Some Reminiscences HTML version

Chapter 5
In the career of the most unliterary of writers, in the sense that literary ambition had
never entered the world of his imagination, the coming into existence of the first book is
quite an inexplicable event. In my own case I cannot trace it back to any mental or
psychological cause which one could point out and hold to. The greatest of my gifts being
a consummate capacity for doing nothing, I cannot even point to boredom as a rational
stimulus for taking up a pen. The pen at any rate was there, and there is nothing
wonderful in that. Everybody keeps a pen (the cold steel of our days) in his rooms in this
enlightened age of penny stamps and halfpenny postcards. In fact, this was the epoch
when by means of postcard and pen Mr. Gladstone had made the reputation of a novel or
two. And I too had a pen rolling about somewhere--the seldom-used, the reluctantly-
taken-up pen of a sailor ashore, the pen rugged with the dried ink of abandoned attempts,
of answers delayed longer than decency permitted, of letters begun with infinite
reluctance and put off suddenly till next day--tell next week as likely as not! The
neglected, uncared-for pen, flung away at the slightest provocation, and under the stress
of dire necessity hunted for without enthusiasm, in a perfunctory, grumpy worry, in the
"Where the devil is the beastly thing gone to?" ungracious spirit. Where indeed! It might
have been reposing behind the sofa for a day or so. My landlady's anaemic daughter (as
Ollendorff would have expressed it), though commendably neat, had a lordly, careless
manner of approaching her domestic duties. Or it might even be resting delicately poised
on its point by the side of the table-leg, and when picked up show a gaping, inefficient
beak which would have discouraged any man of literary instincts. But not me! "Never
mind. This will do."
O days without guile! If anybody had told me then that a devoted household, having a
generally exaggerated idea of my talents and importance, would be put into a state of
tremor and flurry by the fuss I would make because of a suspicion that somebody had
touched my sacrosanct pen of authorship, I would have never deigned as much as the
contemptuous smile of unbelief. There are imaginings too unlikely for any kind of notice,
too wild for indulgence itself, too absurd for a smile. Perhaps, had that seer of the future
been a friend, I should have been secretly saddened. "Alas!" I would have thought,
looking at him with an unmoved face, "the poor fellow is going mad."
I would have been, without doubt, saddened; for in this world where the journalists read
the signs of the sky, and the wind of heaven itself, blowing where it listeth, does so under
the prophetical management of the Meteorological Office, but where the secret of human
hearts cannot be captured either by prying or praying, it was infinitely more likely that
the sanest of my friends should nurse the germ of incipient madness than that I should
turn into a writer of tales.
To survey with wonder the changes of one's own self is a fascinating pursuit for idle
hours. The field is so wide, the surprises so varied, the subject so full of unprofitable but
curious hints as to the work of unseen forces, that one does not weary easily of it. I am
not speaking here of megalomaniacs who rest uneasy under the crown of their unbounded