By Jerome K. Jerome
The most extraordinary dream I ever
had was one in which I fancied that, as I was going
into a theater, the cloak-room attendant stopped me
in the lobby and insisted on my leaving my legs behind
I was not surprised; indeed, my acquaintanceship
with theater harpies would prevent my feeling any
surprise at such a demand, even in my waking moments;
but I was, I must honestly confess, considerably annoyed.
It was not the payment of the cloak-room fee that I
so much minded I offered to give that to
the man then and there. It was the parting with
my legs that I objected to.
I said I had never heard of such a
rule being attempted to be put in force at any respectable
theater before, and that I considered it a most absurd
and vexatious regulation. I also said I should
write to The Times about it.
The man replied that he was very sorry,
but that those were his instructions. People
complained that they could not get to and from their
seats comfortably, because other people’s legs
were always in the way; and it had, therefore, been
decided that, in future, everybody should leave their
It seemed to me that the management,
in making this order, had clearly gone beyond their
legal right; and, under ordinary circumstances, I
should have disputed it. Being present, however,
more in the character of a guest than in that of a
patron, I hardly like to make a disturbance; and so
I sat down and meekly prepared to comply with the
I had never before known that the
human leg did unscrew. I had always thought it
was a fixture. But the man showed me how to undo
them, and I found that they came off quite easily.
The discovery did not surprise me
any more than the original request that I should take
them off had done. Nothing does surprise one in
I dreamed once that I was going to
be hanged; but I was not at all surprised about it.
Nobody was. My relations came to see me off, I
thought, and to wish me “Good-by!” They
all came, and were all very pleasant; but they were
not in the least astonished not one of
them. Everybody appeared to regard the coming
tragedy as one of the most-naturally-to-be-expected
things in the world.
They bore the calamity, besides, with
an amount of stoicism that would have done credit
to a Spartan father. There was no fuss, no scene.
On the contrary, an atmosphere of mild cheerfulness
Yet they were very kind. Somebody an
uncle, I think left me a packet of sandwiches
and a little something in a flask, in case, as he said,
I should feel peckish on the scaffold.
It is “those twin-jailers of
the daring” thought, Knowledge and Experience,
that teach us surprise. We are surprised and incredulous
when, in novels and plays, we come across good men
and women, because Knowledge and Experience have taught
us how rare and problematical is the existence of
such people. In waking life, my friends and relations
would, of course, have been surprised at hearing that
I had committed a murder, and was, in consequence,
about to be hanged, because Knowledge and Experience
would have taught them that, in a country where the
law is powerful and the police alert, the Christian
citizen is usually pretty successful in withstanding
the voice of temptation, prompting him to commit crime
of an illegal character.
But into Dreamland, Knowledge and
Experience do not enter. They stay without, together
with the dull, dead clay of which they form a part;
while the freed brain, released from their narrowing
tutelage, steals softly past the ebon gate, to wanton
at its own sweet will among the mazy paths that wind
through the garden of Persephone.
Nothing that it meets with in that
eternal land astonishes it because, unfettered by
the dense conviction of our waking mind, that nought
outside the ken of our own vision can in this universe
be, all things to it are possible and even probable.
In dreams, we fly and wonder not except
that we never flew before. We go naked, yet are
not ashamed, though we mildly wonder what the police
are about that they do not stop us. We converse
with our dead, and think it was unkind that they did
not come back to us before. In dreams, there happens
that which human language cannot tell. In dreams,
we see “the light that never was on sea or land,”
we hear the sounds that never yet were heard by waking
It is only in sleep that true imagination
ever stirs within us. Awake, we never imagine
anything; we merely alter, vary, or transpose.
We give another twist to the kaleidoscope of the things
we see around us, and obtain another pattern; but
not one of us has ever added one tiniest piece of
new glass to the toy.
A Dean Swift sees one race of people
smaller, and another race of people larger than the
race of people that live down his own streets.
And he also sees a land where the horses take the
place of men. A Bulwer Lytton lays the scene
of one of his novels inside the earth instead of outside.
A Rider Haggard introduces us to a lady whose age is
a few years more than the average woman would care
to confess to; and pictures crabs larger than the
usual shilling or eighteen-penny size. The number
of so called imaginative writers who visit the moon
is legion, and for all the novelty that they find,
when they get there, they might just as well have
gone to Putney. Others are continually drawing
for us visions of the world one hundred or one thousand
years hence. There is always a depressing absence
of human nature about the place; so much so, that one
feels great consolation in the thought, while reading,
that we ourselves shall be comfortably dead and buried
before the picture can be realized. In these
prophesied Utopias everybody is painfully good and
clean and happy, and all the work is done by electricity.
There is somewhat too much electricity,
for my taste, in these worlds to come. One is
reminded of those pictorial enamel-paint advertisements
that one sees about so often now, in which all the
members of an extensive household are represented
as gathered together in one room, spreading enamel-paint
over everything they can lay their hands upon.
The old man is on a step-ladder, daubing the walls
and ceiling with “cuckoo’s-egg green,”
while the parlor-maid and the cook are on their knees,
painting the floor with “sealing-wax red.”
The old lady is doing the picture frames in “terra
cotta.” The eldest daughter and her young
man are making sly love in a corner over a pot of “high
art yellow,” with which, so soon as they have
finished wasting their time, they will, it is manifest,
proceed to elevate the piano. Younger brothers
and sisters are busy freshening up the chairs and tables
with “strawberry-jam pink” and “jubilee
magenta.” Every blessed thing in that room
is being coated with enamel paint, from the sofa to
the fire-irons, from the sideboard to the eight-day
clock. If there is any paint left over, it will
be used up for the family Bible and the canary.
It is claimed for this invention that
a little child can make as much mess with it as can
a grown-up person, and so all the children of the
family are represented in the picture as hard at work,
enameling whatever few articles of furniture and household
use the grasping selfishness of their elders has spared
to them. One is painting the toasting fork in
a “skim-milk blue,” while another is giving
aesthetical value to the Dutch oven by means of a
new shade of art green. The bootjack is being
renovated in “old gold,” and the baby is
sitting on the floor, smothering its own cradle with
“flush-upon-a-maiden’s cheek peach color.”
One feels that the thing is being
overdone. That family, before another month is
gone, will be among the strongest opponents of enamel
paint that the century has produced. Enamel paint
will be the ruin of that once happy home. Enamel
paint has a cold, glassy, cynical appearance.
Its presence everywhere about the place will begin
to irritate the old man in the course of a week or
so. He will call it, “This damn’d
sticky stuff!” and will tell the wife that he
wonders she didn’t paint herself and the children
with it while she was about it. She will reply,
in an exasperatingly quiet tone of voice, that she
does like that. Perhaps he will say next, that
she did not warn him against it, and tell him what
an idiot he was making of himself, spoiling the whole
house with his foolish fads. Each one will persist
that it was the other one who first suggested the
absurdity, and they will sit up in bed and quarrel
about it every night for a month.
The children having acquired a taste
for smudging the concoction about, and there being
nothing else left untouched in the house, will try
to enamel the cat; and then there will be bloodshed,
and broken windows, and spoiled infants, and sorrows
and yells. The smell of the paint will make everybody
ill; and the servants will give notice. Tradesmen’s
boys will lean up against places that are not dry and
get their clothes enameled and claim compensation.
And the baby will suck the paint off its cradle and
But the person that will suffer most
will, of course, be the eldest daughter’s young
man. The eldest daughter’s young man is
always unfortunate. He means well, and he tries
hard. His great ambition is to make the family
love him. But fate is ever against him, and he
only succeeds in gaining their undisguised contempt.
The fact of his being “gone” on their
Emily is, of itself, naturally sufficient to stamp
him as an imbecile in the eyes of Emily’s brothers
and sisters. The father finds him slow, and thinks
the girl might have done better; while the best that
his future mother-in-law (his sole supporter) can say
for him is, that he seems steady.
There is only one thing that prompts
the family to tolerate him, and that is the reflection
that he is going to take Emily away from them.
On that understanding they put up with him.
The eldest daughter’s young
man, in this particular case, will, you may depend
upon it, choose that exact moment when the baby’s
life is hovering in the balance, and the cook is waiting
for her wages with her box in the hall, and a coal-heaver
is at the front door with a policeman, making a row
about the damage to his trousers, to come in, smiling,
with a specimen pot of some new high art, squashed-tomato-shade
enamel paint, and suggest that they should try it on
the old man’s pipe.
Then Emily will go off into hysterics,
and Emily’s male progenitor will firmly but
quietly lead that ill-starred yet true-hearted young
man to the public side of the garden-gate; and the
engagement will be “off.”
Too much of anything is a mistake,
as the man said when his wife presented him with four
new healthy children in one day. We should practice
moderation in all matters. A little enamel paint
would have been good. They might have enameled
the house inside and out, and have left the furniture
alone. Or they might have colored the furniture,
and let the house be. But an entirely and completely
enameled home a home, such as enamel-paint
manufacturers love to picture on their advertisements,
over which the yearning eye wanders in vain, seeking
one single square inch of un-enameled matter is,
I am convinced, a mistake. It may be a home that,
as the testimonials assure us, will easily wash.
It may be an “artistic” home; but the average
man is not yet educated up to the appreciation of
it. The average man does not care for high art.
At a certain point, the average man gets sick of high
So, in these coming Utopias, in which
out unhappy grandchildren will have to drag out their
colorless existence, there will be too much electricity.
They will grow to loathe electricity.
Electricity is going to light them,
warm them, carry them, doctor them, cook for them,
execute them, if necessary. They are going to
be weaned on electricity, rocked in their cradles
by electricity, slapped by electricity, ruled and
regulated and guided by electricity, buried by electricity.
I may be wrong, but I rather think they are going to
be hatched by electricity.
In the new world of our progressionist
teachers, it is electricity that is the real motive-power.
The men and women are only marionettes worked
But it was not to speak of the electricity
in them, but of the originality in them, that I referred
to these works of fiction. There is no originality
in them whatever. Human thought is incapable of
originality. No man ever yet imagined a new thing only
some variation or extension of an old thing.
The sailor, when he was asked what
he would do with a fortune, promptly replied:
“Buy all the rum and ’baccy there is in
“And what after that?” they asked him.
“What would you buy after that after
you had bought up all the rum and tobacco there was
in the world what would you buy then?”
“After that? Oh! ’um!”
(a long pause). “Oh!” (with inspiration)
“why, more ’baccy!”
Rum and tobacco he knew something
of, and could therefore imagine about. He did
not know any other luxuries, therefore he could not
conceive of any others.
So if you ask one of these Utopian-dreaming
gentry what, after they had secured for their world
all the electricity there was in the Universe, and
after every mortal thing in their ideal Paradise, was
done and said and thought by electricity, they could
imagine as further necessary to human happiness, they
would probably muse for awhile, and then reply, “More
They know electricity. They have
seen the electric light, and heard of electric boats
and omnibuses. They have possibly had an electric
shock at a railway station for a penny.
Therefore, knowing that electricity
does three things, they can go on and “imagine”
electricity doing three hundred things, and the very
great ones among them can imagine it doing three thousand
things; but for them, or anybody else, to imagine
a new force, totally unconnected with and different
from anything yet known in nature, would be utterly
Human thought is not a firework, ever
shooting off fresh forms and shapes as it burns; it
is a tree, growing very slowly you can watch
it long and see no movement very silently,
unnoticed. It was planted in the world many thousand
years ago, a tiny, sickly plant. And men guarded
it and tended it, and gave up life and fame to aid
its growth. In the hot days of their youth, they
came to the gate of the garden and knocked, begging
to be let in, and to be counted among the gardeners.
And their young companions without called to them to
come back, and play the man with bow and spear, and
win sweet smiles from rosy lips, and take their part
amid the feast, and dance, not stoop with wrinkled
brows, at weaklings’ work. And the passers
by mocked them and called shame, and others cried
out to stone them. And still they stayed there
laboring, that the tree might grow a little, and they
died and were forgotten.
And the tree grew fair and strong.
The storms of ignorance passed over it, and harmed
it not. The fierce fires of superstition soared
around it; but men leaped into the flames and beat
them back, perishing, and the tree grew. With
the sweat of their brow have men nourished its green
leaves. Their tears have moistened the earth about
it. With their blood they have watered its roots.
The seasons have come and passed,
and the tree has grown and flourished. And its
branches have spread far and high, and ever fresh shoots
are bursting forth, and ever new leaves unfolding
to the light. But they are all part of the one
tree the tree that was planted on the first
birthday of the human race. The stem that bears
them springs from the gnarled old trunk that was green
and soft when white-haired Time was a little child;
the sap that feeds them is drawn up through the roots
that twine and twist about the bones of the ages that
The human mind can no more produce
an original thought than a tree can bear an original
fruit. As well might one cry for an original note
in music as expect an original idea from a human brain.
One wishes our friends, the critics,
would grasp this simple truth, and leave off clamoring
for the impossible, and being shocked because they
do not get it. When a new book is written, the
high-class critic opens it with feelings of faint
hope, tempered by strong conviction of coming disappointment.
As he pores over the pages, his brow darkens with
virtuous indignation, and his lip curls with the Godlike
contempt that the exceptionally great critic ever
feels for everybody in this world, who is not yet
dead. Buoyed up by a touching, but totally fallacious,
belief that he is performing a public duty, and that
the rest of the community is waiting in breathless
suspense to learn his opinion of the work in question,
before forming any judgment concerning it themselves,
he, nevertheless, wearily struggles through about a
third of it. Then his long-suffering soul revolts,
and he flings it aside with a cry of despair.
“Why, there is no originality
whatever in this,” he says. “This
book is taken bodily from the Old Testament.
It is the story of Adam and Eve all over again.
The hero is a mere man! with two arms, two legs, and
a head (so called). Why, it is only Moses’s
Adam under another name! And the heroine is nothing
but a woman! and she is described as beautiful, and
as having long hair. The author may call her ‘Angelina,’
or any other name he chooses; but he has evidently,
whether he acknowledges it or not, copied her direct
from Eve. The characters are barefaced plagiarisms
from the book of Genesis! Oh! to find an author
One spring I went a walking tour in
the country. It was a glorious spring. Not
the sort of spring they give us in these miserable
times, under this shameless government a
mixture of east wind, blizzard, snow, rain, slush,
fog, frost, hail, sleet and thunder-storms but
a sunny, blue-sky’d, joyous spring, such as
we used to have regularly every year when I was a
young man, and things were different.
It was an exceptionally beautiful
spring, even for those golden days; and as I wandered
through the waking land, and saw the dawning of the
coming green, and watched the blush upon the hawthorn
hedge, deepening each day beneath the kisses of the
sun, and looked up at the proud old mother trees,
dandling their myriad baby buds upon their strong fond
arms, holding them high for the soft west wind to caress
as he passed laughing by, and marked the primrose
yellow creep across the carpet of the woods, and saw
the new flush of the field and saw the new light on
the hills, and heard the new-found gladness of the
birds, and heard from copse and farm and meadow the
timid callings of the little new-born things, wondering
to find themselves alive, and smelt the freshness of
the earth, and felt the promise in the air, and felt
a strong hand in the wind, my spirit rose within me.
Spring had come to me also, and stirred me with a
strange new life, with a strange new hope I, too,
was part of nature, and it was spring! Tender
leaves and blossoms were unfolding from my heart.
Bright flowers of love and gratitude were opening
round its roots. I felt new strength in all my
limbs. New blood was pulsing through my veins.
Nobler thoughts and nobler longings were throbbing
through my brain.
As I walked, Nature came and talked
beside me, and showed me the world and myself, and
the ways of God seemed clearer.
It seemed to me a pity that all the
beautiful and precious thoughts and ideas that were
crowding in upon me should be lost to my fellow-men,
and so I pitched my tent at a little cottage, and
set to work to write them down then and there as they
came to me.
“It has been complained of me,”
I said to myself, “that I do not write literary
and high class work at least, not work that
is exceptionally literary and high-class. This
reproach shall be removed. I will write an article
that shall be a classic. I have worked for the
ordinary, every-day reader. It is right that
I should do something now to improve the literature
of my beloved country.”
And I wrote a grand essay though
I say it who should not, though I don’t see
why I shouldn’t all about spring,
and the way it made you feel, and what it made you
think. It was simply crowded with elevated thoughts
and high-class ideas and cultured wit, was that essay.
There was only one fault about that essay: it
was too brilliant. I wanted commonplace relief.
It would have exhausted the average reader; so much
cleverness would have wearied him.
I wish I could remember some of the
beautiful things in that essay, and here set them
down; because then you would be able to see what they
were like for yourselves, and that would be so much
more simpler than my explaining to you how beautiful
they were. Unfortunately, however, I cannot now
call to mind any of them.
I was very proud of this essay, and
when I got back to town I called on a very superior
friend of mine, a critic, and read it to him.
I do not care for him to see any of my usual work,
because he really is a very superior person indeed,
and the perusal of it appears to give him pains inside.
But this article, I thought, would do him good.
“What do you think of it?” I asked, when
I had finished.
“Splendid,” he replied,
“excellently arranged. I never knew you
were so well acquainted with the works of the old
writers. Why, there is scarcely a classic of
any note that you have not quoted from. But where where,”
he added, musing, “did you get that last idea
but two from? It’s the only one I don’t
seem to remember. It isn’t a bit of your
own, is it?”
He said that, if so, he should advise
me to leave it out. Not that it was altogether
bad, but that the interpolation of a modern thought
among so unique a collection of passages from the
ancients seemed to spoil the scheme.
And he enumerated the various dead-and-buried
gentlemen from whom he appeared to think I had collated
“But,” I replied, when
I had recovered my astonishment sufficiently to speak,
“it isn’t a collection at all. It
is all original. I wrote the thoughts down as
they came to me. I have never read any of these
people you mention, except Shakespeare.”
Of course Shakespeare was bound to
be among them. I am getting to dislike that man
so. He is always being held up before us young
authors as a model, and I do hate models. There
was a model boy at our school, I remember, Henry Summers;
and it was just the same there. It was continually,
“Look at Henry Summers! he doesn’t put
the preposition before the verb, and spell business
b-i-z!” or, “Why can’t you write
like Henry Summers? He doesn’t get the ink
all over the copy-book and half-way up his back!”
We got tired of this everlasting “Look at Henry
Summers!” after a while, and so, one afternoon,
on the way home, a few of us lured Henry Summers up
a dark court; and when he came out again he was not
worth looking at.
Now it is perpetually, “Look
at Shakespeare!” “Why don’t you write
like Shakespeare?” “Shakespeare never
made that joke. Why don’t you joke like
If you are in the play-writing line
it is still worse for you. “Why don’t
you write plays like Shakespeare’s?” they
indignantly say. “Shakespeare never made
his comic man a penny steamboat captain.”
“Shakespeare never made his hero address the
girl as ‘ducky.’ Why don’t
you copy Shakespeare?” If you do try to copy
Shakespeare, they tell you that you must be a fool
to attempt to imitate Shakespeare.
Oh, shouldn’t I like to get
Shakespeare up our street, and punch him!
“I cannot help that,”
replied my critical friend to return to
our previous question “the germ of
every thought and idea you have got in that article
can be traced back to the writers I have named.
If you doubt it, I will get down the books, and show
you the passages for yourself.”
But I declined the offer. I said
I would take his word for it, and would rather not
see the passages referred to. I felt indignant.
“If,” as I said, “these men these
Platos and Socrateses and Cicéros and Sophocleses
and Aristophaneses and Aristotles and the rest of them
had been taking advantage of my absence to go about
the world spoiling my business for me, I would rather
not hear any more about them.”
And I put on my hat and came out,
and I have never tried to write anything original
I dreamed a dream once. (It is the
sort of thing a man would dream. You cannot very
well dream anything else, I know. But the phrase
sounds poetical and biblical, and so I use it.) I
dreamed that I was in a strange country indeed,
one might say an extraordinary country. It was
ruled entirely by critics.
The people in this strange land had
a very high opinion of critics nearly as
high an opinion of critics as the critics themselves
had, but not, of course, quite that not
being practicable and they had agreed to
be guided in all things by the critics. I stayed
some years in that land. But it was not a cheerful
place to live in, so I dreamed.
There were authors in this country,
at first, and they wrote books. But the critics
could find nothing original in the books whatever,
and said it was a pity that men, who might be usefully
employed hoeing potatoes, should waste their time
and the time of the critics, which was of still more
importance, in stringing together a collection of platitudes,
familiar to every school-boy, and dishing up old plots
and stories that had already been cooked and recooked
for the public until everybody had been surfeited
And the writers read what the critics
said and sighed, and gave up writing books, and went
off and hoed potatoes; as advised. They had had
no experience in hoeing potatoes, and they hoed very
badly; and the people whose potatoes they hoed strongly
recommended them to leave hoeing potatoes, and to
go back and write books. But you can’t do
what everybody advises.
There were artists also in this strange
world, at first, and they painted pictures, which
the critics came and looked at through eyeglasses.
“Nothing whatever original in
them,” said the critics; “same old colors,
same old perspective and form, same old sunset, same
old sea and land, and sky and figures. Why do
these poor men waste their time, painting pictures,
when they might be so much more satisfactorily employed
on ladders painting houses?”
Nothing, by the by, you may have noticed,
troubles your critic more than the idea that the artist
is wasting his time. It is the waste of time
that vexes the critic; he has such an exalted idea
of the value of other people’s time. “Dear,
dear me!” he says to himself, “why, in
the time the man must have taken to paint this picture
or to write this book, he might have blacked fifteen
thousand pairs of boots, or have carried fifteen thousand
hods of mortar up a ladder. This is how the time
of the world is lost!”
It never occurs to him that, but for
that picture or book, the artist would, in all probability,
have been mouching about with a pipe in his mouth,
getting into trouble.
It reminds me of the way people used
to talk to me when I was a boy. I would be sitting,
as good as gold, reading “The Pirate’s
Lair,” when some cultured relative would look
over my shoulder and say: “Bah! what are
you wasting your time with rubbish for? Why don’t
you go and do something useful?” and would take
the book away from me. Upon which I would get
up, and go out to “do something useful;”
and would come home an hour afterward, looking like
a bit out of a battle picture, having tumbled through
the roof of Farmer Bate’s greenhouse and killed
a cactus, though totally unable to explain how I came
to be on the roof of Farmer Bate’s greenhouse.
They had much better have left me alone, lost in “The
The artists in this land of which
I dreamed left off painting pictures, after hearing
what the critics said, and purchased ladders, and went
off and painted houses.
Because, you see, this country of
which I dreamed was not one of those vulgar, ordinary
countries, such as exist in the waking world, where
people let the critics talk as much as ever they like,
and nobody pays the slightest attention to what they
say. Here, in this strange land, the critics
were taken seriously, and their advice followed.
As for the poets and sculptors, they
were very soon shut up. The idea of any educated
person wanting to read modern poetry when he could
obtain Homer, or caring to look at any other statue
while there was still some of the Venus de Medicis
left, was too absurd. Poets and sculptors were
only wasting their time.
What new occupation they were recommended
to adopt, I forget. Some calling they knew nothing
whatever about, and that they were totally unfitted
for, of course.
The musicians tried their art for
a little while, but they, too, were of no use.
“Merely a repetition of the same notes in different
combinations,” said the critics. “Why
will people waste their time writing unoriginal music,
when they might be sweeping crossings?”
One man had written a play. I
asked what the critics had said about him. They
showed me his tomb.
Then, there being no more artists
or litterateurs or dramatists or musicians
left for their beloved critics to criticise, the general
public of this enlightened land said to themselves,
“Why should not our critics come and criticise
us? Criticism is useful to a man. Have we
not often been told so? Look how useful it has
been to the artists and writers saved the
poor fellows from wasting their time? Why shouldn’t
we have some of its benefits?”
They suggested the idea to the critics,
and the critics thought it an excellent one, and said
they would undertake the job with pleasure. One
must say for the critics that they never shirk work.
They will sit and criticise for eighteen hours a day,
if necessary, or even, if quite unnecessary, for the
matter of that. You can’t give them too
much to criticise. They will criticise everything
and everybody in this world. They will criticise
everything in the next world, too, when they get there.
I expect poor old Pluto has a lively time with them
all, as it is.
So, when a man built a house, or a
farm-yard hen laid an egg, the critics were asked
in to comment on it. They found that none of the
houses were original. On every floor were passages
that seemed mere copies from passages in other houses.
They were all built on the same hackneyed plan; cellars
underneath, ground floor level with the street, attic
at the top. No originality anywhere!
So, likewise with the eggs. Every
egg suggested reminiscences of other eggs.
It was heartrending work.
The critics criticised all things.
When a young couple fell in love, they each, before
thinking of marriage, called upon the critics for a
criticism of the other one.
Needless to say that, in the result,
no marriage ever came of it.
“My dear young lady,”
the critics would say, after the inspection had taken
place, “I can discover nothing new whatever about
the young man. You would simply be wasting your
time in marrying him.”
Or, to the young man, it would be:
“Oh, dear, no! Nothing
attractive about the girl at all. Who on earth
gave you that notion? Simply a lovely face and
figure, angelic disposition, beautiful mind, stanch
heart, noble character. Why, there must have
been nearly a dozen such girls born into the world
since its creation. You would be only wasting
your time loving her.”
They criticised the birds for their
hackneyed style of singing, and the flowers for their
hackneyed scents and colors. They complained of
the weather that it lacked originality (true,
they had not lived out an English spring) and
found fault with the Sun because of the sameness of
They criticised the babies. When
a fresh infant was published in a house, the critics
would call in a body to pass their judgment upon it,
and the young mother would bring it down for them to
“Did you ever see a child anything
like that in this world before?” she would say,
holding it out to them. “Isn’t it
a wonderful baby? You never saw a child with
legs like that, I know. Nurse says he’s
the most extraordinary baby she ever attended.
But the critics did not think anything of it.
“Tut, tut,” they would
reply, “there is nothing extraordinary about
that child no originality whatever.
Why, it’s exactly like every other baby bald
head, red face, big mouth, and stumpy nose. Why,
that’s only a weak imitation of the baby next
door. It’s a plagiarism, that’s what
that child is. You’ve been wasting your
time, madam. If you can’t do anything more
original than that, we should advise you to give up
the business altogether.”
That was the end of criticism in that strange land.
“Oh! look here, we’ve
had enough of you and your originality,” said
the people to the critics, after that. “Why,
you are not original, when one comes to think
of it, and your criticisms are not original. You’ve
all of you been saying exactly the same thing ever
since the time of Solomon. We are going to drown
you and have a little peace.”
“What, drown a critic!”
cried the critics, “never heard of such a monstrous
proceeding in our lives!”
“No, we flatter ourselves it
is an original idea,” replied the public, brutally.
“You ought to be charmed with it. Out you
So they took the critics out and drowned
them, and then passed a short act, making criticism
a capital offense.
After that, the art and literature
of the country followed, somewhat, the methods of
the quaint and curious school, but the land, notwithstanding,
was a much more cheerful place to live in, I dreamed.
But I never finished telling you about
the dream in which I thought I left my legs behind
me when I went into a certain theater.
I dreamed that the ticket the man
gave me for my legs was N, and I was worried
all through the performance for fear N should
get hold of them, and leave me his instead. Mine
are rather a fine pair of legs, and I am, I confess,
a little proud of them at all events, I
prefer them to anybody else’s. Besides,
number sixty-one’s might be a skinny pair, and
not fit me.
It quite spoiled my evening, fretting about this.
Another extraordinary dream I had
was one in which I dreamed that I was engaged to be
married to my Aunt Jane. That was not, however,
the extraordinary part of it; I have often known people
to dream things like that. I knew a man who once
dreamed that he was actually married to his own mother-in-law!
He told me that never in his life had he loved the
alarm clock with more deep and grateful tenderness
than he did that morning. The dream almost reconciled
him to being married to his real wife. They lived
quite happily together for a few days, after that
No; the extraordinary part of my dream
was, that I knew it was a dream. “What
on earth will uncle say to this engagement?”
I thought to myself, in my dream. “There’s
bound to be a row about it. We shall have a deal
of trouble with uncle, I feel sure.” And
this thought quite troubled me until the sweet reflection
came: “Ah! well, it’s only a dream.”
And I made up my mind that I would
wake up as soon as uncle found out about the engagement,
and leave him and Aunt Jane to fight the matter out
It is a very great comfort, when the
dream grows troubled and alarming, to feel that it
is only a dream, and to know that we shall awake soon
and be none the worse for it. We can dream out
the foolish perplexity with a smile then.
Sometimes the dream of life grows
strangely troubled and perplexing, and then he who
meets dismay the bravest is he who feels that the fretful
play is but a dream a brief, uneasy dream
of three score years and ten, or thereabouts, from
which, in a little while, he will awake at
least, he dreams so.
How dull, how impossible life would
be without dreams waking dreams, I mean the
dreams that we call “castles in the air,”
built by the kindly hands of Hope! Were it not
for the mirage of the oasis, drawing his footsteps
ever onward, the weary traveler would lie down in the
desert sand and die. It is the mirage of distant
success, of happiness that, like the bunch of carrots
fastened an inch beyond the donkey’s nose, seems
always just within our reach, if only we will gallop
fast enough, that makes us run so eagerly along the
road of Life.
Providence, like a father with a tired
child, lures us ever along the way with tales and
promises, until, at the frowning gate that ends the
road, we shrink back, frightened. Then, promises
still more sweet he stoops and whispers in our ear,
and timid yet partly reassured, and trying to hide
our fears, we gather up all that is left of our little
stock of hope and, trusting yet half afraid, push out
our groping feet into the darkness.