The Best British Short Stories of 1922
The Birth Of A Masterpiece
By LUCAS MALET
(From The Story-Teller)
Looking back on it from this distance of time--it began in the early and ended in the
middle eighties--I see the charm of ingenuous youth stamped on the episode, the touching
glamour of limitless faith and expectation. We were, the whole little band of us, so
deliciously self-sufficient, so magnificently critical of established reputations in
contemporary letters and art. We sniffed and snorted, noses in air, at popular idols, while
ourselves weighted down with a cargo of guileless enthusiasm only asking opportunity to
dump itself at an idol's feet. We ached to burn incense before the altar of some divinity;
but it must be a divinity of our own discovering, our own choosing. We scorned to
acclaim ready-made, second-hand goods. Then we encountered Pogson--Heber Pogson.
Our fate, and even more, perhaps, his fate, was henceforth sealed.
He was a large, sleek, pink creature, slow and rare of movement, from much sitting
bulky, not to say squashy, in figure, mild-eyed, slyly jovial and--for no other word, to my
mind, so closely fits his attitude--resigned. A positive glutton of books, he read as
instinctively, almost as unconsciously, as other men breathe. But he not only absorbed.
He gave forth and that copiously, with taste, with discrimination, now and again with
startlingly eloquent flights and witty sallies. His memory was prodigious. The variety and
vivacity of his conversation, the immense range of subjects he brilliantly laboured, when
in the vein, remain with me as simply marvellous. With us he mostly was in the vein.
And, vanity apart, we must have composed a delightful audience, generously censer-
swinging. No man of even average feeling but would be moved by such fresh, such
spontaneous admiration! Thus, if our divinity melodiously piped, we did very radiantly
dance to his piping.
Oh! Heber Pogson enjoyed it. Never tell me he didn't revel in those highly articulate
evenings of monologue, gasconade, heated yet brotherly argument, lasting on to midnight
and after, every bit as much as we did! Anyhow at first. Later he may have had twinges,
been sensible of strain; though never, I still believe, a very severe one. In any case,
Nature showed herself his friend--his saviour, if also, in some sort, his executioner. When
the strain tended to become distressing, for him personally, very simply and cleverly, she
found a way out.
A background of dark legend only brought the steady glow of his--and our--present
felicity into richer relief. We gathered hints of, caught in passing smiling allusion to,
straitened and impecunious early years. He had endured a harsh enough apprenticeship to
the profession of letters in its least satisfactory, because most ephemeral, form--namely
journalism, and provincial journalism at that. This must have painfully cribbed and
confined his free-ranging spirit. We were filled by reverent sympathy for the trials and
deprivations of his past. But at the period when the members--numbering a dozen, more
or less--of our devoted band trooped up from Chelsea and down from the Hampstead