The Social Kaleidoscope by George R. Sims

MY first book hardly deserved the title. I have 12 CLARENCE TERRACE 12 CLARENCE TERRACE only a dim remembrance of it now, because it is one of those things which I have studiously set myself to forget. I was very proud of it before I saw it. After I had seen it, I realised in one swift moment's anguish the concentrated truth of the word vanity as applied to human wishes. Hidden away in the bottom corner of an old box, which is not to be opened until after I am dead, that first book lies at the present moment; that is to say, unless the process of decay, which had already set in upon the paper on which it was printed, has gone on to the bitter end, and the book has disappeared entirely of its own accord.

Before that book was published, I used to lie awake at night and fancy how great and how grand a thing it would be for me to see a book with my name on the cover lying on Smith's bookstalls, and staring me in the face from the booksellers' windows. After it was published, I felt that I owed Messrs. Smith & Sons a deep debt of gratitude for refusing to take it, and my heart rejoiced within me greatly that the only booksellers who exhibited it lived principally in old back streets and half-finished suburban thoroughfares.


Stay—I will go upstairs to my lumber room, I will open that box, I will dig deep down among the buried memories of the past, and I will find that book, and I will summon up my courage and ask the publishers of this volume to kindly allow the cover of that book to be reproduced here. It is only by looking at it as I looked at it that you will thoroughly appreciate my feelings on the subject.

I have found the box, but my heart sinks within me as I try to open the lid. All my lost youth lies there. The key is rusty and will hardly turn in the lock.

drawing by Geo. Hutchinson
signed: Very sincerely yours,
George R. Sims

So—so—so, at last! Ghosts of the long ago, come forth from your resting-places and haunt me once again.

Dear me! dear me! how musty everything smells; how old, and worn, and time-stained everything is. A folded poster:

'Grecian Theatre
   'Mr. G. R. Sims will positively not appear
this evening at the entertainment held in the

Yes, I remember. I had been announced, entirely without my consent or knowledge, to appear at a hall attached to the Grecian Theatre with Mrs. Georgina Weldon, and take part in an entertainment. This notice was stuck about outside the theatre in GEORGE R. SIMS GEORGE R. SIMS consequence of my indignant remonstrance. My old friend Mr. George Conquest had, I need hardly say, nothing to do with that bill. Some one had taken the hall for a special occasion. I think it was something remotely connected with lunatics.

My first play! Poor little play—a burlesque written for my brothers and sisters, and played by us in the Theatre Royal Day Nursery. There were some really brilliant lines in it, I remember. They were taken bodily from a burlesque of H. J. Byron's, which I purchased at Lacy & Son's (now French's) in the Strand—'a new and original burlesque by Master G. R. Sims.' My misguided parents actually had the playbill printed and invited friends to witness the performance. They little knew what they were doing by pandering to my boyish vanity in such a way. But for that printed playbill, and that public performance in my nursery, I might never have taken to the stage, and inflicted upon a long-suffering public Adelphi melodrama and Gaiety burlesque, farcical comedy and comic opera; I might have remained all my life an honest, hard-working City man, relieving my feelings occasionally by joining in the autumn discussions in the Daily Telegraph. I was still in the City when my first book was published. I used, in those days, to get to the City at nine and leave it at six, but I had a dinner hour, and in that dinner hour I wrote short stories and little things that I fancied were funny, and Photo of title page of "The Social Kaleidoscope." I used to put them in big envelopes and send them to the different magazines. I sent about twenty out in that way. I never had one accepted, but several returned.

I wrote my first book in my dinner hour, in a City office. I have just found it. Here is the cover. You will observe that it has my portrait on it. I look very ill and thin and haggard. That was, perhaps, the result of going without my dinner in order to devote myself to 'literature.'

If you could look inside that book, if you could see the paper on which it is printed, you would understand the shock it was to me when they laid it in my arms and said: 'Behold your firstborn.'

All the vanity in me (and they tell me that I have a good deal) rose up as I gazed at the battered wreck upon the cover—the man with the face that suggested a prompt subscription to a burial club.

But I shouldn't have minded that so much if the people who bought my book hadn't written to me personally to complain. One gentleman sent me a postcard to say that his volume fell to pieces while he was carrying it home. Another assured me that he had picked enough pieces of THE SNUGGERY THE SNUGGERY straw out of the leaves to make a bed for his horse with, and a third returned a copy to me without paying the postage, and asked me kindly to put it in my dustbin, because his cook was rather proud of the one he had in his back garden.

Still the book sold (the sketches had all previously appeared in the Weekly Dispatch), and when the first edition was exhausted, a new and better one was prepared (without that haggard face upon the cover), and I was happy.

The sale ran into thirty thousand the first year of publication, and as I was fortunate enough to have published it on a royalty, I am glad to say it is still selling.

'The Social Kaleidoscope' was my first book. With it I made my actual début between covers.

I hadn't done very well before then; since then I have, from a worldly point of view, done remarkably well—far better than I deserved to do, my good-natured friends assure me, and I cordially agree with them.

But I had made a good fight for it, and I had suffered years of disappointment and rebuff. I began to send contributions to periodicals when I was fourteen years old, and a boy at Hanwell College. Fun was the first journal I favoured with my effusions, and week after week I had a sinking at the heart as I bought that popular periodical and searched in vain for my comic verses, my humorous sketches, and my smart paragraphs.

It took me thirteen years to get something printed and paid for, but I succeeded at last, and it was Fun, my early love, that first took me by the hand. When I was on the staff of Fun, and its columns were open to me for all I cared MR. SIMS'S 'LITTLE DAWG' MR. SIMS'S 'LITTLE DAWG' to write, I used often to look over the batch of boyish efforts that littered the editor's desk, and let my heart go out to the writers who were suffering the pangs that I had known so well.

I had had effusions of mine printed before that, but I didn't get any money for them. I had the pleasure of seeing my signature more than once in the columns of certain theatrical journals, in the days when I was a constant first-nighter, and a determined upholder of the privileges of the pit. And I even had some of my poetry printed. In the old box to which I have gone in search of the first edition of my first book, there are two papers carefully preserved, because they were once my pride and glory. One is a copy of the Halfpenny Journal, and the other is a copy of the Halfpenny Welcome Guest. On the back page of the correspondence column of the former there is a poem signed 'G. R. S.,' addressed to a young lady's initials in affectionately complimentary terms. Alas! I don't know what has become of that young lady. Probably she is married, and is the mother of a fine family of boys and girls, and has forgotten that I ever wrote verses in her honour. I think I sent her a copy of the Halfpenny Journal, but a few weeks after a coldness sprang up between us. She was behind the counter of a confectioner's shop in Camden Town, and I found her one afternoon giggling at a young friend of mine who used to buy his butterscotch there. My friend and I had words, but between myself and that fair confectioner 'the rest was silence.'


I was really very much distressed that my pride compelled me never again to cross the threshold of that establishment. There wasn't a confectioner's in all Camden Town that could come within measurable distance of it for strawberry ices.

In the correspondence column of the Halfpenny Welcome Guest, which is among my buried treasures, there is an 'answer' instead of the poem which I had fondly hoped to see inserted in its glorious pages. And this is the answer: 'G. R. S.—Your poem is not quite up to our standard, but it gives decided promise of better things. We should advise you to persevere.'

I am quoting from memory, for after turning that box upside down, I can't lay my hand on this particular Welcome Guest, though I know that it is there. I don't know who the editor was who gave me that kindly pat on the head, but THE LIBRARY THE LIBRARY whoever he was he earned my undying gratitude. At the time I felt I should have liked him better had he printed my poem. I was no more fortunate with my prose than I was with my poetry. I began to tell stories at a very early age, but it was not until after I had succeeded in getting a poem printed among the 'Answers to Correspondents' that I took seriously to prose with a view of publication. I was encouraged to try my hand at writing stories by the remembrance of the success which had attended my efforts at romantic narrative when I was a school-boy.

There were eight other boys in the dormitory I slept in at Hanwell (the College, not the Asylum), and they used to make me tell them stories every night until they fell asleep, and woe betide me if I cut my narrative short while one of them remained awake. I wasn't much of a boy with a bolster or a boot, but they were all champions, and many a time when I had married the hero and heroine and wound up my story did I have to start a fresh complication in a hurry to save myself from chastisement. I remember on one occasion, when I was dreadfully sleepy, and I had got into a fearful fog as to who committed the murder, I made a wild plunge at a ghost to get me out of the difficulty, and the whole dormitory rose to a boy and set about me with bolsters in their indignation at such a lame and impotent conclusion.

Night after night did those maddening words, 'Tell us a story,' salute my ears as I laid my weary little head upon the pillow, and I had to tell one or run the gauntlet of eight bolsters and sixteen slippers, to say nothing of the biggest boy of all, who kept a reserve pair of boots hidden away under his bed for purposes not altogether unconnected with midnight excursions to a neighbouring orchard.


It was the remembrance of my early story-telling days that prompted me, when poetry seemed a drug in the market, to try my hand at what is now, I believe, called 'The Complete Novelette.'

I set myself seriously to work, laid in a large stock of apples and jumbles, and spent several consecutive afternoons in completing a story which I called 'A Pleasant Evening.' After I had written it I copied it out in my best hand, and then, with fear and trembling, I sent it to the Family Herald.

I sent it to the Family Herald because I had heard a lady who visited at our house say that she knew a lady who knew a lady who had sent a story to the Family Herald, never having written anything before in her life, and the story had been accepted, and the writer had received five pounds for it by return of post.


I didn't receive anything by return of post, but in about a fortnight my manuscript came back to me. Nothing daunted, I carefully cut off the corner on which 'Declined with thanks' had been written, and I sent the story to Chamber's Journal. Here it met with a similar fate, but I fancy it took a little longer to come back, and it bore signs of wear and tear. I knew, or I had read, that it was not wise to let your manuscript have the appearance of being rejected, so I spent several unpleasant evenings in writing 'A Pleasant Evening' out again, and I sent it to All the Year Round.

It came back! This time I didn't take the trouble to open it I knew it directly I saw it, and as it reached me so I flung it in my desk and bit my lips, and made up my mind that after all it was better to be accepted as a poet in the 'Answers to Correspondents' column of the Halfpenny 'Beauty,' an old Favourite, Twenty Years old. 'Beauty,' an old Favourite, Twenty Years old. Journal than to be rejected as a story-writer by the editors of higher-priced periodicals.

But though I played with poetry again, I didn't even succeed in getting into the 'Answers to Correspondents.' My vaulting ambition o'erleaped its selle, and I sent my verses to journals which didn't 'correspond.' In those days I kept a little book, in which I entered all the manuscripts I sent to editors, and from it now I copy the following instructive record. R stands for 'Returned':—

Once a Week'The Minstrel's Curse'R.
Belgravia'After the Battle'R.
Broadway'After the Battle'R.
Fun'Nearer and Dearer'R.
Fun'An Unfortunate Attachment'         R.
Fun'A Song of May'R.
Banter'Nearer and Dearer'R.
Judy'An Unfortunate Attachment'R.
London Society'The Minstrel's Curse'R.
Owl'Nearer and Dearer'R.

Returned! Returned! Returned! All I got for my pains was the chance of making a joke in my diary on my birthday. In those days of my wild struggles with Fate I find written against the 2nd of September, 'Many unhappy Returns.'

I believe that I should have flung up authorship in despair, and never have had a first book, but for the chance remark of the dear old doctor who looked after my health in the days when I hadn't to pay my own doctor's bills.

He was talking about me one day in my father's private office, and I happened to be passing, and I heard him say, 'He's a nice lad—what a pity he scribbles!' Scribbles! the


word burnt itself into my brain, it seared my heart, it brought the hot blood to my cheeks, and the indignant tears to my eyes. Was I not ready to write an acrostic at a moment's notice on the name of the sweetheart of any fellow who asked me to do it? Had I not written a poem on the fall of Napoleon, which my eldest sister had read aloud to her schoolfellows, and made them all mad with jealousy to think there wasn't a brother among the lot of them who could even rhyme decently? Had I not had stories rejected by the Family Herald, All the Year Round, and Chambers's Journal, and a letter on the subject of the crossing opposite St. Mark's Church, Hamilton Terrace, printed in the Marylebone Mercury? And was I to be dubbed a scribbler, and pitied for my weakness? It is nearly twenty years since those words were uttered, and my dear old doctor rests beyond the reach of all human ills, but I can hear them now. They have never ceased to ring in my ears as they rang that day.


My pride was wounded, my vanity was hurt, I was put upon my mettle. I registered a silent vow there and then that some day I would have a noble revenge on my friendly detractor, and make him confess that he was wrong when he said that it was a pity I scribbled.

From that hour I set myself steadily to be an author. I wrote poetry by the mile, prose by the acre, and I sent it to every kind of periodical that I could find in the 'Post Office Directory.'

I had to pass through years of rejection, but still I wrote on, and still I spent all my pocket-money on books, and postage-stamps, and paper.

And at last the chance came. I was allowed to write paragraphs in the Weekly Dispatch by a friend who was a real journalist, and had a column at his disposal to fill with gossip.

After doing the work for a month for nothing, I had the whole column given to me, and one day I received my first guinea earned by scribbling.


I was a proud man when I went out of the Dispatch office that day with a sovereign and a shilling in my hand. I had forced the gates of the citadel at last. I had marched in with the honours of war, and I was marching out with the price of victory in my hand.

Soon afterwards there came another chance. The editor of the Dispatch wanted a series of short complete stories. I asked to be allowed to try if I could do them. Under the title of 'The Social Kaleidoscope,' I wrote a series of short stories or sketches, and from that day no week has passed that I have not contributed something to the columns of a weekly journal.

When the sketches were complete, the publisher of the Dispatch offered to bring them out in book form for me and publish them in the office.

'The Social Kaleidoscope' was my first book, and that is how it came into the world.

Years afterwards, my chance came with the dear old fellow who had said that it was a pity I scribbled so. Fortune had smiled upon me in one way then, and I was earning an excellent income with my pen. But my health had broken down, and it was thought necessary that I should place myself in the hands of a celebrated surgeon. I had not seen my old doctor for some years, but my people wished that he should be consulted, because he had known me so well in the days of my youth.

So I submitted, and he came, and he shook his head and agreed that so-and-so was the man to take me in hand.

'I think he'll cure you, my dear fellow,' said the doctor; 'he's the most skilful surgeon we have for cases like yours, but his fee is a heavy one. Still, you can afford it.'

'Yes, doctor,' I replied, 'thanks to my scribbling, I can.'

That was the hour of my triumph. I had waited for it for fifteen years, but it had come at last.

The dear old boy gripped my hand. 'I was wrong,' he said, with a quiet smile, 'and I confess it; but we'll get you well, and you shall scribble for many a year to come.'

And I am scribbling still.