s Note— It may seem to some that this sort of article has been done to death by Kate Jordan and Maximilian Foster in interviewing McClure’s Magazine’s troupe of trained dipsomaniacs. But it was the general opinion in the VANITY FAIR office that it would be criminal to let this confession get past us. A human document o f vital, palpitating interest, it is also the most striking warning to the youth of this country ever penned. Next month: “How I Quit Chewing Gum,” by a hopeless pe psin-fiend.) I COULD tell my story in two words,—the two words “I drank.” (But while editors make a practice of paying for human documents by length, I’m hanged if I’m going to do so. ) But I was not always a drinker. This is the story of my downfall,—and of my rise , for, through the influence of a good woman, I have, thank Heaven, risen from t he depths and can now go through Times Square without even hesitating at the dru g-store. The other day I met a wild young fellow, a chum of my unregenerate days , up in New York for a good time. He took my arm and began to steer me to the ne arest Riker and Hegeman. “Come, Cyril,” he cried. “We shall only be young once. Let us enjoy life while we may. I’ll blow you to a nut sundae.” I shook him off. “No, Claren ce,” I replied, kindly but firmly, “I am through with all that sort of thing. I am s aved.” I lost a friend, but I retained my self-respect. I was not always a slave of the soda-fountain. The thing stole upon me gradually , as it does upon so many young men. As a boy, I remember taking a glass of root -beer, but it did not grip me then. I can recall that I even disliked the taste. I was a young man before temptation really came upon me. My downfall began when I joined the Yonkers Short-Hand and Typewriting Correspondence College. It was then that I first made acquaintance with the awful power of ridicule. The y were a hard-living set at college—reckless youths. They frequented movie-palaces . They thought nothing of winding up an evening with a couple of egg-phosphates and a chocolate fudge. They laughed at me when I refused to join them. I was onl y twenty. My character was undeveloped. I could not endure their scorn. The next time I was offered a drink I accepted. They were pleased, I remember. They call ed me “Good old Cyril!” and a good sport and other complimentary names. I was intoxi cated with sudden popularity.
HOW vividly I can recall that day! The shining counter, the placards advertising strange mixtures with ice-cream as their basis, the busy men behind the counter , the half cynical, half pitying eyes of the girl in the cage where you bought t he soda-checks. She had seen so many happy, healthy boys through that little hol e in the wire netting, so many thoughtless boys all eagerness for their first so da, clamoring to set their foot on the primrose path that leads to destruction. It was an apple marshmallow sundae, I recollect. I dug my spoon into it with an assumption of gaiety which I was far from feeling. The first mouthful almost nau seated me. It was like cold hair-oil. But I stuck to it. I could not back out no w. I could not bear to forfeit the newly-won esteem of my comrades. They were gu lping their sundaes down with the speed and enjoyment of old hands. I set my tee th, and persevered, and by degrees a strange exhilaration began to steal over me . I felt that I had burnt my boats and bridges; that I had crossed the Rubicon. I was reckless. I ordered another round. I accosted perfect strangers and forced sundaes upon them. I was the life and soul of that wild party.
The next morning brought remorse. I did not feel well. I had pains, physical and mental. But I could not go back now. I was too weak to dispense with my popular ity. I was only a boy, and on the previous evening the captain of the Checkers C lub, to whom I looked up with an almost worshipping reverence, had slapped me on the back and told me that I was a corker. I felt that nothing could be excessiv e payment for such an honor. That night I gave a party at which orange phosphate flowed like water. It was the turning-point. I had got the habit!
I WILL pass briefly over the next few years. I continued to sink deeper and deep er into the slough. I knew all the drug-store clerks in New York by their first names, and they called me by mine. I no longer even had to specify the abominati on I desired. I simply handed the man my ten-cent check and said: “The usual, Jimm y,” and he understood. I neglected my business and undermined my health. It became a regular thing for me to steal out during office hours and hurry to a drug-sto re. My manner with customers became strange. I was nervous and distrait. I becam e a secret candy-eater. At first, considerations of health did not trouble me. I was young and strong, a nd my constitution quickly threw off the effects of my dissipation. Then, gradua lly, I began to feel worse. I was losing my grip. I found a difficulty in concen trating my attention on my work. I had dizzy spells. Eventually I went to a doct or. He examined me thoroughly, and shook his head. “If I am to do you any good,” he said, “you must tell me all. You must hold no secrets from me.” “Doctor,” I said, covering my face with my hands, “I am a confirmed soda-fiend.” He gave me a long lecture and a longer list of instructions. I must take air and exercise and I must become a total abstainer from sundaes of all descriptions. I must avoid limeade like the plague, and if anybody offered me a Bulgarzoon I w as to knock him down and shout for the nearest policeman.
I LEARNED then for the first time what a bitterly hard thing it is for a man in a large and wicked city to keep away from soda when once he has got the habit. E verything was against me. The old convivial circle began to shun me. I could not join in their revels and they began to look on me as a grouch. In the end I fel l, and in one wild orgy undid all the good of a month’s abstinence. I was desperat e then. I felt that nothing could save me, and I might as well give up the strug gle. I drank two pin-ap-o-lades, three grapefruitolas and an egg-zoolak, before pausing to take breath. And then, one day, I luckily met May, the girl who effected my reformation. She was-a clergyman’s daughter who, to support her widowed mother, had accepted a nonspeaking part in a musical comedy production entitled “Oh Joy! Oh Pep!” Our acquaint ance ripened, and one night I asked her out to supper.
I LOOK on that moment as the happiest of my life. I met her at the stage-door, a nd conducted her to the nearest soda-fountain. We were inside and I was buying t he checks before she realized where she was, and I shall never forget her look o f mingled pain and horror.
“And I thought you were a live one!” she murmured. I confessed everything to her. It seemed that she had been looking forward to a little lobster and champagne. The idea was absolutely new to me. She quickly con vinced me, however, that such was the only refreshment which she would consider, and she recoiled with unconcealed aversion from my suggestion of a Kumyss and a n Eva Tanguay. That night I tasted wine for the first time, and my reformation b egan. It was hard at first, desperately hard. Something inside me was trying to pull m e back to the sund aes for which I craved, but I resisted the impulse. Always with her divinely sym pathetic encouragement, I gradually acquired a taste for alcohol. And suddenly, one evening, like a flash it came upon me that I had shaken off the cursed yoke that held me down; that I never wanted to see the inside of a drug-store again. Cocktails, at first repellent, have at last become palatable to me. I drink high -balls for breakfast. I am saved.
THAT VIENNESE STUFF Are You Really Honest in Saying That You Like It? By Pelham Grenville Vanity Fair (December 1915) WHAT a wonderful thing Viennese light opera is! How cheap and tawdry it makes ou r home-made musical comedies seem! How one revels in the connected plot, the sup erb music, the general air of refinement and culture! But as Frank Tinney would say, let’s not lie to each other. Tell me now—there’s nobody listening—isn’t your honest o pinion of Viennese comic opera that it’s all right for the other fellows, if they like that kind of stuff, but for goodness sake let them give you something like “C hin-Chin” or “Watch Your Step.” Yes, I thought as much. I have given a good deal of thought to this subject, and I think I understand wh y it is that we have entered into this universal conspiracy to pretend that we p refer the high-brow productions from the land of Doctor Dumba to the good old st uff that we can whistle in the home. Man never is but always to be blessed, and we refused to realize how happy the old style of musical comedy made us. We went about saying “Ah, but if they would only give us something with a connected plot and really good music.” Well, they gave it to us, and now out of very shame we can not be inconsistent enough to own that it bores us pallid. Until recently I have been singularly successful in keeping away from Viennese o pera. I was light on my feet and escaped every time they tried to round me up an d force me into an orchestra chair. But the other night they got the poison-need le to work, and before I knew what was happening to me I was in the Shubert Thea ter watching “Alone At Last.” The plot of “Alone At Last” is as follows: An Austrian baron, in order to win the lo ve of an American girl, poses as a Swiss guide. An Austrian count (comic) is bei ng forced by his father to marry the same American girl for her money, though he is really in love with a pretty actress.
That is the connected plot.
WHICH of our native purveyors of tawdry musical comedy would ever have thought o f anything so novel and ingenious. There is no getting away from it, if you want ideas, you have to go to Vienna for them. The plot has all that suspended inter est so necessary in the theater. The baron takes the American girl to the top of a mountain, and they sing. The comic count stays at the foot of the mountain an d sings duets with the actress. In the only scene in which they do not appear to sing, somebody else sings. The thing grips you. You become breathless. For ther e is always the chance that they will stop singing. As a matter of fact they don’t , but you are carried along by the hope that they may.
Unfortunately, in this particular instance, the audience give themselves away ho pelessly. For quite a long time they take you in. You look round at those rapt f aces and hear the applause that greets each number, and you say to yourself, “I wa s wrong. These people really are enjoying this. This sort of thing is exactly wh at they want, and the reason why I cannot appreciate it is that I am a hopeless low-brow who ought never to go anywhere except to the Columbia and the moving-pi ctures.” And then, right in the middle of all the melody and culture and refinemen t, Roy Atwell comes out and sings a song about microbes of the genuine home-made musical comedy vintage, and the audience falls into the trap. If they really en joyed those interminable duets and those grand-opera solos, they would resent th is song as an insult. It is as much in the spirit of the piece as a cake-walk wo uld be in “King Lear.” Do they resent it? They do not. They fawn upon Mr. Atwell. Th ey laugh at his every word, and call him back again and again. His song is the s uccess of the evening. If the audience could manage it, they would keep him ther e singing it till eleven-fifteen. That is what they really think of Viennese ope ra.
COMING right down to it, what makes you think you like Viennese light opera? Yes , I thought so. You shuffle your feet and mutter something about “The Merry Widow.” Exactly. That is the whole trouble. That waltz was a corker, wasn’t it? You got ho ld of it during the second intermission and hummed it incessantly for a year, an d on the strength of that you think that you must be one of the elect who really enjoy Good Music. And so, ever afterwards, you feel it necessary to pose as one who cannot endure the banal trifles served up by Mr. Dillingham and others, but who must have Lehar. Lehar knows that. He has got you where he wants you. He kn ows that, having inoculated you with that waltz, he can give you all the tuneles s recitative he pleases, and you will sit there swallowing it with a look of kee n intellectual pleasure. Forgive this warmth. I have only just returned from sit ting through that mountain-top duet in “Alone At Last,” which lasts twenty minutes b y my Ingersoll.
LET me unmask this Viennese stuff once and for all. It is just grand opera and n othing less, and anyone who advertises it as light opera should be reported to S amuel Hopkins Adams for treatment in his Ad-Visor page. If you like grand opera, I have nothing more to say. But if your ideal like mine of a light musical piec e is something with a German comedian and a black-faced monologist in it, you ar e being deceived by the statements that “Alone A Last” and its kind are “sparkling and delightful.” Don’t think I don’t appreciate and sympathize with your difficulty. You want, I know
, to be thought a little more cultured than the next fellow. You want, next time the Victrola strikes up “Seventeen Commuters on the Five-Fifteen” to be able to tur n aside with an ill-concealed gesture of pain and murmur the name Lehar. It is a human wish, but don’t you see the harm you are doing? You are helping to lead the tenor of “Alone At Last,” John Charles Thomas (who looks more like Jim Coffey every time I see him) away from the Winter Garden, where he was perfectly happy, and putting wrong ideas into the head of José Collins, who, after being cultured in “Alo ne at Last” will probably never return with the old abandon to sing in the Follies . You are encouraging a state of mind in a great number of hard-working chorus-g irls which must inevitably engender a distaste for sprinting down a joy-way in s atin tights. Worst of all, you are maneuvering me into a position where I must e ither invent a sudden and serious illness or else spend my evenings listening to twenty-minute duets. There is a line which has occurred in practically every play that I have seen th is season; “I can’t sta—a—and it! Yew are torturing muh!” Well, that is how I feel about V iennese opera. Why should we have Viennese opera? We have done nothing to Austria. We let Austr ians roam about, tying up our munition factories, just as they please. We couldn’t have displayed a more chummy spirit. And now Austria picks on us like this. It isn’t right.
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ALL ABOUT FASHIONABLE WEDDINGS Important Innovations in the Code of Matrimonial Etiquette by P. Brooke-Haven (PG Wodehouse) Vanity Fair - (January 1916) FASHIONABLE Weddings! What pictures, what memories the words conjure up! The bri de, with her set, determined face. The bridegroom, trying in vain to break the j iu-jitsu hold of the best man. The ushers, endeavoring to persuade the distant c onnection, with the ticket numbered Z 19, that she is not entitled to a ring-sid e seat. The maids of honor, whispering that poor dear Hildegonde never did look well in white, but charitably reminding one another that she has a sweet disposi tion and that it is rather her misfortune than her fault that her hair is that c urious shade. . . . Many changes have taken place of late in the procedure of smart weddings and if the Book of Etiquette on which you rely to steer you through the difficult water s of social life was published even three or four years back you are liable to d o the things that you ought not to do or to leave undone the things that should have been done.
THIS remark applies not only to the ordinary wedding guest, but even to the offi ciating clergyman. Owing to the ever-increasing popularity of divorce and the co nfusion caused by the fact that our divorce laws differ in different states — so t hat the dissolution of a marriage is recognized in one state but not in another, it is now the custom in the best circles for the clergyman to provide himself w
ith a species of chart or war-map, which he consults at the critical moment of t he ceremony. I was usher at a wedding recently, both the parties to which had pr eviously made several false starts in the matrimonial handicap, and when the Bis hop of Yonkers, who was officiating, solemnly addressed the groom with the words , “Wilt thou, Twombley, take this Genevieve to be thy wedded wife; in sickness and in health, in Pennsylvania and in Massachusetts, in Nevada, Colorado, and all p oints west?” there was not a dry eye in the church. It is not the fashion nowadays to have detectives at wedding receptions. It was a pretty custom, and it is a pity in some ways that it has died out, for there w ere few things more cheering to the thoughtful guest than the spectacle of an ea rnest and persevering sleuth arresting the bride’s rich uncle from the west, as ne arly always happened. But the growing hideousness of wedding- presents has made the passing of the detective inevitable. No sane bride and bridegroom would deli berately put obstacles in the way of the removal of the ghastly things which hav e been given them by friends who had not the presence of mind to leave the count ry before the wedding- invitation reached them.
THE practice now is to encourage in every way the looting of the present-room, a nd many kleptomaniacs have, as a consequence, emerged from the cloud under which their unfortunate failing had placed them. They are now invited everywhere, wit h the tacit understanding that they do not shirk their merciful work. I for my p art can think of no prettier sight than that of a young bride smiling encouragem ent on one of these helpful persons as he staggers from the room beneath the wei ght of a pair of massive ormolu vases, or of a young bridegroom thoughtfully hel ping his guest to wedge a silver loving-cup into his overcoat pocket. Some of the very smartest people go even farther and enlist professional aid — a c ustom which has led to a considerable uplift among the members of the underworld , who are rapidly acquiring tone as the result of being invited to so many fashi onable weddings in order to steal the presents. Indeed, this growing familiarity with our best families has led to an epidemic of the broad A among the personne l of the Gas-Works Gang that has been something of a puzzle to our local constab ulary.
CURIOUSLY enough, the rejected suitor has ceased (almost as completely as the de tective) to be a feature of the best weddings. A few years ago, a bride thought very poorly of herself if she could not muster among her wedding-guests half a d ozen or more discarded suitors. Occasionally this would lead to a pretty and spo ntaneous effect, as when young Clarence de Peyster blew his brains out with one hand while shaking the bride’s hand with the other at the Bootle- Bartholomew wedd ing-reception. The incident was the talk of the town for quite a time and undoub tedly did much to establish the newly-married pair in the secure social position which they now enjoy. But too few rejected suitors are like poor de Peyster. It is, perhaps, asking too much of a young man to commit suicide simply in order t o make a wedding-reception go off well, but at least it is not unreasonable to e xpect him to exhibit a decent gloom. It is the failure of the modern rejected su itor to do this that has led to his exclusion from most wedding-receptions nowad ays. He had developed a habit of thanking the groom publicly in a loud voice as his benefactor. Everybody will remember the painful scene at the Mumbleby-Packsm ith wedding when, just as Sigismund Mumbleby, the well-known clubman and owner o f the Bronxville National League Checkers team, was insisting on replying in the affirmative to the obviously skeptical query of the presiding clergyman as to w hether he really intended to take this woman (many years his senior and far from prepossessing in appearance) for his wedded wife, the voice of a Mr. Phipps, fr om the back of the sacred edifice, cried in tones of sincere self-congratulation
, “There, but for the grace of God, goes Henry Murgatroyd Phipps!”
OF recent years the popularity of the home wedding has grown till it now threate ns to make the church-wedding a thing of the past. I, personally, am a strong ad vocate of the wedding in the home. It has numerous obvious advantages, principal ly, of course, the fact that you are closer to the refreshments. It is not, howe ver, without its drawbacks. I cannot impress too strongly upon young people who are thinking of being married in the ancestral apartment the advisability of dis connecting the telephone before the ceremony begins. Nothing looks worse than to have the bridegroom, just when the cue is coming for his big line, called away by an imperious summons from an ex-flame of his in the Winter Garden chorus. It requires more tact than the average bridegroom possesses to enable him to resume the proceedings without having caused a certain gêne among his assembled friends and relations. Another drawback is the fact that in the modern apartment house, which is of necessity — in a congested metropolis — the scene of so many home-weddin gs, the walls are as a rule remarkably thin. It does not conduce to the dignity and empressement of the ceremony when the clergyman’s address is punctuated with s uch remarks — muffled, no doubt, but always clearly audible — as “Gimme two cards,” “Oh, y ou little jack-pot!” and other ejaculations inseparable from our great national ga me. Nor is it a situation wholly free from embarrassment when, just as the hired violinist is striking up “The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden,” somebody on the floor a bove starts up his Victrola with “The Darktown Cabaret Rag.” The practice of holding rehearsals of the actual wedding ceremony is one that is finding increased favo r in these advanced days. It has many obvious advantages, notably the fact that it enables the bride to lessen the inevitable shock to her betrothed by administ ering her relations to him in small doses instead of in one enormous lump. It wi ll be found that by the time he has become inured to her various aunts and cousi ns, he is in a more favorable position for bearing up against her Uncle Paul fro m Omaha. But I could write forever about weddings. There is no more fascinating subject. Whether it be the first wedding of this year’s debutante or the eleventh of Nat Go odwin or de Wolf Hopper, it cannot fail to stir the emotions of the most stolid readers. It is the turning point in two lives. And let all patriotic Americans remember that every wedding that is solemnized h as in it a possible — even a probable — impetus for the See America First movement, turning, as it does, the minds of the contracting parties from the effete attrac tions of Europe to the more bracing charms of Nevada.
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CRUELTY TO MILLIONAIRES By J. Plum President of “The Foes of Music” Vanity Fair (January 1916) THIS is the age of societies for the prevention of cruelty to various classes of the community. If you smite your child with a croquet mallet or the butt end of your brassey, the Gerry Society swoops down upon you. If, in a moment of irrita tion, you hurl your wife’s Pomeranian from a ninth story window, numerous animal-p rotecting associations roll up their coat-sleeves as a preliminary to active ass ault. Yet nobody has ever considered the painful case of the unhappy millionaire
s who, simply because they happen to have amassed a fortune, are obliged by the iron laws of our modern Society to attend the Opera and go on attending until Mr . Gatti-Casazza announces that that’s all and there won’t be any more till next year . As we walk blithely up Broadway to our motion-picture house and see a wretched m illionaire being hounded into the Metropolitan Opera House, we cannot crush down a Pharisaical feeling that it serves the man right. “Now, perhaps,” we say to ourselves, “he’s sorry he fooled a free and trusting public in the matter of that last bond issue.” And we go on our way pitilessly.
YET somehow, do what we will, the memory of the poor devil’s haggard, wistful face haunts us. It comes between us and the screen. It spoils Mr. Chaplin’s most exube rant art for us. We feel that, richly as he has no doubt deserved it, we have no right to allow the unhappy man to suffer like this without uttering a protest. We mutter vaguely that somebody ought to do something about it. But what can one do? There is no breaking that iron rule that enacts that every man in New York who lays claim to any social position must take a box at the Ope ra during the season and sit through at least two performances a week. The only way, since we cannot cure, is to alleviate the sufferings of these luck less men. It is only fair to the management of the Metropolitan Opera House to admit that, by providing little ante-rooms to the boxes, each containing a not uncomfortabl e sofa, they have done something to mitigate the severity of the punishment whic h they inflict. Many a poor, broken millionaire, constitutionally unable—through h aving been born tone-deaf—to tell the difference between Richard Wagner and Irving Berlin has been enabled to get through a performance by sneaking off when his w ife was not looking and enjoying a refreshing nap in the ante-room. But even thi s relief is dangerous, and should not be indulged in by plethoric or absent-mind ed men. I can still recall the chagrin of one unfortunate plutocrat, who, waking on the sofa and finding himself in pitch darkness, proceeded to disrobe—under the pardonable impression that he was in his bedroom at home. The moment when the l ights went up and the large and fashionable box-party entered the ante-room—prepar atory to going home—to discover him clothed in a natty suit of B. V. D.’s, groping i dly about for his pajamas, was far more dramatic than anything seen that night u pon the stage.
BUT, even if there were not the danger of such contretemps, the ante-room sofa c ould never be anything but a partial and makeshift antidote for opera. It is no use tinkering; we must go deep down to the root of things if we are sincere in o ur desire to prevent this cruelty to our wealthier brethren. We must examine Gra nd Opera itself, and see if something cannot be done to improve it. Because it i s fashionable, it need not be so painful. Many fashionable pursuits—divorce, for e xample, and supper-parties at the Follies Roof—are extremely pleasant.
The root-trouble with Grand Opera is that it is behind the times. We live in an age of pep and excitement, while all the operas were composed in a more leisurel y and easier-pleased epoch. In the days when Wagner first discovered that you co
uld fool some of the people all the time and that, if you cut out the tune and g ave them a low G when they were expecting a high H or a Z in alt or something li ke that, they would take it for granted that this was good music, there were few er counter-attractions. You either had to go to the opera or else stay at home a nd play whist. But nowadays, with a Mary Pickford film on each block and half a dozen farces playing within a biscuit throw, competition has grown fiercer. The only thing that keeps Opera on the map is the fact that nobody dare quit before the other fellow. Young Mr. Rockefeller meets young Mr. Morgan at the ice-cooler in the corridor and says to him, “How do you like it?” “Fine,” replies Mr. Morgan. “I par ticularly admired the largo movement in A sharp.” “Not so worse,” says Mr. Rockefeller . “But what I enjoyed was the pizzicato rallentando of the wood—wind.” Whereas, if the y dared, they would exchange the lodge distress—sign and pussy-foot off to the Win ter Garden.
ONE of the most serious troubles with Grand Opera is that you have no means of t elling what the deuce it is all about. A stout gentleman comes on the stage and sings: “La-wha ta zoom ba hump na ree,” etc., and you have no means of knowing wheth er he is trying to tell you that the only girl he ever loved has married a socia l gangster or whether the trouble is that he came home after leaving his office and found that the butler had been at the port again and the cat had stolen the remains of the cold chicken. All this uncertainty might be avoided by the adopti on of the ingenious moving-picture device of legends flashed on the screen. You go to see a moving-picture, and the management helps you out with such explanati ons as “Estelle Discovers the Dead Body” or “The Man She Married was a Mormon.” It would be perfectly simple to do that sort of thing at the Metropolitan. Or why not additional numbers? It is generally recognized nowadays that the only songs that make a hit in a musical production are the ones written in during re hearsals. A few good, song-hits like “Same Sort of Girl” or “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier” would be the making of the average grand opera.
BUT it is probably too much to expect the management of the Metropolitan to take any steps of this kind. They feel that they have got a cinch. Everybody, who is anybody, has got to go to Grand Opera. But wait! A bitter awakening is in store for them, and—by an ironical poetic justi ce—they have brought it on themselves by printing in a corner of all of their prog rammes the hint which will bring about a total abstention from opera on the part of our millionaires. Here is the extract. “The late Baron de Reuter, whose love f or music was sincere and undoubted, used to say that he found as much pleasure i n reading the score of an opera at home, as in hearing the music.” This is the loop-hole through which our sufferers may escape. “The reading,” it goes on, “does not disappoint the reader; the performance often vexes the hearer. Alth ough the conductor may he able and eloquent, his interpretation may vex this one or that one by some unexpected choice of tempo, by some too deliberately planne d nuance, by some sudden display of individual feeling that is not in sympathy w ith the emotional intention of the composer.” Will the poor, harassed millionaires grab at this chance? Will they! What it amounts to is that they will be able to get a high-brow reputation more easily by stopping away from the opera than by going to it. I can see them at it, these released convicts of the Grand Opera ch ain-gang. Their wives come to them, a mass of jewels from head to foot, and upbr aid them for lounging at home in an arm-chair, in the old slippers and bathrobe. “Are you not aware, Twombley, that tonight is the opening performance of ‘Rheingold ?’” “Perfectly, my dear. And if you have so little artistic feeling as to wish to atte nd, by all means do so. It’s all very well for those with low foreheads, but not f
or sensitive people like me. I’ve just had a telephone call from Mr. Mackay. He wa nts me to come round. A bunch of the other boys will be there, and we are going to read the score together.” And he smiles a happy smile, remembering that the last time he read the score wi th the boys, he held four aces.
~~~ The End ~~~
IN DEFENSE OF ASTIGMATISM A Brief in Favor of Specs, Pince-nez and Goggles By Pelham Grenville Vanity Fair (January 1916) THIS is peculiarly an age where novelists pride themselves on the breadth of the ir outlook and the courage with which they refuse to ignore the realities of lif e: and never before have authors had such scope in the matter of the selection o f heroes. In the days of the old-fashioned novel, when the hero was automaticall y Lord Blank or Sir Ralph Asterisk, there were, of course, certain rules that ha d to be observed, but today — why, you can hardly hear yourself think for the upro ar of earnest young novelists proclaiming how free and unfettered they are. And yet, with the exception of Mr. Chambers, — and he lacked the nerve to do it in a l ong novel, and only tried it tentatively in a magazine story, — no writer has had the pluck to make his hero wear glasses.
HERE, roughly, is the list of rules for novelists in this respect: (a) Spectacle s: These may be worn by (1) good uncles, (2) good clergymen, (3) good lawyers, ( 4) all elderly men who are kind to the heroine; by (5) bad uncles, (6) blackmail ers, (7) money-lenders. (b) Pince-nez: These may be worn by good college profess ors, bank presidents and musicians. No bad man may wear pince-nez. (c) Monocle: This may be worn by (1) good dukes, (2) all Englishmen. No bad man may wear a mo nocle. (d) Those beastly tortoiseshell-rimmed things: Never worn in fiction. It is time that a stop was put to this arbitrary state of affairs. In the old days, as I say, this was all very well. The hero was a young lordling , sprung from a line of ancestors who had never done anything with their eyes ex cept wear a piercing glance before which lesser men quailed. But now novelists g o into every class of society for their heroes, and surely to goodness, at least an occasional one of them must have been astigmatic. Kipps undoubtedly wore gla sses: so did Bunker Bean: so did Mr. Polly, Clayhanger, Bibbs Sheridan, and a sc ore of others. Then why not say so? Novelists are moving with the times in every other direction. Why not in this?
IT is futile to advance the argument that glasses are unromantic. They are not. I know, because I wear them myself, and I am a singularly romantic figure, wheth er in my rimless, my Oxford gold-bordered, or the plain gent’s spectacles which I wear in the privacy of my study. It is useless to say that they are unbecoming. You have only got to look at me to see that. They are the very reverse. They len d an air, a zip, so to speak, to the appearance. Besides, everybody wears glasse s nowadays. That is the point I wish to make. For commercial reasons, if for no others, authors ought to think seriously of this matter of goggling their heroes
. It is an admitted fact that the reader of a novel likes to put himself in the hero’s place — to imagine, while reading, that he is the hero. What an audience the writer of the first romance to star a spectacled hero will have. All over the co untry thousands of short-sighted men will polish their glasses and plunge into h is pages. It is absurd to go on writing in these days for a normal-sighted publi c. The growing tenseness of life, with its small print, its newspapers read by a rtificial light, and its flickering motion-pictures, is whittling down the secti on of the populace which has perfect sight to a mere handful.
I SEEM to see that romance. In fact, I think I shall write it myself. “ ‘Evadne,’ murm ured Clarence, removing his pince-nez and polishing them tenderly. . . .’ ” “ ‘See,’ cried Clarence, ‘how clearly every leaf of yonder tree is mirrored in the still water o f the lake. I can’t myself, unfortunately, for I have left my glasses on the parlo r piano, but don’t worry about me: go ahead and see!’ ” . . .“Clarence adjusted his tort oiseshell-rimmed spectacles with a careless gesture, and faced the assassins wit hout a tremor.” Hot stuff? Got the punch? I should say so. Do you imagine that the re will be a single man in this country with a dollar-thirty-five-net in his poc ket and a pair of pince-nez on his face who will not scream and kick like an ang ry child if you withhold my novel from him? And just pause for a moment to think of the serial and dramatic rights of the st ory. All editors wear glasses, so do all theatrical managers. My appeal will be irresistible. All I shall have to do will be to see that the check is for the ri ght figure and to supervise the placing of the electric- light sign SPECTACLES OF FATE BY PELHAM GRENVILLE over the doors of whichever theater I happen to select for the production of the play. The only drawback will be that I shall collect such a mess of money from the royalties that it won’t be any fun gambling in War Stocks. I expect I shall fo und a university. HAVE you ever considered the latent possibilities for dramatic situations in sho rt sight? You know how your glasses cloud over when you come into a warm room ou t of the cold? Well, imagine your hero in such a position. He has been waiting o utside the murderers’ den preparatory to dashing in and saving the heroine. He das hes in. “Hands up, you scoundrels,” he cries. And then his glasses get all misty, an d there he is, temporarily blind, with a full-size desperado backing away and me asuring the distance in order to hand him one with a pickaxe. Shall I get a lett er from E. Phillips Oppenheim tomorrow begging me to let him have that idea, or shall I not? Is Louis Joseph Vance even now kicking himself because he didn’t thin k of it, or isn’t he? Well, I guess!
Or would you prefer something less sensational, something more in the romantic l ine? Very well. Hero, on his way to the Dowager Duchess’s ball, slips on a bananapeel and smashes his only pair of spectacles. He dare not fail to attend the bal l, for the dear Dowager Duchess would never forgive him; so he goes in and propo ses to a girl he particularly dislikes because she is dressed in pink, and the h eroine told him that she was going to wear pink. But the heroine’s pink dress was late in coming home from the modiste’s and she had to turn up in blue. The heroine comes in just as the other girl is accepting him, and there you have a nice, li ve, peppy kick-off for your tale of passion and human interest. Perhaps Robert W . Chambers won’t writhe like an electric fan when he realizes that he has let that one get past him! You bet he will.
OR does your taste run in the direction of those yearning tales of life-long sep aration of loving hearts through a misunderstanding? I can do you that line just as well. My hero would go out one morning without his glasses and pass the hero ine, to whom he is shortly to be married, without a word. You can imagine her pi que, her distress, the sudden flaming-up of her maidenly pride. In real life, no doubt, she would simply sprint after him and say “Harold, you old chump, what’s the big idea of cutting a fellow like this?” But in this type of novel that sort of t hing is never done. The heroine would send him a note, breaking off the engageme nt without explanation, and would go right off and marry somebody else. Not till many weary years had passed and she was a widow and he a grave, sad man, gray a t the temples and with lines of pain about the eyes, would they come together ag ain and achieve the happy ending. I think Mrs. Barclay could handle that theme.
BUT I have said enough to show that the time has come when novelists, if they do not wish to be left behind in the race, must adapt themselves to modern conditi ons. One does not wish to threaten, but, as I say, we astigmatics are in a large minority and can, if we get together make our presence felt. Roused by this art icle to a sense of the injustice of their treatment, the great army of glass-wea ring citizens could very easily make novelists see reason. A boycott of non-spec tacled heroes would soon achieve the necessary reform. Perhaps there will be no need to let matters go as far as that. I hope not. But, if this warning should b e neglected, if we have any more of these novels about men with keen gray eyes o r piercing brown eyes or snapping black eyes or cheerful blue eyes — any sort of e yes, in fact, lacking some muscular affection, we shall know what to do.
~~~ The End ~~~
THE “GREAT WHITE WAY” FRAUD The Most Flagrant Sham of Modern Times By P. G. Wodehouse Vanity Fair (January 1916) IN these days of the movement for the encouragement of honesty in advertising, w hen patent medicines cannot raise their heads without having them bitten off by Samuel Hopkins Adams and when a merchant who, in a moment of absent-mindedness, labels the hide of a deceased cat “genuine sealskin” is exposed next morning in larg e print, it is astonishing that none of our Vigilance Committees have thought of attacking the most colossal fraud of them all. I allude to Broadway. A stranger who had never visited our beautiful little city and had derived his i nformation about it solely from what he had heard or read, would undoubtedly ima gine that Broadway was so nearly the whole of New York that the rest was not wor th mentioning. Fraudulent advertising is responsible for this. If a street goes about the place calling itself The Great White Way, naturally it takes you in. Y ou picture a broad and noble thoroughfare, blazing with light, a long vista of m agnificent buildings, along which pace well-dressed men and smart women, mostly sirens. Paved with marble, probably. Perhaps Broadway gets like this somewhere u p by Two Hundred and Ninetieth Street, but it certainly does not in the late thi rties and the early forties. It is amazing that nobody has written to the Tribun e about it.
OUT of justice to other, less advertised streets—good, honest, hard-working street s, which never get boomed—it is time that somebody made a protest. The way in whic h Broadway takes the credit for their achievements makes the blood of a just man boil. You never hear anyone singing “There’s a Little Street in Heaven They Call We st Thirty-ninth Street.” You read in the theatrical column in the daily paper that such-and-such a play is to have a Broadway production; and when you look more c losely into the matter, you find that it is coming on at the Candler Theater or the Cort. It is in this matter of theaters that Broadway’s bluff is most easily exposed. Why , so far from being the theatrical center, Broadway can’t even support its own the aters, and even its restaurants are shaky. What has happened to the Bijou? How i s Wallack’s making out? We don’t hear much of the Café Madrid these days. How about th e Café de l’Opera? The Knickerbocker is a motion-picture house. So is the New York T heater. And yet, when a real live street like Forty-second puts on a show, Broad way smirks modestly, as if it were responsible for the whole thing.
FORTY-SECOND Street seems to have the greatest grievance against Broadway. For y ears it has been looked on as a mere satellite of the latter. People were hypnot ised into speaking of “Broadway and Forty-second” as if the only bit of Forty-second that had any claim to notice was the bit that ran across Broadway. Yet look at it now—full of restaurants which make you pay all you’ve got before they will even l et you talk to the hat-check boy, and theaters which sizzle with electric lights and success. Forty-eighth Street is another that has grounds for complaint. It isn’t even near Broadway—it adjoins Seventh Avenue. In the most plucky and spirited way it went into business on its own account, built theaters, spent money on kil owatts or whatever they call them, and put on expensive plays. Yet, if “The Prince ss Pat” is still with us twelve months from now, it will be said to have run a yea r on Broadway. One of the worst results of this fraudulent advertising is the effect it has on the youth of out-of-town districts. Take the case of Lemuel P. Terwilliger, of N ineveh, Pa. I hate to think of it. Lem was the desk-clerk at the Hotel Superbe. (It’s that wooden place that looks like a tool-shed as you go down Main Street on the right-hand side, leaving the postoffice and the drug-store behind you.) He w as only eighteen when the first craving to see the Great White Way seized him. D rummers and traveling actors would infest the hotel and speak long and earnestly to Lem about the magnificence and allurements of Broadway till they turned his head and he began to save his money for one visit to that thoroughfare of bliss and luxury. When his contemporaries spent their nickels at the soda-fountain or blew in dimes, taking girls to the movies, Lem sat in his bedroom counting his m oney. He was not going to waste his substance on the tame pleasures of a country town; he meant to reserve himself for Broadway. Time went on. The rush of social life at Nineveh left Lem stranded. He got the n ame of a recluse. Some even called him a tightwad. But Lem knew what he was doin g. In a few more years, saving at this rate, he would be able to make the trip a nd have one real, regular rip-snorting time among the bright lights of that eart hly Paradise, the Great White Way. He was thirty-two when he achieved his ambition. As he strolled out of his hotel , dressed in an eighteen-dollar dress-suit as worn by the King of England, John McGraw, and Diamond Jim Brady, he thought with a certain pity of the benighted s tate of the friends he had left behind him. There was a fudge and progressive he arts party on tomorrow, to which all that was best and brightest in the Younger Set of Nineveh intended to flock, and they had wanted him to stop on for it. He
laughed at the notion. He strolled on until he come to a dingy street paved with wooden planks and smelling of gas, and then he asked his way to Broadway. He wa s informed that this was it.
IT was rather a shock to Lem, but he supposed that this was a part of it which w as a trifle less great and white than the rest, so he walked uptown. He dined sp arely at the Automat, had his photograph taken at the place where they polish yo u off and give you the results while you wait, and after that he was rather at a loose end. He began to think that there must be some mistake, and that this cou ld not really be Broadway. There seemed to him nothing in the mean-looking theat ers with their unimposing entrances, the chop-suey restaurants, the music—shops wi th their display of vulgar post-cards, and the moving-picture houses to justify the name of the Great White Way. It was about this time that a sense of somethin g missing came upon Lemuel with renewed force. For a moment he was puzzled, then he realized what was wrong. He could see no sirens. It was part of his most fir mly settled beliefs that Broadway was congested with sirens, that, if you threw a brick on Broadway and failed to hit a siren, it was only because your aim was unbelievably bad. He looked north, south, east, and west, but not a siren could he see. An aching desolation came upon him. Jostled by depressed-looking men in dingy suits, he was beginning to feel conspicuous in his evening-dress. People l ooked at it and at him with a curiosity which they made no attempt to conceal. S ome held that he was on his way to a fancy- dress ball, others that he was going about like this to settle an election bet. Gloom surged upon Lem. He became desperate. He stopped a passer-by. “Is this really Broadway?” he asked. The passer-by could not deny it. “The Great White Way?” The passer-by said that it was. “Where are the sirens?” The passer-by had never heard of them.
EARLY next morning a train pulled out of the Pennsylvania Station. It contained, among other passengers a care-worn man who seemed to be deep in thought. From t ime to time he raised his right leg and kicked himself. This was when he thought of all the good times he had denied himself for the last fourteen years in orde r to see the Great White Way. I have told Lem’s story because it is one of which I have first-hand knowledge; bu t he is merely one of many thousands of deluded young men who visit New York eve ry year on the strength of what they have heard about the Great White Way. This thing must be stopped. It is opposed to the entire spirit of honesty in advertis ing that Broadway should be permitted any longer to pose as the dickens of a pla ce. It is not great, and it is very far indeed from being white. But already there are signs of better things. The other day a good deal of Broad way collapsed and hid itself. The experts talked a lot about rock-slides, but wh at really happened was that it did it in a spasm of pure shame. Broadway just tr ied to go into a hole and pull the hole in after it.
~~~ The End ~~~
ALL ABOUT BUTLERS And a Word on How to be Buttled By P Brooke-Haven Vanity Fair (February 1916) IT has always seemed to me one of the most bitter ironies of life on this terres trial globe of ours that the intellectual poor, who are endowed with the intelli gence necessary for the proper appreciation of butlers and the imagination to en joy them to the full, should be so confoundedly hard up that they cannot afford them: while the dull and stupid rich, to whom there is no poetry or romance in a butler, are never without one. For, hard as it is to be a good butler, it is still harder to be—if I may use the expression—a good buttlee. It is not easy to buttle, but it is still more difficul t to be buttled to. As an instance of what I mean, take the case of some rich Western acquaintances of mine who awoke one morning in the midst of the enjoyment of their newly-gotte n wealth, to find that a butler had almost imperceptibly insinuated himself into the home. Some are born to butlers, others achieve butlers, and others have but lers thrust upon them. In the daily recriminations which followed Mergleson’s arri val, each of the family denied hotly that he or she had been responsible for his engagement. It was tacitly understood in the end that nobody had engaged him, b ut that he had just materialized like some noxious vapor given out by their pile d-up riches.
BE that as it may, from the moment of his arrival, happiness took to itself wing s. Mergleson had lived with a Duke and, on the occasions when I dined with these acquaintances of mine, it would have touched a far harder heart than mine to ob serve the way in which they cringed before the man. They congealed before his co ld blue eye. They quailed at the proximity of his bulging waistcoat. If conversa tion became for an instant free and un-self-conscious, it collapsed as if it had been sand-bagged at the sound of Mergleson’s quiet, disapproving “Sherry or Hock, s ir?” Sometimes, out of sheer bravado, one of the sons, in the devil-may-care way o f youth, would begin a funny story—only to subside before the almost inaudible cou gh in the background—the cough which seemed to say “Pardon me, but this sort of thin g would hardly have done for His Grace!”
I FORGET how the thing ended. They could not have shot him, or I should have see n it in the papers. They could not have given him notice, for they had not the n erve. I imagine that they talked the thing over, and one night, having made sure that he was asleep, they all packed their suit-cases and sneaked back to the We st. I merely mention the affair to prove my point that it is not every man who is ca pable of being buttled to, and that mere wealth should not be permitted to corne r the butler market, as it is under the present slipshod conditions of Society. Within a biscuit throw of the house of these wretched creatures there must have been dozens of men to whom Mergleson would have been a comfort and a boon. Some day, no doubt, there will be some sort of Fund, or Institution, for supplying th e deserving poor with butlers. Public examinations will be held periodically, an d those who pass them will receive these human prizes quite independently of the ir means.
Roughly, the examination would run along on these lines: QUESTION. What would you do if you met a butler unexpectedly on a little used st aircase? ANSWER. (adjudged correct by the examiners) I should either (a) stare haughtily at the man or (b) say genially “Ah, Stimson!” (adjudged incorrect by the examiners) (a) faint, (b) do a Steve Brodie over the balusters. QUESTION. Is familiarity with a butler ever permissible? ANSWER. (adjudged correct by the examiners) Certainly. All butlers are intereste d in racing and the stock market. It is perfectly in order to say to a butler (a ) “Oh, Spink! Before I forget. Bet your very B. V. D.’s on Doughnut in the third rac e“ or (b) ”Very unsettled, the market, this afternoon, Spink— very unsettled!” (adjudged incorrect by the examiners) Only in an assumed voice, over the telephone. QUESTION. What services may a man legitimately demand of a butler? ANSWER. (adjudged correct by the examiners) (a) the supplying of a light for a c igar; (b) a jerk at the collar of one’s overcoat when one has just got the darned thing on; (c) a corroboration of one’s suspicion that the weather is threatening. (adjudged incorrect by the examiners) None.
IT is one of the compensations of increasing age that fear of butlers as a class decreases and, in due season—as the hair grows sparser and the figure more abunda nt—vanishes altogether. But it may be taken as an axiom that a man under the age o f twenty-five who says he is not afraid of an English butler is lying. In my own case I was well over thirty before I could convince myself, when paying a socia l call, that the reason the butler looked at me in that cold and distant way was that it was his normal expression and not because he knew that I was overdrawn at the bank; had pressed my trousers under the mattress, and was trying to make last year’s hat do for another season. The sting has passed now, but I freely admi t that my nonage, that period of life which should be all joy and optimism, was almost completely soured by the feeling that, while we lunched, the butler was m aking silent but adverse comments to the footman on the peculiar shape of my hea d. It amuses me when, as sometimes happens, I hear thoughtless persons criticizing butlers on the absurd ground that they are useless encumbrances. There is one un answerable retort to such carpers—to wit, abolish butlers, and what would become o f the drama ? You might just as well expect playwrights to get along without sta ge telephones. A butler is indispensable to nine plays out of ten. Cut him out, and who is to enter rooms at critical moments when, if another word were spoken, the play would end immediately? Who is to fill in the gaps by coming on with a tray? Who is to explain to the audience at the opening of a farce that the Maars ter is not on good terms with his wife and was out late last night? Ridiculous! Dramatists realize this, and of late years it has been rare to find a butler-les s play. In a way this is a pity. In the old days butlers were confined to Englis h comedies, which made it very convenient, for, directly you saw one come on the stage, you were able to say to yourself “So this is going to be an English comedy , is it?” and steal away to a burlesque show while there was still time to escape.
BUTLERS are popular in the motion-picture world, but the composers of scenarios appear to have but a sketchy idea of what their actual duties are. Outside of a film drama it is rarely that one sees a butler—in Dundreary whiskers and a zebra-s triped waistcoat—announce a visitor and stand listening to the ensuing conversatio n with his elbows at right angles to his body and with his chin rigidly held on an approximate level with his shimmering forehead. In the movies he does nothing else. But, after all, the stage has made equally bad mistakes in this particular line. It used to be a stage tradition that if ever misfortune hit the home the butler came forward and in a few neat words offered his employers his savings to help them over the crisis. In real life butlers are almost unbelievably slow to take their cue on such occasions. When I was caught short of Bethlehem Steel, my firs t act was to apprise my own Keggs of the fact. “Keggs”, I said more than once, “I have had very serious losses in the market.” “Indeed, sir?” said the worthy fellow. “I hardl y know where to turn for the stuff”, I said. “Yes sir?” “I am ruined, Keggs, absolutely ruined!” “Very good, sir.” Finally I grew tired of delicate innuendo. “Keggs”, I said, “if ou could see your way to letting me have those savings of yours——” Something like emot ion animated the man’s mask-like face. His mouth quivered. “No, sir, thank you, sir”, he said in a low, distinct voice. “Not if I know it, sir! And I should like to giv e a week’s notice, sir.” You cannot rely on the drama as a guide when dealing with butlers.
~~~ The End ~~~
THE NEW DISEASE—DEMENTIA WARSTOCKS Some Account of Its Pathological Symptoms and Physical Evidences BY J. PLUM, M. D., LL. D. Vanity Fair (February 1916) I HAPPENED to meet my friend, Roscoe van Sprunt, in the club the other afternoon , and the conversation turned to war-stocks. It always does nowadays. As it turn ed in that direction van Sprunt seemed to me to wince a little. “Have you realized,” he said, “a curious by-product of this war? It may have occurred at other periods in the history of humanity, but my researches have not acquaint ed me with it. I allude to the fact that the war has created a new type of bore, or—perhaps I had better say—has made for the first time one type of bore universal.” “I don’t think I quite follow you.” “Let me illustrate my meaning, Bertie.”
BERTIE BILLING had just entered the room. He was looking hurried and mysterious, as if he had looked in on his way to some important rendezvous. He came over to where we were sitting.
“I can’t stop,” he said. “I’m in a hurry. Just off to phone my brokers.” He lowered his voi e. “Buy Jerusalem Iron! It’s a cinch. It’s going up three hundred points. I’ve just hear d that the Kaiser has placed a secret order for a million Iron Crosses.”
He bustled away, and almost simultaneously Rollo Brattle, and old class-mate of van Sprunt’s, bustled in. He sighted Roscoe. “I haven’t a minute,” he whispered. “Just looked in to tell you hort, and buy all you can get of American Forests. The Kaiser’s ng his troops iron crosses and economize by rewarding them with In six months every tree in the country will have been cut down nd. See you later. I’m just off to phone my brokers.” Van Sprunt sighed. “You see now what I mean. You know Bertie and Rollo as well as I do. You know what they were like before the war started—pleasant, companionable fellows, full of in teresting conversation and able to discuss life in its thousand varied aspects. And now look at them! You remember what a fund of anecdotes Bertie used to have? Whenever he tells a story now, it’s about some friend of a friend of a friend who bought Bethlehem Steel at twenty-nine. You recollect how well-informed Rollo al ways was? The other day I mentioned Rabinadrath Tagore. His reply was that he wa s sure it wasn’t listed on the Stock Exchange. There was a time when I could court the society of those two unhappy men, but now I avoid them unless I see that th ey are in such a hurry that they won’t stay long. It would have done Dante good to dine with either of them; it would have given a new angle on the Inferno. I did once or twice, and it nearly killed me. I had to sit there dumbly while they ra ved on about what was going up and what was going down. Life for those two was n ot a gorgeous pageant of wonderful and stimulating events and ideas; it was simp ly one welter of goings-up and goings-down. For the first time I appreciated wha t must be the feelings of an introspective elevator-attendant. to sell Jerusalem Iron s going to stop givi wooden oblongs. to meet the dema
“AND it isn’t only Rollo and Bertie. It’s everybody,—every biped in the whole darned com munity. You were just starting it yourself when I collared the conversation. You were on the verge of telling me that something was going up, weren’t you?” I muttered a little guiltily that I had had some idea of asking him if he had he ard about an expected rise in Aerial Torpedoes. “Exactly. Yet there was a time when you and I used to have absorbing discussions o n topics ranging from the newest cocktail to the mysticism of Ella Wheeler Wilco x. It’s the same wherever you go. I looked in on a Bishop who is a relative of min e the other day, to chat about some new ideas I had got about the immortality of the soul and the prospect of life after the grave. All he would say, after a lo ng silence, was “We must have faith, Roscoe, we must have faith. Nothing is certai n. Even Bethlehem Steel may slump. We can but have faith, such faith as I have i n the future of Sudbury Motors.”
“‘We must act,’ I said, ‘so that at all times we may be prepared to meet the Maker.’ ‘I met him last Friday,’ replied my relative simply. ‘He told me in confidence that Sudburi es would go to six hundred.’”
EVEN women! Yet why do I say “even women”? Women are the worst of all. They seem to have lost entirely that outlook on life which gave them their charm. I went to a dance the night before last and met for the first time in several years a girl to whom I was once practically engaged. We sat out in the conservatory, and it h appened that the band started the old “Blue Danube.” I was thrilled. You see, it was to the strains of that waltz that we had lived in days gone by through some of our most impassioned moments. “Hark, Genevieve,” I said softly. “Do you hear what they are playing? Does it not bring back the past?” Her face was vaguely sad, and ther
e was a far-off, dreamy look in her eyes. Suddenly she turned to me. “Tell me hone stly, Roscoe, what effect will it have on Syracuse Picric. if Rumania persists i n barring the Danube to Austrian battleships.”
AND children. I have two small nephews, aged eleven and ten. I paid one of my pe riodical visits to them not long ago with the idea of asking if they would like to come to a matinee of “Treasure Island.” Just as I reached the door of their room, sounds of violent strife came through the door. I was just going in to see what was the matter, when Rogers, the butler, an old and trusted servant who knew me when I was a boy, stopped me. “I shouldn’t, Mr. Roscoe, I really shouldn’t.” I stared at the old man. “But they’re fighting!” Rogers sighed. “They’ve been at it since Tuesday last, Mr. Roscoe. Off and on they’ve been at it the whole time. Master Two mbley has taken umbrage at a somewhat ill-considered act of Master Stuyvesant’s an d declares he’ll get even if it takes the whole winter. Only Time, the Great Heale r, can, I fear, effect a reconciliation.” And he sighed again, for he is deeply at tached to the family.
“BUT what on earth is the trouble?” I asked. “It was like this, Mr. Roscoe,” said the ol d man, gently leading me away. “Master Twombley pooled his pocket-money with Maste r Stuyvesant and they bought a block of Hoboken Motor-boat on margin. The stock stood at fifty-three then, and when it rose to a hundred Master Stuyvesant, who, as you know, is of a cautious disposition, instructed their joint broker to sel l—without consulting Master Twombley. The stock has been rising ever since, and it has been around seven hundred for over a week, and Master Twombley’s chagrin has been uncontrolable. He forgives his brother daily at nine-fifteen, his hour for retiring to bed,—in case he should die in the night, but resumes hostilities every morning punctually at seven-forty-five when he rises.” I gripped the old man by t he hand, and stole silently away. But now I have a new system—a little system of my own. Every night I write my brok er to buy me a thousand shares of Bethlehem Steel and then I write him another l etter ordering him to sell a thousand shares. But I don’t mail the letters.
~~~ The End ~~~
ON BEING PHOTOGRAPHED Ode Written in Dejection by P. Brooke-Haven Vanity Fair (March 1916) IT is not women on whom the hardships of photography fall most heavily. Women as a sex enjoy being photographed. It is second nature for them, on catching sight of a long-haired man in spectacles diving underneath a velvet nose-bag, to assu me an expression in which sweetness, dignity, kittenishness, soul, and spontanei ty are so nicely blended that broken sentences of admiration and esteem filter t hrough the velvet in an excited torrent. Debutantes who have not undergone the o rdeal since they were taken sitting on a cushion in the nude at the age of two n eed as little coaching as actresses who have played in every failure in the last
sixteen seasons. How different with Man! For some reason, never properly explained, the average m an is overcome in the presence of a camera with an embarrassment which would be excessive if he were being arrested for forgery while eloping with another man’s w ife. He tries to cover it with a brooding gloom, which the photographer, who, be ing a man who makes a lot of money without doing any work for it, is an optimist , will not endure for a moment. The photographer advocates more sweetness and li ght, and suggests as a means toward achieving these things the moistening of the lips with the tip of the tongue.
TO a thoughtful man like myself, it is one of the most moving phenomena in our d aily life, this pathetic faith of the photographer in the moistening of the lips with the tip of the tongue as a panacea for all human ills. He seems to think t hat no mundane sorrow can stand up against it. I often wonder if he carries the hallucination into his private life. I seem to see him trying to cheer up some f riend whom Fate has smitten with a half-brick in a tender spot. “Your wife, Cuthbe rt, has run away, you say, and, what is worse, in the automobile on which you ar e still paying instalments? What of it? Moisten the lips with the tip of the ton gue and be your old merry self once more.” He cannot admit that Hamlet and King Le ar are to be pitied for their misfortunes. They wilfully omitted to moisten the lips with the tip of the tongue. The introduction of high art into the photographic studio has done much to reduc e the lasting unpleasantness of the operation. In the old days of crude and dire ct posing, there was no escape for the sitter. He had to stand up, backed by a r ustic stile and a flabby canvas sheet covered with exotic trees, glaring straigh t into the camera, full face. To prevent any eleventh hour retreat, a sort of sp iky thing was shoved firmly into the back of his head, — leaving him with the choi ce of being taken as he stood or having three inches of steel jabbed into his ce rebellum. What with the natural discomfort of being photographed and the acute a pprehension caused by the presence of this piece of metal, the patient, despite the hoarse cries of encouragement that proceeded from the nose-bag, almost invar iably came out looking like a sheep which has just caught sight of Mr. Armour. B ut now High Art has come along and changed all that. There are no photographs nowadays. Only “camera portraits” and “lens impressions.” The f ull face has been abolished. The ideal of the modern photographer is to eliminat e the sitter as much as possible and concentrate his energies on an artistic bac kground. I have in my possession two studies of my uncle Theodore, the well-know n importer of Swiss cheese holes, — one taken in 1890, the other in the present ye ar. The first shows my uncle, evidently in pain, staring before him with the fix ed expression of one about to burst. In his right hand he grasps a scroll; his l eft rests heavily on a moss-covered wall. Behind him is the ocean. Two sea-gulls are flying against a stormy sky. As a likeness, it is almost brutally exact. My uncle stands condemned forever on its evidence as the wearer of a made-up tie. The second is different in every respect. Not only has the sitter been taken in the popular modern “one-twentieth face,” showing only the back of his head, the left ear, and what is either the tip of his nose or a flaw in the print, but the who le thing is plunged in the deepest shadow. It is as if my uncle had been surpris ed by the camera while chasing a black cat in his coal-cellar on a moonless nigh t. There is no question as to which of the two makes the more attractive picture . Indeed, I have reason to believe that it was my somewhat injudiciously express ed enthusiasm for the superiority in beauty of the more recent production that l ed to my exclusion from my uncle’s will in favor of certain charities. In spite of this, however, I have always remained a warm advocate of the deep shadows of th e present type of camera portrait, in which so much that is unsightly is enabled
to lie hid.
WHAT might be described as the frontal attack in photography — that merciless onsl aught which gives the victim no chance of escape, is confined to-day principally to the amateur bulb-squeezer. I have only come across one instance of an amateu r photographer who gave any evidence of having bowels of compassion, and that wa s in a work of fiction. I allude to the principal character in a sensational nov el entitled “The Camera Fiend” whose habit it was to point what appeared to be a cam era at his acquaintances and who then, instead of taking their photographs, shot them — his weapon being in reality a disguised pistol. One can readily imagine th e delight of the party of the second part on receiving a bullet between the eyes and realizing that he was not having an amateur photograph of himself taken aft er all.
It has always seemed to me a pity that, in the matter of the discovery of photog raphy and its infliction on a world that had already troubles enough of its own, it is almost impossible to fix the responsibility. That is the worst of the enc yclopaedia. You go to it to be informed on some such important point, and it com es back at you with this: “K. W. Scheele was the first to investigate the darkenin g action of sunlight on silver chloride. He found that when silver chloride was exposed to the action of light beneath water there was dissolved in the fluid a substance which, on the addition of lunar caustic, caused the precipitation of n ew silver chloride, and that on applying a solution of ammonia to the blackened chloride an insoluble residue of metallic silver was left behind.”
YOU cannot possibly condemn a man for a serious offence like the invention of ph otography on rambling evidence like that. There is nothing to show whether Mr. S cheele was or was not the man who started the train of events which ended last w eek in our facing a forty-two centimeter camera with a frozen smile on our lips and having to pay fifteen dollars to Jesse James’s younger brother for mailing us some perfectly repulsive things which he tried to persuade us were faithful repr esentations of ourself, though they had every indication of having been borrowed or stolen from the police headquarters rogues’ gallery. For all we know, the late Scheele, when fooling about with the blackened chloride and the residue of meta llic silver, had not a notion of what was going to come of it. He may not have h ad even a suspicion that many years later his investigations were to be responsi ble for causing Mrs. Vernon Castle to rise at four-thirty in the mornings and re duce her mid-day meal to a mere five-minute snack in order to crowd her daily de alings with the camera into the space of twenty-four hours. It is, I believe, th e case that on one occasion this devoted woman, on learning that there was some danger of a shortage of her photographs owing to the growing demand, sat before the lens without a pause for a period of two days and a night, sustained only by her indomitable spirit and hourly injections of clear soup from a hypodermic sy ringe. It is the custom with many unthinking persons to extol the blessings of what are erroneously called the good old days. One has only to reflect that in those old days it was the almost universal practice of hosts to deposit their guests in a chair after dinner and, having done so, to produce two or three bulky albums fi lled with photographs of the family and his connections to experience a lively s ense of gratitude to Providence for having sent one into the world in a more civ ilized epoch. Little more remains to be said on this absorbing subject. If I have seemed to wr
ite in a jaundiced and condemnatory spirit of photographs, let me end on a note of kindliness and praise. Say what we may against photographs, they remain — I spe ak now of the cabinet size — the best paper-cutters in existence. And let us never forget that, if there were no photographs, there would be no photograph-frames, and where would we turn then for an adequate yet inexpensive birthday, wedding or Christmas present for our wide circle of friends?
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