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Myself when Young Confessions

Myself when Young
Title: Myself when Young Confessions
Release Date: 2019-03-06
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 113
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Printed in Great Britain by
Neill & Co., Ltd., Edinburgh.







IF the majority of one’s friends live in Kensington and Bloomsbury, andif one is fond of going out to parties in the evening, then one shouldlive somewhere midway between these two extremities of charm andculture. With the acceptance of each fresh invitation, I am ledincreasingly to appreciate that there is no stronger deterrent to one’senjoyment of an evening than the knowledge that one has at the end of itto get to Golders Green. However agreeable the company, however profusethe hospitality, there must always come that moment when one is forcedto weigh the expense of a taxi against the degree of entertainmentlikely to be derived from a refusal to be disturbed by the sirens of thelast tube.

It is twenty-five minutes past twelve; in thirteen minutes the shuttersof Warren Street Station will be down. You rise from your cushionedcomfort. You inform your hostess that it is very late, that you are verybusy just now, that you have to be up early in the morning, that youreally feel that the time has come. But you rarely complete yourexplanations. “Oh, but no, really; must you?” she says. “Surely you canstay a little longer. I’m expecting ‘so-and-so’ and ‘so-and-so’ anymoment now. They promised{8} faithfully they would come. They’ll befrightfully disappointed if they find you have gone.” Your vanity arraysitself before your prudence. You remind yourself that a taxi will onlycost ten shillings; you consider with what speed, with the writing ofhow few extra words you will be able to earn that sum next morning; youremember a copy-book platitude about a ship and a small amount of tar;you vacillate; and whichever way you decide, eventually you will come toregret your choice. If you stay it is more than likely that the ownersof the distinguished names that were dangled as a bait in front of youwill never come at all; or, if they do, they will arrive exhausted fromsome previous entertainment, and will sit silent and unapproachable in acorner. There is a strong probability that the last syphon will bediscovered to be finished. Certainly by half-past one you will be in nohumour to exchange with the taxi-driver those formalities of reluctanceand solicitation that are forced on everyone who lives north of theMarlborough Road.

Wearily will you say to him “145 North End Road.” “Fulham?” will be hisanswer. “Golders Green,” will you snap back at him. “Oh, sir!” and hewill tell you how late it is, how cold he is, and that he has got to getback to Balham or Brixton or Upper Clapton. One day I think I shall say“Fulham” for the mere pleasure of learning that taximeter cabriolets canbe parked at Barnet or Finchley or St Albans. In the end, as always, youassure him that you will make it worth his while; and as you sink backinto the ill-sprung, ill-cushioned seat you wonder what folly haspersuaded{9} you to stay that extra hour; you reflect on thedisinclination with which you will settle down to work next morning; youponder the slump of the literary market and the extreme difficulty ofmaking it yield sustenance; you ask yourself by what right you chose tospend ten shillings on a journey that you could have made for fourpence;thus you remind yourself did the hero of your last story set in motionthat process of reckless degeneration the details of which you somasterfully exposed.

Nor, though you will be the richer by nine and eightpence, will you beany less the victim of self-criticism, should you catch the 12.38 fromWarren Street. As you pull wearily up the North End Road, you will beassailed by all those arguments that, had you stayed, you would in thetaxi have exposed to high derision.

And it was in such a mood, after such a decision, on a wet, breathlessJanuary evening that I walked homewards past the few melancholy treesthat were once part of the proud avenue down which Dick Turpin canteredplunderwards. Why, I asked myself, had I yielded to those instincts ofeconomy that are the only heritage with which my Scots ancestry hasthought prudent to endow me; why, for the sake of a few pennies had Ideserted the party at the very moment when it was about to becomegenuinely amusing. Parties are like bonfires: they smoulder wretchedlyfor a couple of hours; they emit columns of malodorous, unsightly smoke;then suddenly, gloriously, unexpectedly, they burst into a splendour ofleaping flame. Such a transformation had been, I now felt,{10} about toenshrine that party for all time in the memory of those present at thevery moment when I had decided to desert it. Harold Scott had justarrived from the Everyman Theatre. And than Harold Scott there are fewpersons who can be, when he so desires, more cheering and moreexhilarating. He had regaled himself, not inappropriately, as he hadbeen that evening impersonating Feste, with a stoup of wine, had beenled to the piano, and had struck the first chords of “Another Little Jobfor the Tombstone Maker.” It was a song of which the fame and therefrain had often reached me, the words never: and why, I asked myself,had I allowed to pass so agreeable an opportunity of making theiracquaintance. In a mood, therefore, of uncomfortable self-depreciation,cautiously, so that the dog might not bark and awake the household, Iopened the front door, to find on the hat cupboard below the window aletter addressed to me in a bright green envelope.

There is only one person who writes to me in bright green envelopes, andI never see that handwriting without a thrill. Whatever else may in timepass from memory, it is improbable that I shall ever forget theexcitement which I felt when, for the first time, I saw thathandwriting, and read in the left hand of the envelope the words “GrantRichards Ltd.” I was at Sandhurst at the time, and the day had begununfortunately. I had appeared on early parade without a lanyard, and hadbeen requested to appear after breakfast at Company Office. I was,indeed, waiting in the passage to be marched before the Major{11} when themail arrived, and among the letters flung haphazardly on the table ofthe ante-room was the one telling me that my first book had found apublisher. At such a moment I should with equanimity have accepted anypunishment with which the authorities might have thought well to chastenme; but even then I could not help reading into my dismissal, withoutthe reprimand that would have suspended my week-end leave, a happyaugury for my book. And after six years a green envelope is still for mea symbol of romance; the miracle may be repeated. I am not of aparticularly credulous nature, but I always half expect to find theresome equally sensational announcement; and on this grey January eveningmy dissatisfaction was by the sight of it instantly and marvellouslyremoved.

The letter contained, however, no reckless offer for film rights fromAmerica; merely an encouraging inquiry about my new novel. “Soon,” itsaid, “we shall be preparing our spring and summer list. Can you not atleast give us the title of your book?” My dissatisfaction returned. Mynovel was little nearer its last chapter than it had been when I haddiscussed its prospects three months earlier with Grant Richards. Thatis the worst of a creative as opposed to a routine publisher. You havehad an admirable lunch; you sit back in a deep and comfortablearm-chair; you smoke a good Egyptian cigarette; a fire is blazingmerrily in front of you; your eyes are wooed pleasantly by Sancha’sfrescoed decoration, by the photographs on the mantelpiece and walls ofthose whose names have from time to time appeared among yourpublishe{12}r’s announcements, and among which you are pleased to observeyour own conspicuously displayed: you feel content, in harmony,reassured. You begin to talk of your new novel. In this pleasantatmosphere it becomes suddenly very real to you.

“Splendid! splendid!” says Grant Richards; “now, you’ll let me have thatin time for the spring, won’t you?” He stands with his back to thefireplace, adjusts his monocle, and begins to tell you of the artist whowill design the wrapper, of the cloth in which it will be bound, of thetype in which it will be printed, of the special instructions he willgive his travellers. You leave his study feeling that your book isfinished; that in a few days it will be presented to an enrapturedworld. Your imagination is already carrying you to your club and openingnewspaper after newspaper over which you bow before a volley of criticalapplause. You discover through fuddled channels of mental mathematicsthe extent of the fortune that is to be yours, and, on the strength ofit, you proceed to order two new suits of clothes. Then you go home, andyou accept an invitation to a party, and you play football, and youreview a book, and you read a few manuscripts at your office, and youturn into a short story an anecdote you overheard at your club; and insix months’ time you find your novel where you left it, your tailor’sbill in front of you, and your royalties account crippled by a processof diminishing returns.

Regretfully I replaced the letter in its bright green envelope. Therewere still a few coals glowing in my study grate; the room was warm andkindly and{13} sympathetic. The sky-blue walls with the deep black linerunning round the door and beneath the ceiling, the long low tier ofbookshelves which had wooed me so often from my work, the black framedetchings of Nevinson and Wadsworth, the two water colours by Prout, thepatterned tiling of the fireplace, and that dazzling screen by Roger Frywhich I had bought at the Omega workshop sale with such thrilledmisgiving and which has since taken its place so unobtrusively against abackground of many coloured volumes; every book and ornament and picturein the room where I had wasted so many hours seemed to welcome me with asmile of affectionate indulgence. “It does not matter,” they seemed tosay. “You have been very happy among us—all those hours passing fromone book to another, from one chain of memories to another. You haveidled away, doubtless, a deal of time in our company, but it was so thatwe would have you be, and for all we know you may be the richer for thatidleness, richer than if you had pursued, as you had intended, with eyesriveted on the green baize of your desk, the fortunes of your reallyrather dismal heroine!”

Our study, because it is an expression of ourself, our taste, ourpersonality, becomes at times as reassuring, as persuasive, as thatrascally confidante of introspection—a friend whom we can persuade toview our failings through our own eyes and in terms of our ownconscience.

I made up the fire, turned up the switch of my electric-lamp, drew myarm-chair within the narrow circle of{14} its light, and paused to wonderwith what book, with what companion, I should spend the hour or sobefore I should be tired enough to go to bed. At such an hour one cannotchoose a book from the shelves haphazardly and allow it to evoke its ownparticular series of emotions. The book must suit the mood, must fit itas the words of a song fit the accompaniment. The varied incidents ofthe day, the people we have seen and spoken to, the words

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