Page images
PDF
EPUB

old pump,' he was frowned on fearfully by the fraternity, gravely admonished, and informed that only his youth and inexperience induced them to overlook the offence, which if repeated would be visited with summary expulsion. If you heard these honest fellows talk about existing institutions generally, the Church, the Crown, the aristocracy, you would imagine that they were iconoclastic democrats of the deepest red. Nevertheless, when a gentleman with a handle to his name is present among them in the flesh, they are inspired with a profound sense of gratifying awe. Rochefort Wilkes, who thunders forth every Saturday in the Atheist Republican Review against birth, titles, and all other pomps and vanities, never fails to uncover his head reverently when Sir Rufus enters the room. As for Sir Rufus himself, when the afternoon orgie is over at the tavern which these gentlemen chiefly affect, and the titled entertainer has paid the reckoning for his guests, he either retires to his own house or to the club in St. James's-square; has a nap, dresses, and goes out to dine with the Secretary of State for the Colonies at past eight. 'What have you been doing with yourself, Clutterbuck?' asks an old friend whom he meets. O,' is the answer, 'it's the day when my fellows meet; always give them a dinner on Wednesday, poor devils! Monstrous amusing, I assure you;' and Sir Rufus Clutterbuck proceeds to comment on the ignorance and the illiterateness which characterise the newspaper press of London. The Hon. Charles Skindeep is the eldest son of Lord Veneer, and has always enjoyed the reputation of being decidedly intellectual in his tastes. At Eton they called him a prig; at Oxford he devoted himself to the cultivation of Union rhetoric; he attempted to read De Tocqueville; he then surrendered his soul to poetry; and, as a very natural consequence, he wound up by being hopelessly plucked by the examiners In Litteris Humanioribus. Years ago Mr. Disraeli said of Lord John Russell that he had a weak head and a strong ambition: precisely the same remark is applicable to the Hon. Charles. He has now a pretty little house in Mayfair, a very respectable library, one half of the books in which he has not opened, while the other half he cannot for the life of him understand. He does not play the patron in precisely the same fashion as Sir Rufus Clutterbuck. He dislikes large gatherings of literary hacks. He can tolerate a couple at a time, but not more. What he infinitely prefers is a tête-à-tête with a man of letters who has made a spécialité of some particular topic, and who, in consideration of a good dinner and a bottle of Burgundy afterwards, will impart to him (the Hon. Charles) as much information as can be condensed into a couple of hours; for Mr. Skindeep has a wholesome horror of sitting up late, which it might be better, perhaps, if some of his literary protégés shared. Lord Veneer is upwards of eighty, and cannot manifestly be long for this world. His son, who is heir to the title, is of

opinion that it is the duty of a noble to encourage literature and art, and he conceives that he is doing this duty satisfactorily by giving a dinner to some contributor to the Planet or the Mercury, pumping him for facts afterwards, and embodying these in a letter addressed to the editor of the Times. The Hon. Charles Skindeep is a man of honour. He would not think of placing his hand in his guest's pocket and extracting his purse. Yet it never occurs to him that in this wholesale and violent appropriation of knowledge, and its subsequently attempted publication, he is morally guilty of petty larceny. Some time since a paragraph was inserted in a weekly fashionable paper to the effect that the Hon. Charles Skindeep had taken to literature. Lord Veneer was most annoyed. He could not have been more indignant if it had been stated that his son had taken to drinking. A dignified but severe personal remonstrance arrived in course of post. This was emphasised by a paternal visit from his father-in-law, the Earl of Dullington, who did not refrain from expressing his extreme disgust at the rumour.

'The worst of this sort of thing is,' said the noble lord to his son-in-law, that you never can get people to believe where there is smoke there is not fire.'

"

Lord Dullington would infinitely have preferred it to have been stated in print that the Hon. Charles Skindeep had eloped with his neighbour's wife. The Hon. Mrs. Skindeep adds her protest to that of her august papa.

'I wish, Charles,' says that lady, 'you would not have any more of those men dining with you; they really drive me out of the house.' And sure enough, so often as Charles brings home with him some representative of periodical literature, the Hon. Mrs. Skindeep goes to her cousin's in Curzon-street close by, and bewails her husband's extraordinary taste for odd people and low company. To a certain extent Mr. Skindeep has acted upon the family advice. Yet for all that he has not entirely renounced the rôle of patron. He invites his protégés, however, no longer to his own house, but periodically to some place of suburban refreshment. I received myself an invitation to a little dinner from Skindeep at Richmond not a month since. I did not go. And I confess I thought that it would be by no means a bad joke to forward Skindeep's most friendly note to me to Lord Dullington, so that his lordship might know that his daughter's husband had not quite forsworn his bad habits.

Such is the modern Mæcenas-always a trifler and sometimes a fribble. But he does no great harm. The Mæcenas of the last century did influence literature and art; the Mæcenas of to-day

cannot.

T. H. S. ESCOTT.

EMPLOYMENT WANTED

AT either end of Westminster Hall may be seen a board standing upon two legs, after the fashion of a clothes-horse, and these boards, although they sometimes exhibit an order of the court or other high indefinite power, seem to be devoted mainly to the service of necessitous clerks. They are studded over with the remains of wafers more thickly than the sky with stars, or Valombrosa with leavesdead useless wafers that have been stuck on, very likely, by clerks long ago who have risen to be lord chancellors and cursitor barons. At least we would fain hope so; we would fain think that Fortune turns her wheel sometimes and gives the poor a lift, rather than embrace that modern theory that judges beget judges and that queen's counsel are prolific of serjeants-at-law. At all events, if there should be a thorough shake-up in the body politic, and the prime minister of the future be desirous of appointing a lord chancellor fit to inaugurate a new policy in the way of law reform, we would recommend him to take a look at the boards in the hall, when perhaps he may succeed in suiting himself without farther trouble.

We had our eye upon one of these notices the other day of clerks wanting employment, generally little oblong slips almost like writs, very neatly written, with the initial word done in black-letter, like the whereas' in those long-winded documents that country lawyers inflict upon their clients. Well, this particular advertisement occupied a whole sheet of foolscap, and although the author didn't offer himself for the Great Seal, it was evidently either from natural modesty or because he thought the place was not likely to be vacant. Else he was evidently thoroughly qualified. He understood equity, common law, and conveyancing; he was well acquainted with the practice of the courts; he could conduct a suit-in the countycourt more especially—from plaint to execution; he didn't even object to be the man-in-possession, and could appraise the furniture of the unfortunate' subject,' and conduct the sale if necessary. But, like many men of wide attainments, he evidently possessed a modest retiring nature, for he was willing to act as timekeeper, bailiff, collector of rents, copying-clerk, or in any way in which he could make himself useful or earn a salary, however modest. Strange to say, the docket of this Admirable Crichton of the law was stained with dust and flyblown; it was studded with envious comments in blacklead made by other clerks who were jealous of his acquirements, such as, 'O my, don't you know everything!' and so on.

It was

possible indeed that, overtaken by the full tide of prosperity, our friend had forgotten to remove the notice; but we fear that the natural explanation was the true one, and that there had not been that rush to secure his services which he must have counted upon.

Perhaps he had chosen an unfavourable mode of making known his abilities, had advertised in the wrong medium, in fact. Possibly the boards themselves were delusions-like the village stocks, more for mock than use-unregarded of managing clerks and ignored by law stationers. But more probably the real secret of his want of success was his diffuseness. He tried to win all along the line, and the best general fails at that. Concentration was what our friend wanted. He should have massed himself upon his timekeeping, or his collecting, or his copying.

It is a queer thing, by the way, this concentration, this gathering up all the fibres of the intellect for a supreme effort; and such a hard uncomfortable thing to begin at that one shrinks from it like the poor turnspit dog from his treadwheel task, although he whines and barks merrily enough when the wheel is fairly started; and yet without it all labour is well-nigh useless. It is the moment of precipitation of the alchemist, when all the mystic ingredients culled from far and near are boiling and bubbling together, when the furnace cracks with heat and the crucibles wax invisible in the whiteness of their glow; and after all, perhaps the pot boils over; there is nothing but ashes and smother, not even the tiniest speck or scrap of gold.

There was a society once-perhaps it still exists-for the dif fusion of useful knowledge; it gave us the Penny Magazine, we believe, a vast repertory of unconsidered trifles; but how much more to the purpose would be a society for the concentration of knowledge? To put the contents of the British Museum library, for instance, into a dozen handy pocket-volumes-surely all the necessary knowledge therein might go into that space-and deliver mankind from the incubus of all this indigested mass. What a happy thought that was of the caliph when he was asked what was to be done with the library of Alexandria! Anything it contains contrary to the Koran is harmful; anything it contains in common with the Koran is needless destroy it all!' Well, our Koran would be an encyclopedia.

"

Individually, too, one has a great tendency to become diffuse and uncompact. What a variety of useless lumber one accumulates about one; notes, memoranda, letters, productive of idle brooding, vain regret, or pregnant with the shadowy joys of the past! These may well go into the crucible, excepting the receipted bills, which it is well to keep for seven years, with an eye to the Statute of Limitations and the bad book-keeping prevalent among the shopkeepers.

But it is positively awful to think of the accumulation of public archives. History will be impossible after a while, choked with a ple

thora of records. A large quantity, let us hope, go into the mill once more and come out in the guise of cartridge-paper, and are fired away in salutes and among the Ashantees; but immense masses still survive to torment the souls of generations still unborn.

In the mean time, we have diffused' considerably from our starting-point, the boards in Westminster Hall and the notices of clerks wanting employment, and yet we are not very far afield; for the helplessness and depression of the very large class whose only craft is the art of writing quickly and well is due very much to this tendency to complexity in modern life, in the substitution for the influence of personal intercourse the exchange of written communications. Now, this class is an intelligent one-it reads and thinks, more of the former than the latter perhaps; it has been the subject of all this diffusion of useful knowledge, and yet how little it has profited! The number of helpless people who will do anything for a salary increases daily; so likewise does the difficulty of the problem of providing a suitable opening for those entering into life. And this at a time when there is a marvellous prosperity and rapid. accumulation of wealth.

From above and below recruits are daily joining this already overgrown army of scribes. The small tradesman or artificer looks to make a gentleman of his boy, and makes a clerk of him; the professional man or higher employé is driven to the same course for want of any better open to him. The action of Government in throwing open to public competition all the junior appointments in its gift widely increases the evil. The few who succeed in the struggle obtain a provision which is of the narrowest nature, and which is constantly narrowing in comparison with growing wants and expenses; the greater number who fail are thrown back upon the general labour market, already overstocked. And yet if a man makes an endeavour to escape from this circle of embarrassment, he will find the difficulties in his way almost insuperable. It is all very well to say, make your son a craftsman, a mechanic. Even if you overcome the natural reluctance of a youth to take what, from his education, he has been taught to think a great descent in the social scale, you will find that all avenues in that direction are closed against him. The craftsmen have their own organisations, and refuse to admit intruders; your employer of labour would at once reject a well-nurtured youth as 'too much of a gentleman.' If one desired to make one's son a practical mechanic, for instance, he would find that the only way open to him would be to pay a large premium, and have the cost of his maintenance to defray during the time of his apprenticeship; whilst at the end of the time the young man would command a salary barely equal to the interest of the money expended on his technical education. The same may be said of mercantile occupations. They are not so

« PreviousContinue »