A Memory of the Eighteen-nineties
When a book about the literature of the eighteen-nineties was given by
Mr. Holbrook Jackson to the world, I looked eagerly in the index for
Soames, Enoch. It was as I feared: he was not there. But everybody
else was. Many writers whom I had quite forgotten, or remembered but
faintly, lived again for me, they and their work, in Mr. Holbrook
Jackson's pages. The book was as thorough as it was brilliantly
written. And thus the omission found by me was an all the deadlier
record of poor Soames's failure to impress himself on his decade.
I dare say I am the only person who noticed the omission. Soames had
failed so piteously as all that! Nor is there a counterpoise in the
thought that if he had had some measure of success he might have
passed, like those others, out of my mind, to return only at the
historian's beck. It is true that had his gifts, such as they were,
been acknowledged in his lifetime, he would never have made the bargain
I saw him make—that strange bargain whose results have kept him always
in the foreground of my memory. But it is from those very results that
the full piteousness of him glares out.
Not my compassion, however, impels me to write of him. For his sake,
poor fellow, I should be inclined to keep my pen out of the ink. It is
ill to deride the dead. And how can I write about Enoch Soames without
making him ridiculous? Or, rather, how am I to hush up the horrid fact
that he WAS ridiculous? I shall not be able to do that. Yet, sooner
or later, write about him I must. You will see in due course that I
have no option. And I may as well get the thing done now.
In the summer term of '93 a bolt from the blue flashed down on Oxford.
It drove deep; it hurtlingly embedded itself in the soil. Dons and
undergraduates stood around, rather pale, discussing nothing but it.
Whence came it, this meteorite? From Paris. Its name? Will
Rothenstein. Its aim? To do a series of twenty-four portraits in
lithograph. These were to be published from the Bodley Head, London.
The matter was urgent. Already the warden of A, and the master of B,
and the Regius Professor of C had meekly "sat." Dignified and
doddering old men who had never consented to sit to any one could not
withstand this dynamic little stranger. He did not sue; he invited: he
did not invite; he commanded. He was twenty-one years old. He wore
spectacles that flashed more than any other pair ever seen. He was a
wit. He was brimful of ideas. He knew Whistler. He knew Daudet and
the Goncourts. He knew every one in Paris. He knew them all by heart.
He was Paris in Oxford. It was whispered that, so soon as he had
polished off his selection of dons, he was going to include a few
undergraduates. It was a proud day for me when I—I was included. I
liked Rothenstein not less than I feared him; and there arose between
us a friendship that has grown ever warmer, and been more and more
valued by me, with every passing year.
At the end of term he settled in, or, rather, meteoritically into,
London. It was to him I owed my first knowledge of that
forever-enchanting little world-in-itself, Chelsea, and my first
acquaintance with Walter Sickert and other August elders who dwelt
there. It was Rothenstein that took me to see, in Cambridge Street,
Pimlico, a young man whose drawings were already famous among the
few—Aubrey Beardsley by name. With Rothenstein I paid my first visit
to the Bodley Head. By him I was inducted into another haunt of
intellect and daring, the domino-room of the Cafe Royal.
There, on that October evening—there, in that exuberant vista of
gilding and crimson velvet set amidst all those opposing mirrors and
upholding caryatids, with fumes of tobacco ever rising to the painted
and pagan ceiling, and with the hum of presumably cynical conversation
broken into so sharply now and again by the clatter of dominoes
shuffled on marble tables, I drew a deep breath and, "This indeed,"
said I to myself, "is life!" (Forgive me that theory. Remember the
waging of even the South African War was not yet.)
It was the hour before dinner. We drank vermuth. Those who knew
Rothenstein were pointing him out to those who knew him only by name.
Men were constantly coming in through the swing-doors and wandering
slowly up and down in search of vacant tables or of tables occupied by
friends. One of these rovers interested me because I was sure he
wanted to catch Rothenstein's eye. He had twice passed our table, with
a hesitating look; but Rothenstein, in the thick of a disquisition on
Puvis de Chavannes, had not seen him. He was a stooping, shambling
person, rather tall, very pale, with longish and brownish hair. He had
a thin, vague beard, or, rather, he had a chin on which a large number
of hairs weakly curled and clustered to cover its retreat. He was an
odd-looking person; but in the nineties odd apparitions were more
frequent, I think, than they are now. The young writers of that
era—and I was sure this man was a writer—strove earnestly to be
distinct in aspect. This man had striven unsuccessfully. He wore a
soft black hat of clerical kind, but of Bohemian intention, and a gray
waterproof cape which, perhaps because it was waterproof, failed to be
romantic. I decided that "dim" was the mot juste for him. I had
already essayed to write, and was immensely keen on the mot juste, that
Holy Grail of the period.
The dim man was now again approaching our table, and this time he made
up his mind to pause in front of it.
"You don't remember me," he said in a toneless voice.
Rothenstein brightly focused him.
"Yes, I do," he replied after a moment, with pride rather than
effusion—pride in a retentive memory. "Edwin Soames."
"Enoch Soames," said Enoch.
"Enoch Soames," repeated Rothenstein in a tone implying that it was
enough to have hit on the surname. "We met in Paris a few times when
you were living there. We met at the Cafe Groche."
"And I came to your studio once."
"Oh, yes; I was sorry I was out."
"But you were in. You showed me some of your paintings, you know. I
hear you're in Chelsea now."
I almost wondered that Mr. Soames did not, after this monosyllable,
pass along. He stood patiently there, rather like a dumb animal,
rather like a donkey looking over a gate. A sad figure, his. It
occurred to me that "hungry" was perhaps the mot juste for him;
but—hungry for what? He looked as if he had little appetite for
anything. I was sorry for him; and Rothenstein, though he had not
invited him to Chelsea, did ask him to sit down and have something to
Seated, he was more self-assertive. He flung back the wings of his
cape with a gesture which, had not those wings been waterproof, might
have seemed to hurl defiance at things in general. And he ordered an
absinthe. "Je me tiens toujours fidele," he told Rothenstein, "a la
"It is bad for you," said Rothenstein, dryly.
"Nothing is bad for one," answered Soames. "Dans ce monde il n'y a ni
bien ni mal."
"Nothing good and nothing bad? How do you mean?"
"I explained it all in the preface to 'Negations.'"
"Yes, I gave you a copy of it."
"Oh, yes, of course. But, did you explain, for instance, that there
was no such thing as bad or good grammar?"
"N-no," said Soames. "Of course in art there is the good and the evil.
But in life—no." He was rolling a cigarette. He had weak, white
hands, not well washed, and with finger-tips much stained with
nicotine. "In life there are illusions of good and evil, but"—his
voice trailed away to a murmur in which the words "vieux jeu" and
"rococo" were faintly audible. I think he felt he was not doing
himself justice, and feared that Rothenstein was going to point out
fallacies. Anyhow, he cleared his throat and said, "Parlons d'autre
It occurs to you that he was a fool? It didn't to me. I was young,
and had not the clarity of judgment that Rothenstein already had.
Soames was quite five or six years older than either of us. Also—he
had written a book. It was wonderful to have written a book.
If Rothenstein had not been there, I should have revered Soames. Even
as it was, I respected him. And I was very near indeed to reverence
when he said he had another book coming out soon. I asked if I might
ask what kind of book it was to be.
"My poems," he answered. Rothenstein asked if this was to be the title
of the book. The poet meditated on this suggestion, but said he rather
thought of giving the book no title at all. "If a book is good in
itself—" he murmured, and waved his cigarette.
Rothenstein objected that absence of title might be bad for the sale of
"If," he urged, "I went into a bookseller's and said simply, 'Have you
got?' or, 'Have you a copy of?' how would they know what I wanted?"
"Oh, of course I should have my name on the cover," Soames answered
earnestly. "And I rather want," he added, looking hard at Rothenstein,
"to have a drawing of myself as frontispiece." Rothenstein admitted
that this was a capital idea, and mentioned that he was going into the
country and would be there for some time. He then looked at his watch,
exclaimed at the hour, paid the waiter, and went away with me to
dinner. Soames remained at his post of fidelity to the glaucous witch.
"Why were you so determined not to draw him?" I asked.
"Draw him? Him? How can one draw a man who doesn't exist?"
"He is dim," I admitted. But my mot juste fell flat. Rothenstein
repeated that Soames was non-existent.
Still, Soames had written a book. I asked if Rothenstein had read
"Negations." He said he had looked into it, "but," he added crisply,
"I don't profess to know anything about writing." A reservation very
characteristic of the period! Painters would not then allow that any
one outside their own order had a right to any opinion about painting.
This law (graven on the tablets brought down by Whistler from the
summit of Fuji-yama) imposed certain limitations. If other arts than
painting were not utterly unintelligible to all but the men who
practiced them, the law tottered—the Monroe Doctrine, as it were, did
not hold good. Therefore no painter would offer an opinion of a book
without warning you at any rate that his opinion was worthless. No one
is a better judge of literature than Rothenstein; but it wouldn't have
done to tell him so in those days, and I knew that I must form an
unaided judgment of "Negations."
Not to buy a book of which I had met the author face to face would have
been for me in those days an impossible act of self-denial. When I
returned to Oxford for the Christmas term I had duly secured
"Negations." I used to keep it lying carelessly on the table in my
room, and whenever a friend took it up and asked what it was about, I
would say: "Oh, it's rather a remarkable book. It's by a man whom I
know." Just "what it was about" I never was able to say. Head or tail
was just what I hadn't made of that slim, green volume. I found in the
preface no clue to the labyrinth of contents, and in that labyrinth
nothing to explain the preface.
Lean near to life. Lean very near—
Life is web and therein nor warp nor
woof is, but web only.
It is for this I am Catholick in church
and in thought, yet do let swift Mood weave
there what the shuttle of Mood wills.
These were the opening phrases of the preface, but those which followed
were less easy to understand. Then came "Stark: A Conte," about a
midinette who, so far as I could gather, murdered, or was about to
murder, a mannequin. It was rather like a story by Catulle Mendes in
which the translator had either skipped or cut out every alternate
sentence. Next, a dialogue between Pan and St. Ursula, lacking, I
rather thought, in "snap." Next, some aphorisms (entitled "Aphorismata"
[spelled in Greek]). Throughout, in fact, there was a great variety of
form, and the forms had evidently been wrought with much care. It was
rather the substance that eluded me. Was there, I wondered, any
substance at all? It did not occur to me: suppose Enoch Soames was a
fool! Up cropped a rival hypothesis: suppose I was! I inclined to
give Soames the benefit of the doubt. I had read "L'Apres-midi d'un
faune" without extracting a glimmer of meaning; yet Mallarme, of
course, was a master. How was I to know that Soames wasn't another?
There was a sort of music in his prose, not indeed, arresting, but
perhaps, I thought, haunting, and laden, perhaps, with meanings as deep
as Mallarme's own. I awaited his poems with an open mind.
And I looked forward to them with positive impatience after I had had a
second meeting with him. This was on an evening in January. Going
into the aforesaid domino-room, I had passed a table at which sat a
pale man with an open book before him. He had looked from his book to
me, and I looked back over my shoulder with a vague sense that I ought
to have recognized him. I returned to pay my respects. After
exchanging a few words, I said with a glance to the open book, "I see I
am interrupting you," and was about to pass on, but, "I prefer," Soames
replied in his toneless voice, "to be interrupted," and I obeyed his
gesture that I should sit down.
I asked him if he often read here.
"Yes; things of this kind I read here," he answered, indicating the
title of his book—"The Poems of Shelley."
"Anything that you really"—and I was going to say "admire?" But I
cautiously left my sentence unfinished, and was glad that I had done
so, for he said with unwonted emphasis, "Anything second-rate."
I had read little of Shelley, but, "Of course," I murmured, "he's very
"I should have thought evenness was just what was wrong with him. A
deadly evenness. That's why I read him here. The noise of this place
breaks the rhythm. He's tolerable here." Soames took up the book and
glanced through the pages. He laughed. Soames's laugh was a short,
single, and mirthless sound from the throat, unaccompanied by any
movement of the face or brightening of the eyes. "What a period!" he
uttered, laying the book down. And, "What a country!" he added.
I asked rather nervously if he didn't think Keats had more or less held
his own against the drawbacks of time and place. He admitted that
there were "passages in Keats," but did not specify them. Of "the
older men," as he called them, he seemed to like only Milton.
"Milton," he said, "wasn't sentimental." Also, "Milton had a dark
insight." And again, "I can always read Milton in the reading-room."
"Of the British Museum. I go there every day."
"You do? I've only been there once. I'm afraid I found it rather a
depressing place. It—it seemed to sap one's vitality."
"It does. That's why I go there. The lower one's vitality, the more
sensitive one is to great art. I live near the museum. I have rooms
in Dyott Street."
"And you go round to the reading-room to read Milton?"
"Usually Milton." He looked at me. "It was Milton," he
certificatively added, "who converted me to diabolism."
"Diabolism? Oh, yes? Really?" said I, with that vague discomfort and
that intense desire to be polite which one feels when a man speaks of
his own religion. "You—worship the devil?"
Soames shook his head.
"It's not exactly worship," he qualified, sipping his absinthe. "It's
more a matter of trusting and encouraging."
"I see, yes. I had rather gathered from the preface to 'Negations'
that you were a—a Catholic."
"Je l'etais a cette epoque. In fact, I still am. I am a Catholic
But this profession he made in an almost cursory tone. I could see
that what was upmost in his mind was the fact that I had read
"Negations." His pale eyes had for the first time gleamed. I felt as
one who is about to be examined viva voce on the very subject in which
he is shakiest. I hastily asked him how soon his poems were to be
"Next week," he told me.
"And are they to be published without a title?"
"No. I found a title at last. But I sha'n't tell you what it is," as
though I had been so impertinent as to inquire. "I am not sure that it
wholly satisfies me. But it is the best I can find. It suggests
something of the quality of the poems—strange growths, natural and
wild, yet exquisite," he added, "and many-hued, and full of poisons."
I asked him what he thought of Baudelaire. He uttered the snort that
was his laugh, and, "Baudelaire," he said, "was a bourgeois malgre
lui." France had had only one poet—Villon; "and two thirds of Villon
were sheer journalism." Verlaine was "an epicier malgre lui."
Altogether, rather to my surprise, he rated French literature lower
than English. There were "passages" in Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. But,
"I," he summed up, "owe nothing to France." He nodded at me. "You'll
see," he predicted.
I did not, when the time came, quite see that. I thought the author of
"Fungoids" did, unconsciously of course, owe something to the young
Parisian decadents or to the young English ones who owed something to
THEM. I still think so. The little book, bought by me in Oxford, lies
before me as I write. Its pale-gray buckram cover and silver lettering
have not worn well. Nor have its contents. Through these, with a
melancholy interest, I have again been looking. They are not much.
But at the time of their publication I had a vague suspicion that they
MIGHT be. I suppose it is my capacity for faith, not poor Soames's
work, that is weaker than it once was.
TO A YOUNG WOMAN
THOU ART, WHO HAST NOT BEEN!
Pale tunes irresolute
And traceries of old sounds
Blown from a rotted flute
Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust,
Nor not strange forms and epicene
Lie bleeding in the dust,
Being wounded with wounds.
For this it is
That in thy counterpart
Of age-long mockeries
THOU HAST NOT BEEN NOR ART!
There seemed to me a certain inconsistency as between the first and
last lines of this. I tried, with bent brows, to resolve the discord.
But I did not take my failure as wholly incompatible with a meaning in
Soames's mind. Might it not rather indicate the depth of his meaning?
As for the craftsmanship, "rouged with rust" seemed to me a fine
stroke, and "nor not" instead of "and" had a curious felicity. I
wondered who the "young woman" was and what she had made of it all. I
sadly suspect that Soames could not have made more of it than she.
Yet even now, if one doesn't try to make any sense at all of the poem,
and reads it just for the sound, there is a certain grace of cadence.
Soames was an artist, in so far as he was anything, poor fellow!
It seemed to me, when first I read "Fungoids," that, oddly enough, the
diabolistic side of him was the best. Diabolism seemed to be a
cheerful, even a wholesome influence in his life.
Round and round the shutter'd Square
I strolled with the Devil's arm in mine.
No sound but the scrape of his hoofs was there
And the ring of his laughter and mine.
We had drunk black wine.
I scream'd, "I will race you, Master!"
"What matter," he shriek'd, "to-night
Which of us runs the faster?
There is nothing to fear to-night
In the foul moon's light!"
Then I look'd him in the eyes
And I laugh'd full shrill at the lie he told
And the gnawing fear he would fain disguise.
It was true, what I'd time and again been told:
He was old—old.
There was, I felt, quite a swing about that first stanza—a joyous and
rollicking note of comradeship. The second was slightly hysterical,
perhaps. But I liked the third, it was so bracingly unorthodox, even
according to the tenets of Soames's peculiar sect in the faith. Not
much "trusting and encouraging" here! Soames triumphantly exposing the
devil as a liar, and laughing "full shrill," cut a quite heartening
figure, I thought, then! Now, in the light of what befell, none of his
other poems depresses me so much as "Nocturne."
I looked out for what the metropolitan reviewers would have to say.
They seemed to fall into two classes: those who had little to say and
those who had nothing. The second class was the larger, and the words
of the first were cold; insomuch that
Strikes a note of modernity. . . . These tripping numbers.—"The
was the only lure offered in advertisements by Soames's publisher. I
had hoped that when next I met the poet I could congratulate him on
having made a stir, for I fancied he was not so sure of his intrinsic
greatness as he seemed. I was but able to say, rather coarsely, when
next I did see him, that I hoped "Fungoids" was "selling splendidly."
He looked at me across his glass of absinthe and asked if I had bought
a copy. His publisher had told him that three had been sold. I
laughed, as at a jest.
"You don't suppose I CARE, do you?" he said, with something like a
snarl. I disclaimed the notion. He added that he was not a tradesman.
I said mildly that I wasn't, either, and murmured that an artist who
gave truly new and great things to the world had always to wait long
for recognition. He said he cared not a sou for recognition. I agreed
that the act of creation was its own reward.
His moroseness might have alienated me if I had regarded myself as a
nobody. But ah! hadn't both John Lane and Aubrey Beardsley suggested
that I should write an essay for the great new venture that was
afoot—"The Yellow Book"? And hadn't Henry Harland, as editor,
accepted my essay? And wasn't it to be in the very first number? At
Oxford I was still in statu pupillari. In London I regarded myself as
very much indeed a graduate now—one whom no Soames could ruffle.
Partly to show off, partly in sheer good-will, I told Soames he ought
to contribute to "The Yellow Book." He uttered from the throat a sound
of scorn for that publication.
Nevertheless, I did, a day or two later, tentatively ask Harland if he
knew anything of the work of a man called Enoch Soames. Harland paused
in the midst of his characteristic stride around the room, threw up his
hands toward the ceiling, and groaned aloud: he had often met "that
absurd creature" in Paris, and this very morning had received some
poems in manuscript from him.
"Has he NO talent?" I asked.
"He has an income. He's all right." Harland was the most joyous of
men and most generous of critics, and he hated to talk of anything
about which he couldn't be enthusiastic. So I dropped the subject of
Soames. The news that Soames had an income did take the edge off
solicitude. I learned afterward that he was the son of an unsuccessful
and deceased bookseller in Preston, but had inherited an annuity of
three hundred pounds from a married aunt, and had no surviving
relatives of any kind. Materially, then, he was "all right." But there
was still a spiritual pathos about him, sharpened for me now by the
possibility that even the praises of "The Preston Telegraph" might not
have been forthcoming had he not been the son of a Preston man He had a
sort of weak doggedness which I could not but admire. Neither he nor
his work received the slightest encouragement; but he persisted in
behaving as a personage: always he kept his dingy little flag flying.
Wherever congregated the jeunes feroces of the arts, in whatever Soho
restaurant they had just discovered, in whatever music-hall they were
most frequently, there was Soames in the midst of them, or, rather, on
the fringe of them, a dim, but inevitable, figure. He never sought to
propitiate his fellow-writers, never bated a jot of his arrogance about
his own work or of his contempt for theirs. To the painters he was
respectful, even humble; but for the poets and prosaists of "The Yellow
Book" and later of "The Savoy" he had never a word but of scorn. He
wasn't resented. It didn't occur to anybody that he or his Catholic
diabolism mattered. When, in the autumn of '96, he brought out (at his
own expense, this time) a third book, his last book, nobody said a word
for or against it. I meant, but forgot, to buy it. I never saw it,
and am ashamed to say I don't even remember what it was called. But I
did, at the time of its publication, say to Rothenstein that I thought
poor old Soames was really a rather tragic figure, and that I believed
he would literally die for want of recognition. Rothenstein scoffed.
He said I was trying to get credit for a kind heart which I didn't
possess; and perhaps this was so. But at the private view of the New
English Art Club, a few weeks later, I beheld a pastel portrait of
"Enoch Soames, Esq." It was very like him, and very like Rothenstein
to have done it. Soames was standing near it, in his soft hat and his
waterproof cape, all through the afternoon. Anybody who knew him would
have recognized the portrait at a glance, but nobody who didn't know
him would have recognized the portrait from its bystander: it "existed"
so much more than he; it was bound to. Also, it had not that
expression of faint happiness which on that day was discernible, yes,
in Soames's countenance. Fame had breathed on him. Twice again in the
course of the month I went to the New English, and on both occasions
Soames himself was on view there. Looking back, I regard the close of
that exhibition as having been virtually the close of his career. He
had felt the breath of Fame against his cheek—so late, for such a
little while; and at its withdrawal he gave in, gave up, gave out. He,
who had never looked strong or well, looked ghastly now—a shadow of
the shade he had once been. He still frequented the domino-room, but
having lost all wish to excite curiosity, he no longer read books
there. "You read only at the museum now?" I asked, with attempted
cheerfulness. He said he never went there now. "No absinthe there,"
he muttered. It was the sort of thing that in old days he would have
said for effect; but it carried conviction now. Absinthe, erst but a
point in the "personality" he had striven so hard to build up, was
solace and necessity now. He no longer called it "la sorciere
glauque." He had shed away all his French phrases. He had become a
plain, unvarnished Preston man.
Failure, if it be a plain, unvarnished, complete failure, and even
though it be a squalid failure, has always a certain dignity. I
avoided Soames because he made me feel rather vulgar. John Lane had
published, by this time, two little books of mine, and they had had a
pleasant little success of esteem. I was a—slight, but
definite—"personality." Frank Harris had engaged me to kick up my
heels in "The Saturday Review," Alfred Harmsworth was letting me do
likewise in "The Daily Mail." I was just what Soames wasn't. And he
shamed my gloss. Had I known that he really and firmly believed in the
greatness of what he as an artist had achieved, I might not have
shunned him. No man who hasn't lost his vanity can be held to have
altogether failed. Soames's dignity was an illusion of mine. One day,
in the first week of June, 1897, that illusion went. But on the
evening of that day Soames went, too.
I had been out most of the morning and, as it was too late to reach
home in time for luncheon, I sought the Vingtieme. This little
place—Restaurant du Vingtieme Siecle, to give it its full title—had
been discovered in '96 by the poets and prosaists, but had now been
more or less abandoned in favor of some later find. I don't think it
lived long enough to justify its name; but at that time there it still
was, in Greek Street, a few doors from Soho Square, and almost opposite
to that house where, in the first years of the century, a little girl,
and with her a boy named De Quincey, made nightly encampment in
darkness and hunger among dust and rats and old legal parchments. The
Vingtieme was but a small whitewashed room, leading out into the street
at one end and into a kitchen at the other. The proprietor and cook
was a Frenchman, known to us as Monsieur Vingtieme; the waiters were
his two daughters, Rose and Berthe; and the food, according to faith,
was good. The tables were so narrow and were set so close together
that there was space for twelve of them, six jutting from each wall.
Only the two nearest to the door, as I went in, were occupied. On one
side sat a tall, flashy, rather Mephistophelian man whom I had seen
from time to time in the domino-room and elsewhere. On the other side
sat Soames. They made a queer contrast in that sunlit room, Soames
sitting haggard in that hat and cape, which nowhere at any season had I
seen him doff, and this other, this keenly vital man, at sight of whom
I more than ever wondered whether he were a diamond merchant, a
conjurer, or the head of a private detective agency. I was sure Soames
didn't want my company; but I asked, as it would have seemed brutal not
to, whether I might join him, and took the chair opposite to his. He
was smoking a cigarette, with an untasted salmi of something on his
plate and a half-empty bottle of Sauterne before him, and he was quite
silent. I said that the preparations for the Jubilee made London
impossible. (I rather liked them, really.) I professed a wish to go
right away till the whole thing was over. In vain did I attune myself
to his gloom. He seemed not to hear me or even to see me. I felt that
his behavior made me ridiculous in the eyes of the other man. The
gangway between the two rows of tables at the Vingtieme was hardly more
than two feet wide (Rose and Berthe, in their ministrations, had always
to edge past each other, quarreling in whispers as they did so), and
any one at the table abreast of yours was virtually at yours. I
thought our neighbor was amused at my failure to interest Soames, and
so, as I could not explain to him that my insistence was merely
charitable, I became silent. Without turning my head, I had him well
within my range of vision. I hoped I looked less vulgar than he in
contrast with Soames. I was sure he was not an Englishman, but what
WAS his nationality? Though his jet-black hair was en brosse, I did
not think he was French. To Berthe, who waited on him, he spoke French
fluently, but with a hardly native idiom and accent. I gathered that
this was his first visit to the Vingtieme; but Berthe was offhand in
her manner to him: he had not made a good impression. His eyes were
handsome, but, like the Vingtieme's tables, too narrow and set too
close together. His nose was predatory, and the points of his
mustache, waxed up behind his nostrils, gave a fixity to his smile.
Decidedly, he was sinister. And my sense of discomfort in his presence
was intensified by the scarlet waistcoat which tightly, and so
unseasonably in June, sheathed his ample chest. This waistcoat wasn't
wrong merely because of the heat, either. It was somehow all wrong in
itself. It wouldn't have done on Christmas morning. It would have
struck a jarring note at the first night of "Hernani." I was trying to
account for its wrongness when Soames suddenly and strangely broke
silence. "A hundred years hence!" he murmured, as in a trance.
"We shall not be here," I briskly, but fatuously, added.
"We shall not be here. No," he droned, "but the museum will still be
just where it is. And the reading-room just where it is. And people
will be able to go and read there." He inhaled sharply, and a spasm as
of actual pain contorted his features.
I wondered what train of thought poor Soames had been following. He
did not enlighten me when he said, after a long pause, "You think I
"Minded what, Soames?"
"FAILURE?" I said heartily. "Failure?" I repeated vaguely.
"Neglect—yes, perhaps; but that's quite another matter. Of course you
haven't been—appreciated. But what, then? Any artist who—who
gives—" What I wanted to say was, "Any artist who gives truly new and
great things to the world has always to wait long for recognition"; but
the flattery would not out: in the face of his misery—a misery so
genuine and so unmasked—my lips would not say the words.
And then he said them for me. I flushed. "That's what you were going
to say, isn't it?" he asked.
"How did you know?"
"It's what you said to me three years ago, when 'Fungoids' was
published." I flushed the more. I need not have flushed at all.
"It's the only important thing I ever heard you say," he continued.
"And I've never forgotten it. It's a true thing. It's a horrible
truth. But—d'you remember what I answered? I said, 'I don't care a
sou for recognition.' And you believed me. You've gone on believing
I'm above that sort of thing. You're shallow. What should YOU know of
the feelings of a man like me? You imagine that a great artist's faith
in himself and in the verdict of posterity is enough to keep him happy.
You've never guessed at the bitterness and loneliness, the"—his voice
broke; but presently he resumed, speaking with a force that I had never
known in him. "Posterity! What use is it to ME? A dead man doesn't
know that people are visiting his grave, visiting his birthplace,
putting up tablets to him, unveiling statues of him. A dead man can't
read the books that are written about him. A hundred years hence!
Think of it! If I could come back to life THEN—just for a few
hours—and go to the reading-room and READ! Or, better still, if I
could be projected now, at this moment, into that future, into that
reading-room, just for this one afternoon! I'd sell myself body and
soul to the devil for that! Think of the pages and pages in the
catalogue: 'Soames, Enoch' endlessly—endless editions, commentaries,
prolegomena, biographies"— But here he was interrupted by a sudden
loud crack of the chair at the next table. Our neighbor had half risen
from his place. He was leaning toward us, apologetically intrusive.
"Excuse—permit me," he said softly. "I have been unable not to hear.
Might I take a liberty? In this little restaurant-sans-facon—might I,
as the phrase is, cut in?"
I could but signify our acquiescence. Berthe had appeared at the
kitchen door, thinking the stranger wanted his bill. He waved her away
with his cigar, and in another moment had seated himself beside me,
commanding a full view of Soames.
"Though not an Englishman," he explained, "I know my London well, Mr.
Soames. Your name and fame—Mr. Beerbohm's, too—very known to me.
Your point is, who am I?" He glanced quickly over his shoulder, and
in a lowered voice said, "I am the devil."
I couldn't help it; I laughed. I tried not to, I knew there was
nothing to laugh at, my rudeness shamed me; but—I laughed with
increasing volume. The devil's quiet dignity, the surprise and disgust
of his raised eyebrows, did but the more dissolve me. I rocked to and
fro; I lay back aching; I behaved deplorably.
"I am a gentleman, and," he said with intense emphasis, "I thought I
was in the company of GENTLEMEN."
"Don't!" I gasped faintly. "Oh, don't!"
"Curious, nicht wahr?" I heard him say to Soames. "There is a type of
person to whom the very mention of my name is—oh, so awfully—funny!
In your theaters the dullest comedien needs only to say 'The devil!'
and right away they give him 'the loud laugh what speaks the vacant
mind.' Is it not so?"
I had now just breath enough to offer my apologies. He accepted them,
but coldly, and re-addressed himself to Soames.
"I am a man of business," he said, "and always I would put things
through 'right now,' as they say in the States. You are a poet. Les
affaires—you detest them. So be it. But with me you will deal, eh?
What you have said just now gives me furiously to hope."
Soames had not moved except to light a fresh cigarette. He sat
crouched forward, with his elbows squared on the table, and his head
just above the level of his hands, staring up at the devil.
"Go on," he nodded. I had no remnant of laughter in me now.
"It will be the more pleasant, our little deal," the devil went on,
"because you are—I mistake not?—a diabolist."
"A Catholic diabolist," said Soames.
The devil accepted the reservation genially.
"You wish," he resumed, "to visit now—this afternoon as-ever-is—the
reading-room of the British Museum, yes? But of a hundred years hence,
yes? Parfaitement. Time—an illusion. Past and future—they are as
ever present as the present, or at any rate only what you call 'just
round the corner.' I switch you on to any date. I project you—pouf!
You wish to be in the reading-room just as it will be on the afternoon
of June 3, 1997? You wish to find yourself standing in that room, just
past the swing-doors, this very minute, yes? And to stay there till
closing-time? Am I right?"
The devil looked at his watch. "Ten past two," he said. "Closing-time
in summer same then as now—seven o'clock. That will give you almost
five hours. At seven o'clock—pouf!—you find yourself again here,
sitting at this table. I am dining to-night dans le monde—dans le
higlif. That concludes my present visit to your great city. I come
and fetch you here, Mr. Soames, on my way home."
"Home?" I echoed.
"Be it never so humble!" said the devil, lightly.
"All right," said Soames.
"Soames!" I entreated. But my friend moved not a muscle.
The devil had made as though to stretch forth his hand across the
table, but he paused in his gesture.
"A hundred years hence, as now," he smiled, "no smoking allowed in the
reading-room. You would better therefore—"
Soames removed the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it into his
glass of Sauterne.
"Soames!" again I cried. "Can't you"—but the devil had now stretched
forth his hand across the table. He brought it slowly down on the
table-cloth. Soames's chair was empty. His cigarette floated sodden
in his wine-glass. There was no other trace of him.
For a few moments the devil let his hand rest where it lay, gazing at
me out of the corners of his eyes, vulgarly triumphant.
A shudder shook me. With an effort I controlled myself and rose from
my chair. "Very clever," I said condescendingly. "But—'The Time
Machine' is a delightful book, don't you think? So entirely original!"
"You are pleased to sneer," said the devil, who had also risen, "but it
is one thing to write about an impossible machine; it is a quite other
thing to be a supernatural power." All the same, I had scored.
Berthe had come forth at the sound of our rising. I explained to her
that Mr. Soames had been called away, and that both he and I would be
dining here. It was not until I was out in the open air that I began
to feel giddy. I have but the haziest recollection of what I did,
where I wandered, in the glaring sunshine of that endless afternoon. I
remember the sound of carpenters' hammers all along Piccadilly and the
bare chaotic look of the half-erected "stands." Was it in the Green
Park or in Kensington Gardens or WHERE was it that I sat on a chair
beneath a tree, trying to read an evening paper? There was a phrase in
the leading article that went on repeating itself in my fagged mind:
"Little is hidden from this August Lady full of the garnered wisdom of
sixty years of Sovereignty." I remember wildly conceiving a letter (to
reach Windsor by an express messenger told to await answer): "Madam:
Well knowing that your Majesty is full of the garnered wisdom of sixty
years of Sovereignty, I venture to ask your advice in the following
delicate matter. Mr. Enoch Soames, whose poems you may or may not
know—" Was there NO way of helping him, saving him? A bargain was a
bargain, and I was the last man to aid or abet any one in wriggling out
of a reasonable obligation. I wouldn't have lifted a little finger to
save Faust. But poor Soames! Doomed to pay without respite an eternal
price for nothing but a fruitless search and a bitter disillusioning.
Odd and uncanny it seemed to me that he, Soames, in the flesh, in the
waterproof cape, was at this moment living in the last decade of the
next century, poring over books not yet written, and seeing and seen by
men not yet born. Uncannier and odder still that to-night and evermore
he would be in hell. Assuredly, truth was stranger than fiction.
Endless that afternoon was. Almost I wished I had gone with Soames,
not, indeed, to stay in the reading-room, but to sally forth for a
brisk sight-seeing walk around a new London. I wandered restlessly out
of the park I had sat in. Vainly I tried to imagine myself an ardent
tourist from the eighteenth century. Intolerable was the strain of the
slow-passing and empty minutes. Long before seven o'clock I was back
at the Vingtieme.
I sat there just where I had sat for luncheon. Air came in listlessly
through the open door behind me. Now and again Rose or Berthe appeared
for a moment. I had told them I would not order any dinner till Mr.
Soames came. A hurdy-gurdy began to play, abruptly drowning the noise
of a quarrel between some Frenchmen farther up the street. Whenever
the tune was changed I heard the quarrel still raging. I had bought
another evening paper on my way. I unfolded it. My eyes gazed ever
away from it to the clock over the kitchen door.
Five minutes now to the hour! I remembered that clocks in restaurants
are kept five minutes fast. I concentrated my eyes on the paper. I
vowed I would not look away from it again. I held it upright, at its
full width, close to my face, so that I had no view of anything but it.
Rather a tremulous sheet? Only because of the draft, I told myself.
My arms gradually became stiff; they ached; but I could not drop
them—now. I had a suspicion, I had a certainty. Well, what, then?
What else had I come for? Yet I held tight that barrier of newspaper.
Only the sound of Berthe's brisk footstep from the kitchen enabled me,
forced me, to drop it, and to utter:
"What shall we have to eat, Soames?"
"Il est souffrant, ce pauvre Monsieur Soames?" asked Berthe.
"He's only—tired." I asked her to get some wine—Burgundy—and
whatever food might be ready. Soames sat crouched forward against the
table exactly as when last I had seen him. It was as though he had
never moved—he who had moved so unimaginably far. Once or twice in
the afternoon it had for an instant occurred to me that perhaps his
journey was not to be fruitless, that perhaps we had all been wrong in
our estimate of the works of Enoch Soames. That we had been horribly
right was horribly clear from the look of him. But, "Don't be
discouraged," I falteringly said. "Perhaps it's only that you—didn't
leave enough time. Two, three centuries hence, perhaps—"
"Yes," his voice came; "I've thought of that."
"And now—now for the more immediate future! Where are you going to
hide? How would it be if you caught the Paris express from Charing
Cross? Almost an hour to spare. Don't go on to Paris. Stop at
Calais. Live in Calais. He'd never think of looking for you in
"It's like my luck," he said, "to spend my last hours on earth with an
ass." But I was not offended. "And a treacherous ass," he strangely
added, tossing across to me a crumpled bit of paper which he had been
holding in his hand. I glanced at the writing on it—some sort of
gibberish, apparently. I laid it impatiently aside.
"Come, Soames, pull yourself together! This isn't a mere matter of
life or death. It's a question of eternal torment, mind you! You
don't mean to say you're going to wait limply here till the devil comes
to fetch you."
"I can't do anything else. I've no choice."
"Come! This is 'trusting and encouraging' with a vengeance! This is
diabolism run mad!" I filled his glass with wine. "Surely, now that
you've SEEN the brute—"
"It's no good abusing him."
"You must admit there's nothing Miltonic about him, Soames."
"I don't say he's not rather different from what I expected."
"He's a vulgarian, he's a swell mobs-man, he's the sort of man who
hangs about the corridors of trains going to the Riviera and steals
ladies' jewel-cases. Imagine eternal torment presided over by HIM!"
"You don't suppose I look forward to it, do you?"
"Then why not slip quietly out of the way?"
Again and again I filled his glass, and always, mechanically, he
emptied it; but the wine kindled no spark of enterprise in him. He did
not eat, and I myself ate hardly at all. I did not in my heart believe
that any dash for freedom could save him. The chase would be swift,
the capture certain. But better anything than this passive, meek,
miserable waiting. I told Soames that for the honor of the human race
he ought to make some show of resistance. He asked what the human race
had ever done for him. "Besides," he said, "can't you understand that
I'm in his power? You saw him touch me, didn't you? There's an end of
it. I've no will. I'm sealed."
I made a gesture of despair. He went on repeating the word "sealed."
I began to realize that the wine had clouded his brain. No wonder!
Foodless he had gone into futurity, foodless he still was. I urged him
to eat, at any rate, some bread. It was maddening to think that he,
who had so much to tell, might tell nothing. "How was it all," I
asked, "yonder? Come, tell me your adventures!"
"They'd make first-rate 'copy,' wouldn't they?"
"I'm awfully sorry for you, Soames, and I make all possible allowances;
but what earthly right have you to insinuate that I should make 'copy,'
as you call it, out of you?"
The poor fellow pressed his hands to his forehead.
"I don't know," he said. "I had some reason, I know. I'll try to
remember. He sat plunged in thought.
"That's right. Try to remember everything. Eat a little more bread.
What did the reading-room look like?"
"Much as usual," he at length muttered.
"Many people there?"
"Usual sort of number."
"What did they look like?"
Soames tried to visualize them.
"They all," he presently remembered, "looked very like one another."
My mind took a fearsome leap.
"All dressed in sanitary woolen?"
"Yes, I think so. Grayish-yellowish stuff."
"A sort of uniform?" He nodded. "With a number on it perhaps—a
number on a large disk of metal strapped round the left arm? D. K. F.
78,910—that sort of thing?" It was even so. "And all of them, men
and women alike, looking very well cared for? Very Utopian, and
smelling rather strongly of carbolic, and all of them quite hairless?"
I was right every time. Soames was only not sure whether the men and
women were hairless or shorn. "I hadn't time to look at them very
closely," he explained.
"No, of course not. But—"
"They stared at ME, I can tell you. I attracted a great deal of
attention." At last he had done that! "I think I rather scared them.
They moved away whenever I came near. They followed me about, at a
distance, wherever I went. The men at the round desk in the middle
seemed to have a sort of panic whenever I went to make inquiries."
"What did you do when you arrived?"
Well, he had gone straight to the catalogue, of course,—to the S
volumes,—and had stood long before SN-SOF, unable to take this volume
out of the shelf because his heart was beating so. At first, he said,
he wasn't disappointed; he only thought there was some new arrangement.
He went to the middle desk and asked where the catalogue of
twentieth-century books was kept. He gathered that there was still
only one catalogue. Again he looked up his name, stared at the three
little pasted slips he had known so well. Then he went and sat down
for a long time.
"And then," he droned, "I looked up the 'Dictionary of National
Biography,' and some encyclopedias. I went back to the middle desk and
asked what was the best modern book on late nineteenth-century
literature. They told me Mr. T. K. Nupton's book was considered the
best. I looked it up in the catalogue and filled in a form for it. It
was brought to me. My name wasn't in the index, but—yes!" he said
with a sudden change of tone, "that's what I'd forgotten. Where's that
bit of paper? Give it me back."
I, too, had forgotten that cryptic screed. I found it fallen on the
floor, and handed it to him.
He smoothed it out, nodding and smiling at me disagreeably.
"I found myself glancing through Nupton's book," he resumed. "Not very
easy reading. Some sort of phonetic spelling. All the modern books I
saw were phonetic."
"Then I don't want to hear any more, Soames, please."
"The proper names seemed all to be spelt in the old way. But for that
I mightn't have noticed my own name."
"Your own name? Really? Soames, I'm VERY glad."
"I thought I should find you waiting here to-night, so I took the
trouble to copy out the passage. Read it."
I snatched the paper. Soames's handwriting was characteristically dim.
It and the noisome spelling and my excitement made me all the slower to
grasp what T. K. Nupton was driving at.
The document lies before me at this moment. Strange that the words I
here copy out for you were copied out for me by poor Soames just
eighty-two years hence!
From page 234 of "Inglish Littracher 1890-1900" bi T. K. Nupton,
publishd bi th Stait, 1992.
Fr egzarmpl, a riter ov th time, naimed Max Beerbohm, hoo woz stil
alive in th twentith senchri, rote a stauri in wich e pautraid an
immajnari karrakter kauld "Enoch Soames"—a thurd-rait poit hoo beleevz
imself a grate jeneus an maix a bargin with th Devvl in auder ter no
wot posterriti thinx ov im! It iz a sumwot labud sattire, but not
without vallu az showing hou seriusli the yung men ov th aiteen-ninetiz
took themselvz. Nou that th littreri profeshn haz bin auganized az a
departmnt of publik servis, our riters hav found their levvl an hav
lernt ter doo their duti without thort ov th morro. "Th laibrer iz
werthi ov hiz hire" an that iz aul. Thank hevvn we hav no Enoch
Soameses amung us to-dai!
I found that by murmuring the words aloud (a device which I commend to
my reader) I was able to master them little by little. The clearer
they became, the greater was my bewilderment, my distress and horror.
The whole thing was a nightmare. Afar, the great grisly background of
what was in store for the poor dear art of letters; here, at the table,
fixing on me a gaze that made me hot all over, the poor fellow
whom—whom evidently—but no: whatever down-grade my character might
take in coming years, I should never be such a brute as to—
Again I examined the screed. "Immajnari." But here Soames was, no
more imaginary, alas! than I. And "labud"—what on earth was that?
(To this day I have never made out that word.) "It's all
very—baffling," I at length stammered.
Soames said nothing, but cruelly did not cease to look at me.
"Are you sure," I temporized, "quite sure you copied the thing out
"Well, then, it's this wretched Nupton who must have made—must be
going to make—some idiotic mistake. Look here Soames, you know me
better than to suppose that I— After all, the name Max Beerbohm is
not at all an uncommon one, and there must be several Enoch Soameses
running around, or, rather, Enoch Soames is a name that might occur to
any one writing a story. And I don't write stories; I'm an essayist,
an observer, a recorder. I admit that it's an extraordinary
coincidence. But you must see—"
"I see the whole thing," said Soames, quietly. And he added, with a
touch of his old manner, but with more dignity than I had ever known in
him, "Parlons d'autre chose."
I accepted that suggestion very promptly. I returned straight to the
more immediate future. I spent most of the long evening in renewed
appeals to Soames to come away and seek refuge somewhere. I remember
saying at last that if indeed I was destined to write about him, the
supposed "stauri" had better have at least a happy ending. Soames
repeated those last three words in a tone of intense scorn.
"In life and in art," he said, "all that matters is an INEVITABLE
"But," I urged more hopefully than I felt, "an ending that can be
avoided ISN'T inevitable."
"You aren't an artist," he rasped. "And you're so hopelessly not an
artist that, so far from being able to imagine a thing and make it seem
true, you're going to make even a true thing seem as if you'd made it
up. You're a miserable bungler. And it's like my luck."
I protested that the miserable bungler was not I, was not going to be
I, but T. K. Nupton; and we had a rather heated argument, in the thick
of which it suddenly seemed to me that Soames saw he was in the wrong:
he had quite physically cowered. But I wondered why—and now I guessed
with a cold throb just why—he stared so past me. The bringer of that
"inevitable ending" filled the doorway.
I managed to turn in my chair and to say, not without a semblance of
lightness, "Aha, come in!" Dread was indeed rather blunted in me by
his looking so absurdly like a villain in a melodrama. The sheen of
his tilted hat and of his shirt-front, the repeated twists he was
giving to his mustache, and most of all the magnificence of his sneer,
gave token that he was there only to be foiled.
He was at our table in a stride. "I am sorry," he sneered witheringly,
"to break up your pleasant party, but—"
"You don't; you complete it," I assured him. "Mr. Soames and I want to
have a little talk with you. Won't you sit? Mr. Soames got nothing,
frankly nothing, by his journey this afternoon. We don't wish to say
that the whole thing was a swindle, a common swindle. On the contrary,
we believe you meant well. But of course the bargain, such as it was,
The devil gave no verbal answer. He merely looked at Soames and
pointed with rigid forefinger to the door. Soames was wretchedly
rising from his chair when, with a desperate, quick gesture, I swept
together two dinner-knives that were on the table, and laid their
blades across each other. The devil stepped sharp back against the
table behind him, averting his face and shuddering.
"You are not superstitious!" he hissed.
"Not at all," I smiled.
"Soames," he said as to an underling, but without turning his face,
"put those knives straight!"
With an inhibitive gesture to my friend, "Mr. Soames," I said
emphatically to the devil, "is a Catholic diabolist"; but my poor
friend did the devil's bidding, not mine; and now, with his master's
eyes again fixed on him, he arose, he shuffled past me. I tried to
speak. It was he that spoke. "Try," was the prayer he threw back at
me as the devil pushed him roughly out through the door—"TRY to make
them know that I did exist!"
In another instant I, too, was through that door. I stood staring all
ways, up the street, across it, down it. There was moonlight and
lamplight, but there was not Soames nor that other.
Dazed, I stood there. Dazed, I turned back at length into the little
room, and I suppose I paid Berthe or Rose for my dinner and luncheon
and for Soames's; I hope so, for I never went to the Vingtieme again.
Ever since that night I have avoided Greek Street altogether. And for
years I did not set foot even in Soho Square, because on that same
night it was there that I paced and loitered, long and long, with some
such dull sense of hope as a man has in not straying far from the place
where he has lost something. "Round and round the shutter'd
Square"—that line came back to me on my lonely beat, and with it the
whole stanza, ringing in my brain and bearing in on me how tragically
different from the happy scene imagined by him was the poet's actual
experience of that prince in whom of all princes we should put not our
But strange how the mind of an essayist, be it never so stricken, roves
and ranges! I remember pausing before a wide door-step and wondering
if perchance it was on this very one that the young De Quincey lay ill
and faint while poor Ann flew as fast as her feet would carry her to
Oxford Street, the "stony-hearted stepmother" of them both, and came
back bearing that "glass of port wine and spices" but for which he
might, so he thought, actually have died. Was this the very door-step
that the old De Quincey used to revisit in homage? I pondered Ann's
fate, the cause of her sudden vanishing from the ken of her boy friend;
and presently I blamed myself for letting the past override the
present. Poor vanished Soames!
And for myself, too, I began to be troubled. What had I better do?
Would there be a hue and cry—"Mysterious Disappearance of an Author,"
and all that? He had last been seen lunching and dining in my company.
Hadn't I better get a hansom and drive straight to Scotland Yard? They
would think I was a lunatic. After all, I reassured myself, London was
a very large place, and one very dim figure might easily drop out of it
unobserved, now especially, in the blinding glare of the near Jubilee.
Better say nothing at all, I thought.
AND I was right. Soames's disappearance made no stir at all. He was
utterly forgotten before any one, so far as I am aware, noticed that he
was no longer hanging around. Now and again some poet or prosaist may
have said to another, "What has become of that man Soames?" but I never
heard any such question asked. As for his landlady in Dyott Street, no
doubt he had paid her weekly, and what possessions he may have had in
his rooms were enough to save her from fretting. The solicitor through
whom he was paid his annuity may be presumed to have made inquiries,
but no echo of these resounded. There was something rather ghastly to
me in the general unconsciousness that Soames had existed, and more
than once I caught myself wondering whether Nupton, that babe unborn,
were going to be right in thinking him a figment of my brain.
In that extract from Nupton's repulsive book there is one point which
perhaps puzzles you. How is it that the author, though I have here
mentioned him by name and have quoted the exact words he is going to
write, is not going to grasp the obvious corollary that I have invented
nothing? The answer can be only this: Nupton will not have read the
later passages of this memoir. Such lack of thoroughness is a serious
fault in any one who undertakes to do scholar's work. And I hope these
words will meet the eye of some contemporary rival to Nupton and be the
undoing of Nupton.
I like to think that some time between 1992 and 1997 somebody will have
looked up this memoir, and will have forced on the world his inevitable
and startling conclusions. And I have reason for believing that this
will be so. You realize that the reading-room into which Soames was
projected by the devil was in all respects precisely as it will be on
the afternoon of June 3, 1997. You realize, therefore, that on that
afternoon, when it comes round, there the selfsame crowd will be, and
there Soames will be, punctually, he and they doing precisely what they
did before. Recall now Soames's account of the sensation he made. You
may say that the mere difference of his costume was enough to make him
sensational in that uniformed crowd. You wouldn't say so if you had
ever seen him, and I assure you that in no period would Soames be
anything but dim. The fact that people are going to stare at him and
follow him around and seem afraid of him, can be explained only on the
hypothesis that they will somehow have been prepared for his ghostly
visitation. They will have been awfully waiting to see whether he
really would come. And when he does come the effect will of course
An authentic, guaranteed, proved ghost, but; only a ghost, alas! Only
that. In his first visit Soames was a creature of flesh and blood,
whereas the creatures among whom he was projected were but ghosts, I
take it—solid, palpable, vocal, but unconscious and automatic ghosts,
in a building that was itself an illusion. Next time that building and
those creatures will be real. It is of Soames that there will be but
the semblance. I wish I could think him destined to revisit the world
actually, physically, consciously. I wish he had this one brief
escape, this one small treat, to look forward to. I never forget him
for long. He is where he is and forever. The more rigid moralists
among you may say he has only himself to blame. For my part, I think
he has been very hardly used. It is well that vanity should be
chastened; and Enoch Soames's vanity was, I admit, above the average,
and called for special treatment. But there was no need for
vindictiveness. You say he contracted to pay the price he is paying.
Yes; but I maintain that he was induced to do so by fraud. Well
informed in all things, the devil must have known that my friend would
gain nothing by his visit to futurity. The whole thing was a very
shabby trick. The more I think of it, the more detestable the devil
seems to me.
Of him I have caught sight several times, here and there, since that
day at the Vingtieme. Only once, however, have I seen him at close
quarters. This was a couple of years ago, in Paris. I was walking one
afternoon along the rue d'Antin, and I saw him advancing from the
opposite direction, overdressed as ever, and swinging an ebony cane and
altogether behaving as though the whole pavement belonged to him. At
thought of Enoch Soames and the myriads of other sufferers eternally in
this brute's dominion, a great cold wrath filled me, and I drew myself
up to my full height. But—well, one is so used to nodding and smiling
in the street to anybody whom one knows that the action becomes almost
independent of oneself; to prevent it requires a very sharp effort and
great presence of mind. I was miserably aware, as I passed the devil,
that I nodded and smiled to him. And my shame was the deeper and
hotter because he, if you please, stared straight at me with the utmost
To be cut, deliberately cut, by HIM! I was, I still am, furious at
having had that happen to me.