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The Book of Months

The Book of Months
Title: The Book of Months
Release Date: 2018-11-01
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Crown 8vo., cloth, price 6s.
20 & 21, Bedford Street, W.C.

Book of Months

E.   F.   Benson

William   Heinemann

This Edition enjoys copyright
in all countries signatory to theBerne
Treaty, and is not to be imported
into the United States ofAmerica



December      273

The publisher is informed by the Proprietors
of Condy’s Fluid thattheir preparation contains
no permanganate of potash. In makingthis
correction he desires to express regret if the
statement onpage 83 has done them an injury.





Thick yellow fog, and in consequence electric light to dress by andbreakfast by, was the opening day of the year. Never, to anyone wholooks at this fact in the right spirit, did a year dawn morecharacteristically. The denseness, the utter inscrutability of the faceof that which should be, was never better typified. We blindly groped onthe threshold of the future, feeling here for a bell-handle, here for aknocker, while the door still stood shut. Then, about mid-day, suddencommotions shook the vapours; dim silhouettes of house-roofs, promisedlands perhaps, or profiled wrecks, stood suddenly out against swirlingorange whirlpools of mist; and from my window, which commanded a doubleview up and down Oxford Street, I looked out over the crawling traffic,with an interest, as if in the unfolding of some dramatic plot, on thebattle of the skies. From sick dead{4} yellow the colour changed to gray,and for a few moments the street seemed lit by a dawn of April; thenacross the pearly tints came a sunbeam, lighting them with suddenopalescence. Then the smoke from the house opposite, which had beenascending slowly, like a tired man climbing stairs, was plucked away bya breeze, and in two minutes the whole street was a blaze ofprimrose-coloured sunshine.

All that week I was work-bound in London—a place where, as everyoneknows, there are forty-eight hours in every twenty-four. The reason forthis is obvious. It is impossible to sit idly in a chair in London; itis impossible (almost) to read a book, and it is (happily) quiteimpossible to write one. Hence the hours are multiplied. The sound andspectacle of life induces a sort of intoxication of the mind. Ten yardsof Piccadilly is a volume, and the Circus an improper epic. Hence theimpossibility of reading; the books are in the flowing tides that jostlefrom house-wall to house-wall, and they are vastly more entertainingthan anything that publishers have ever had the good fortune to bringout.{5}

Now, people who are incapable of reading bookprint—of which theenormous mass is very sorry stuff—are held to be uneducated; but itseems to me that people who cannot read, or at any rate conjecture at,this splendid human print are much more ignorant. For it is here inthese places, alive with the original words and phrases out of which allbooks are made, that there lies the key to all books that are worthreading at all. At any rate, here lies the material; it is here, andnowhere else, that the chef does his marketing. There are, however,several rules to be observed if you would read the original. The firstis, that you must attend with all your might; the book, so to speak,shuts automatically if you cease to attend. The second is, that you mustat a moment’s notice be ready to pity and to praise. The third—andperhaps the most important of all—is, that you must never be shocked.For the whole attitude of the observer is covered by pity or praise. TheGreat Author does not want his moral condemnation, and, in addition tothis, there is nothing so blinding to one’s self as being shocked. It islike looking through a telescope at one point only, and that{6} probablywrongly focussed; for it is focussed by one’s own individual code, whichis almost certainly wrong. It is Human Life you are looking at; if thatis not good enough for you, go and look at something else. There areplenty of dull things in the world, but remember always that, if youfind other people dull, it is only a sign that a dull person is present.But if you are to read the book Living, come humble and alert. Try tocatch the point of every phrase, for of this you may be sure—that thereis a point. You will find there, thank God! many pages that will makeyou laugh—laugh, that is, properly, with sheer childish, unreflectingamusement; you will find there things that will make you think; and youwill certainly find there things that will make you want to weep. And ifwe knew a little, instead of knowing nothing, we should probably—no,certainly—fall on our knees, and thank God for that also.

One of each of these occurred to me to-day. The first was when I wascoming out of the club with a friend on our way to dinner. An obsequiousporter held the club door open, an obsequious page-boy stood by ourglittering{7} hansom, with a hand on the wheel. My friend had an opulentappearance and wore a fur coat. On the pavement were standing twoexceedingly small and ragged boys, and one of them whose hair droopedover his eyes like a Skye terrier, seeing this resplendent exit, put histhumbs in the place where the armholes of his waistcoat would have been,had the merry little devil had one, and, with his nose in the air, saidvery loud to the other, ‘Whare are we doining to-night, Bill?’

The second made one laugh at first, but think afterwards, and it wasthus: At the corner of Dover Street there lay a heap of mud and streetsweepings, and as we drew up just opposite, blocked by an opposing tideof carriages in Piccadilly, a small, very dapper little gentleman indress-clothes stepped into the middle of this muck-heap, with the resultthat one of his dress-pumps was drawn off his unfortunate foot with a‘cloop’ and stuck there. On to it there swooped a vulture of thehighway, a lad of about twenty, who picked it out, and made off downDover Street with it. Now, what good was one shoe to him? Would he nothave done better to have wiped it carefully{8} on his coat, which reallycould not have deteriorated farther, and chanced a tip from the dapperlittle gentleman? Or was the instinct of stealing so strong that henever stopped to think? One would have supposed that a tip was apractical certainty.

The third sight was merely a matter for tears.

I walked back from dinner, and my way lay up Piccadilly again. At apopulous corner stood a very stout elderly woman, dressed in violent andridiculous colours. Her hair was golden, her eyebrows broad, thick andvilely drawn, her cheeks so burned with rouge that one blushed. Sheaddressed every passer-by in endearing terms. None regarded her. Thatwas quite right; but the pity of her standing there on this squallynight, with her horrid mission and her total ill-success! Yes, it isdifficult to thank God for that.

After five days I got deliverance from this entrancing slavery, and,like a cork from a bottle, flew to Grindelwald. The journey I rememberas a dreadful dream, for I had a cold so bad that all sense of taste,smell, and most of hearing and{9} feeling, had passed from me, and Iseemed to myself to be a rough deal board being sent by train, andturned out into a drizzling night at what appeared to be mere cowshedson the line, simply for the purpose of declaring that I had no spirit orlace about me. Spirit! The Queen of Sheba when she had seen Solomon inall his glory had more. As to lace, that diaphanous material seriouslyoccupied my waking dreams as we mounted the Jura. Was there anything inmy face that suggested lace, I wondered, or did lace frillings peep outfrom my trousers? Anyhow, why lace? I was really almost anxious todeclare five hundred cigarettes, but nobody suggested such a thing.Then——

The new heaven and the new earth, an earth covered with powdery snow,thatched here and there by pines, and reaching beyond all power ofthought, by glacier and snowfield and rocks too steep for the settlingof the snow, into the pinnacles of the Eiger and the Wetterhorn. Fromridge to ridge the eye followed, lost in amazement at the wonder of theearth and the greatness of its design. Austere and silent rose thevirgin{10} snows, and more silent, growing from words to exclamation, andfrom exclamation to silence itself, one’s wonder. There, out of the voidand formless pulp which was once the world, they were set, barren,fruitless, useless, and that is the wonder of them and their glory.Centuries have been as but seconds in the life of an idle man in theforming of them; for centuries that have been to them but the winking ofan eye they have raised their immemorial crests, and the centuries shallbe as the sea-sand before they crumble. O ye Mountains and Hills, praiseye the Lord! Every day you praise Him.

Now, this “Book of Months” is almost certainly worth nothing, anyhow,and I take this opportunity to inform critics so, in case (as is notlikely) they have the slightest doubt about it. But if they and I arewrong, it will be because we have both overlooked the possible value ofa true document—true, that is, as far as I personally am able to makeit true. Therefore I will state at once that for the next four weeks thechildish pursuit of making correct lines and edges on the ice occupiedme much more, except on a few{11} occasions, than all the mountains, allthe heavenly blue of the sky, or the divine radiance of the marchingsun. Instead of attending to those big and beautiful things, I got up,day after day, full of anxious thoughts, and had I been assured thatthese anxieties would never trouble me again on condition that I neveragain looked at the Eiger, or the scarlet finger of the Finster-Aarhornthat caught the sunset long after the sun had set to us, I would quitecertainly have closed with the bargain. Those who do not know what aclean outside-back-counter means can have no voice in this affair, sincethey are not acquainted with the subject-matter of it, but those who dowill, I believe, extend to me their pitying sympathy. For no knownreason, I desired to make these and other turns, which when made are ofno conceivable use to anybody, and full of anxious thoughts, whichviolent collisions with the elusive material on which I performed fullyjustified, I proceeded to devote the hours of light to these utterlyindefensible pursuits. I wished to execute a movement in which the skateleft a certain mark on the ice, and no other (I am alluding, of{12} course,to involuntary change of edge), and to make these and other marks on theice (continuous loops, bracket-eight, and a few more, for the sake ofthe curious) I signed a bond, so to speak, for three weeks of my shortmortal life. All morning, that is to say, I struggled with theseevanescent scratchings, ate a hurried lunch, and struggled again till itwas dark. Really, it is very odd, and I hope to do the same next winter.I am perfectly aware that I could have spent my time much better, or, atany rate, tried

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