The Journal of a Disappointed Man

Part I


‘I returned, and saw under the sun, that the
race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the
strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet
riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour
to men of skill; but time and chance
happeneth to them all. For man
also knoweth not his time; as the
fishes that are taken in an evil
net, and as the birds that are
caught in the snare; so are
the sons of men snared in
an evil time, when it
falleth suddenly
upon them.’


The Journal begins when its author is a little over 13 years old. (The following are selected entries.)

January 3, 1903

Am writing an essay on the life-history of insects and have abandoned the idea of writing on ‘How Cats Spend their Time.’

January 17, 1903

Went with L—— out catapult shooting. While walking down the main road saw a Goldfinch, but very indistinctly — it might not have been one. Had some wonderful shots at a tree creeper in the hedge about a foot away from me. While near a stream, L—— spotted what he thought to be some Wild Duck and brought one down, hitting it right in the head. He is a splendid shot. We discovered on examining it that it was not a Wild Duck at all but an ordinary tame Wild Duck — a hen. We ran away, and to-night L—— tells me he saw the Farmer enter the poulterer’s shop with the bird in his hand.

January 19, 1903

Went to A—— Wood with S—— and L——. Saw a Barn Owl (Strix flammea) flying in broad daylight. At A—— Woods, be it known, there is a steep cliff where we were all out climbing to inspect and find all the likely places for birds to build in, next spring. S—— and I got along all right, but L——, being a bit too careless, let go his hold on a tree and fell headlong down. He turned over and over and seemed to us to pitch on the back of his neck. However, he got up as cheerfully as ever, saying, ‘I don’t like that — a bit of a nasty knock.’

February 8, 1903

Joe became the mother of one kitten to-day. It was born at 1.20. It is a tiny little thing. One would almost call it deformed. It is gray.

March 18, 1903

Our Goldfinch roosts at 5.30. Joe’s kitten is a very small one. ‘Magpie’ is its name.

March 28, 1903

Went our usual ramble. But we were unfortunate from the very beginning. First, when we reached the ‘Nightjar Field,’ we found there were two men at the bottom of it cutting the hedge, so we decided not to venture on, as Gimbo and Bounce were with us, and it would look like poaching. Later on, we came to a splendid wood, but had to withdraw hastily from it, an old farmer giving us a severe chase. There were innumerable rabbits in the wood, so, of course, the dogs barked hard. I gave them a sound beating when we got back out of danger. The old farmer is known as ‘Bale the Bell-hanger.’

April 2, 1903

I was glad yesterday to see the egg season so well in. I shall have to get blow-pipes and egg drills. Spring has really arrived and even the grasshoppers are beginning to stridulate, yet Burke describes these little creatures as being ‘loud and troublesome’ and the chirp unpleasant. Like Samuel Johnson, he must have preferred brick walls to green hedges. Many people go for a walk and yet are unable to admire Nature simply because their power of observation is untrained. Of course some are not suited to the study at all and do not trouble themselves about it. In that case they should not talk of what they do not understand. . . . I might have noticed that I have used the term ‘Study of Nature.’ But it cannot be called a study. It is a pastime of sheer delight, with naught but beautiful dreams and lovely thoughts, where we are urged forward by the fact that we are in God’s world which He made for us to be our comfort in time of trouble. . . . Language cannot express the joy and happy forgetfulness during a ramble in the country. I do not mean that all the ins and outs and exact knowledge of a naturalist are necessary to produce such delight, but merely the common objects — Sun, Thrush, Grasshopper, Primrose, and Dew.

April 21, 1903

S—— and I have made a little hut in the woods out of a large natural hole in the ground by a big tree. We have pulled down branches all around it and stuck in upright sticks as a paling. We are training ivy to grow over the sticks. We smoke ‘Pioneer’ cigarettes here and hide the packets in a hole under the roots of the tree. It’s like a sort of cupboard.

August 6, 1903

In the evening, S—— and I cycled to S——, and when it was dark we went down on the rocks and lit a fire which crackled and burnt in the dusk of the evening. . . . Intend to do a bit to Beetles these hols. Rev. J. Wood in the B.O.P. has incited me to take them up, and it is really time, for at present I am as ignorant as I can hang together of the Coleoptera.

December 24, 1903

Went out with L—— to try to see the squirrels again. We could not find one and were just wondering if we should draw blank when L—— noticed one clinging to the bark of a tree with a nut in its mouth. We gave it a good chase, but it escaped into the thickest part of the fir tree, still carrying the nut, and we gave up firing at it. Later on, L—— got foolishly mischievous — owing, I suppose, to our lack of sport — and unhinged a gate which he carried two yards into a copse, and threw it on the ground. Just then, he saw the Squirrel again and jumped over the hedge into the copse, chasing it from tree to tree with his catty. Having lost it, he climbed a fir tree into a Squirrel’s drey at the top and sat there on the tree top, and I, below, was just going to lift the gate back when I looked up and saw a farmer watching me, menacing and silent. I promptly dropped the gate and fled. L—— from his Squirrel’s drey, not knowing what had happened, called out to me about the nest — that there was nothing in it. The man looked up and asked him who he was and who I was. L—— would not say and would not come down. The fanner said he would come up. L—— answered that if he did he would ‘gob’ [i.e. spit] on him. Eventually L—— climbed down and asked the farmer for a glass of cider. The latter gave him his boot and L—— ran away.

January 23, 1904

Went to the meet of the Stag hounds. Saw a hind in the stream at L—— with not a horse, hound, or man in sight. It looked quite unconcerned and did not seem to have been hunted. I tried to head it, but a confounded sheep-dog got there before me and drove it off in the wrong direction. I was mad, because if I had succeeded in heading it and had there been a kill, I should have got a slot. Got home at 6.30, after running and walking fifteen miles — tired out.

April 5, 1904

Just read Stalky & Co. Of Stalky, Beetle, and M’Turk, I like Beetle best.

April 14, 1904

Won the School Gymnasium championship (under fifteen).

August 25, 1904

Had quite an adventure to-day. D—— and I cycled to the Lighthouse at ——. On the way, in crossing the sands near the Hospital Ship we espied a lame Curlew which could hardly fly. I gave chase, but it managed to scramble over a gut full of water about two yards wide. D—— took off his boots and stockings and carried me over on his back, and we both raced across the sands to where the Curlew lay in an exhausted state. I picked him up and carried him off under my arm, like the boy with the Goose that laid the golden eggs. All the time, the bird screamed loudly, opening its enormously long bill and struggling to escape. Arrived at the gut again, we found that the incoming tide had made the gut wider and deeper so that we were cut off from the mainland, and found it necessary to wade across at once before it got deeper. As I had to carry a pair of field-glasses as well as my boots and stockings, I handed over the struggling bird to D——. While wading across, I suddenly sank to my waist in a sandpit. This frightened me, and I was glad to reach the other side in safety. But on arrival I found D——, but no Curlew. In wading across the current, he grew flurried and let it go. The tide swept it upstream, and the poor bird, I fear, perished by drowning. . . . Knocked up my friend P——, who is skipper of the ship N——, and asked him if he had a fire so that I could dry myself. He replied that they had no fire but that his ‘missus’ would look out a pair of pants for me. Before falling in with this plan unconditionally, I thought it best to inspect the garment. However, it was quite clean — a pair of blue serge seaman’s trousers, very baggy in the seat and far too long. But I turned up the bottoms and hid the baggy part underneath my overcoat. So, I got back home!

September 8, 1904

Wet all day. Toothache.

September 9, 1904


September 10, 1904


September 11, 1904


Xmas Day.

Mother and Dad wanted to give me one of G. A. Henty’s, but, fearing lest I did not want it, they did not put my name in it, so that if I wished I could change it. Intend doing this. Am reading the Origin of Species. It requires careful study, but I understand it so far and shall go on.

December 26, 1904

I have caught nothing in my traps yet. A little while ago I set a springe and two horse-hair nooses in the reed bed for water rails. I have bought a book on practical trapping.

January 15, 1905

I am thinking that on the whole I am a most discontented mortal. I get fits of what I call ‘What’s the good of anything?’ mania. I keep asking myself incessantly till the question wears me out: ‘What’s the good of going into the country naturalising? what’s the good of studying so hard? where is it going to end? will it lead anywhere?’

February 17, 1905

When I can get hold of any one interested in Natural History I talk away in the most garrulous manner and afterwards feel ashamed of myself for doing it.

May 15, 1905

The Captain, in answer to my letter, advises me to join one of the ordinary professions and then follow up Nat. History as a recreation, or else join Science Classes at S. Kensington, or else by influence get a post in the Natural History Museum. But I shall see.

June 9, 1905

During dinner hour, between morning and afternoon school, went out on the S—— B—— River Bank, and found another Sedge Warbler’s nest. This is the fifth I have found this year. People who live opposite on the T—— V—— hear them sing at night and think they are Nightingales!

June 27, 1905

On reviewing the past egg-season, I find in all I have discovered 232 nests belonging to forty-four species. I only hope I shall be as successful with the beetle-season.

August 15, 1905

A hot, sultry afternoon, during most of which I was stretched out on the grass beside an upturned stone where a battle royal was fought between Yellow and Black Ants. The victory went to the hardy little Yellows. . . . By the way, I held a Newt by the tail to-day and it emitted a squeak! So that the Newt has a voice after all.

August 26, 1905

In bed with a feverish cold. I am afraid I have very few Nat. His. observations to make. It is hard to observe anything at all when lying in bed in a dull bedroom with one small window. Gulls and Starlings pass, steam engines whistle, horses’ feet clatter down the street, and sometimes the voice of a passer-by reaches me, and often the loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind. I can also hear my own cough echoing through my head, and, by the evening, the few pages of Lubbock’s Ants, Bees, and Wasps which I struggled to get through during the day rattle through my brain till I am disgusted to find I have them by heart. The clock strikes midnight and I wait for the morning. Oh! what a weary world.

October 13, 1905

Down with another cold. Feeling pretty useless. It’s a wonder I don’t develop melancholia.

November 6, 1905

By 7 a.m. H—— and I were down on the mudflats of the River with field-glasses, watching Waders. Ringed Plover in great numbers.

January 13, 1906

I have always had one ambition to be a great naturalist. This is, I suppose, a child’s fancy, and I can see my folly in hoping for such great things. Still, there is no reason why I should not become a learned naturalist if I study hard. I hope that whatever I do I shall do in the hope of increasing knowledge of truth and not for my own fame. This entry may suggest that I am horribly conceited. But really I am as humble as possible. I know I have advanced beyond many others, and I know I shall advance further, but why be conceited? . . . What a short life we have, and what heaps of glorious work to be done! Supper bell — so I am off. . . . This reads like Isaac Walton’s funny mixtures of the sublime with the ridiculous. He discusses abstract happiness and the best salmon sauce all in one breath.

February 26, 1906

Although it is a grand achievement to have added but one jot or tittle to the sum of human knowledge it is grander still to have added a thought. It is best for a man to try to be both poet and naturalist — not to be too much of a naturalist and so overlook the beauty of things, or too much of a poet and so fail to understand them or even perceive those hidden beauties only revealed by close observation.

March 17, 1906

Woke up this morning covered with spots, chest inflamed, and bad cough. H—— carted me down from the Attic to the Lower Bedroom, and when the Dr came he confirmed the general opinion that I had measles. It is simply disgusting, I have somewhere near 10,000 spots on me.

April 27, 1906

Went to A—— Woods, where, strange to say, I again saw Mary. But she had a tribe of friends with her, so did not speak, but watched her from a distance through my field-glasses.

May 8, 1906

On interviewing my old friend Dr. H——, found I had chickenpox. This instead of being a Diary of a Naturalist’s observations 1 will be one of infectious diseases.

1 Up to 1911, the Journal is mainly devoted to records of observations in general Natural History and latterly in Zoology alone.

May 28, 1906

[Letter from Editor of Countryside to my brother saying that if the Countryside grew he might be able to offer me a billet. ‘Meanwhile he will be able to get along with his pen … he will soon make a living and in time too a name.’] This is a bit of all right. I shall always be on the look-out for a job on a N. H. Journal.

December 7, 1906

Went to F—— Duckponds. Flocks of Wigeon and Teal on the water. Taking advantage of a dip in the land managed to stalk them splendidly, and for quite a long time I lay among the long grass watching them through my field-glasses. But during the day Wild Duck are not particularly lively or interesting birds. They just rest serenely on the water like floating corks on a sheet of glass. Occasionally one will paddle around lazily. But for the most part they show a great ennui and seem so sleepy and tired that one would almost think to be able to approach and feed them out of the hand. But I moved one hand carelessly and the whole flock was up in a minute and whizzing across the river. Afterwards, at dusk, on returning to the ponds, they had come back; but now that the sun was down, those dozy, flapdoodle creatures of the afternoon were transformed into quacking, quarrelsome, blustering birds that squabbled and chivvied each other, every moment seizing the chance of a luxurious dip, flinging the ice-cold water off their backs with a shake of the tail that seemed to indicate the keenest-edged delight.

It was now quite dark. A Snipe rose at my feet and disappeared into the darkness. Coots and Moorhens clekked, and a Little Grebe grew bold and began to dive and fish quite close to me, methodically working its way upstream and so quartering out its feeding area.

A happy half-hour! Alas! I enjoy these moments the more as they recede. Not often do I realise the living present. That is always difficult. It is the mere shades — the ghosts of the dead days — that are dearest to me.

Spent my last day at school. De Quincey says (or was it Johnson?) that whenever we do anything for the last time, provided we have done it regularly for years before, we are a little melancholy, even though it has been distasteful to us. . . . True.

December 14, 1906

Signed my Death Warrant, i.e., my articles apprenticing me to journalism for five years. By Jove! I shall work frantically during the next five years so as to be ready at the end of them to take up a Natural History appointment.

March 1, 1907

As long as he has good health, a man need never despair. Without good health, I might keep a long while in the race, yet as the goal of my ambition grew more and more unattainable I should surely remember the words of Keats and give up: ‘There is no fiercer Hell than the failure of a great ambition.’

March 14, 1907

Have been reading through the Chemistry Course in the Harmsworth Self-Educator and learning all the latest facts and ideas about radium. I would rather have a clear comprehension of the atom as a solar system than a private income of £100 a year. If only I had eyes to go on reading without a stop!

May 1, 1907

Met an old gentleman in E——, a naturalist with a great contempt for the Book of Genesis. He wanted to know how the Kangaroo leapt from Australia to Palestine and how Noah fed the animals in the Ark. He rejects the Old T. theogony and advised me to read ‘Darwin and J. G. Wood’! Silly old man!

May 22, 1907

To Challacombe and then walked across Exmoor. This is the first time I have been on Exmoor. My first experience of the Moors came bursting in on me with a flood of ideas, impressions, and delights. I cannot write out the history of to-day. It would take too long and my mind is a palpitating tangle. I have so many things to record that I cannot record one of them. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to draw up an inventory of things seen and heard and trust to my memory to fill in the details when in the future I revert to this date. Too much joy, like too much pain, simply makes me prostrate. It wounds the organism. It is too much. I shall try to forget it all as quickly as possible so as to be able to return to egg-collecting and bird-watching the sooner as a calm and dispassionate observer. Yet these dear old hills. How I love them. I cannot leave them without one friendly word. I wish I were a shepherd!

At the ‘Ring of Bells’ had a long yarn with the landlord, who, as he told us the story of his life, was constantly interrupted but never disconcerted by the exuberant loyalty and devotion of his wife — a stout, florid, creamy woman, who capped every story with: ‘’Ees quite honest, sir; no ’arm at all in old Joshua.’

June 5, 1907

A half-an-hour of to-day I spent in a punt under a copper beech out of the pouring rain listening to Lady ——’s gamekeeper at A—— talk about beasts and local politics — just after a visit of inspection to the Heronry in the firs on the island in the middle of the Lake. It was delightful to hear him describing a Heron killing an Eel with ‘a dap on the niddick,’ helping out the figure with a pat on the nape of his thick bull neck.

July 22, 1907

Am reading Huxley’s Crayfish. H—— brought me in that magnificent aculeate Chrysis ignita.

August 15, 1907

Met her in the market with M——. I just lifted my hat and passed on. She has the most marvellous brown eyes I have ever seen. She is perfectly self-possessed. A bad sign this.

August 18, 1907

When I feel ill, cinema pictures of the circumstances of my death flit across my mind’s eye. I cannot prevent them. I consider the nature of the disease and all I said before I died — something heroic, of course!

August 31, 1907

She is a ripping girl. Her eyes are magnificent. I have never seen any one better looking.

October 1, 1907

In the afternoon dissected a Frog, following Milnes Marshall’s Book. Am studying Chemistry and attending classes at the Evening School and reading Physiology (Foster’s). Am also teaching myself German. I wish I had a microscope.

October 3, 1907

What heaps of things to be done! How short the time to do them in! An appetite for knowledge is apt to rush one off one’s feet, like any other appetite if not curbed. I often stand in the centre of the Library here and think despairingly how impossible it is ever to become possessed of all the wealth of facts and ideas contained in the books surrounding me on every hand. I pull out one volume from its place and feel as if I were no more than giving one dig with a pick in an enormous quarry. The Porter spends his days in the Library keeping strict vigil over this catacomb of books, passing along between the shelves and yet never paying heed to the almost audible susurrus of desire — the desire every book has to be taken down and read, to live, to come into being in somebody’s mind. He even hands the volumes over the counter, seeks them out in their proper places or returns them there without once realising that a Book is a Person and not a Thing. It makes me shudder to think of Lamb’s Essays being carted about as if they were fardels.

October 16, 1907

Dissected an Eel. Cassell’s Natural History says the Air-bladder is divided. This is not so in the one I opened. Found what I believe to be the lymphatic heart in the tail beneath the vent.

March 10, 1908

Am working frantically so as to keep up my own work with the daily business of reporting. Shorthand, typewriting, German, Chemistry classes, Electricity lectures, Zoology (including dissections) and field work. Am reading Mosenthal’s Muscle and Nerve.

April 7, 1908

Sectioned a leech. H—— has lent me a hand microtome and I have borrowed an old razor. My table in the Attic is now fitted up quite like a Laboratory. I get up every morning at 6 a.m. to dissect. Have worked at the Anatomy of Dytiscus, Lumbricus, another Leech, and Petromyzon fluviatilis all collected by myself. The ‘branchial basket’ of Petromyzon interested me vastly. But it’s a brute to dissect. 1

1 There are numerous drawings of dissections scattered through the Journal about this period.

May 1, 1908

Cycled to the Lighthouse at the mouth of the Estuary. Underneath some telegraph wires, picked up a Landrail in excellent condition. The colour of the wings is a beautiful warm chestnut. While sweeping the sandhills with my field-glasses in search of Ring Plover, which nest there in the shingle beaches, I espied a Shelduck (Tadorna) squatting on a piece of level ground. On walking up cautiously, found it was dead — a Drake in splendid plumage and quite fresh and uninjured. Put him in my poacher’s pocket, alongside of the Landrail. My coat looked rather bulgy, for a Shelduck is nearly as big as a Goose. Heard a Grasshopper Warbler — a rare bird in North ——. Later, after much patient watching, saw the bird in a bramble bush, creeping about like a mouse.

On the sea-shore picked up a number of Sea Mice (Aphrodite) and bottled them in my jar of 70 per cent., as they will come in useful for dissection. Also found the cranium of a Scyllium, which I will describe later on.

Near the Lighthouse watched some fishermen bring in a large Salmon in a seine net worked from the shore. It was most exciting. Cycled down three miles of hard sand with the wind behind me to the village where I had tea and — as if nothing could stay to-day’s good luck — met Margaret ——. I showed her one by one all my treasures — Rail, Duck, Skull, Sea Mice, etc., and felt like Thomas Edward, beloved of Samuel Smiles. To her I must have appeared a very ridiculous person.

‘How do you know it’s the skull of a dog-fish?’ she asked, incredulous.

‘How do I know anything?’ I said, a little piqued.

On arriving home found T—— awaiting me with the news that he had discovered a Woodpecker’s nest. When will the luck cease? I have never had such a flawless ten hours in le grand air. These summer days eat into my being. The sea has been roaring into my ears and the sun blazing down so that even the backs of my hands are sunburnt. And then: those coal-black eyes. Ah! me, she is pretty.

May 2, 1908

Dissected the Sheldrake. Very entertained to discover the extraordinary asymmetry of the syrinx. . . .

May 3, 1908

Dissected Corncrake, examining carefully the pessulus, bronchidesmus (incomplete), tympani-form and semi-lunar membranes of a very interesting syrinx. . . .

May 6, 1908

Dissected one of the Sea Mice. It has a remarkable series of hepatic ducts running into the alimentary canal as in Nudibranchs. . . .

May 9, 1908

Spring in the Woods

Among the Oak Saplings we seemed enveloped in a cloud of green. The tall green grasses threw up a green light against the young green of the Oaks, and the sun managed to trickle through only here and there. Bevies of swinging bluebells grew in patches among the grass. Overhead in the oaks I heard secret leaf whispers — those little noiseless noises. Birds and trees and flowers were secretive and mysterious like expectant motherhood. All the live things plotted together, having the same big business in hand. Out in the sunlit meadows, there was a different influence abroad. Here everything was gay, lively, irresponsible. The brook prattled like an inconsequential schoolgirl. The Marsh Marigolds in flamboyant yellow sunbonnets played ring-a-ring-a-roses.

An Oak Sapling should make an elderly man avuncular. There are so many tremendous possibilities about a well-behaved young oak that it is tempting to put a hand upon its shoulder and give some seasoned, timberly advice.

June 1, 1908

A Small Red Viper

Went to L—— Sessions. After the Court rose, I transcribed my notes quickly and walked out to the famous Valley of Rocks which Southey described as the ribs of the old Earth poking through. At the bottom of one of the hills saw a snake, a Red Viper. Put my boot on him quickly so that he couldn’t get away and then recognised him as a specimen of what I consider to be the fourth species of British Serpent — Vipera rubra. The difficulty was to know how to secure him. This species is more ferocious than the ordinary V. bera, and I did not like the idea of putting my hand down to seize him by the neck. I stood for some time with my foot so firmly pressed down on its back that my leg ached and I began to wonder if I had been bitten. I held on and presently hailed a baker’s cart coming along the road. The man got out and ran across the grass to where I stood. I showed him what I had beneath my boot and he produced a piece of string which I fastened around the snake’s tail and so gently hauled the little brute up. It already appeared moribund, but I squashed its head on the grass with my heel to make certain. After parting with the baker, to whom all thanks be given, I remember that Adders are tenacious of life and so I continue to carry him at string’s length and occasionally wallop him against a stone. As he was lifeless I wrapped him in paper and put him in my pocket — though to make assurance doubly sure I left the string on and let its end hang out over my pocket. So home by a two hours’ railway journey with the adder in the pocket of my overcoat and the overcoat on the rack over my head. Settled down to the reading of a book on Spinoza’s Ethics. At home it proved to be quite alive, and, on being pulled out by the string, coiled up on the drawing-room floor and hissed in a fury, to my infinite surprise. Finished him off with the poker and so spoilt the skin.

July 18, 1908

Have had toothache for a week. Too much of a coward to have it out. Started for P—— early in the morning to report Mr Duke, K.C. After a week’s pain, felt a little dicky. All the way in the train kept hardening myself to the task in front of me by recollecting the example of Zola, who killed pain with work. So all day to-day I have endeavoured to act as if I had no pain — the worst of all pains — toothache. By the time I got home I was rather done up, but the pain was actually less. This gave me a furious joy, and, after days of morose silence, to-night at supper I made them all laugh by bursting out violently with, ‘I don’t know whether you know it but I’ve had a horrible day to-day.’ I explained at length and received the healing ointment of much sympathy. Went to bed happy with tooth still aching. I fear it was scarcely playing the strict Zolaesque game to divulge the story of my sufferings. . . . No, I am not a martyr or a saint. Just an ordinary devil who’s having a rough time.

August 17, 1908


Had a glorious time on the rocks at low tide prawning. Caught some Five-Bearded Rocklings and a large Cottus bubalis. The sun did not simply shine to-day — it came rushing down from the sky in a cataract and flooded the sands with light. Sitting on a rock, with prawning net over my knees I looked along three miles of flat hard and yellow sands. The sun poured down on them so heavily that it seemed to raise a luminous golden yellow dust for about three feet high.

On the rocks was a pretty flapper in a pink sunbonnet — also prawning in company of S——, the artist, who has sent her picture to the Royal Academy. They saw I was a naturalist, so my services were secured to pronounce my judgment on a ‘fish’ she had caught. It was a Squid, ‘an odd little beast,’ in truth, as she said.

‘The same class of animal,’ I volunteered, ‘as the Cuttlefish and Octopus.’

‘Does it sting?’

‘Oh, no!’

‘Well, it ought to with a face like that.’ She laughed merrily, and the bearded but youthful artist laughed too.

‘I don’t know anything about these things,’ he said hopelessly.

‘Nor I,’ said the naturalist modestly. ‘I study fish.’

This was puzzling. ‘Fish?’ What was a Squid then?

. . . The artist would stop now and then and raise his glasses at a passing ship, and Maud’s face occasionally disappeared in the pink sunbonnet as she stooped over a pool to examine a seaweed or crab.

She’s a dear — and she gave me the Squid. What a merry little cuss!

September 1, 1908

Went with Uncle to see a Wesleyan minister whose fame as a microscopist, according to Uncle, made it worth my while to visit him. As I expected, he was just a silly old man, a diatomaniac fond of pretty-pretty slides and not a scientific man at all. He lectures Bands of Hope on the Butterfly’s Life History and hates his next-door neighbour, who is also a microscopist and incidentally a scientific man, because he interests himself in ‘parasites and those beastly things.’

I remarked that his friend next door had shown me an Amphioxus.

‘Oh! I expect that’s some beastly bacteria thing,’ he said petulantly. ‘I can’t understand Wilkinson. He’s a pervert.’

I told him what Amphioxus was and laughed up my sleeve. He likes to think of Zoology as a series of pretty pictures illustrating beautiful moral truths. The old fellow’s saving grace was enthusiasm. . . . Having focused an object for us, he would stand by, breathless, while we squinted down his gas-tube, and gave vent to tremendous expletives of surprise such as ‘Heavens,’ or ‘Jupiter.’ His eyes would twinkle with delight and straightway another miracle is selected for us to view. ‘They are all miracles,’ he said.

‘Those are the valves’ — washing his hands with invisible soap — ‘no one has yet been able to solve the problem of the Diatom’s valves. No one knows what they are — no, nor ever will know — why? — why can’t we see behind the valves? — because God is behind the valves — that is why!’ Amen.

October 1, 1908

Telegraphed 1000 words of Lord ——’s speech at T——. Spent the night at a comfortable country inn and read Moore’s lyrics. ‘Row gently here, my Gondolier,’ ran through my head continuously. The Inn is an old one with a long narrow passage that leads straight from front door to back with wainscoted smoke room and parlours on each side. China dogs, bran on the floor, and the picture of Derby Day with horses galloping incredibly, the drone of an old crony in the bar, and a pleasant barmy smell. Slept in a remarkable bedroom full of massive furniture, draped with cloth and covered with trinkets. The bed had a tremendous hood over it like a catafalque, and lying in it made me think I was an effigy. Read Moore till the small hours and then found I had left my handbag downstairs. Lit a candle and went on a voyage of discovery. Made a considerable noise, but roused no one. Entered drawing-room, kitchen, pantries, parlour, bar — everywhere looking for my bag and dropping candle grease everywhere! Slept in my day shirt. Tired out and slept like a top.

November 3, 1908

Aristotle’s Lantern

Dissected the Sea Urchin (Echinus esculentus). Very excited over my first view of Aristotle’s Lantern. These complicated pieces of animal mechanism never smell of musty age — after æons of evolution. When I open a Sea Urchin and see the Lantern, or dissect a Lamprey and cast eyes on the branchial basket, such structures strike me as being as finished and exquisite as if they had just a moment before been tossed me fresh from the hands of the Creator. They are fresh, young, they smell new.

December 3, 1908

Hard at work dissecting a Dogfish. Ruridecanal Conference in the afternoon. I enjoy this double life I lead. It amazes me to be laying bare the brain of a dogfish in the morning and in the afternoon to be taking down in shorthand what the Bishop says on Mission Work.

December 4, 1908

Went to the Veterinary Surgeon and begged of him the skull of a horse. Carried the trophy home under my arm — bare to the public view. ‘Why, Lor’, ’tis an ole ’orse’s jib,’ M—— said when I got back.

March 7, 1909

My programme of work is: (1) Continue German. (2) Sectioning embryo of (a) Fowl, (b) Newt. (3) Paper on Arterial System of Newts. (4) Psychology of Newts. (5) General Zoological Reading.

May 2, 1909

To C—— Hill. Too much taken with the beauty of the Woods to be able to do any nesting. Here are some of the things I saw: the bark on several of the trees in the mazzard orchards rubbed into a beautifully smooth, polished surface by the Red Devon Cows when scratching where it itched; I put my hand on the smooth almost cherry-red patch of bark and felt delighted and grateful that cows had fleas: the young shoots of the whortleberry plants on the hill were red tipped with the gold of an almost horizontal sun. I caught a little lizard which slipped across my path. . . . Afar off down in the valley I had come through, in a convenient break in a holly bush, I could just see a Cow sitting on her matronly haunches in a field. She flicked her ears and two starlings settled on her back. A Rabbit swept out of a sweet-brier bush and a Magpie flew out of the hedge on my right.

In another direction I could see a field full of luscious, tall, green grass. Every stalk was so full of sap that had I cut one I am sure it would have bled great green drops. In the field some lambs were sleeping; one woke up and looked at me with the back of its head to the low sun, which shone through its two small ears and gave them a transparent pink appearance.

No sooner am I rebaptized in the sun than I have to be turning home again. No sooner do ‘the sudden lilies push between the loosening fibres of the heart’ than I am whisked back into the old groove — the daily round. If only I had more time!— more time in which to think, to love, to observe, to frame my disposition, to direct as far as in me lies the development and unfolding of my character, if only I could direct all my energies to the great and difficult profession of life, of being man instead of trifling with one profession that bores me and dabbling in another.

June 5, 1909

On Lundy Island

Frankie is blowing Seagulls’ eggs in the scullery. His father, after a day’s work at the farm, is at his supper very hungry, yet immensely interested, and calls out occasionally,—

‘’Ow you’re getting on, Foreman?’

‘All right, Capt.,’ says Frankie affectionately, and the unpleasant asthmatic, wheezy noise of the egg-blowing goes on. . . . There are three dogs asleep under the kitchen table; all three belong to different owners and neither one to A——.

June 6, 1909

Out egg-collecting with the Lighthouse Keepers. They walk about the cliffs as surefooted as cats, and feed their dogs on birds’ eggs collected in a little bag at the end of a long pole. One dog ate three right off in as many minutes, putting his teeth through and cracking the shell, then lapping up the contents. Crab for tea.

June 7, 1909

After a glorious day at the N. end of the Island with the Puffins, was forced to-night to take another walk, as the smell of Albert’s tobacco, together with that of his stockinged feet and his boots removed, was asphyxiating.

June 9, 1909

The governess is an awfully pretty girl. We have been talking together to-day and she asked me if I were a naturalist. I said ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Well, I found a funny little beetle yesterday and Mr S—— said I ought to have given it to you.’ Later, I felt she was looking at me, so I looked at her, across the beach. Yes! it was true. When our eyes met she gave me one of the most provokingly pretty smiles, then turned and went up the cliff path and so out of my life — to my everlasting regret.

Return to-night in a cattle steamer.

June 18, 1909

Dr ——, M.A., F.R.S., D.C.L., LL.D., called in the office to-day, and seeing Dad typing, said, ‘Are you Mr Barbellion?’ Dad replied in the affirmative, whereupon the Doctor handed him his card, and Dad said he thought it was his son he wanted to see. He is an old gentleman aged eighty or thereabouts, with elastic-sided boots, an umbrella, and a guardian nephew — a youngster of about sixty. But I paid him due reverence as a celebrated zoologist and at his invitation [and to my infinite pride] accompanied him on an excursion to the coast, where he wanted to see Philoscia Couchii, which I readily turned up for him.

I chanced to remark that I thought torsion in gastropods one of the most fascinating and difficult problems in Zoology. Why should a snail be twisted round?

‘Humph,’ said he, ‘why do we stand upright?’ I was not such a fool as to argue with him, so pretended his reply was a knock-out. But it enabled me to size him up intellectually.

In the evening dined with him at his hotel. . . . He knows Wallace and Haeckel personally, and I sat at his feet with my tongue out listening to personal reminiscences of these great men. However, he seemed never to have heard of Gaskell’s Theory on the Origin of Vertebrates.

June 27, 1909

Walked to V——. As usual, Nature with clockwork regularity had all her taps turned on — larks singing, cherries ripening, and bees humming. It all bored me a little. Why doesn’t she vary it a little?

August 8, 1909

A cold note from Dr —— saying that he cannot undertake the responsibility of advising me to give up journalism for zoology.

A hellish cold in the head. Also a swingeing inflammation of the eyes. Just heard them singing in the Chapel over the way: ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ Hope so, I’m sure.

August 9, 1909

A transformation. After a long series of drab experiences in Sheffield, etc., the last being the climax of yesterday, an anti-cyclone arrived this morning and I sailed like an Eagle into cloudless, windless weather! The Academy has published my article, my cold is suddenly better, and going down by the sea this afternoon met Mary ——!

August 20, 1909

Had an amusing letter from my maiden-aunt, who does not like ‘the agnostic atmosphere’ in my Academy article. Poor dear! She is sorry if I really feel like that, and, if I do, what a pity to put it into print. Then a Bible reference to the Epistle to the Romans.

Xmas Day.

Feeling ill — like a sloppy Tadpole. My will is paralysed, I visit the Doctor regularly to be stethoscoped, ramble about the streets, idly scan magazines in the Library and occasionally rink — with palpitation of the heart as a consequence. In view of the shortness, bitterness, and uncertainty of life, all scientific labour for me seems futile.

January 10, 1910

Better, but still very dicky: a pallid animal: a weevil in a nut. I have a weak heart, an enervated nervous system; I suffer from lack of funds with which to carry on my studies; I hate newspaper-reporting — particularly some skinny-witted speaker like ——; and last, but not least, there are women; all these worries fight over my body like jackals over carrion. Yet Zoology is all I want. Why won’t Life leave me alone?

January 15, 1910

Reading Hardy’s novels. He is altogether delightful in the subtlety with which he lets you perceive the first tiny love presentiments between his heroes and heroines — the casual touch of the hands, the peep of a foot or ankle underneath the skirt — all these in Hardy signify the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand. They are the susurrus of the breeze before the storm, and you await what is to follow with palpitating heart.

February 3, 1910

For days past have been living in a state of mental ebullition. All kinds of pictures of Love, Life, and Death have been passing through my mind. Now I am too indolent and nerveless to set them down. Physically I am such a wreck that to carry out the least intention, such as putting on my boots, I have to flog my will like an Arab with a slave ‘in a sand of Ayaman.’ Three months ago when I got up before breakfast to dissect rabbits, dogfish, frogs, newts, etc., this would have seemed impossible.

February 6, 1910

Still visit Dr ——’s surgery each week. I have two dull spots at the bottom of each lung. What a fine expressive word is gloom. Let me write it: GLOOM. . . . One evening coming home in the train from L—— County Sessions I noticed a horrible, wheezy sound whenever I breathed deep. I was scared out of my life, and at once thought of consumption. Went to the Doctor’s next day, and he sounded me and reassured me. I was afraid to tell him of the little wheezy sound at the apex of each lung, and I believed he overlooked it. So next day, very harassed, I went back to him again and told him. He hadn’t noticed it and looked glum. Have to keep out of doors as much as possible.

The intense internal life I lead, worrying about my health, reading (eternally reading), reflecting, observing, feeling, loving and hating — with no outlet for superfluous steam, cramped and confined on every side, without any friends or influence of any sort, without even any acquaintances excepting my colleagues in journalism (whom I contemn)— all this will turn me into the most self-conscious, conceited, mawkish, gauche creature in existence.

March 6, 1910

The facts are undeniable: Life is pain. No sophistry can win me over to any other view. And yet years ago I set out so hopefully and healthfully — what are birds’ eggs to me now? My ambition is enormous but vague. I am too distributed in my abilities ever to achieve distinction.

March 22, 1910

Had a letter from the Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum, advising me of three vacancies in his Dept., and asking me if I would like to try, etc. . . . So that Dr ——’s visit to me bore some fruit. 1 Spent the morning day-dreaming. . . . Perhaps this is the flood tide at last! I shall work like a drayhorse to pull through if I am nominated. . . . I await developments in a frightfully turbulent state of mind. I have a frantic desire to control the factors which are going to affect my future so permanently. And this ferocious desire, of course, collides with a crash all day long with the fact that however much I desire there will still remain the unalterable logic of events.

1 He had spoken about me to the Museum authorities, and it was his influence which got me the nomination to sit for the examination.

April 7, 1910

. . . How delicious all this seemed! To be alive — thinking, seeing, enjoying, walking, eating — all quite apart from the amount of money in your purse or the prospects of a career. I revelled in the sensuous enjoyment of my animal existence.

June 2, 1910

Up to now my life has been one of great internal strife and struggle — the struggle with a great ambition and a weak will — unequal to the task of coping with it. I have planned on too big a scale, perhaps. I have put too great a strain on my talents, I have whipped a flagging will, I have been for ever cogitating, worrying, devising means of escape. Meanwhile, the moments have gone by unheeded and unenjoyed.

June 10, 1910

Legginess is bad enough in a woman, but bandy legginess is impossible.

Solitude is good for the soul. After an hour of it, I feel as lofty and imperial as Marcus Aurelius.

The best girl in the best dress immediately looks disreputable if her stockings be downgyved.

Some old people on reaching a certain age go on living out of habit — a bad habit too.

How much I can learn of a stranger by his laugh.

Bees, Poppies, and Swallows!— and all they mean to him who really knows them! Or a White Gull on a piece of floating timber, or a troop of shiny Rooks close on the heels of a ploughman on a sunny autumn day.

June 30, 1910

My egoism appals me. Likewise the extreme intensification of the consciousness of myself. Whenever I walk down the High Street on a market day, my self-consciousness magnifies my proportions to the size of a Gulliver — so that it is grievous to reflect that in spite of that the townsfolk see me only as an insignificant bourgeois youth who reports meetings in shorthand.

July 17, 1910

We sang to-night in Church, ‘But when I know Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought.’ Exactly! Till then, farewell. We are a great little people, we humans. If there be no next world, still the Spirit of Man will have lived and uttered its protest.

July 22, 1910

Our Simian Ancestry

How I hate the man who talks about the ‘brute creation,’ with an ugly emphasis on brute. Only Christians are capable of it. As for me, I am proud of my close kinship with other animals. I take a jealous pride in my Simian ancestry. I like to think that I was once a magnificent hairy fellow living in the trees and that my frame has come down through geological time via sea jelly and worms and Amphioxus, Fish, Dinosaurs, and Apes. Who would exchange these for the pallid couple in the Garden of Eden?

August 9, 1910

I do not ever like going to bed. For me each day ends in a little sorrow. I hate the time when it comes to put my books away, to knock out my pipe and say ‘Good-night,’ exchanging the vivid pleasures of the day for the darkness of sleep and oblivion.

August 23, 1910

Spent the afternoon and evening till ten in the woods with Mary ——. Had tea in the Haunted House, and after sat in the Green Arbor until dark, when I kissed her. ‘Achilles was not the worse warrior for his probation in petticoats.’

September 1, 1910

I hope to goodness she doesn’t think I want to marry her. In the Park in the dark, kissing her, I was testing and experimenting with a new experience.

September 4, 1910

Last evening, after much mellifluous cajolery, induced her to kiss me. My private opinion about this whole affair is that all the time I have been at least twenty degrees below real love heat. In any case I am constitutionally and emotionally unfaithful. I said things which I did not believe just because it was dark and she was charming.

September 5, 1910

Read Thomas à Kempis in the train. It made me so angry I nearly flung it out of the window. ‘Meddle not with things that be too deep for thee,’ he says, ‘but read such things as yield compunction to the heart rather than elevation to the head.’ Forsooth! Can’t you see me?

September 15, 1910

A puzzling afternoon: weather perfect, the earth green and humming like a top, yet a web of dream overlaid the great hill, and at certain moments, which recurred in a kind of pulsation, accompanied by subjective feelings of vague strife and effort, I easily succeeded in letting all I saw — the field and the blackberry bush, the whole valley and the apple orchards — change into something unreal, flimsy, gauzelike, immaterial, and totally unexperienced. Suddenly when the impression was most vivid, the whole of this mysterious tapestry would vanish away and I was back where 2 and 2 make 4. Oh! Earth! how jealously you guard your secrets!

October 4, 1910

Sat at the Civil Service Commission in Burlington House for the exam, for the vacancy in the B. M. No luck at all with the papers. The whole of my nine months’ assiduous preparation helped me in only two questions. In fine, I have not succeeded, I shall not obtain the appointment, and in a few weeks I shall be back in the wilds of N—— again under the old regime, reporting platitudes from greasy guardians of the poor, and receiving condolences from people not altogether displeased at some one else’s misfortune.

October 14, 1910

Returned home from London. Felt horribly defeated in crossing the threshold. It was so obviously returning after an unsuccessful flight.

October 22, 1910

Dissected a Squilla for which I paid 2s. 6d. to the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

October 23, 1910


Am attempting to feel after some practical philosophy of living — something that will enable me to accept disappointment with equanimity and Town Council meetings with a broad and tolerant smile. At present, ambition consumes me. I was ambitious before I was breeched. I can remember wondering as a child if I were a young Macaulay or Ruskin and secretly deciding that I was. My infant mind even was bitter with those who insisted on regarding me as a normal child and not as a prodigy. Since then I have struggled with this canker for many a day, and as success fails to arrive it becomes more gnawing.

October 24, 1910

In the morning a Town Council and in the afternoon a Rural Council. With this abominable trash in my notebook waiting to be written up and turned into ‘copy,’ and with the dream pictures of a quiet studious life in Cromwell Road not yet faded from my mind, where can I turn for consolation? That I have done my best? That’s only a mother’s saying to her child.

Perhaps after all it is a narrow life — this diving and delving among charming little secrets, plying diligently scalpel and microscope and then weaving the facts obtained into theoretic finespun. It is all vastly entertaining to the naturalist but it leaves the world unmoved. I sometimes envy the zealot with a definite mission in life. Life without one seems void. The monotonous pursuit of our daily vocations — the soldier, sailor, candlestickmaker — so they go on, never living but only working, never thinking but only hypnotising themselves by the routine and punctuality of their lives into just so many mechanical toys warranted to go for so long and then stop when Death takes them. . . . It amazes me that men must spend their precioua days of existence for the most part in slaving for food and clothing and the bare necessaries of existence.

To sum up my despondency, what’s the good of such a life? Where does it lead? Where am I going? Why should I work? What means this procession of nights and days wherein we are all seen moving along intent and stern as if we had some purpose or a goal? . . . Of course to the man who believes in the next world and a personal God, it is quite another matter. The Christian is the Egoist par excellence. He does not mind annihilation by arduous labour in this world if in the next he shall have won eternal life. . . . He is reckless of to-day, extravagant in the expenditure of his life. This intolerable fellow will be cheerful in a dungeon. For he flatters himself that God Almighty up in Heaven is all the time watching through the keyhole and marking him down for eternal life.

October 26, 1910

The nose-snuffling, cynical man who studies La Rochefoucauld, and prides himself on a knowledge of human motives, is pleased to point out that every action and every motive is selfish, from the philanthropist who advertises himself by his charities to the fanatic who lays down his life for a cause. Even secret charities, for they give pleasure to the doer. So your cynic thinks he has thus, with one stroke of his psychological scalpel, laid human nature bare in all its depravities. All he has done really is to reclassify motives — instead of grouping them as selfish and unselfish (which is more convenient) he lumps them together as selfish, a method by which even he is forced to recognise different grades of selfishness. For example, the selfishness of a wife-beater is lower than the selfishness of a man who gives up his life for another.

October 28, 1910

The result arrived. As I thought, I have failed, being fourth with only three vacancies.

November 7, 1910

It is useless to bewail the course of fortune. It cannot be much credit to possess — though we may covet — those precious things, to possess which depends on circumstances outside our control.

November 9, 1910

Dined at the Devonshire Club in St James’s Street, W., with Dr H—— and Mr ——, the latter showing the grave symptomatic phenomena of a monocle and spats. A dinner of eight courses. Only made one mistake — put my salad on my dish instead of on the side dish. Horribly nervous and reticent. I was apparently expected to give an account of myself and my abilities — and with that end in view, they gave me a few pokes in my cranial ribs. But I am a peculiar animal, and, before unbosoming myself, I would require a happier mise en scène than a West End Club, and a more tactful method of approach than ogling by two professors, who seemed to think I was a simple penny-in-the-slot machine. I froze from sheer nervousness and nothing resulted.

November 11, 1910

Returned home and found a letter awaiting me from Dr A—— offering me £60 a year for a temporary job as assistant at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Left London horribly depressed. They evidently intend to shuffle me off.

Read Geo. Gissing’s novel, Born in Exile. Godwin Peak, with his intense pride of individuality, self-torturing capacities, and sentimental languishment, reminds me of myself.

November 20, 1910

A purulent cold in the nose. My heart is weak. Palpitation after the least exertion. But I shall soon be swinging my cudgels in the battle of life, so it won’t do to be hypochondriacal. . . . Let all the powers of the world and the Devil attack me, yet I will win in the end — though the conquest may very well be one which no one but myself will view.

Have accepted the Plymouth appointment.

November 30, 1910

Struggling in the depths again within the past few days with heart attacks. Am slowly getting better of them and trying to forget as soon as may be visions of sudden death, coffins, and obituary notices.

December 2, 1910


At first, when we are very young, Death arouses our curiosity, as it did Cain in the beginning. 1 It is a strange and very rare phenomenon which we cannot comprehend, and every time we hear of some one’s death, we try to recall that person’s appearance in life and are disappointed if we can’t. The endeavour is to discover what it is, this Death, to compare two things, the idea of the person alive and the idea of him dead. At last some one we know well dies — and that is the first shock. . . . I shall never forget when our Matron died at the D—— School. . . . As the years roll on, we get used to the man with the scythe and an acquaintance’s death is only a bit of gossip.

Suppose the Hellfire of the orthodox really existed! We have no assurance that it does not! It seems incredible, but many incredible things are true. We do not know that God is not as cruel as a Spanish inquisitor. Suppose, then, He is! If, after Death, we wicked ones were shovelled into a furnace of fire — we should have to burn. There would be no redress. It would simply be the Divine Order of things. It is outrageous that we should be so helpless and so dependent on any one — even God.

1 In Byron’s poem.

December 9, 1910

Sometimes I think I am going mad. I live for days in the mystery and tears of things so that the commonest object, the most familiar face — even my own — become ghostly, unreal, enigmatic. I get into an attitude of almost total scepticism, nescience, solipsism even, in a world of dumb, sphinx-like things that cannot explain themselves. The discovery of how I am situated — a sentient being on a globe in space overshadows me. I wish I were just nothing.

Later: While at a public meeting, the office-boy approached me and immediately whispered without hesitation,—

‘Just had a telephone message to say that your father is at the T—— Railway Station, lying senseless. He has evidently had an apoplectic fit.’

(How those brutal words, ‘lying senseless,’ banged and bullied and knocked me down. Mother was waiting for me at the door in a dreadful state and expecting the worst.)

Met the train with the Doctor, and took him home in the cab — still alive, thank God, but helpless. He was brave enough to smile and shake me by the hand — with his left, though he was speechless and the right side of his body helpless. A porter discovered him at the railway terminus lying on the floor of a second-class carriage.

December 10, 1910

He is a trifle better. It is fifteen years since he had the first paralytic stroke.

Am taking over all his work and have written at once resigning the Plymouth appointment.

December 23, 1910

It really did require an effort to go upstairs to-day to his bedroom and say cheerfully I was not going to P. after all, and that the matter was of no consequence to me. I laughed gaily and Dad was relieved. A thundering good joke. What annoys me is that other folk — the brainless, heartless mob, as Schopenhauer remarks, still continue to regard me as one of themselves. . . . I had nearly escaped into a seaside laboratory, and now suddenly to be flung back into the dirt and sweat of the newspaper world seems very hard, and it is very hard.

December 26, 1910

Windy Ash

With the dog for a walk around Windy Ash. It was a beautiful winter’s morning — a low sun giving out a pale light but no warmth — a luminant, not a fire — the hedgerows bare and well trimmed, an Elm lopped close showing white stumps which glistened liquidly in the sun, a Curlew whistling overhead, a deeply cut lane washed hard and clean by the winter rains, a gunshot from a distant cover, a creeping Wren, silent and tame, in a bramble bush, and over the five-barred gate the granite roller with vacant shafts. I leaned on the gate and saw the great whisps of cloud in the sky like comets’ tails. Everything cold, crystalline.

January 2, 1911

As a young man — a very young man — my purpose was to plough up all obstacles, brook no delays, and without let or hindrance win through to an almost immediate success! But witness 1910! ‘My career’ so far has been like the White Knight’s, who fell off behind when the horse started, in front when it stopped, and sideways occasionally to vary the monotony.

January 30, 1911

Feeling ill and suffering from attacks of faintness. My ill health has produced a change in my attitude towards work. As soon as I begin to feel the least bit down, I am bound to stop at once as the idea of bending over a desk or a dissecting dish, of reading or studying, nauseates me when I think that perhaps to-morrow or next day or next week, next month, next year I may be dead. What a waste of life it seems to work! Zoology is repugnant and philosophy superfluous beside the bliss of sheer living — out in the cold polar air or indoors in a chair before a roaring fire with hands clasped, watching the bustling, soothing activity of the flames.

Then, as soon as I am well again, I forget all this, grow discontented with doing nothing and work like a Tiger.

February 11, 1911

Walked in the country. Coming home, terrified by a really violent attack of palpitation. Almost every one I met I thought would be the unfortunate person who would have to pick me up. As each one in the street approached me, I weighed him in the balance and considered if he had presence of mind and how he would render first aid. After my friend, P. C.——, had passed, I felt sorry that the tragedy had not already happened, for he knows me and where I live. At length, after sundry leanings over the river wall, arrived at the Library, which I entered, and sat down, when the full force of the palpitation was immediately felt. My face burned with the hot blood, my hand holding the paper shook with the angry pulse, and my heart went bang! bang! bang! and I could feel its beat in the carotids of the neck and up along the Torcular Herophili and big vessels in the occipital region of the head. Drew in each breath very gently for fear of aggravating the fiend. Got home (don’t know how) and had some sal volatile. Am better now but very demoralised.

February 13, 1911

Feel like a piece of drawn threadwork, or an undeveloped negative, or a jelly fish on stilts, or a sloppy tadpole, or a weevil in a nut, or a spitchcocked eel. In other words and in short — ill.

February 16, 1911

After some days with the vision of sudden death constantly before me, have come to the conclusion that it’s a long way to go to die. Am coming back anyhow. Yet these are a few terrible pages in my history.

March 4, 1911

. . . The Doctor’s orders ‘Cease Work’ have brought on in an aggravated form my infatuation for zoological research. I lie in bed and manufacture rolling periods in praise of it, I get dithyrambic over the zoologists themselves — Huxley, Wallace, Brooks, Lankester. I chortle to reflect that in zoology there are no stock exchange ambitions, there is no mention of slum life, Tariff Reform is not included. In the repose of the spacious laboratory by the seaside or in the halls of some great Museum, life with its vulgar struggles, its hustle and obscenity, scarcely penetrates. Behind those doors, life flows slowly, deeply. I am ascetic and long for the monastic seclusion of a student’s life.

March 5, 1911

From One Maiden Lady to Another. (Authentic)

‘My dear Sister,— You have been expecting to hear from me I know, I have had inflammation to my eyes twice in 3 weeks so I thought I had better let the Doctor see and he says it is catarrh of the eyes and windpipe. I am inhaling and taking lozenges and medicine. You will be sorry to learn Leonora Mims has been taken to a Sanatorium with Diptheria, we heard yesterday, she is better, poor Mrs Mims herself quite an invalid, she has to walk with a stick, I believe you know she has had to have her breast cut off, they keep a servant as she can’t do anything, old Mrs Point is 87 I think it is so they too have a lot of trouble, Fred Mims has just got married. . . .

‘Poor old Mrs Seemsoe is just the same, she doesn’t know anybody but she talks, the nurse put a grape in her mouth but she didn’t know what to do with it, I think it is very sad. She was taken about a fortnight before Easter. Will you tell me dear if this is right receipt for clothes ½ oz. carbolic in ½ pint of rose water. Harry Gammon’s 2 little children have measles, poor Maisie has gone with her Aunt Susan, poor old Joe Gammon they say had very little to leave, we don’t know where Robert gets his money from. I dare say you saw that Tom Sagg has married another of Ned Smith’s daughters and we hear these Smith girls are rare housekeepers and this girl that has married Tom Sagg has made all her own linen. Mrs Wilkins, the butcher’s wife is going to have a little one after 15 years, our Vicar has been laid up with an abscess, he told us about his brother the other day, he says as brothers they love each other very much. We have 3 very sad cases of men ill in the village. We had 4 but one man died of cancer.

‘Yr loving Sister Amy.’


March 7, 1911

If I die I should like to be buried in the cherry orchards at V——.

How the beastly mob loves a tragedy! The sudden death of the Bank Manager is simply thrilling the town, and the newspapers sell like hot cakes. Scarcely before the body is cold the coincidence of his death on the anniversary of his birth is discussed in every household; every one tells everybody else where they saw him last — ‘he looked all right then.’ The policeman and the housemaid, the Mayor and the Town Clerk, the cabman and the billposter, stand and discuss the deceased gentleman’s last words or what the widow’s left with. ‘Ah! well, it is very sad,’ they remark to one another with no emotion and continue on their way.

March 10, 1911

On coming downstairs in the evening played Ludo with H——. At one stage I laughed so much in conjunction with that harlequin H—— that I got cramp in the abdominal muscles and the tears trickled down my face.

March 13, 1911

H—— and I play Ludo incessantly. We’ve developed the gambling fever, and our pent-up excitement every now and then explodes in fiendish cackles, and Mother looks up over her spectacles and says, ‘William, William, they’ll hear in the street presently.’

A Character

For this world’s unfortunates, his is the ripe sympathy of a well-developed nature, standing in strong contrast with the rest of his personality, which is wholly self-centred, a little ungenerous, and what strong men of impeccable character call ‘weak.’ If you are ill he is delightful, if you are robust or successful he can be very objectionable. To an influenza victim he goes out of his way to carry a book, but if you tell him with gusto you have passed your exam, he says, ‘Oh, but there’s not much behind it, is there?’ ‘Oh! no,’ I answer, comforting him, ‘it is really a misfortune to be a success.’ And so only the bankrupts, dipsos (as he calls them), ne’er-do-weels, and sudden deaths ever touch his heart or tap his sympathy. He is a short, queery, dressy little fellow, always spruce and clean. His joy consists in a glass of beer, a full stomach, a good cigar, or a pretty girl to flirt with. He frequents drinking saloons and billiard rooms, goes to dances and likes to be thought a lady’s man. ‘Um,’ he will say, with the air of a connoisseur, ‘a little too broad in the beam,’ as some attractive damsel walks down the street. Any day about twelve you can see both of us, ‘the long and the short of it’ (he is only half my height and I call him .5), walking together in the Park, and engaged in the most heated discussion over some entirely trivial matter, such as whether he would marry a woman with sore eyes, etc., etc. More than once we have caught cabmen idle on the cab-rank or policemen on point duty jerking their thumbs backward at us and expressing some facetious remarks which we longed to overhear. I usually walk in the gutter to bring my height down a bit.

A good raconteur himself, he does not willingly suffer a story from another. The varmint on occasion finishes your joke off for you, which is his delicate way of intimating that he has heard it before. He is a first-class mimic, and sends every one into a thousand fits while he gives you in succession the Mayor and all the Corporation. He also delights me at times by mimicking me. His mind is receptive rather than creative: it picks up all sorts of gaudy ideas by the wayside like a magpie, and I sometimes enjoy the exquisite sensation of hearing some of these petty pilferings (which he has filched from me) laid at my feet as if they were his own. The ideas which are his own are always unmistakable.

His favourite poems are Omar and the Ballad of Reading Jail, his favourite drinks Medoc or a Cherry Mixture. Me he describes as serpentulous with Gibbon-like arms, pinheaded, and so on. He amuses me. In fact I love him.

March 16, 1911

No one will ever understand without personal experience that an exceedingly self-conscious creature like myself driven in on himself to consume himself is the unhappiest of men. I have come to loathe myself: my finicking, hypersensitive, morbid nature, always thinking, talking, writing about myself for all the world as if the world beyond did not exist! I am rings within rings, circles concentric and intersecting, a maze, a tangle: watching myself behave or misbehave, always reflecting on what impression I am making on others or what they think of me. Introduce me to a stranger and I swell out as big as Alice. Self-consciousness makes me pneumatic, and consequently so awkward and clumsy and swollen that I don’t know how to converse — and God help the other fellow.

Later: Youth is an intoxication without wine, some one says. Life is an intoxication. The only sober man is the melancholiac, who, disenchanted, looks at life, sees it as it really is, and cuts his throat. If this be so, I want to be very drunk. The great thing is to live, to clutch at our existence and race away with it in some great and enthralling pursuit. Above all, I must beware of all ultimate questions — they are too maddeningly unanswerable —let me eschew philosophy and burn Omar.

In this week’s T. P.’s Weekly a youth advertises:— ‘Young thinkers interested in philosophy, religion, social reform, the future of humanity, and all freethought, please communicate with “Evolution,” aged 21!’ All right for 21.

Later: I have in mind some work on the vascular system of larval newts. In the autumn I see a large piece of work to be done in animal psychology — namely, frequency of stimulus and its relation to habit formation. Yet the doctor advises long rest and the office work remains to be done. I must hack my way through somehow. I sit trying to disentangle these knots; then some one plays a dreamy waltz and all my fine edifices of the will vanish in mist. Is it worth while? Why not float with the tide? But I soon throw off these temptations. If I live, I shall play a fine game! I am determined. A lame-dog life is of no use.

April 17, 1911

Railway Travel

A journey in a railway train makes me sentimental. If I enter the compartment a robust-minded, cheerful youth, fresh and whistling from a walk by the sea, yet, as soon as I am settled down in one corner and the train is rattling along past fields, woods, towns, and painted stations, I find myself indulging in a saccharine sadness —very toothsome and jolly. I pull a long face and gaze out of the window wistfully and look sad. But I am really happy — and incredibly sentimental.

The effect is produced, I suppose, by the quickly changing panoramic view of the country, and as I see everything sliding swiftly by, and feel myself being hurtled forward willy-nilly, I am sub-conscious of the flight of Time, of the eternal flux, of the trajectory of my own life. . . . Timid folk, of course, want some Rock of Ages, something static. They want life a mill pond rather than the torrent which it is, a homely affair of teacups and tabby cats rather than a dangerous expedition.

April 22, 1911

Who will rid me of the body of this death? My body is chained to me — a dead weight. It is my warder. I can do nothing without first consulting it and seeking its permission. I jeer at its grotesqueness. I chafe at the thongs it binds on me. On this bully I am dependent for everything the world can give me. How can I preserve my amour propre when I must needs be for ever wheedling and cajoling a despot with delicate meats and soft couches? — I who am proud, ambitious, and full of energy! In the end, too, I know it intends to carry me off. . . . I should like though to have the last kick and, copying De Quincey, arrange to hand it over for dissection to the medical men — out of revenge.

‘Hope thou not much; fear thou not at all’ — my motto of late.

April 30, 1911

I can well imagine looking back on these entries later on and blushing at the pettiness of my soul herein revealed. . . . Only be charitable, kind reader. There are three Johns, and I am much mistaken if in these pages there will not be found something of the John known to himself, and an inkling, perhaps, of the man as he is known to his Creator. As a timid showman afraid that unless he emphasises the features of his exhibit, they will be overlooked, let me, hat in hand, point out that I know I am an ass, that I am still hoping (in spite of ill health) that I am an enthusiast.

May 2, 1911

Maeterlinck’s Wisdom and Destiny is distilled Marcus Aurelius. I am rather tired of these comfortable philosophers. If a man be harassed by Fate with a red rag and a picador let him turn and rend him — or try to, anyway.

May 8, 1911

Staying by the Sea

. . . . . . .

I have been living out of doors a lot lately and am getting sunburnt. It gives me infinite pleasure to be sunburnt — to appear the man of the open air, the open road, and the wild life. The sun intoxicates me to-day. The sea is not big enough to hold me nor the sky for me to breathe in. I feel I should like to be swaying with all the passions, throbbing with life and a vast activity of heart and sinew — to live magnificently — with an unquenchable thirst to drink to the lees, to plumb the depth of every joy and every sorrow, to see my life flash in the heat. Ah! Youth! Youth! Youth!!! In these moments of ecstasy my happiness is torrential. I have the soul of the poppy flaming in me then. I am rather like the poppy in many ways. . . . It is peculiarly appropriate. It must be my flower! I am the poppy!!

May 9, 1911

L—— was digging up the ground in his garden to-day and one shovelful came up thick and shapely. He laid the sod on its back gently without breaking it and said simply, ‘Doesn’t it come up nice?’ His face was radiant!— Real happiness lies in the little things, in a bit of garden work, in the rattle of the teacups in the next room, in the last chapter of a book.

May 14, 1911

Returned home. I hate living in this little town. If some one dies, he is sure to be some one you had a joke with the night before. A suicide — ten to one — implicates your bosom friend, or else the little man at the bookshop cut him down. There have been three deaths since I came home — I knew them all. It depresses me. The town seems a mortuary with all these dead bodies lying in it. Lucky for you, if you’re a fat, rubicund, unimaginative physician.

May 16, 1911

Two more people dead — one a school friend. Sat on a seat on the river bank and read the Journal of Animal Behaviour. It made me long to be at work. I foamed at the mouth to be sitting there perforce in an overcoat on a seat doing nothing like a pet dove. A weak heart makes crossing a road an adventure and turns each day into a dangerous expedition.

May 18, 1911

A dirty ragamuffin on the river’s bank held up a tin can to me with the softly persuasive words,—

‘’Ere, Mister, BAIT.’

‘What are you going to do with it?’


‘What for?’


We have all tried to catch salmon with a bent pin. No matter though if no salmon be caught. Richard Jefferies said, ‘If there be no immortality still we shall have had the glory of that thought.’

May 19, 1911

Old Diaries

Spent some happy time reading over old diaries. I was grieved and surprised to find how much I had forgotten. To forget the past so easily seems scarcely loyal to oneself. I am so selfishly absorbed in my present self that I have grown not to care a damn about that ever increasing collection of past selves — those dear, dead gentlemen who one after the other have tenanted the temple of this flesh and handed on the torch of my life and personal identity before creeping away silently and modestly to rest.

June 6, 1911

Brilliantly fine and warm. Unable to resist the sun, so I caught the ten train to S—— and walked across the meadow (buttercups, forget-me-nots, ragged robins) to the Dipper stream and the ivy bridge. Read ardently in Geology till twelve. Then took off my boots and socks, and waded underneath the right arch of the bridge in deep water, and eventually sat on a dry stone at the top of the masonry just where the water drops into the green salmon pool in a solid bar. Next I waded upstream to a big slab of rock tilted at a comfortable angle. I lay flat on this with my nether extremities in water up to my knees. The sun bathed my face and dragon flies chased up and down intent on murder. But I cared not a tinker’s Demetrius about Nature red in tooth and claw. I was quite satisfied with Nature under a June sun in the cool atmosphere of a Dipper stream. I lay on the slab completely relaxed, and the cool water ran strongly between my toes. Surely I was never again going to be miserable. The voices of children playing in the wood made me extra happy. As a rule I loathe children. I am too much of a youth still. But not this morning. For these were fairy voices ringing through enchanted woods.

June 8, 1911

Brilliantly fine and warm. Went by train to C—— Woods. Took first-class return on account of the heat. Crossed the meadow and up the hill to the mill leat, where we bathed our feet and read. Ate a powerful lunch and made several unsuccessful grabs at Caddie flies. I want one to examine the mouth parts. After lunch we sat on the foot-bridge over the stream, and I rested on it flat in the face of the sun. The sun seemed to burn into my very bones, purging away everything that may be dark or threatening there. The physical sensation of the blood flow beneath the skin was good to feel, and the heat made every tissue glow with a radiant well-being. When I got up and opened my eyes all the colours of the landscape vanished under the silvery whiteness of the intense sunlight.

We put on our boots and socks (our feet seemed to have swollen to a very large size) and wandered downstream to a little white house, a gamekeeper’s cottage, where the old woman gave us cream and milk and home-made bread in her beautiful old kitchen with open hearth. China dogs, of course, and on the wall an old painting representing the person of a page boy (so she said) who was once employed up at the squire’s. An unwholesome atmosphere of pigs pervaded the garden, but as this is not pretty I ought to leave it out. . . .

June 14, 1911

Brilliantly fine. Went by the early train to S——. Walked to the ivy bridge and then waded upstream to the great slab of rock where I spread myself in the sun as before. The experiment was so delightful it is worth repeating a hundred times. In this position I read of the decline and fall of Trilobites, of the Stratigraphy of the Lias and so on. Geology is a very crushing science, yet I enjoyed my existence this morning with the other flies about that stream.

June 20, 1911

Sat at Liverpool University for the practical exam. Zoology, Board of Education.

At the close the other students left but I went on working. Prof. Herdman asked me if I had finished. I said ‘No,’ so he gave me a little more time. Later he came up again, and again I said ‘No,’ but he replied that he was afraid I must stop. ‘What could you do further?’ he asked, picking up a dish of plankton. I pointed out a Sagitla, an Oikopleura, and a Noctiluca, and he replied, ‘Of course I put in more than you were expected to identify in the time, so as to make a choice possible.’ Then he complimented me on my written papers which were sent in some weeks ago, and looking at my practical work he added, ‘And this, too, seems to be quite excellent.’

I thanked him from the bottom of a greedy and grateful heart, and he went on, ‘I see you describe yourself in your papers as a journalist, but can you tell me exactly what has been your career in Zoology?’

I answered of course rather proudly that I had had no career in Zoology.

‘But what school or college have you worked at?’ he persisted.

‘None,’ I said a little doggedly. ‘What I know I have taught myself.’

‘So you’ve had no training in Zoology at all?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Well, if you’ve taught yourself all you know, you’ve done remarkably well.’

He still seemed a little incredulous, and when I explained how I got a great many of my marine animals for dissection and study at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, he immediately asked me suspiciously if I had ever worked there. We shook hands, and he wished me all success in the future, to which I to myself devoutly said Amen.

Came home very elated at having impressed some one at last.

Now for Dublin.

June 30, 1911

Oeconomic biology may be very useful but I am not interested in it. Give me the pure science. I don’t want to be worrying my head over remedies for potato disease nor cures for fleas in fowls. Heaven preserve me from ever becoming a County Council lecturer or a Government Entomologist! 1 . . . Give me the recluse life of a scholar or investigator, full of leisure, culture, and delicate skill. I would rather know Bergson than be able to stay at the Ritz Hotel. I would rather be able to dissect a starfish’s water-vascular system than know the price of Consols. I should make a most industrious country gentleman with £5000 a year and a deer park. . . . My idea is to withdraw from the mobile vulgus and spend laborious days in the library or laboratory. The world is too much with us. I long for the monotony of monastic life! Father Wasmann and the Abbé Spallanzani are the type. Let me set my face towards them. Such lives afford poor material for novelists or dramatists, but so much the better. Hamlet makes fine reading, but I don’t want to be Hamlet myself.

1 See entry for October 8, 1913.

July 6, 1911

In the afternoon went out dredging in fifteen fathoms off the pier at I——, but without much success. . . Got a large number of interesting things, however, in the tow net, including some advanced eggs of Loligo and a Tomopteris. . . .

July 7, 1911

Went to the trout stream again. After stretching a muslin net crosswise on the water for insects floating down, sat on the footbridge and read Geology for the Dublin Examination. Later, waded downstream to a hazel bush on the right bank beneath a shady oak. Squatted right down on the bush, which supported me like an arm-chair — and, with legs dangling in the cool water, opened a Meredith and enjoyed myself.

July 28, 1911

Had to write backing out of the Dublin Examination for which I am nominated to sit. I am simply not fit for the racket of such a journey in my present state of health. My chances of success, too, are not such as to warrant my drawing on Dad for the money. He is still ill, and secretly agitated, I fear, because I am so bent on giving up his work. It looks, however, as if newspaper journalism is to be my fate. It was the refinement of torture having to write.

July 31, 1911

Had a letter from Dr S—— — enough to wring tears from a monument.

Sat like a valetudinarian in the Park all day getting fresh air — among the imbeciles, invalids, and children. Who cares? ‘But, gentlemen, you shall hear.’

August 4, 1911

Still another chance — quite unexpectedly received a second nomination this morning to sit for another exam, for two vacancies in the British Museum. Good luck this.

August 11, 1911

Very hot, so went to S——, and bathed in the salmon pool. Stretched myself out in the water, delighted to find that I had at last got to the very heart of the countryside. I was not just watching from the outside — on the bank. I was in it, and plunging in it, too, up to my armpits. What did I care about the British Museum or Zoology then? All but the last enemy and object of conquest I had overcome — for the moment perhaps even Death himself was under heel — I was immortal — in that minute I was always prostrate in the stream — sunk deep in the bosom of old Mother Earth who cannot die!

August 14, 1911

At 4 p.m. to the Salmon Pool for a bathe. 87.3 in the shade. The meadow was delicious in the sunshine. It made me want to hop, flirt my tail, sing. I felt ever such a bright-eyed wily bird!

August 17, 1911

Caught the afternoon train to C——, but unfortunately forgot to take with me either watch or tubes (for insects). So I applied to the station-master, a youth of about eighteen, who is also signalman, porter, ticket-collector, and indeed very factotal — even to the extent of providing me with empty match boxes. I agreed with him to be called by three halloos from the viaduct just before the evening train came in. Then I went up to the leat, set up my muslin net in it for insects floating down, and then went across to the stream and bathed. Afterwards, went back and boxed the insects caught, and returned to the little station, with its creepers on the walls and over the roof, all as delightfully quiet as ever, and the station youth as delightfully silly. Then the little train came around the bend of the line — green puffing engine and red coaches, like a crawling caterpillar of gay colours.

August 20, 1911

A trapper killed a specimen of Tropidonotus natrix and brought it to me. I gave him sixpence for it and am just going to dissect it.

August 21, 1911

There are folk who notice nothing. (Witness Capt. M’Whirr in Conrad’s Typhoon.) They live side by side with genius or tragedy as innocent as babies; there are heaps of people who live on a mountain, a volcano, even, without knowing it. If the stars of Heaven fell and the Moon were turned into blood some one would have to direct their attention to it. . . . Perhaps after all, the most obvious things are the most difficult to see. We all recognise Keats now, but suppose he was only ‘the boy next door’ — why should I read his verses?

August 27, 1911

Preparing a Snake’s Skull

Prepared the skull of grass snake. I fancy I scooped out the eyes with patent delight — I suppose symbolically, as though, on behalf of the rest of suffering humanity, I were wiping off the old score against the beast for its behaviour in the Garden of Eden.

September 5, 1911

At 2.30 Dad had three separate ‘strokes’ of paralysis in as many minutes, the third leaving him helpless. They sent for me in the Library, where I was reading, and I hurried home. Just as I entered the bedroom where he and Mother were another attack came on, and it was with the utmost difficulty that with her help I managed to get him from the chair to the bed. He struggled with his left arm and leg and made inarticulate noises which sounded as if they might be groans. I don’t know if he was in pain. Dear Mother.

September 14, 1911

Dad cannot live long. Mother bears up wonderfully well. Tried to do some examination work but failed utterly. A—— is watching in the sick-room with Mother, who will not leave.

8.30. The nurse says he will not live through the night.

8.45. Telegraped for A—— to come.

11.0. A—— came downstairs and had a little supper.

12.0. Went to bed. H—— and the others lit a fire and we have all sat around it silent, listening to its murmur. Every one felt cold. Dad has been unconscious for over an hour.

1.45 a.m. Heard a noise, then heard Mother coming downstairs past my bedroom door with some one — sobbing. I knew it must be all over. H—— was helping her down. Waited in my bedroom in the dark for three parts of an hour, when H—— came up, opened the door slowly and said, ‘He’s gone, old man.’ It was a tremendous relief to know that since he had to die his sufferings and cruel plight were over. Fell asleep from sheer exhaustion and slept soundly.

September 18, 1911

The funeral. It is not death but the dreadful possibilities of life which are so depressing. 1

1 Italics added 1917.

September 21, 1911

A Day in Autumn

A cool, breezy autumn day. The beach was covered with patches of soapy foam that shook tremulously in the wind — all the rocks and everything were drenched with water, and the spray came off the breaking waves like steam. A red sun went lower and lower and the shadows cast by the rocks grew very long and grotesque. Underneath the breaking waves, the hollows were green and dark like sea caverns. Herring gulls played about in the air balancing themselves as they faced the breeze, then sweeping suddenly around and downwards with the wind behind them. We all sat down on the rocks and were very quiet, almost monosyllabic. We pointed out a passing vessel to one another or chucked a bit of shingle into the sea. You would have said we were bored. Yet deep down in ourselves we were astir and all around us we could hear the rumours of divine passage, soft and mysterious as the flight of birds migrating in the dark.

The wind rose and tapped the line against the flag-staff at the Coastguard Station. It roared through my hair and past my ears for an hour on end till I felt quite windswept and bleak. On the way home we saw the wind darting hither and thither over the long grass like a lunatic snake. The wind! Oh! the wind — I have an enormous faith in the curative properties of the wind. I feel better already.

October 17, 1911

Staying in Surrey. Exam. over and I feel fairly confident — after an agony for a few days before on account of the development of a cold which threatened to snatch the last chance out of my hands.

Justifiable Mendacity

Sitting on a gate on the N. Downs I saw a long way below me in the valley a man standing in a chalk pit and wielding a stick vigorously. For some reason or another the idea came to me that it would be interesting if he were in the act of killing a Snake — he so far away below and I above and unnoticed quietly watching him. At dinner to-night, this revised version of the story came out quite pat and natural and obviously interested the assembly. I added graphically that the man was too far away for me to be able to say what species of Snake it was he was killing. I possess the qualifications of an artistic liar. Yet I can’t regard such a story as a lie — it was rather a justifiable emendation of an otherwise uninteresting incident.

October 24, 1911

Un Caractère

. . . She is a tiny little old lady, very frail and very delicate, with a tiny voice like the noise of a fretsaw. She talks incessantly about things which do not interest you, until your face gets stiff with forcing a polite smile, and your voice cracked and your throat dry with saying, ‘Yes,’ and ‘Really.’

To-night I attend the Zoological Society to read my first paper, so I am really in a fluster and want to l>e quiet. Therefore to prevent her from talking I write two letters which I represent as urgent. At 6.15 desperate, so went out for a walk in the dark London streets. Returned to supper and to Her. After the wife, the husband is intellectual pyrotechnics. Referring to the Museum,—

‘Would you have there, I suppose, any insects, in a case like, what you might say to study to yourself when no one is by?’ he inquired.

6.40. It is now one hour before I need leave for the meeting, and whether I sigh, cough, smoke, or read the paper, she goes on. She even refuses to allow me to scan the lines below photos in the Illustrated London News. I write this as the last sole resource to escape her devastating prattle and the ceaseless hum of her tiny gnat-like mind. She thinks (because I told her so) that I am preparing notes for the evening meeting.

Later: Spent an absolutely damnable day. Am sick tired, bored, frantic with her voice which I have been able to share with no one except the intellectual giant, her husband, at tea time. In order to break the flow of chatter, I would rudely interrupt and go on talking, by this means keeping my end up for as long as I could, and enjoying a short respite from the fret-sawing voice. But I tired of this and it was of no permanent value. When I broke in, she still went on for a few sentences unable to stop, and lo! here was the spectacle of two persons alone together in a room both talking at the same time and neither listening. I persisted though — and she had to stop. Once started, I was afraid to stop — scared at the certain fact of the voice beginning to saw again. After a while the fountain of my artificial garrulity dried up, and the Voice at once leaped into the breach, resuming — amazing and incredible as it seems — at the precise point where it had left off. At 7 I am quite exhausted and sit on the opposite side of the hearth, staring with glassy eyes, arms drooping at my sides and mouth druling. At 7.5 her cough increases, and she has to stop to attend to it. With a fiendish smile I push back my chair, and quietly watch her cough. . . . She coughs continuously now and can talk no longer. Thank God! 8 p.m., left for the meeting, where I read my paper in a state of awful nervousness. . . . I read out all I had to say and kept them amused for about ten minutes. I was very excited when Dr —— got up and praised the paper,1 saying it was interesting, and hoping I should continue the experiments. The chairman, Sir John Rose Bradford, asked a question, I answered it and then sat down. After the meeting we went upstairs to the library, had tea and chatted with some of the big people. . . . Zoology is certainly delightful, yet it seems to me the Zoologists are much as other people. I like Zoology. I wish I could do without Zoologists. . . .

1 The paper was ‘Distant Orientation in Batrachia’ — detailing experiments on the homing faculty in newts.

October 30, 1911

Home once more. The Natural History Museum impressed me enormously. It is a magnificent building — too magnificent to work there — to follow one’s profession in a building like that seems an altogether too grandiose manner of life. A pious zoologist might go up to pray in it — but not to earn his daily bread there.

October 31, 1911

I’m in, in, in!!!!!!!!! being first with 141 marks to spare. Old M—— [the servant] rushes up to my sister’s bedroom with the news just after 7 a.m., and she says, ‘Fine, fine,’ and comes down in her nightgown to my bedroom, where we drink our morning cup of tea together — and talk! I’m delighted. What a magnificent obstacle race it has been! Still one ditch — the medical exam! Wired to friends.

November 1, 1911

This is the sort of letter which is balm to me:—

‘My darling W——, — I need hardly tell you how absolutely delighted we were at the grand news of this morning. You must be feeling a huge glow of satisfaction with the knowledge of your object attained through untold difficulties. I don’t wish to butter you up, or to gush, but I must honestly say that I feel tip-top proud of my old Beano. I admire your brains more than ever, and also your indomitable pluck and grit, and your quiet bravery in disappointment and difficulty. . . .’

November 14, 1911

The three most fascinating books in Science that I have so far read are (easily):— 1. Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions. 2. Gaskell’s Origin of Vertebrates. 3. Bergson’s Le Rire.

Went to the dentist in the afternoon. Evening chiefly occupied in reading Le Rire. By my halidom, it is an extraordinarily interesting book!

November 29, 1911

. . . I am always looking out for new friends — assaying for friendship. . . . There is no more delightful adventure than an expedition into a rich, many-sided personality. Gradually over a long probation — for deep minds are naturally reticent — piece after piece is added to the geography of your friend’s mind, and each piece pleases or entertains, while in return you let him steal away piece after piece of your own territory, perhaps saving a bit up here and there — such as an enthusiasm for Francis Thompson’s poetry — and then letting it go unexpectedly. It’s a delightful reciprocity.

I dream of ‘the honeyed ease of the Civil Servant’s working day’ (Peacock). Yet the French say Songes sont mensonges.

December 13, 1911

In the Park it was very dark and she said,—

‘If I lose you I shan’t be able to find my way home.’

‘Oh! I’ll look after you,’ I said.

Both being of the same mind at the same time we sat down on a seat together when a fortunate thing happened. It began to rain. So I offered her part of my overcoat. She nestled in under my arm and I kissed her out of hand. Voilà! A very pretty little girl, ’pon my word.

December 20, 1911

The thing is obsessing me. After an early supper called and found my lady ready to receive me. No one else at home. So walked into the oak-panelled room with the red-curtained windows, took off my coat and scarf. She followed and switched off the light. There was a roaring fire in the grate. She is very amorous and I am not Hippolytus, so we were soon closely engaged in the large chair before the fire. As we sailed thus, close hauled to the wind, with double entendres and she trembled in the storm (and I was at the helm) the garden gate slammed and both of us got up quickly. I next heard a key turn in the lock and a foot in the passage: ‘Mr ——’ she said. . . .

She switched on the light, went out swiftly into the passage, and meeting him conducted him to her office, while I as swiftly put on overcoat and scarf, and slipped out through the open door, stumbling over his bicycle, but of course not stopping to pick it up. Later she telephoned to say it was all right. Very relieved! . . . She recalls Richepin’s La Glu.

December 21, 1911

She is a fine sedative. Her movements are a pleasant adagio, her voice piano to pianissimo, her conversation breaks off in thrilling aposiopeses.

An awful comedy this morning — for as soon as I was securely ‘gagged’ the dentist went out of the room. She approached, leered at me helpless, and said provokingly, ‘Oh! you do look funny.’ Minx. On returning he said to her, ‘Would you like to hold his hand?’

She: ‘Oh! not just now.’

And they grinned at one another and at me waiting to be tortured.

December 23, 1911

. . . On the Station waited for an hour for the train. Gave her a box of sweets and the Bystander. We walked up the platform to extreme end in the dark and kissed! But it was very windy and cold. (I noticed that!) So we entered an empty luggage guard’s van on rail beside platform left there by shunters. Here we were out of the wind and far better off. But a shunter came along and turned us out. She gave me a silver match-box. But I believe for various reasons that it is one of her own and not a new one. Said ‘Good-bye.’

December 28, 1911

At R——. Played the negligent flâneur, reclining on the Chesterfield, leaning against the grand piano, or measuring my length on the mat before the fire.

December 31, 1911

To-morrow I begin duties at the British Museum of Natural History. I cannot quite imagine myself a Museum assistant. Before I get there I know I shall be the strangest assistant on the staff. It will be singing my song in a strange land and weeping — I hope not too bitterly — down by the waters of a very queer Babylon.

Still, I have burnt my bridges like Cæsar — or burnt my ships like Cortez. So forward!

HTML edition by Ray Davis, free for any use.