The Social Kaleidoscope by George R.
MY first book hardly deserved
the title. I have
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
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.
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
| '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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Journal than to be
rejected as a story-writer
by the editors
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
|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
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.
'FAUST UP TO DATE'
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
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
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.
MR. SIMS'S DINNER PARTY
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
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.