Seven Men HTML version

Enoch Soames
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. I had feared he would not be there. 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' failure to impress himself on
his decade.
I daresay 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 life-time, 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 Edmond de Goncourt. 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,