The Journal of a Disappointed Man

Part III - Marriage

September 12, 1915

This evening we walked thro’ the Churchyard reading tombstone inscriptions. What a lot of men have had wives!

I can’t make out what has come over folk recently: the wit, wisdom and irony on the old tombstones have given place to maudlin sentiment and pious Bible references. Then on the anniversary of the death the custom among poorer classes is to publish such pathetic doggerel as the following — cuttings I have taken from time to time from the local newspaper in ——:

‘Her wish:

‘"Farewell dear brother. Mother, sisters.
My life was passed in love for thee.
Mourn not for me nor sorrow take
But love my husband for my sake
Until the call comes home to thee,
Live thou in peace and harmony."’


‘A day of remembrance sad to recall
But still in my heart he is loved best of all
No matter how I think of him — his name I oft recall;
There is nothing left to answer me but his photo on the wall.’


‘One year has passed since that sad day,
When one we loved was called away.
God took her home; it was His will,
Forget her?—No, we never will.’

These piteous screeds fill me with lovingkindness and with contempt alternately in a pendulum-like rhythm. What is the truth about them? Is the grief of these people as mean and ridiculous as their rhymes? Or is it a pitiful inarticulateness? Or is it merely vulgar advertisement of their sorrow? Or does it signify a passionate intention never to forget?—or a fear of forgetting, the rhymes being used as a fillip to the memory? Or — most miserable of all — is it just a custom, and one followed in order to appear respectable in others’ eyes? Are they poor souls? or contemptible fools?

September 14, 1915

There is a ridiculous Cocker spaniel at the house where we are staying. He must have had a love affair and been jilted, or else he’s a sort of village idiot. The landlady says he’s not so silly as he looks — but he looks very silly: he languishes sentimentally, and when we laugh at him he looks ‘hurt.’ To-day we took him up on the Down and it seemed to brighten him up. Really, he is sane enough, with plenty of commonsense and good manners. But he is kept at home in the garden so much, lolling about all day, that as E—— said, having nothing to do, he falls in love.

The Saturday Review writes: The effect of the ‘Brides and the Bath’ Case on people with any trace of nice feeling is perhaps not particularly mischievous, tho’ the thing is repulsive and hateful to them. . . . To gloat over the details of repulsive horrors, simply from motives of curiosity — this is bad and degrading.

What a lot of repulsive things the nice refined people who read the Saturday Review must find in the world just now. For example the War. ‘Simply from motives of curiosity.’ Why certainly, no other than these, concerning one of the most remarkable murders in the annals of crime. And murders anyhow are damned interesting — which the Saturday Review isn’t.


I was surprised to discover the other day that when I talked of Chibbles no one understood what I meant! It proves to be a dialect word familiar to all residents in Devonshire and designating spring onions. Anyway you won’t find it in Murray’s Dictionary; yet etymologically it is an extremely interesting word and a thoroughly good word with a splendid pedigree. To wit:

Italian: Cipollo.

Spanish: Cebolla.

French: Ciboule.

Latin: Cæpulla, dim. of cæpa (cf. cive, civot).

Now how did this pretty little alien manage to settle down among simple Devon folk? What has been the relation between Italy and — say Appledore, or Plymouth?1

1 The English Dialect Dictionary derives the word from Old French chiboule, and gives a reference to Piers Plowman. Why hasn’t such an old and useful word become a part of the English language like others also brought over at the time of the Norman Conquest?

October 6, 1915

In London once more, living at her flat and using her furniture.

The Chalcidoidea

The Chalcidoidea are minute winged insects that parasitise other insects, and in the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum (Vol. I., 1912) you shall find an enormous catalogue of them by a person named Girault who writes the following dedication:

‘I respectfully dedicate this little portion of work to science, common sense or true knowledge. I am convinced that human welfare is so dependent upon science that civilisation would not endure without it, and that what is meant by progress would be impossible. Also I am convinced that the great majority of mankind are too ignorant, that education is too archaic and impractical as looked at from the standpoint of intrinsic knowledge. There is too little known of the essential unity of the Universe and of things included, for instance, man himself. Opinions and prejudices rule in the place of what is true. . . .’

Part II. is dedicated to:

‘The genius of mankind, especially to that form of it expressed in monistic philosophy, whose conceived perception is the highest attainment reached by man.’

I can only echo Whistler’s remark one day as he stood before an execrably bad drawing: ‘God bless my soul’ — uttered slowly and thoughtfully and then repeated.

The beauty of it is that the Editor adds a serious footnote, dissociating himself, and a Scarabee to whom I showed the Work, read it with a clouded brow and then said: ‘I think it rather out of place in a paper of this sort.’ (Tableau.)

October 12, 1915

Down with influenza.

October 13, 1915

A Zeppelin raid last night. I am down with a temperature, but our little household remained quite calm, thank God. We heard guns going off, and I had a fit of trembling as I lay in bed. Many dead of heart failure owing to the excitement.

October 14, 1915

Still in bed. No raid last night. There were two raids on Wednesday, one at 9.30, and another at midnight. The first time the caretaker of the flats came up very alarmed to say ‘Zeppelins about,’ so we put out the lights. Then at midnight when everyone else was asleep I heard a big voice shout up from the street: ‘Lights out there. They’re about again.’ Lay still in bed and waited. Distant gunfire.

October 17, 1915

Bad heart attack.

October 18, 1915

Heart intermits. Every three or four minutes. M—— said that I ought to be getting used to it by now! Phew!! Very nervy and pusillanimous. Taking strychnine in strong doses. I hope dear E—— does not catch the ’flu. She swallows quinine with large hopes.

October 19, 1915

Staying at R——. Had a ghastly journey down, changing trains twice, at Clapham Junction and at Croydon, heart intermitting all the time in every position. Poor E—— with me. To-day surprised to find myself still alive.

October 20, 1915

Better to-day. After much persuasion, I have got E—— to let the flat so that we can get away into the country outside the Zeppelin zone.

October 24, 1915

Back in London again. Am better, bolstered up with arsenic and strychnine. Too nervously excited to do any work.

October 25, 1915

The letting of our flat is now in the hands of an agent, and E——, poor dear, is quite resigned to abandoning all her precious wallpapers, etc.

November 7, 1915

The flat is let and we are now living in rooms at ——, 20 miles out of London, to the Westward.

November 8, 1915

It is a great relief to be down in the country. Zeppelins terrify me. Have just had a delightful experience in reading Conrad’s new book, Victory — a welcome relief from all the tension of the past two months. To outward view, I have been merely a youth getting married, catching the ’flu and giving up a London flat.

Inwardly, I have been whizzing around like a Catherine Wheel. Consider the items:

Concussion of the spine.

Resulting paralysis of left leg ten days before marriage.

Zeppelin raid (heard a cannon go off for the first time).

Severe cold in the head day before marriage (and therefore wild anxiety).

Successful marriage with abatement of cold.

Return to our home.

Ten days later, down with influenza.

A second Zeppelin raid.

Bad heart attack.

Then flat sub-let and London evacuated.

The record nauseates me. I am nauseated with myself and my self-centredness. . . . Suppose I have been ‘whizzing’ as I call it — what then? They are but subjective trifles — meanwhile other men are seeing great adventures in Gallipoli and elsewhere. ‘The Triumph is gone,’ exclaimed the Admiral who in a little group of naval officers on board the flagship had been watching H.M.S. Triumph sink in the Ægean. He shuts his telescope with a click and returns in great dudgeon to his own quarters. How I envy all these men who are participating in this War — soldiers, sailors, war correspondents — all who live and throb and are not afraid. I am a timid youth, ansemic, wear spectacles, and am frightened by a Zep raid! How humiliating! I hate myself for a white-livered craven: I am suffocated for want of more life and courage. My damnable body is slowly killing off all my spirit and buoyancy. Even my mind is becoming blurred. My memory is like an old man’s exactly. (Ask ——.)

. . . . . . .

Yet thro’ all my nausea, here I remain happy to discuss myself and my little mishaps. I’m damned sick of myself and all my neurotic whimperings, and so I hereby and now intend to lead a new life and throw this Journal to the Devil. I want to mangle it, tear it to shreds. You smug, hypocritical readers! you’ll get no more of me. All you say I know is true before you say it and I know now all the criticism you are going to launch. So please spare yourselves the trouble. You cannot enlighten me upon myself. I know. I disgust myself — and you, and as for you, you can go to the Devil with this Journal.


November 27, 1915

To-day, armed with a certificate from my Doctor in a sealed envelope and addressed ‘to the Medical Officer examining Mr W. N. P. Barbellion,’ I got leave to attend the recruiting office and offer my services to my King and Country. At the time, the fact that the envelope was sealed caused no suspicion and I had been comfortably carrying the document about in my pocket for days past.

Of course I attended merely as a matter of form under pressure of the authorities, as I knew I was totally unfit — but not quite how unfit. After receiving this precious certificate, I learnt that K—— was recruiting Doctor at W——, and he offered to ‘put me thro’ in five minutes,’ as he knows the state of my health. So at a time agreed upon, I went to-day and was immediately rejected as soon as he had stethoscoped my heart. The certificate therefore was not needed, and coming home in the train I opened it out of curiosity. . . .

I was quite casual and thought it would be merely interesting to see what M—— said.

It was.

‘Some 18 months ago,’ it ran, ‘Mr Barbellion shewed the just visible symptoms of —— ——’ — and altho’ this fact was at once communicated to my relatives it was withheld from me and M—— therefore asked the M.O. to respect this confidence and to reject me without stating on what grounds. He went on to refer to my patellar and plantar reflexes, by which time I had had enough, tore the paper up and flung it out of the railway carriage window.

I then returned to the Museum intending to find out what —— —— was in Clifford Allbutt’s System of Medicine. I wondered whether it was brain or heart; and the very thought gave me palpitation. I hope it is heart — something short and sharp rather than lingering. But I believe it must be —— of the brain, the opposite process of softening occurring in old age. I recall M——’s words to me before getting married: that I had this ‘nerve weakness,’ but I was more likely to succumb to pneumonia than to any nervous trouble, and that only 12 months’ happiness would be worth while.

. . . . . . .

On the whole I am amazed at the calm way in which I take this news. I was a fool never to have suspected serious nerve trouble before. Does dear E—— know? What did M—— tell her when he saw her before our marriage?

November 28, 1915

As soon as I woke up in this clear, country air this morning, I thought: —— ——. I have decided never to find out what it is. I shall find out in good time by the course of events.

A few years ago, the news would have scared me. But not so now. It only interests me. I have been happy, merry, and quite high-spirited to-day.

December 5, 1915

I believe it’s creeping paralysis. My left leg goes lame after a short walk. Fortunately E—— does not take alarm.

December 17, 1915

Spent the last two days, both of us, in a state of unrelieved gloom. The clouds never lifted for a moment — it’s awful. I scarcely have spoken a word. . . . And eugenically, what kind of an infant would even a Mark Tapley expect of a father with a medical history like mine, and a mother with a nervous system like hers? . . . Could anything be more unfortunate? And the War? What may not have happened by this time next year? My health is grotesque.

December 20, 1915

I wonder if she knows. I believe she does but I am afraid to broach the matter in case she doesn’t. I think she must know something otherwise she would show more alarm over my leg, and when I went to the Recruiting Office she seemed to show no fear whatever lest they took me. Several times a day in the middle of a talk, or a meal, or a kiss, this problem flashes thro’ my mind. I look at her but find no solution. However — for the present — the matter is not urgent.

February 1, 1916

Since I last wrote — a month ago — I have recovered my buoyancy after a blow which kept me under water so long I thought I should never come up and be happy again. . . . I was reciting my woes to R——, and gaining much relief thereby, when we espied another crony on the other side of the street, crossed over at once, bandied words with him and then walked on, picking up the thread of my lugubrious story just where I had left off — secretly staggered at my emotional agility. I’ve got to this now,— I simply don’t care.

February 2, 1916

‘And she draiglet all her petticoatie, Coming thro’ the rye.’ These words have a ridiculous fascination for me; I cannot resist their saccharine, affectionate, nay amorous jingle and keep repeating them aloud all over the house — as Lamb once kept reciting ‘Rose Aylmer.’

February 16, 1916

We took possession of our country cottage to-day: very charming and overlooking a beautiful Park.

. . . . . . .

Have just discovered the Journal of the De Goncourts and been reading it greedily. Life has really been a commodity. I am boiling over with vitality, chattering amiably to everyone about nothing — argumentative, san- guine, serious, ridiculous. I called old R—— a Rapscallion, a Curmudgeon, and a Scaramouche, and E—— a trull, a drab, a trollop, a callet. ‘You certainly are a unique husband,’ said that sweet little lady, and I . . .

With me, one of the symptoms of delirium is always a melodramatic truculence! I shake my fist in R——’s face and make him explode with laughing. . . . The sun to-day, and the great, whopping white clouds all bellied out, made me feel inside quite a bright young dog wriggling its body in ecstatic delight let loose upon the green sward.

‘You must come down for a week end,’ I said to R—— at lunch. ‘Come down as soon as you can. You will find every comfort. It is an enormous house — I have not succeeded in finding my way about it and — it’s dangerous to lose yourself — makes you late for dinner. When you arrive our gilded janitor will say: “I believe Mr Barbellion is in the library."’

‘Black eunuchs wait on you at dinner, I suppose,’ R—— rejoined.

‘Oh! yes and golden chandeliers and a marble staircase — all in barbaric splendour.’

‘Yes, I shall certainly be glad to come down,’ said R——, phlegmatically.

And so on and so on. Words, idle words all day in a continuous rush. And I am sure that the match which fired the gun-powder was the discovery of the De Goncourts’ Journal! It’s extraordinary how I have been going on from week to week quite calmly for all the world as if I had read all the books and seen all the places and done everytliing according to the heart’s desire. This book has really jolted me out of my complacency: to think that all this time, I have been dead to so much! Why I might have died unconscious that the De Goncourts had ever lived and written their colossal book and now I am aware of it, I am all in a fever to read it and take it up into my brain: I might die now before I have finished it — a thought that makes me wild with desire just as I once endured most awful pangs when I felt my health going, and believed that I might die before having ever been in love — to die and never to have been in love! — for an instant at a time this possibility used to make me writhe.

March 22, 1916

R—— has an unpleasant habit of making some scarifying announcement drawing forth an explosive query from me and then lapsing at once into an eleusinian silence: he appears to take a sensuous pleasure in the pause that keeps you expectant. I could forgive a man who keeps you on tenterhooks for two puffs in order to keep his pipe alight, but R—— shuts up out of sheer self-indulgence and goes on gazing at the horizon with the eyes of a seer (he thinks) trying to cod me he sees a portent there only revealed to God’s elect.

I told him this in the middle of one of his luxurious silences. ‘I will tell you,’ he said deliberately, ‘when we reach the Oratory.’ (We were in Brompton Road.)

‘Which side of it?’ I enquired anxiously. ‘This or that?’

‘That,’ said he, ‘will depend on how you behave in the meantime.’

April 3, 1916

We met a remarkable Bulldog to-day in the street, humbly following behind a tiny boy to whom it was attached by a piece of string. At the time we were following in the wake of three magnificent Serbian Officers, and I was particularly interesting myself in the curious cut of their top boots. But the Bulldog was the Red Herring in our path.

‘Is that a Dog?’ I asked the little boy.

He assured me that it was, and so it turned out to be, tho’ Bull-frog would have been a better name for it, the forelegs being more bandied, the back broader and the mouth wider than in any Bulldog I have ever seen. It was a super-Bulldog.

We turned and walked on. ‘There,’ said R——, ‘now we have lost our Serbian Officers.’

April 4, 1916

‘May I use your microscope?’ he asked.

‘By all means,’ I said with a gesture of elaborate politeness.

He sat down at my table, in my chair, and used my instrument — becoming at once absorbed and oblivious to my banter as per below:

‘As Scotchmen,’ I said, ‘are monuments rather than men, this latest raid on Edinboro’s worthy inhabitants must be called vandalism rather than murder.’

No answer. I continued to stand by my chair.

‘How pleased Swift, Johnson, Lamb, and other anti-Caledonians would be. . . .’

‘Hope you don’t mind my occupying your chair a little longer,’ the Scotchman said, ‘but this is a larva, has curious maxillae . . .’ and his voice faded away in abstraction.

‘Oh! no — go on,’ I said, ‘I fear it is a grievous absence of hospitality on my part in not providing you with a glass of whiskey. Can I offer you water, Sir?’

No answer.

Another enthusiast ushered himself in, was greeted with delight by the first and invited to sit down. I pulled out a chair for him and said:

‘Shave, sir, or hair cut?’

‘If you follow along to the top of the galea,” No. 1 droned on imperturbably, ‘you will . . .’ etc.

I got tired of standing and talking to an empty house but at last they got up, apologising and making for the door.

I entreated them not to mention the matter — my fee should be nominal — I did it out of sheer love, etc.

They thanked me again and would have said more but I added blandly:

‘You know your way out?’ They assured me they did (having worked in the place for 30 years and more) — I thanked God — and sat down to my table once more.

(These reports of conversations are rather fatuous: yet they give an idea of the sort of person I have to deal with, and also the sort of person I am among this sort of person.)

April 6, 1916

The Housefly Problem — 1916

For weeks past we have all been in a terrible flutter scarcely paralleled by the outbreak of Armageddon in August, 1914. The spark which fired almost the whole building was a letter to the Times written by Dr ——, making public an ignominious confession of ignorance on the part of Entomologists as to how the Housefly passed the winter. In reply, many correspondents wrote to say they hibernated, and one man was even so temerarious as to quote to us Entomologists the exact Latin name of the Housefly: viz., Musca domestica. We asked for specimens and enormous numbers of flies at once began to arrive at the Museum, alive and dead — and not a Housefly among them! So there was a terrible howdedo.

One of the correspondents was named ‘Masefield.’ ‘Not Masefield the poet?’ an excited dipterist asked. I reassured him.

‘I’ve a good mind,’ said Dr ——, ‘to reply to this chap who’s so emphatic and give him a wigging — only he’s climbing down a bit in this second letter in to-day’s issue.’ I strongly advocated clemency.

But still the affair goes on. Every morning sees more letters and more flies sent by all sorts of persons — we seem to have set the whole world searching for Houseflies — Duchesses, signalmen, farmers, footmen. Every morning each fresh batch of flies is mounted on pins by experts in the Setting Room, and an Assistant’s whole time is devoted to identifying, arranging, listing and reporting upon the new arrivals. At the last meeting of the Trustees a sample collection was displayed to show indubitably that the insects which hibernate in houses are not Musca domestica but Pollenia rudis. I understand the Trustees were appreciative.

An observant eye can now discover state visits to our dipterists from interested persons carrying their flies with them, animated discussions in the corridor, knots of excited enthusiasts in the Lavatory, in the Library, everywhere — and everywhere the subject discussed is the same: How does the Housefly pass the winter? As one passes one catches: ‘In Bakehouses certainly they are to be found but . . .’ or a wistful voice, ‘I wish I had caught that one in my bathroom three winters ago — I am certain it was a Housefly.’ The Doctor himself — a gallant Captain — wanders from room to room stimulating his lieutenants to make suggestions, and examining every answer to the great interrogative on its merits, no matter how humble or insignificant the person who makes it. Then ol an atternoon he will entirely disappear, and word goes round that he has set forth to examine a rubbish heap in Soho or Pimlico. As the afternoon draws to its close someone enquires if he has come back yet; next morning a second asks if I had seen him, then a third announces mournfully that he has just been holding conversation with him, but that nothing at all was found in the rubbish heap.

The great sensation of all occurred last week when somebody ran along the corridor crying that Mr —— had just found a Housefly in his room. We were all soon agog with the news, and the excited Captain was presently espied setting out for the scene of operations with a killing bottle and net. The insect was promptly impounded and identified as a veritable Musca domestica. A consultation being held to sit on the body, a lady finally laid information that two ‘forced Houseflies’ hatched the day before had escaped from her possession. She suggested Mr ——’s specimen was one of them.

‘How would it get from your room to Mr ——’s?’ she was immediately asked. And breathless, we all heard her answer deliberately and quite audibly that the fugitive may have gone out of her window, up the garden and in by Mr ——’s window, or it may have gone out of her door, up the corridor and in by his door. I wanted to know why it should have entered Mr ——’s room as he is not a dipterist but a microlepidopterist. They looked at me sternly and we slowly dispersed.

This morning, the Dr. came to me with a newspaper cutting in his hand, saying, ‘The Times is behindhand.’ He handed me the slip. It was a clipping from to-day’s Times about a sackful of flies which had been taken from Wandsworth Clock Tower in a state of hibernation.

‘Behindhand?’ I asked timidly, for I felt that all the story was not in front of me.

‘Why, yes. Don’t you know?’

I knew nothing, but was prepared for anything.

The Star, two days ago,’ he informed me, ‘had a paragraph about this — headed “Tempus fugit"’ — this last in a resentful tone as tho’ the frivolous reporter were attempting to discredit our mystery.

There was a long pause. Neither of us spoke. Then he slowly said:

‘I wonder why The Times is so behindhand. This is two days late.’

May 5, 1916

Hulloa, old friend: how are you? I mean my Diary. I haven’t written to you for ever so long, and my silence as usual indicates happiness. I have been passing thro’ an unbroken succession of calm happy days, walking in the woods with my darling, or doing a little gentle gardening on coming home in the evening — and the War has been centuries away. Later on towards bedtime, E—— reads Richard Jefferies, I play Patience and Mrs —— makes garments for Priscilla.

The only troubles have been a chimney which smokes and a neighbour’s dog which barks at night. So to be sure, I have made port after storm at last — and none too soon. To-day my cheerfulness had been rising in a crescendo till to-night it broke in such a handsome crest of pure delight that I cannot think of going to bed without recording it.


After sitting on the wall around the fountain in the middle of Trafalgar Square, eating my sandwiches and feeding the Pigeons with the crumbs, I listened for a moment to the roar of the traffic around three sides of the Square as I stood in the centre quite alone, what time one fat old pigeon, all unconcerned, was treading another. It was an extraordinary experience: motor horns tooted incessantly and it seemed purposelessly, so that one had the fancy that all London was out for a joy-ride — it was a great British Victory perhaps, or Peace Day.

Then walked down Whitehall to Westminster Bridge in time to see the 2 o’clock boat start upstream for Kew. I loitered by the old fellow with the telescope who keeps his pitch by Boadicea: I saw a piper of the Scots Guards standing near gazing across the river but at nothing in particular — just idling as I was. I saw another man sitting on the stone steps and reading a dirty fragment of newspaper. I saw the genial, red-faced sea-faring man in charge of the landing stage strolling up and down his small domain,— chatting, jesting, spitting, and making fast a rope or so. Everything was alive to the finger tips, vividly shining, pulsating.

Arrived at Queen’s Hall in time for Pachmann’s Recital at 3.15. . . . As usual he kept us waiting for 10 minutes. Then a short, fat, middle-aged man strolled casually on to the platform and everyone clapped violently — so it was Pachmann: a dirty greasy looking fellow with long hair of dirty grey colour, reaching down to his shoulders and an ugly face. He beamed on us and then shrugged his shoulders and went on shrugging them until his eye caught the music stool, which seemed to fill him with amazement. He stalked it carefully, held out one hand to it caressingly, and finding all was well, went two steps backwards, clasping his hands before him and always gazing at the little stool in mute admiration, his eyes sparkling with pleasure, like Mr. Pickwick’s on the discovery of the archaeological treasure. He approached once more, bent down and ever so gently moved it about 7/8ths of an inch nearer the piano. He then gave it a final pat with his right hand and sat down.

He played Nocturne No. 2, Prelude No. 20, a Mazurka and two Études of Chopin and Schubert’s Impromptu No. 4.

At the close we all crowded around the platform and gave the queer, old-world gentleman an ovation, one man thrusting up his hand which Pachmann generously shook as desired.

As an encore he gave us a Valse — ‘Valse, Valse,’ he exclaimed ecstatically, jumping up and down in his seat in time to the music. It was a truly remarkable sight: on his right the clamorous crowd around the platform; on his left the seat holders of the Orchestra Stalls, while at the piano bobbed this grubby little fat man playing divine Chopin divinely well, at the same time rising and falling in his seat, turning a beaming countenance first to the right and then to the left, and crying, ‘Valse, Valse.’ He is as entertaining as a tumbler at a variety hall.

As soon as he had finished, we clapped and rattled for more, Pachmann meanwhile standing surrounded by his idolaters in affected despair at ever being able to satisfy us. Presently he walked off and a scuffle was half visible behind the scenes between him and his agent who sent him in once more.

The applause was wonderful. As soon as he began again it ceased on the instant, and as soon as he left off it started again immediately — nothing boisterous or rapturous but a steady, determined thunder of applause that came regularly and evenly like the roar from some machine.

May 20, 1916

Spent a quiet day. Sat at my escritoire in the Studio this morning writing an Essay, with a large 4-fold window on my left, looking on to woods and fields, with Linnets, Greenfinches, Cuckoos calling. This afternoon while E—— rested awhile I sat on the veranda in the sun and read Antony and Cleopatra . . . Yes, I’m in harbour at last. I’d be the last to deny it but I cannot believe it will last. It’s too good to last and it’s all too good to be even true. E—— is too good to be true, the home is too good to be true, and this quiet restful existence is too wonderful to last in the middle of a great war. It’s just a little deceitful April sunshine, that’s all. . .1

Had tea at the ——. A brilliant summer’s evening. Afterwards, we wandered into the garden and shrubbery and sat about on the turf of the lawn, chatting and smoking. Mr —— played with a rogue of a white Tomcat called Chatham, and E—— talked about our neighbour, ‘Shamble legs,’ about garden topics, etc. Then I strolled into the drawing-room where Cynthia was playing Chopin on a grand piano. Is it not all perfectly lovely?

How delicious to be silent, lolling on the Chesterfield, gazing abstractedly thro’ the lattice window and listening to the lulling charities of Nocturne No. 2, Op. 37! The melody in the latter part of this nocturne took me back at once to a cloudless day in an open boat in the Bay of Combemartin, with oars up and the water quietly and regularly lapping the gunwales as we rose and fell. A state of the most profound calm and happiness took possession of me.

1 So it proved. See September 26 et seq.

June 2, 1916

From the local paper:

‘A comrade in the Gloucesters writing to a friend at —— mentions that Pte. J—— has been fatally shot in action. J—— was well known here for years as an especially smart young newsvendor.’

June 3, 1916

What a bitter disappointment it is to realise that people the most intimately in love with one another are really separated by such a distance. A woman is calmly knitting socks or playing Patience while her husband or sweetheart lies dead in Flanders. However strong the tie that binds them together yet they are insufficiently en rapport for her to sense even a catastrophe — and she must wait till the War Office forsooth sends her word. How humiliating that the War Office must do what Love cannot. Human love seems then such a superficial thing. Every person is a distinct egocentric being. Each for himself and the Devil take the hindmost. ‘Ah! but she didn’t know.’ ‘Yes, but she ought to have known.’ Mental telepathy and clairvoyance should be common at least to all lovers.

This morning in bed I heard a man with a milkcart say in the road to a villager at about 6.30 a.m., ‘. . . battle . . . and we lost six cruisers.’ This was the first I knew of the Battle of Jutland. At 8 a.m. I read in the Daily News that the British Navy had been defeated, and thought it was the end of all things. The news took away our appetites. At the railway station, the Morning Post was more cheerful, even reassuring, and now at 6.30 p.m. the Battle has turned into a merely regrettable indecisive action. We breathe once more.

June 4, 1916

It has now become a victory.

June 11, 1916

Old systems of Classification: Rafinesc’s Theory of Fives, Swainson’s Theory of Sevens, Edward Newman’s book called Sphinx Vespiformis tracing fives throughout the animal world, Sir Thomas Browne’s Quincunx, chasing fives throughout the whole of nature — in the words of Coleridge, ‘quincunxes in Heaven above, quincunxes in the Earth below, quincunxes in the mind of man, in optic nerves, in roots of trees, in leaves, in everything!’

. . . . . . .

Old false trails:

The Philosopher’s Stone (Balthazar Clæs).1

A universal catholicon (Bishop Berkeley’s tar-water).

Mystical numbers (as per above).

1 In ‘La Récherche de l’Absolu’ (Balzac).

My father was Sir Thomas Browne and my mother Marie Bashkirtseff. See what a curious hybrid I am!

I toss these pages in the faces of timid, furtive, respectable people and say: ‘There! that’s me! You may like it or lump it, but it’s true. And I challenge you to follow suit, to flash the searchlight of your self-consciousness into every remotest corner of your life and invite everybody’s inspection. Be candid, be honest, break down the partitions of your cubicle, come out of your burrow, little worm.’ As we are all such worms we should at least be honest worms.

My gratitude to E—— for plucking me out of the hideous miseries of my life in London is greater than I can express. If I were the cheap hero of a ladies’ novel I should immolate my journals as a token, and you would have a pretty picture of a pale young man watching his days go up in smoke by the drawing-room fire. But I have more confidence in her sterling good sense, and if I cannot be loved for what I am, I do not wish to be loved for what I am not.

Since the fateful Nov. 27th, my life has become entirely posthumous. I live now in the grave and am busy furnishing it with posthumous joys. I accept my fate with great content, my one-time restless ambition lies asleep now, my one-time, furious self-assertiveness is anaesthetised by this great War; the War and the discovery about my health together have plucked out of me that canker of self-obsession. I sit at home here in this country cottage in perfect isolation — flattened out by a steam hammer (tho’ it took Armageddon to do it!), yet as cheerful and busy as a Dormouse laying up store for the winter. For I am almost resigned to the issue in the knowledge that some day, someone will know, perhaps somebody will understand and — immortal powers! — even sympathise, ‘the quick heart quickening from the heart that’s still.’

June 19, 1916


An omniscient Caledonian asked me to-day:

‘Where are the Celebes? Are they E. or N.E. of the Sandwich Group?’

I marked him down at once as my legitimate prey. Sitting back in my chair, I replied slowly in my most offensive manner:

‘The Island of Celebes is of enormous size and curious shape situated in the Malay Archipelago.’

The Caledonian made no sign. Instead of grinning at his error and confessing to a ‘floater,’ he endeavoured to carry on by remarking, ‘That of course would be N. of Papua,’ just for all the world as if his error was a minor one of latitude and longitude.

Ignoring his comment, I continued:

‘From the Zoogeographical point of view, Celebes is unequalled in importance, having the strangest fauna almost of any island on the face of the globe. Then there’s “Wallace’s Line,"’ I said, being purposely obscure.

The Caledonian said nought but ‘looked hurt.’ It was so obvious that he didn’t know, and it was so obvious that I knew that he didn’t know, that after my farcical truculence I expected the tension to dissolve in laughter. Yet it is hard for a Caledonian to say ‘God be merciful to me, ignorant devil that I am.’ So I pursued him with more information about ‘Wallace’s Line,’ with an insouciant air, as much as to say, ‘Wallace’s Line of course you heard discussed before you were breeched.’

‘Some do say, you know, that the Line is “all my eye and Betty Martin,” e.g., R——.’

This gave him his first opportunity of finding his feet in this perilously deep water. So he said promptly, eager to seem knowledgeable with an intelligent rejoinder: ‘Ah! yes, R—— is an authority on Fishes.’ I assented. ‘At the last meeting of the British Ass. he tore the idea to shreds.’

The drowning Caledonian seized at any straw: ‘Fishes, however, are not of paramount importance in cases of geographical distribution, are they?’

I knew he was thinking of marine fishes, but I did not illumine him, and merely said:

‘Oh! yes, of very great importance,’ at which he looked still more ‘hurt,’ decamped in silence and left me conqueror of the field but without the spoils of victory: it was impossible to bring him to say ‘I do not know’ — four monosyllables was all I wanted from the man who for months past has been lecturing me on all things from Music and the Drama to Philosophy, Painting and — Insects.

June 20, 1916

The cradle came a few days ago but I had not seen it until this morning when I unlocked the cupboard door, looked in and shuddered.

‘That’s the skeleton in our cupboard,’ I said on coming down to breakfast. She laughed, but I really meant it.

E—— keeps a blue bowl replenished with flaming Poppies in our room. The cottage is plagued with Earwigs which fly in at night and get among the clothes and bedlinen. This morning, dressing, she held up her chemise to the light saying: ‘I always do this — you can see their little heathen bodies then against the light. . . .’ Isn’t she charming?

July 30, 1916

The other day R—— and I were sitting on a stile on the uplands in perfect summer weather and talking of happy days before the War — he was in khaki and I was resting my ‘gammy’ leg. . . . As we talked, we let our eyes roam, resting luxuriously wherever we pleased and occasionally interrupting the conversation with ‘Look at that cow scratching herself against the Oak,’ or ‘Do you see the oats waving?’ In the distance we saw a man and a boy walking up towards us along the path thro’ the corn, but the eye having momentarily scrutinised them wandered away and the conversation never paused. When next I looked, they were much nearer — crossing the furrows in the potato field in fact, and we both stopped talking to watch — idly. The boy seemed to be about 10 years old, and it amused us to see his great difficulty in stepping across the furrows.

‘Poor little chap,’ R—— said, and we laughed.

Then the boy stumbled badly and all at once the man lifted his walking-stick and beat him, saying ill-naturedly, ‘Step between the furrows,’ and again, ‘Step between the furrows.’ Our enchanting little picture was transfigured in an instant. The ‘charming little boy’ was a natural idiot — a gross, hefty creature perhaps 30 years of age, very short and very thick, dressed in a little sailor suit. I said, ‘Heavens,’ and R—— looked positively scared. We stood aside for them to get over the stile, the ‘boy’ still suffering from his over exertion, breathing stertorously like a horse pulling uphill and still evidently fearful of the big stick behind. He scrambled over the stile as best he could, rolling a wild eye at us as he did so — a large, bulgy eye with the lower lid swollen and sore, like the eye of a terrified ox on the way to the slaughter house. So much then for our little picture of charming childhood! The man followed close at his heels and looked at me with stern defiant eyes. ‘Yes, that is my son,’ his eyes declaimed, ‘and I’ll thank you to avert your gaze or by the Lord I’ll beat you too.’

A Yellow Cat

Last week, I saw a yellow cat perched up quite high on a window ledge at the S—— Underground Station in celestial detachment from the crowd of serious, black-coated gentlemen hustling along to and from the trains. He had his back turned to us, but as I swept past in the stream, I was forced to look back a moment, and caught the outline of his whiskers — it made me smile intensely to myself and secretly I gave the palm to the cat for wisdom.

July 31, 1916

This War is so great and terrible that hyperbole is impossible. And yet my gorge rises at those fatuous journalists continually prating about this ‘Greatest War of all time,’ this ‘Great Drama,’ this ‘world catastrophe unparalleled in human history,’ because it is easy to see that they are really more thrilled than shocked by the immensity of the War. They indulge in a vulgar Yankee admiration for the Big Thing. Why call this shameful Filth by high sounding phrases — as if it were a tragedy from Euripides? We ought to hush it up, not brag about it, to mention it with a blush instead of spurting it out brazen-faced.

Mr Garvin, for example, positively gloats over the War each week in the Observer: ‘Last week was one of those pivotal occasions on which destiny seems to swing’ — and so on every week, you can hear him, historical glutton smacking his lips with an offensive relish.

For my part, I never seem to be in the same mind about the War twice following. Sometimes I am wonderstruck and make out a list of all the amazing events I have lived to see since August 1914, and sometimes and more often I am swollen with contempt for its colossal imbecility. And sometimes I am swept away with admiration for all the heroism of the War, or by some particularly noble self-sacrifice, and think it is really all worth while. Then — and more frequently — I remember that this War has let loose on the world not only barbarities, butcheries and crimes, but lies, lies, lies — hypocrisies, deceits, ignoble desires for self-aggrandizement, self-preservation such as no one before ever dreamed existed in embryo in the heart of human beings.

The War rings the changes on all the emotions. It twangs all my strings in turn and occasionally all at once, so that I scarcely know how to react or what to think. You see, here am I, a compulsory spectator, and all I can do is to reflect. A Zeppelin brought down in flames that lit up all London — now that makes me want to write like Mr Garvin. But a Foreign Correspondent’s eager discussion of ‘Italy’s aspirations in the Trentino,’ how Russia insists on a large slice of Turkey, and so forth, makes me splutter. How insufferably childish to be slicing up the earth’s surface! How immeasureably ‘above the battle’ I am at times. What a prig you will say I am when I sneer at such contemptible little devilries as the Boches’ trick of sending over a little note, ‘Warsaw is fallen,’ into our trenches, or as ours in reply: ‘Gorizia!’

‘There is no difference in principle between the case of a man who loses a limb in the service of his country and that of the man who loses his reason, both have an obvious claim to the grateful recognition of the State.’ — A morning paper.

A jejune comment like this makes me grin like a gargoyle! Hark to the fellow — this leader-writer over his cup of tea. But it is a lesson to show how easily and quickly we have all adapted ourselves to the War. The War is everything; it is noble, filthy, great, petty, degrading, inspiring, ridiculous, glorious, mad, bad, hopeless yet full of hope. I don’t know what to think about it.

August 13, 1916

I hate elderly women who mention their legs. It makes me shudder.

I had two amusing conversations this morning, one with a jealous old man of 70 summers who, in spite of his age, is jealous — I can find no other term — of me in spite of mine, and the other with a social climber. I always tell the first of any of my little successes and regularly hand him all my memoirs as they appear, to which he as regularly protests that he reads very little now.

‘Oh! never mind,’ I always answer gaily, ‘you take it and read it going down in the train — it will amuse you.’ He submits but is always silent next time I see him — a little, admonitory silence. Or, I mention I am giving an address at ——, and he says ‘Oom,’ and at once begins his reminiscences, which I have heard many times before, and am sometimes tempted to correct him when, his memory failing, he leaves out an essential portion of his story. Thus do crabbed age and boastful youth tantalise one another.

To the social climber I said slyly:

‘You seem to move in a very distinguished entourage during your week ends.’

He smiled a little self-consciously, hesitated a moment and then said:

‘Oh! I have a few nice friends, you know.’

Now I am sorry, but though I scrutinised this lickspittle and arch belly-truck rider very closely, I am quite unable to say whether that smile and unwonted diffidence meant simple pleasure at the now certain knowledge that I was duly impressed, or whether it was genuine confusion at the thought that he had perhaps been overdoing it.

Curiously enough, all bores of whatever kind make a dead set at me. I am always a ready listener and my thrusts are always gentle. Hence the pyramids! I constantly act as phlebotomist to the vanity of the young and to the anecdotage of the senile and senescent.

August 15, 1916

. . . I stood by his chair and looked down at him, and surveyed carefully the top of his head, neck, and collar, and with admirable restraint and calm, considered my most reasonable contempt of him. In perfect silence, we remained thus, while I looked down at a sore spot in the centre of his calvarium which he scratches occasionally, and toyed with the fine flower of my scorn. . . . But it is a dangerous license to take. One never knows. . . .

Equilibrium Restored

To clear away the cobwebs and to purge my soul of evil thoughts and bitter feelings, went for a walk this evening over the uplands. Among the stubble, I sat down for a while with my back against the corn pook and listened to the Partridges calling. Then wandered around the edge of this upland field with the wind in my face and a shower of delicious, fresh rain pattering down on the leaves and dry earth. Then into a wood among tall forest Beeches and a few giant Larches where I rested again and heard a Woodpecker tapping out its message aloft.

This ramble in beautiful B——shire country restored my mental and spiritual poise. I came home serene and perfectly balanced — my equilibrium was something like the just perceptible oscillation of tall Larch-tree tops on the heights of a cliff and the sea below with a just perceptible swell on a calm and perfect June day. I felt exquisite — superb. I could have walked all the way home on a tight rope.

September 2, 1916

Just recently, I have been going fairly strong. I get frequent colds and sometimes show unpleasant nerve symptoms, but I take a course of arsenic and strychnine every month or so in tabloid form, and this helps me over bad patches.

Under the beatific influence of more comfortable health, the rare flower of my ambition has raised its head once more: my brain has bubbled with projects. To wit:

(1) An investigation of the Balancers in Larval Urodeles.

(2) The Present Parlous State of Systematic Zoology (for ‘Science Progress’).

(3) The Anatomy of the Psocidae.


The strength of my ambition at any given moment is the measure of my state of health. It must really be an extraordinarily tenacious thing to have hung on thro’ all my recent experiences. Considerately enough this great Crab lets go of my big toe when I am sunk low in health, yet pinches devilishly hard as now when I am well.1

1 See September 3 (next entry), ‘A Jolt,’ and September 24 (infra).

A Bad Listener

When I begin to speak, T—— will sometimes interrupt with his loud, rasping voice. I usually submit to this from sheer lack of lung power or I may have a sore throat. But occasionally after the fifth or sixth interruption I lose my equanimity and refuse to give him ground. I keep straight on with what I intended to say, only in a louder voice; he assumes a voice louder still, but riot to be denied, I pile Pelion on Ossa and finally overwhelm him in a thunder of sound. For example:

‘The other day’ — I begin quietly collecting my thoughts to tell the story in detail, ‘I went to the ——’

‘Ah! you must come and see my pictures —’ he breaks in; but I go on and he goes on and as I talk, I catch phrases: ‘St. Peter’s’ or ‘Michael Angelo’ or ‘Botticelli’ in wondrous antiphon with my own ‘British Museum’ and ‘I saw there,’ ‘two Syracusan,’ ‘tetradrachms,’ until very likely I reach the end of my sentence before he does his, or perhaps his rasp drives my remarks out of my head. But that makes no difference, for rather than give in I go on improvising in a louder and louder voice when suddenly, at length made aware of the fact that I am talking too, he stops! leaving me bellowing nonsense at the top of my voice, thus: ‘and I much admired these Syracusan tetradrachms, very charming indeed, I like them, the Syracusan tetradrachms I mean you know, and it will be good to go again and see them (louder) if possible and the weather keeps dry (louder) and the moon and the stars keep in their courses, if the slugs on the thorn (loudest) —’ he stops, hears the last few words of my remarks, pretends to be appreciative but wonders what in Heaven’s name I can have been talking about.

September 3, 1916

This is the sort of remark I like to make: Someone says to me: ‘You are a pessimist.’

‘Ah well,’ I say, looking infernally deep, ‘pessimism is a good policy; it’s like having your cake and eating it at the same time.’

Chorus: ‘Why?’

‘Because if the future turns out badly you can say, “I told you so,” to your own satisfaction, and if all is well, why you share everyone else’s satisfaction.’

Or I say: ‘No I can’t swim; and I don’t want to!’

Chorus: ‘Why?’

‘Because it is so dangerous.’


The Infernally Wise Youth: ‘For several reasons. If you are a swimmer you are likely to be oftener near water and oftener in danger than a non-swimmer. Further, as soon as you can swim even only a little, then as an honourable man, it behoves you to plunge in at once to save a drowning person, whereas, if you couldn’t swim it would be merely tempting Providence.’

Isn’t it sickening?

A Jolt

Yesterday the wind was taken out of my sails. Racing along with spinnaker and jib, feeling pretty fit and quite excited over some interesting ectoparasites just collected on some Tinamous, I suddenly shot into a menacing dead calm: that stiflingly still atmosphere which precedes a Typhoon. That is to say, my eye caught the title of an enormous quarto memoir in the Trans. Roy. Soc., Edinburgh: The Histology of —— ——.

I was browsing in the library at the time when this hit me like a carelessly handled gaff straight in the face. I almost ran away to my room.

My Pink Form just received amazes me! To be a soldier? C’est incroyable, ma foi! The possibility even is distracting! To send me a notice requesting me to prepare myself for killing men! Why I should feel no more astonished to receive a War Office injunction under dire penalties to perform miracles, to move mountains, to raise from the dead: My reply would be: ‘I cannot.’ I should sit still and watch the whole universe pass to its destruction rather than raise a hand to knife a fellow. This may be poor, anæmic; but there it is, a positive fact.

There are moments when I have awful misgivings: Is this blessed Journal worth while? I really don’t know, and that’s the harassing fact of the matter. If only I were sure of myself, if only I were capable of an impartial view! But I am too fond of myself to be able to see myself objectively. I wish I knew for certain what I am and how much I am worth. There are such possibilities about the situation: it may turn out tremendously, or else explode in a soap bubble. It is the torture of Tantalus to be so uncertain. I should be relieved to know even the worst. I would almost gladly burn my MSS. in the pleasure of having my curiosity satisfied. I go from the nadir of disappointment to the zenith of hope and back several times a week, and all the time I am additionally harassed by the perfect consciousness that it is all petty and pusillanimous to desire to be known and appreciated, that my ambition is a morbid diathesis of the mind. I am not such a fool either as not to see that there is but little satisfaction in posthumous fame, and I am not such a fool as not to realise that all fame is fleeting, and that the whole world itself is passing away.

I smile with sardonic amusement when I reflect how the War has changed my status. Before the War I was an interesting invalid. Now I am a lucky dog. Then, I was a star turn in tragedy; now I am drowned and ignored in an overcrowded chorus. No valetudinarian was ever more unpleasantly jostled out of his self-compassion. It is difficult to accustom myself to the new role all at once: I had begun to lose the faculty for sympathising in others’ griefs. It is hard to have to realise that in all this slaughter, my own superfluous life has become negligible and scarcely anyone’s concern but my own. In this colossal sauve qui peut which is developing, who can stay to consider a useless mouth? Am I not a comfortable parasite? And, God forgive me, an Egotist to boot?

The War is searching out everyone, concentrating a beam of inquisitive light upon everyone’s mind and character and publishing it for all the world to see. And the consequence to many honest folk has been a keen personal disappointment. We ignoble persons had thought we were better than we really are. We scarcely anticipated that the War was going to discover for us our emotions so despicably small by comparison, or our hearts so riddled with selfish motives. In the wild race for security during these dangerous times, men and women have all been sailing so closehauled to the wind that their eyes have been glued to their own forepeaks with never a thought for others: fathers have vied with one another in procuring safe jobs for their sons, wives have been bitter and recriminating at the security of other wives’ husbands. The men themselves plot constantly for staff appointments, and everyone is pulling strings who can. Bereavement has brought bitterness and immunity indifference.

And how pathetically some of us cling still to fragments of the old regime that has already passed — like ship-wrecked mariners to floating wreckage, to the manner of the conservatoire amid the thunder of all Europe being broken up; to our newspaper gossip and parish teas, to our cherished aims — wealth, fame, success — in spite of all, ruat coelum! Mr A. C. Benson and his trickling, comfortable Essays, Mr Shaw and his Scintillations — they are all there as before, revolving like haggard windmills in a devastated landscape! A little while ago, I read in the local newspaper which I get up from the country two columns concerning the accidental death of an old woman, while two lines were used to record the death of a townsman at the front from an aerial dart. Behold this poor rag! staggering along under the burden of the War in a passionate endeavour to preserve the old-time interest in an old woman’s decease. Yet more or less we are all in the same case: I still write my Journal and play Patience of an evening, and an old lady I know still reads as before the short items of gossip in the papers, neglecting articles and leaders. . . . We are like a nest of frightened ants when someone lifts the stone. That is the world just now.

September 5, 1916

. . . I was so ashamed of having to fall back upon such ignominious publications for my literary efforts that on presenting him with two copies, I told the following lie to save my face:

‘They were two essays of mine left over at the beginning of the War, you know. My usual channel became blocked so I had to have recourse to these.’

‘Where do you publish as a rule?’ he innocently asked.

‘Oh! several in the Manchester Guardian,’ I told him out of vanity. ‘But of course every respectable journal now has closed down to extra-war topics.’

I lie out of vanity. And then I confess to lying — out of vanity too. So that one way or another I am determined to make kudos out of myself. Even this last reflection is written down with an excessive appreciation of its wit and the intention that it shall raise a smile.

September 9, 1916

Still nothing to report. The anxiety is telling on us all. The nurse has another case on the 22nd.

. . . . . . .

I looked at myself in the mirror this morning — nude, a most revolting picture. An emaciated human being is the most unlovely thing in creation. Some time ago a smart errand boy called out ‘Bovril’ after me in the sireet.

On my way to the Station met two robust, brawny curates on the way to the daily weekday service — which is attended only by two decrepit old women in black, each with her prayer-book caught up to her breast as if she were afraid it might gallop off. That means a parson apiece — and in war time too.

September 10, 1916

My sympathy with myself is so unfailing that I don’t deserve anybody else’s. In many respects, however, this Journal I believe gives the impression that I behave myself in the public gaze much worse than I actually do. You must remember that herein I let myself go at a stretch gallop: in life I rein in, I am almost another person. Would you believe it, E—— says I am full of quick sympathy with others and extraordinarily cheerful, nay gay. Verily I lead a curious double existence: among most people, I pass for a complaisant, amiable, mealy-mouthed, furry if conceited creature. Here I stand revealed as a contemptuous, arrogant malcontent. My life has embittered me au fond, I have the crabbed temper of the disappointed man insufficiently developed yet to be very plainly visible beneath my innate affable, unassuming, humble, diffident, cheerful characteristics. With fools on every hand I am becoming insolent, aggressive, self-declamatory. Last evening came home and got down Robert Buchanan’s sonnet, ‘When He returns and finds the world so drear,’ and felt constrained to read it out to E——. I poured out its acid sentiment with the base revenge of a vitriol thrower, and then became quiescent.

It is a helpless feeling, sitting still and watching circumstances pounding away at my malleable character and moulding it wrongly.

September 14, 1916

An American Neighbour

We have a delightful American neighbour here whose life revolves like the fly-wheel of an engine. Even when not in eruption his volcanic energy is always rumbling and can be heard. Seeing he is a globe trotter, I was surprised to observe his most elaborate precautions for catching the train and getting a scat when he takes his wife and family to town. He first of all plants himself and all his property down at a certain carefully selected point along the platform as if he were in the wild west lying in wait for a Buffalo. Then as the train comes in, his eye fixes on an empty compartment as it passes and he dashes off after it in furious pursuit up the platform, shouting to his family to follow him. Having lassooed the compartment, squaw and piccaninnies are hustled in as if there was not a moment to lose, what time the black-coated, suburban Englishmen look on in pain and silence, and then slowly with offensive deliberation enter their respective carriages.

The Stockbroker

Another neighbour who interests me is mainly notable for his extraordinary gait. He is a man with a large, round head, a large round, dissolute looking face and fairly broad shoulders, below which everything tapers away to a pair of tiny feet neatly booted. These two little feet are excessively sensitive to road surface — one would say he had special sense organs on his toes, to judge by the manner in which he picks out his path along the country road in short, quick, fussy steps: his feet seem to dissect out the road as if boning a herring. A big bunion is as good as a sense organ, but his feet are too small and elegant.

September 24, 1916

The second nurse arrived to-day. Great air raid last night of which we heard nothing, thank God!

My nerves are giving way under the strain. . . . One leg (the left) drags abominably. . . . We shall want a bath-chair as well as a perambulator.

Crawled up thro’ the path-fields to the uplands and sat in a field in the sun with my back against a haystack. I was so immobile in my dejection that Flies and Grasshoppers came and perched about me. This made me furious. ‘I am not dead yet,’ I said, ‘get away,’ and I would suddenly drive them off. . . . In horrible dejection. . . .

Even my mental powers are disintegrating — that’s the rub. Some quite recent incidents I cannot remember even when reminded of them: they seem to have passed clean out of my mind — a remarkable sensation this.

My sensibility is dulled too. It chagrins me to find that my present plight by no means overwhelms me with anguish as it would have done once. It only worries me. I am just a worried ox.

September 26, 1916

The numbness in my right hand is getting very trying. . . . The Baby puts the lid on it all. Can’t you see the sordid picture? I can, and it haunts me. To be paralysed with a wife and child and no money — ugh!

Retribution proceeds with an almost mathematical accuracy of measure. It would necessitate a vernier rather than a chain. There is no mercy in Cause and Effect. It is inhuman clockwork. Every single act expended brings one its precise equivalent in return. . . .

September 28, 1916

Still nothing to report.

I am astonished at the false impression these entries give of myself. The picture is incomplete anyhow. It represents the cloud of forebodings over my inner self but does not show the outward front I present to others. This is one of almost constant gaiety — unforced and quite natural. Ask E——, who said yesterday I was like a schoolboy.

‘Camerade, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come, travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?’

She cut this out of her copy of Walt Whitman and gave it me soon after our engagement. It is very precious to me.


(On Sept. 29th, on the Doctor’s advice I went away by the sea alone, my nerves being all unstrung. For an account of the miseries of this journey, see Dec. 12th infra.)

October 3, 1916

A wire to say Susan arrived 2.15 p.m. All well.

October 5, 1916

Home again with my darling. She is the most wonderful darling woman. Our love is for always. The Baby is a monster.

October 23, 1916

The fact that I can’t write, finally bottles me up.1 Damn! Damn! Damn! If only I can get my Essay on Journal Writers done. E—— goes on well. I have a thousand things to say.

1 The handwriting is painfully laboured, very large across a page and so crooked as to be almost undecipherable in places.

October 27, 1916

Still awaiting a reprieve. I hate alarming the Doctor — he’s such a cheerful man so I conceal my symptoms, quite a collection by now.

The prospect of breaking the news to her makes me miserable. I hide away as much as possible lest she should see. I must speak when she is well again.

October 28, 1916

Life has been very treacherous to me — this, the greatest treachery of all. But I don’t care. I exult over it. Last night I lay awake and listened to the wind in the trees and was full of exultation.

Now I can only talk, but nobody to talk to. Shall hire a row of broomsticks. More and more, the War appears to me a tragic hoax.

November 1, 1916

E—— has had a set-back and is in bed again. However sclerotic my nerve tissue, I feel as flaccid as a jelly.

My God! how I loathe the prospect of death.

November 3, 1916

I must have some music or I shall hear the paralysis creeping. That is why I lie in bed and whistle.

‘My dear Brown, what am I to do do?’ 1 (I like to dramatise myself like that — it is an anodyne.)

I feel as if I were living alone on Ascension Island with the tide coming up continuously, up and up and up.

1 This is from a letter written by the dying Keats in Naples to his friend Brown.

November 6, 1916

She has known all from the beginning! M—— warned her not to marry me. How brave and loyal of her! What an ass I have been. I am overwhelmed with feelings of shame and self-contempt and sorrow for her. She is quite cheerful and an enormous help.

November 12, 1916

What a wreck my existence has become and — dragging down others with me.

If only I could rest assured that after I am dead these Journals will be tenderly cared for — as tenderly as this blessed infant! It would be cruel if even after I have paid the last penalty, my efforts and sufferings should continue to remain unknown or disregarded. What I would give to know the effect I shall produce when published! I am tortured by two doubts — whether these MSS. (the labour and hope of many years) will survive accidental loss and whether they really are of any value. I have no faith in either.

November 14, 1916

In fits of panic, I keep saying to myself: ‘My dear Brown, what am I to do?’ But where is Brown? Brown, you devil! where are you?

. . . To think how I have acted the Prince to her when really I am only a beggar!

November 16, 1916

A little better and more cheerful: altho’ my impregnable colon still holds out.

It would be nice if a physician from London one of these days were to gallop up hotspur, tether his horse to the gate post and dash in waving a reprieve — the discovery of a cure!

. . . I was in an impish mood and said: ‘Oh! dear, I’m full of misery.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ she said, ’so am I.’

November 17, 1916

E—— has been telling me some of her emotions during and after her fateful visit to my Doctor just before our marriage. He did not spare her and even estimated the length of my life after I had once taken to my bed — about 12 months. I remember his consulting room so well — all its furniture and the photograph of Madame Blavatsky over the door, and I picture her to myself sitting opposite to him in a sullen silence listening to the whole lugubrious story. Then she said at last: ‘All this won’t make any difference to me.’ She went home to her mother in a dream, along the streets I have followed so often. I can follow all her footsteps in imagination and keep on retracing them. It hurts, but I do so because it seems to make her some amends for my being childishly unconscious at the time. Poor darling woman — if only I had known! My instinct was right — I felt in my bones it was wrong to marry, yet here was M—— urging me on. ‘You marry,’ her mother said to her, ‘I’ll stand by you,’ which was right royal of her. There followed some trying months of married life with this white hot secret in her bosom as a barricade to perfect intimacy; me she saw always under this cloud of crude disgusting pathos making her say a hundred times to herself: ‘He doesn’t know;’ then Zeppelin raids and a few symptoms began to grow obvious, until what before she had to take on trust from the Doctor came diabolically true before her eyes. Thank God that’s all over at last. I know her now for all she is worth — her loyalty and devotion, her courage and strength. If only I had something to give her in return! something more than the dregs of a life and a constitutional pessimism. I greatly desire to make some sacrifice, but I am so poor these days, so very much a pauper on her charity, there is no sacrifice I can make. Even my life would scarcely be a sacrifice in the circumstances — it is hard not to be able to give when one wants to give.

November 20, 1916

In the doldrums. Tired of this damnable far niente,— I am being gently smothered under a mountain of feathers. I should like to engage upon some cold, hard, glittering intellectualism.

‘I want to read Kant,’ I said. The Baby slept, E—— was sewing and N—— writing letters. I leaned back in my armchair beside the bookshelf and began to read out the titles of my books in a loud voice.

‘My dear!’ E—— said.

‘I am caressing my past,’ I answered. ‘Wiedersheim’s Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates, Smith Woodward’s Vertebrate Palæontology — why it’s like visiting old prospects and seeing how the moss has grown over the stones.’

I hummed a comic song and then said: ‘As I can’t burn the house down, I shall go to bed.’

N——: ‘You can talk if you like, it won’t interfere.’

E——: ‘He’s talking to his besoms.’

‘Certainly,’ I said to N——, absent-mindedly.

E——: ‘You ought to have said “Thank you."‘

I blew out my cheeks and E—— laughed.

N——: ‘How do you spell “regimental"?’

I told her — wrongly, and E—— said I was in a devilish mood.

‘If we say that we have no sin’ I chanted in reply, ‘we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ I next gave a bit out of a speech by Disraeli with exaggerated rhetorical gestures.

E—— (with pity): ‘Poor young man.’

Presently she came over and in a tired way put her arms around my neck so I immediately began to sing ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me,’ in the bass, which immediately reminded me of dear old Dad, whose favourite hymn it was. . . . Then I imitated the Baby. And then to bed fretful and very bitter.

November 27, 1916

. . . I wish I could die of heart failure — and at once! What a luxury that would be as compared with my present prospect!

A Tomtit on the fence this morning made me dissolve in tears:— self-pity I believe. I remember Tomtits in ——shire. Put on a gramophone record and — ugh! but I’m too sick to write.

November 28, 1916

The shock I gave my spinal column in 1915 up in the Lakes undoubtedly re-awakened activity among the bacteria. Luck for you! I, of all persons to concuss my spine!!

. . . I listen to the kettle singing, I look at the pictures in the fire, read a bit, ask what time it is, see the Baby ‘topped and tailed,’ yawn, blow my nose, put on a gramophone record — I have the idea of ceasing on the midnight with no pain to the tune of some healing ragtime.

November 29, 1916

The anniversary of our engagement day two years ago. How mad the idea of marriage seemed to me — and my instinct was right: if only I had known! Yet she says she does not regret anything.

. . . . . . .

This morning I turned to read with avidity accounts of the last hours of Keats, Gibbon, Oscar Wilde and Baudelaire. I gained astonishing comfort out of this, especially in the last . . . who died of G.P.I. in a Brussels Hospital.

. . . . . . .

E—— is awfully courageous and —— as usual ready to do everything in her power. How can I ever express sufficient gratitude to these two dear women (and my wife above all) for casting in their lot knowingly with mine?

December 1, 1916

I believe I am good for another 12 months without abnormal worries. Just now, of course, the Slug ain’t exactly on the thorn — on the cabbage in fact as E—— suggested. The Grasshopper is much of a burden and the voice of the Turtle has gone from my land (where did all these Bible phrases come from?). The first bark of the Wolf (God save us, ’tis all the Animal Kingdom sliding down my penholder) was heard with the reduction in her work to-day, and I suspect there’s worse to come with a sovereign already only worth 12s. 6d.

December 4, 1916

The Baby touch is the most harrowing of all. If we were childless we should be merely unfortunate, but an infant . . .

December 11, 1916

Am receiving ionisation treatment from an electrical therapeutist — a quack! He is a sort of electrician — still, if he mends my bells I’ll kiss his boots. As for ——, he is no better than a byreman, and I call him Hodge. This is not the first time I have felt driven to act behind the back of the Profession. In 1912, being desperate, and M—— worse than a headache, I greedily and credulously sucked in the advice of my boarding-house proprietor and went to see a homoeopathist in Finsbury Circus. He proved to be a charlatan at 10s. 6d a time, and tho’ I realised it at once, I religiously travelled about for a month or more with tinctures and drop-bottle.

I could write a book on the Doctors I have known and the blunders they have made about me. . . . The therapeutist took me for 33. I feel 63. I am 27. What a wreck I am, and . . .

December 12, 1916

It is so agreeable to be able to write again that I write now for the sheer physical pleasure of being able to use a pen and form letters.

An Adventure in Search of Health

About the end of September, I began to feel so ill that Nurse went for the Doctor who assured me that E—— was all right — I need not worry — ‘You go away at once and get some fresh air,’ and so forth. ‘I feel quite ill,’ I said, struggling to break the news.

‘Sort of nervous?’ he enquired good-naturedly, ‘run down? I should get right away at once.’

I began tentatively. ‘Well, I have a rather long medical history and perhaps . . . you . . . might care to read the certificate of my London Doctor?’

I went to my escritoire and returned with M——’s letter addressed to ‘The M.O. examining Mr B.’ 1

Hodge pulled out the missive, studied the brief note carefully and long, at the same time drawing in his breath deeply, and gnawing the back of his hand.

‘I know all about it,’ I said to relieve him.

‘Is it quite certain? about this disease?’ he said presently. ‘You are very young for it.’

‘I think there is no doubt,’ and he began to put me thro’ the usual tricks.

‘I should go right away at once,’ he said, ‘and go on with your arsenic. And whatever you do — don’t worry — your wife is all right.’

After beseeching him to keep silence about it as I thought she did not know, I shewed him out and locked up the certificate again.

Next morning I felt thoroughly cornered: I was not really fit enough to travel; my hand and leg were daily growing more and more paralysed and J—— wired to say she could not put me up as they were going away for the week end. So I wired back engaging rooms, as with the nurse in the house and E—— as she was, I simply could not stay at home. . . .

On the way to the Station I was still in two minds whether or not to pull the taxi up at the Nursing Home and go inside, but harassing debate as it was, our rapidly diminishing bank balance finally drove me on.

—— came up to London with me and sought out a comfortable corner seat, but by the time the train left, a mother and a crying child had got in and everywhere else was full. A girl opposite who saw —— hand me a brandy flask and knew I was ill, looked at me compassionately.

At Reading, another woman with a baby got in and both babies cried in chorus, jangling my nerves to bits! — until I got out into the corridor, by a miracle not falling down, with one leg very feeble and treacherous. All seats were taken, excepting a first-class compartment where I looked in enviously at a lucky youth stretched out asleep full length along the empty seat.

All the people and the noise of the train began to make me fret, so I sought out the repose of a lavatory where I remained eating sandwiches and an apple for the best part of an hour. It was good to be alone.

Later on, I discovered an empty seat in a compartment occupied by persons whose questionable appearance my short sight entirely failed to make me aware of until I got inside with them. They were a family of Sheenies, father, mother and three children, whose joint emanations in a closed-up railway carriage made an effluvium like to kill a regiment of guards. They were E. end pawnbrokers or dealers in second-hand clothes.

I was too nervous to appear rude by immediately withdrawing, so I said politely to the man clad in second-hand furs: ‘Is that seat taken?’

‘Oh! yes . . . but you can have it for a bit if you like.’

I sat down timorously on the extreme edge of the seat and stared at, but could not read, my newspaper out of sheer nervous apprehension. My sole idea was to get out as soon as I decorously could. Out of the corner of my eye, I observed the three children — two girls and a boy — all garbed in black clothes and wearing large clumsy boots with nails and scutes on the soles. The girls had large inflorescences of bushy hair which they swung about as they turned their heads and made me shudder. The mother’s face was like a brown, shrivelled apple, topped with a black bonnet and festooned on each side with ringlets of curly dark hair. Around her neck a fur tippet: as I live — second-hand clothes dealers from Whitechapel.

The man I dare not look at: I sat beside him and merely imagined.

At ——, I got a decent seat and arrived at T—— jaded, but still alive, with no one to meet me. Decent rooms on the sea-front.

Next morning J—— went away for the week end and I could not possibly explain how ill I was lest she stayed at home.

To preserve my sanity, Saturday afternoon, took a desperate remedy by hiring a motor-car and travelling to Torquay and back via Babbacombe. . . .

On the Sunday, feeling suddenly ill, I sent for the local medico whom I received in the drab little room by lamplight after dinner. ‘I’ve a tingling in my right hand,’ I said, ‘that drives me nearly silly.’

‘And on the soles of your feet?’ he asked at once.

I assented, and he ran thro’ at once all the symptoms in series.

‘I see you know what my trouble is,’ I said shyly. And we chatted a little about the War, about disease, and I told him of the recent memoir on the histology of the disease —— in the Trans. Roy. Soc.. Edin. which interested him. Then he went away again — very amiable, very polite — an obvious non possumus. . . .

On Monday at 4 went up to to tea as previously arranged, but found the house shut up so returned to my rooms in a rage.

After tea, having read the newspapers inside out, sat by the open window looking out on to the Marine Parade. It was dusk, a fine rain was falling, and the parade and seafront were deserted save for an occasional figure hurrying past with mackintosh and umbrella. Suddenly as I sat looking out on this doleful scene, a dirge from nowhere in particular sounded on my ears which I soon recognised as ‘Robin Adair,’ sung very lento and very maestoso by a woman, with a flute obligato played by some second person. The tide was right up, and the little waves murmured listlessly at long intervals: never before I think have I been plunged into such an abyss of acute misery.

Next day the wire came. But it was too late. The day after that, I was worse, a single ray of sunshine being the rediscovery of the second-hand-clothes family from Whitechapel taking the air together on the front. This dreary party was traipsing along, the parents in their furs giving an occasional glance at the sea uncomfortably, as if they only noticed it was wet, and the children still in black and still wearing their scuted boots, obviously a little uncomfortable in a place so clean and windswept. I think they all came to the seaside out of decorum and for the satisfaction of feeling that they could afford it like other folk, and that old-clothes was as profitable a business as another.

On Thursday, returned home as I was afraid of being taken ill and having to go into the public hospital. Arrived home and went to bed and here we are till Jan. 1st on 3 months’ sick leave. However, the swingeing urtication in my hands and feet has now almost entirely abated and to-day I went out with E—— and the perambulator, which I pushed.

1 I had destroyed the first certificate (see p. 225), but it was necessary to obtain another when conscription came in.

December 13, 1916

A Baby-Girl

Walked down the bottom of the road and hung over some wooden railings. A little village baby-girl aged not more than 3 was hovering about near me while I gazed abstractedly across the Park at the trees. Presently, she crawled through the railings into the field and picked up a few dead leaves — a baby picking up dead leaves! Then she threw them down, and kicked them. Then moved on again — rustling about intermittently like a winter Thrush in the shrubbery. At last, she had stumbled around to where I was leaning over the railings. She stood immediately in front of me and silently looked up with a steady reproachful gaze: ‘Ain’t you ’shamed, you lazy-bones?’ till I could bear her inquisitorial gaze no longer, and so went and hung over some more railings further on.


He asked for a Tennyson. She immediately went upstairs in the dark, lit a match and got it for him.

He asked for a Shakespeare. And without a moment’s hesitation, she went upstairs again, lit another match and got that for him.

And I believe if he had said ‘Rats,’ she would have shot out silently into the dark and tried to catch one for him. Only a woman is capable of such service.

Hardy’s Poetry

‘You did not come,
And marching time drew on and wore me numb —
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure loving-kindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,

You did not come.’

I thoroughly enjoy Hardy’s poetry for its masterfulness, for his sheer muscular compulsion over the words and sentences. In his rough-hewn lines he yokes the recalcitrant words together and drives them along mercilessly with something that looks like simple brute strength. Witness the triumphant last line in the above where the words are absolute bondslaves to his exact meaning, his indomitable will. All this pleases me the more for I know to my cost what stubborn, sullen, hephæstian beasts words and clauses can sometimes be. It is nice to see them punished. Hardy’s poetry is Michael Angelo rather than Greek, Browning not Tennyson.

December 14, 1916

What a day! After a night of fog signals, I awoke this morning to find it still foggy and the ground covered with a grey rime. All day the fog has remained: I look out now thro’ the yellowish atmosphere across a field which is frosted over, the grass and brambles stiff and glassy. My back is aching and the cold is so intense that unless I crouch over the fire hands and feet become immediately stone-cold. All day I have crouched over the fire, reading newspapers, listening to fog signals and the screaming of the baby. . . . I have been in a torpor, like a Bat in a cavern — really dead yet automatically hanging on to life by my hind legs.

December 15, 1916

‘To stand upon one’s guard against Death exasperates her malice and protracts our sufferings.’ W. S. Landor.

December 19, 1916

The Parson called, over the christening of the baby. I told him I was an agnostic. ‘There are several interesting lines of thought down here,’ he said wearily, passing his hand over his eyes. I know several men more enthusiastic over Fleas and Worms than this phlegmatic priest, over Jesus Christ.

December 20, 1916

The reason why I do not spend my days in despair and my nights in hopeless weeping simply is that I am in love with my own ruin. I therefore deserve no sympathy, and probably shan’t get it: my own profound self-compassion is enough. I am so abominably self-conscious that no smallest detail in this tragedy eludes me. Day after day I sit in the theatre of my own life and watch the drama of my own history proceeding to its close. Pray God the curtain falls at the right moment lest the play drag on into some long and tedious anticlimax.

We all like to dramatise ourselves. Byron was dramatising himself when, in a fit of rhetorical self-compassion, he wrote:

‘Oh I could I feel as I have felt or be what I have been,
Or weep as I could once have wept o’er many a vanished scene.’

Shelley, too, being an artist could not stand insensible to his own tragedy and Francis Thompson suggests that he even anticipated his own end from a passage in Julian and Maddalo, ‘. . .if you can’t swim, Beware of Providence.’ ‘Did no earthly dixisti,’ Thompson asks, ’sound in his ears as he wrote it?’

In any event, it was an admirable ending from the dramatic point of view; Destiny is often a superb dramatist. What more perfect than the death of Rupert Brooke at Scyros in the Ægean?1 The lives of some men are works of art, perfect in form, in development and in climax. Yet how frequently a life eminently successful or even eminently ruinous is also an unlovely, sordid, ridiculous or vulgar affair! Every one will concede that it must be a hard thing to be commonplace and vulgar even in misfortune, to discover that the tragedy of your own precious life has been dramatically bad, that your life even in its ruins is but a poor thing, and your own miseries pathetic from their very insignificance; that you are only Jones with chronic indigestion rather than Guy de Maupassant mad, or Coleridge with a great intellect being slowly dismantled by opium.

If only I could order my life by line and level, if I could control or create my own destiny and mould it into some marble perfection! In short, if life were an art and not a lottery! In the lives of all of us, how many wasted efforts, how many wasted opportunities, false starts, blind gropings — how many lost days — and man’s life is but a paltry three score years and ten: pitiful short commons indeed.

Sometimes, as I lean over a five-barred gate or gaze stupidly into the fire, I garner a bitter-sweet contentment in making ideal reconstructions of my life, selecting my parents, the date and place of my birth, my gifts, my education, my mentors and what portions out of the infinity of knowledge shall gain a place within my mind — that sacred glebe-land to be zealously preserved and enthusiastically cultivated. Whereas, my mind is now a wilderness in which all kinds of useless growths have found an ineradicable foothold. I am exasperated to find I have by heart the long addresses of a lot of dismal business correspondents and yet can’t remember the last chapters of Ecclesiastes: what a waste of mind-stuff there! It irks me to be acquainted even to nausea with the spot in which I live, I whose feet have never traversed even so much as this little island much les’s carried me in triumph to Timbuctoo, Honolulu, Rio, Rome.

1 Contrast with it Wordsworth rotting at Rydal Mount or Swinburne at Putney.

Napoleon regretted that he had not died at Borodino. At St. Helena he is reported to have said: ‘To die at Borodino would have been to have died like Alexander: to be killed at Waterloo would have been a good death: perhaps Dresden would have been better: but no, better at Waterloo.’

December 21, 1916

This continuous preoccupation with self sickens me — as I look back over these entries. It is inconceivable that I should be here steadily writing up my ego day by day in the middle of this disastrous war. . . . Yesterday I had a move on. To-day life wearies me. I am sick of myself and life. This beastly world with its beastly war and hate makes me restless, dissatisfied, and full of a longing to be quit of it. I am as full of unrest as an autumn Swallow. ‘My soul,’ I said to them at breakfast with a sardonic grin, ‘is like a greyhound in the slips. I shall have to wear heavy boots to prevent myself from soaring. I have such an uplift on me that I could carry a horse, a dog, a cat, if you tied them on to my homing spirit and so transformed my Ascension into an adventure out of Baron Munchausen.’ With a gasconnade of contempt, I should like to turn on my heel and march straight out of this wretched world at once.

December 22, 1916

Gibbon’s Autobiography

This book makes me of all people (and especially just now) groan inwardly. ‘I am at a loss,’ he says, referring to the Decline and Fall, ‘how to describe the success of the work without betraying the vanity of the writer. . . . My book was on every table and almost on every toilette.’ It makes me bite my lip. Rousseau and his criticism of ‘I sighed as a lover; I obeyed as a son,’ and Gibbon on his dignity in reply make one of the most ludicrous incidents in literary history. ‘. . . that extraordinary man whom I admire and pity, should have been less precipitate in condemning the moral character and conduct of a stranger!’ Oh my giddy Aunt! Isn’t this rich? Still, I am glad you did not marry her: we could ill spare Madam de Staël, Madam Necker’s daughter, that wonderful, vivacious and warmhearted woman.

‘After the morning has been occupied with the labours of the library, I wish to unbend rather than exercise my mind; and in the interval between tea and supper, I am far from disdaining the innocent amusement of a game of cards.’ How Jane Austen would have laughed at him! The passage reminds me of the Rev. Mr Collins saying:

‘Had I been able I should have been only too pleased to give you a song, for I regard music as a harmless diversion and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman.’

‘When I contemplate the common lot of mortality,’ Gibbon writes, ‘I must acknowledge I have drawn a high prize in the lottery of life,’ and he goes on to count up all his blessings with the most offensive delight — his wealth, the good fortune of his birth, his ripe years, a cheerful temper, a moderate sensibility, health, sound and peaceful slumbers from infancy, his valuable friendship with Lord Sheffield, his rank, fame, etc., etc., ad nauseam. He rakes over his whole life for things to be grateful for. He intones his happiness in a long recitative of thanksgiving that his lot was not that of a savage, of a slave, or a peasant; he washes his hands with imaginary soap on reflecting on the bounty of Nature which cast his birth in a free and civilised country, in an age of science and philosophy, in a family of honourable rank and decently endowed with the gifts of fortune — sleek, complacent, oleaginous and salacious old gentleman, how I would love to have bombed you out of your self-satisfaction!

Masefield’s ‘Gallipoli’

It amused me to discover the evident relish with which the author of In the Daffodil Fields emphasises the blood and the flowers in the attack on Achi Baba. It’s all blood and beautiful flowers mixed up together to Masefield’s great excitement.

‘A swear word in a city slum
A simple swear word is to some —
To Masefield something more.’


Still, to call Gallipoli ‘bloody Hell’ is, after all, only a pedantically exact description. You understand, tho’, a very remarkable book — a work of genius.

December 23, 1916

To be cheerful this Xmas would require a coup de théâtre — some sort of psychological sleight of hand.

I get downstairs at 10 and spend the day reading and writing, without a soul to converse with. Everything comes to me second-hand — thro’ the newspapers, the world of life thro’ the halfpenny Daily News, and the world of books thro’ the Times Literary Supplement. For the rest I listen to the kettle singing and make symphonies out of it, or I look into the fire to see the pictures there. . . .

December 24, 1916

Everyone I suppose engaged in this irony of Xmas. What a solemn lunatic the world is.

Walked awhile in a beautiful lane close by, washed hard and clean and deeply channelled by the recent rain. On the hill-top, I could look right across the valley to the uplands, where on the sky line a few Firs stood in stately sequestration from common English Oaks, like a group of ambassadors in full dress. In the distance a hen clucked, I saw a few Peewits wheeling and watched the smoke rising from our cottage perpendicularly into the motionless air. There was a clement quiet and a clement warmth, and in my heart a burst of real happiness that made me rich even beside less unfortunate beings and beyond what I had ever expected to be again.

December 26, 1916

‘In thus describing and illustrating my intellectual torpor, I use terms that apply more or less to every part of the years during which I was under the Circean spells of opium. But for misery —’

(Why do I waste my energy with this damned Journal? I stop. I hate it. I am going out for a walk in the fog.)

December 31, 1916


For the past few days I have been living in a quiet hermitage of retrospect. My memories have gone back to the times — remote, inaccessible, prehistoric — before ever this Journal was begun, when I myself was but a jelly without form and void — that is, before I had developed any characteristic qualities and above all the dominant one, a passion for Natural History.

One day a school friend, being covetous of certain stamps in my collection, induced me to ’swop’ them for his collection of birds’ eggs which he showed me nestling in the bran at the bottom of a box. He was a cunning boy and thought he had the better of the bargain. He little realised — nor did I—the priceless gift he bestowed when his little fat dirty hands, decorated, I remember, with innumerable warts, picked out the eggs and gave them to me. In fact, a smile momentarily crossed his face, he turned his head aside, he spat in happy contemplation of the deal.

I continued eagerly to add to the little collection of Birds’ eggs, but for a long time it never occurred to me to go out into the country myself and collect them,— I just swopped, until one day our errand boy, who stuttered, had bandy legs, and walked on the outside of his feet with the gait of an Anthropoid, said to me, ‘I will sh-show you how to find Birds’ n-nests if you like to come out to the w-woods.’ So one Saturday, when the backyard was cleaned down and the coal boxes filled, he and I started off together to a wood some way down the river bank, where he — my good and beneficent angel — presently showed me a Thrush’s nest in the fork of a young Oak tree. Never-to-be-forgotten moment! The sight of those blue speckled eggs lying so unexpectedly, as I climbed up the tree, on the other side of an untidy tangle of dried moss and grass, in a neat little earthenware cup, caused probably the first tremor of real emotion at a beautiful object. The emotion did not last long! In a moment I had stolen the eggs and soon after smashed them — in trying to blow them, schoolboy fashion.

Then, I rapidly became an ardent field naturalist. My delight in Birds and Birds’ eggs spread in a benignant infection to every branch of Natural History. I collected Beetles, Butterflies, Plants, Birds’ wings, Birds’ claws, etc. Dr Gordon Stables in the Boy’s Own Paper, taught me how to make a skin, and I got hold of a Mole and then a Squirrel (the latter falling to my prowess with a catapult), stuffed them and set them up in cases which I glazed myself. I even painted in suitable backgrounds, in the one case a mole-hill, looking, I fear, more like a mountain, and in the other, a Fir tree standing at an impossible angle of 45°. Then I read a book on trapping, and tried to catch Hares. Then I read Sir John Lubbock’s Ants, Bees and Wasps, and constructed an observation Ants’ nest (though the Ants escaped).

In looking back to these days, I am chiefly struck by my extraordinary ignorance of the common objects of the countryside, for although we lived in the far west country, the house, without a garden, was in the middle of the town, and all my seniors were as ignorant as I. Nature Study in the schools did not then exist, I had no benevolent paterfamilias to take me by the hand and point out the common British Birds; for my father’s only interest was in politics. I can remember coming home once all agog with a wonderful Bird I had seen — like a tiny Magpie, I said. No one could tell me that it was, of course, only a little Pied Wagtail.

The absence of sympathy or of congenial companionship, however, had absolutely no effect in damping my ardour. As I grew older my egg-collecting companions fell away, some took up the law, or tailoring, or clerking, some entered the Church, while I became yearly more engrossed. In my childhood my enthusiasm lay like a watch-spring, coiled up and hidden inside me, until that Thrush’s nest and eggs seized hold of it by the end and pulled it out by degrees in a long silver ribbon. I kept live Bats in our upstairs little-used drawing-room, and Newts and Frogs in pans in the backyard. My mother tolerated these things because I had sufficiently impressed her with the importance to science of the observations which I was making and about to publish. Those on Bats indeed were thought fit to be included in a standard work — Barrett-Hamilton’s Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland. The published articles served to bring me into correspondence with other naturalists, and I shall never forget my excitement on receiving for the first time a letter of appreciation. It was from the author of several natural history books, to



and illustrated with a delightful sketch of Ring Plovers feeding on the saltings. This letter was carefully pasted into my diary, where it still remains.

After all, it is perhaps unfair to say that I had no kindred spirit with me in my investigations. Martha, the servant girl who had been with us for 30 years, loved animals of all sorts and — what was strange in a country girl — she had no fear of handling even such things as Newts and Frogs. My Batrachia often used to escape from their pans in the yard into Martha’s kitchen, and, not a bit scandalised, she would sometimes catch one marching across the rug or squeezing underneath a cupboard. ‘Lor’!’ would be her comment as she picked the vagrant up and took it back to its aquarium, ‘can’t ’em travel?’ Martha had an eye for character in animals. In the long dynasty of cats we possessed one at length who by association of opposite ideas we called Marmaduke because he ought to have been called Jan Stewer. ‘A chuff old feller, ’idden ‘ee?’ Martha used to ask me with pride and love in her eyes. ‘He purrs in broad Devon,’ I used to answer. Marmaduke need only wave the tip of his tail to indicate to her his imperative desire to promenade. Martha knew if no one else did that every spring ‘Pore ’Duke.’ underneath his fur, used to come out in spots. ‘’Tiz jus’ like a cheel — ’e gets a bit spotty as the warm weather cums along.’ Starlings on the washhouse roof, regularly fed with scraps, were ever her wonder and delight. ‘Don’ ’em let it down, I zay?’ In later years, when I was occupied in the top attic, making dissections of various animals that I collected, she would sometimes leave her scrubbing and cleaning in the room below to thrust her head up the attic stairs and enquire, ‘ ’Ow be ’ee gettin’ on then?’ Her unfeigned interest in my anatomical researches gave me real pleasure, and I took delight in arousing her wonder by pointing out and explaining the brain of a Pigeon or the nervous system of a Dog-fish, or a Frog’s heart taken out and still beating in the dissecting dish. She, in reply, would add reflections upon her own experiences in preparing meat for dinner — anecdotes about the ‘maw’ of an old Fowl, or the great ‘pipe’ of a Goose. Then, suddenly scurrying downstairs, she would say, ‘I must be off or I shall be all be’ind like the cow’s tail.’ Now the dignified interest of the average educated man would have chilled me.

By the way, years later, when he was a miner in S. Wales, that historic errand-boy displayed his consciousness of the important role he once played by sending me on a postcard congratulations on my success in the B. M. appointment. It touched me to think he had not forgotten after years of separation.

January 1, 1917

The New Year came in like a thief in the night — noiselessly; no bells, no sirens, no songs by order of the Government. Nothing could have been more appropriate than a burglarious entry like this — seeing what the year has come to filch from us all in the next 12 months.

January 20, 1917

I am over 6 feet high and as thin as a skeleton; every bone in my body, even the neck vertebras, creak at odd intervals when I move. So that I am not only a skeleton but a badly articulated one to boot. If to this is coupled the fact of the creeping paralysis, you have the complete horror. Even as I sit and write, millions of bacteria are gnawing away my precious spinal cord, and if you put your ear to my back the sound of the gnawing I dare say could be heard. The other day a man came and set up a post in the garden for the clothes’ line. As soon as I saw the post I said ‘gibbet’ — it looks exactly like one, and I, for sure, must be the malefactor. Last night while E—— was nursing the baby I most delightfully remarked: ‘What a little parasite — why you are Cleopatra affixing the aspic — “Tarry good lady, the bright day is done, and we are for the dark."’

The fact that such images arise spontaneously in my mind, show how rotten to the core I am.

. . . The advent of the Baby was my coup de grâce. The little creature seems to focus under one head all my personal disasters and more than once a senseless rage has clutched me at the thought of a baby in exchange for my ambition, a nursery for the study. Yet, on the whole, I find it a good and satisfying thing to see her, healthy, new, intact on the threshold: I grow tired of my own dismal life just as one does of a suit of dirty clothes. My life and person are patched and greasy; hers is new and without a single blemish or misfortune. . . . Moreover, she makes her mother happy and consoles her grandmother too.

January 21, 1917


What a delightful thing the state of Death would be if the dead passed their time haunting the places they loved in life and living over again the dear delightful past — if death were one long indulgence in the pleasures of memory! if the disembodied spirit forgot all the pains of its previous existence and remembered only the happiness! Think of me flitting about the orchards and farmyards in —— birdsnesting, walking along the coast among the seabirds, climbing Exmoor, bathing in streams and in the sea, haunting all my old loves and passions, cutting open with devouring curiosity Rabbits, Pigeons, Frogs, Dogfish, Amphioxus; think of me, too, at length unwillingly deflected from these cherished pursuits in the raptures of first love, cutting her initials on trees and fences instead of watching birds, day-dreaming over Parker and Haswell and then bitterly reproaching myself later for much loss of precious time. How happy I shall be if Death is like this: to be living over again and again all my ecstasies, over first times — the first time I found a Bottle Tit’s nest, the first time I succeeded in penetrating into the fastnesses of my El Dorado — Exmoor, the first time I gazed upon the internal anatomy of a Snail, the first time I read Berkeley’s Principles of Human Understanding (what a soul-shaking epoch that was!), and the first time I kissed her! My hope is that I may haunt these times again, that I may haunt the places, the books, the bathes, the walks, the desires, the hopes, the first (and last) loves of my life all transfigured and beatified by sovereign Memory.

January 26, 1917

Out of doors to-day it’s like the roaring forties! Every tree I passed in the lane was a great wind instrument, bellowing out a passionate song, and the sky was torn to ribbons. It is cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass Monkey, but very exhilarating. I stood on the hill and squared my fists to the wind and bade everything come on. I sit writing this by the fire and am thoroughly scourged and purified by this great castigating wind. . . . I think I will stick it out — I will sit quite still in my chair and defy this skulking footpad — let the paralysis creep into every bone, I will hang on to the last and watch it skulking with my most hideous grimace.

January 27, 1917

Still freezing and blowing. Coming back from the village, tho’ I was tired and hobbling badly, decided to walk up the lane even if it meant crawling home on hands and knees.

The sky was a quick-change artist to-day. Every time you looked you saw a different picture. From the bottom of the hill I looked up and saw above me — it seemed at an immense and windy height — a piece of blue, framed in an irregular edge of white woolly cloud seen thro’ the crooked branches of an Oak. It was a narrow crooked lane, sunk deep in the soil with large smooth surfaces of stone like skulls bulging up in places where the rain had washed away the soil.

Further on, the sun was lying low almost in the centre of a semi-circular bend in the near horizon. It frosted the wool of a few sheep seen in silhouette, and then slowly disappeared in mist. On the right-hand side was a cottage with the smoke being wrenched away from the chimney top, and on the left a group of stately Firs, chanting a requiem like a cathedral choir.

January 28, 1917

Still blowing and bitterly cold. Along the path fields in the Park I stopped to look at a thick clump of Firs standing aloof on some high ground and guarded by an outside ring of honest English Oaks, Ashes and Elms. They were a sombre mysterious little crowd intent, I fancied, on some secret ritual of the trees. The high ground on which they stood looked higher and more inaccessible than it really was, the clump was dark green, almost black, and in between their trunks where all was obscurity, some hardy adventurer might well have discovered a Grand Lama sitting within his Penetralia. But I had no taste for any such profanity, and even as I looked the sun came out from behind a cloud very slowly, bringing the picture into clearer focus, chasing away shadows and bringing out all the colours. The landscape resumed its homely aspect: an English park with Firs in it.

January 29, 1917

Last night, I pulled aside the window curtain of our front door and peeped out. Just below the densely black projecting gable of the house I saw the crescent moon lying on her back in a bed of purple sky, and I saw our little white frosted garden path curving up towards the garden gate. It was a delicious coup d’œil, and I shewed it to E——.

January 31, 1917

Showers of snow at intervals, the little flakes rocking about lazily or spiralling down, while the few that eventually reached the ground would in a moment or so be caught up in a sudden furious puff of wind, and sent driving along the road with the dust.

My usual little jaunt up the lane past the mossy farmhouse. Home to toasted tea-cakes and a pinewood fire, with my wife chattering prettily to the baby. After tea, enchanted by the reading of a new book — Le Journal de Maurice de Guérin — or rather the introduction to it by Sainte-Beuve. I devoured it! I have spent a devouring day; under a calm exterior I have burnt up the hours; all of me has been athrob; every little cell in my brain has danced to its own little tune. For to-day, Death has been an impossibility. I have felt that anyhow to-day I could not die — I have laughed at the mere thought ot it. If only this mood would last! If I could feel thus always, then I could fend off Death for an immortality of life.

But suddenly, as now, the real horror of my life and future comes on me in a flash. For a second I am terrified by the menace of the future, but fortunately only for a second. For I’ve learnt a trick which I fear to reveal; it is so valuable and necessary to me that if I talked of it or vulgarised it my secret might be stolen away. Not a word then!

Later. I have just heard on the gramophone some Grieg, and it has charged my happiness with disrupting voltage of desire. Oh! if only I had health, I could make the welkin ring! I shall leave so little behind me, such a few paltry pages beside what I have it in me to do. It shatters me.

February 1, 1917

Looking back, I must say I like the splendid gusto with which I lived thro’ yesterday: that mettlesome fashion in which I took the lane, and at the top, how I swung around to sweep my gaze across to the uplands opposite with snow falling all the time. Then in the evening, the almost complete absorption in the new book when I forgot everything pro tem. It was quite like the old days.

February 2, 1917

Crowd Fever

After four months’ sick leave, returned to work and London.

An illness like mine rejuvenates one — for the time being! A pony and jingle from the old ‘Fox and Hounds Inn’ took me to the Station, and I enjoyed the feel of the wheels rolling beneath me over the hard road. In the train, I looked out of the window as interested as any schoolboy. On the Underground I was delighted with the smooth, quiet way with which the ‘Metro’ trains glide into the Station. I had quite forgotten this. Then, when my hand began to get better, I rediscovered the pleasures of penmanship and kept on writing, with my tongue out. And I re-enjoyed the child’s satisfaction in coaxing a button to slip into its hole: all grown-up people have forgotten how difficult and complex such operations are.

This morning how desirable everything seemed to me! The world intoxicated me. Moving again among so many human beings gave me the crowd-fever, and started again all the pangs of the old familiar hunger for a fuller life, that centrifugal elan in which I feared for the disruption and scattering of my parts in all directions. Temporarily I lost the hegemony of my own soul. Every man and woman I met was my enemy, threatening me with the secession of some inward part. I was alarmed to discover how many women I could passionately love and with how many men I could form a lasting friendship. Within, all was anarchy and commotion, a cold fright seized me lest some extraordinary event was about to happen: some general histolysis of my body, some sudden disintegration of my personality, some madness, some strange death. . . . I wanted to crush out the life of all these men and women in a great Bear’s hug, my God! this sea of human faces whom I can never recognise, all of us alive together beneath this yellow catafalque of fog on the morning of the announcement of world famine and world war! . . .

. . . . . . .

To-night, I have lost this paroxysm. For I am home again by the fireside. All the multitude has disappeared from my view. I have lost them, every one. I have lost another day of my life and so have they, and we have lost each other. Meanwhile the great world spins on unrelentingly, frittering away lightly my precious hours (surely a small stock now?) while I sit discomfited by the evening fire and nurse my scraped hands that tingle because the spinning world has wrenched itself out of my feeble grasp.

February 3, 1917

This morning on arriving at S. Kensington, went straight to a Chemist’s shop, but finding someone inside, I drew back, and went on to another.

‘Have you any morphia tabloids?’ I asked a curly-haired, nice-looking, smiling youth, who leaned with both hands on the counter and looked at me knowingly, as if he had had unlimited experience of would-be morphinomaniacs.

‘Yes, plenty of them,’ he said, fencing. And then waited.

‘Can you supply me?’ I asked, feeling very conscious of myself.

He smiled once more, shook his head and said it was contrary to the Defence of the Realm Act.

I made a sorry effort to appear ingenuous, and he said:

‘Of course, it is only a palliative.’

With a solemn countenance intended to indicate pain I answered:

‘Yes, but palliatives are very necessary sometimes,’ and I walked out of the hateful shop discomfited.

February 6, 1917

Am busy re-writing,1 editing and bowdlerising my journals for publication against the time when I shall have gone the way of all flesh. No one else would prepare it for publication if I don’t. Reading it through again, I see what a remarkable book I have written. If only they will publish it!

1 John Wesley rewrote his journals from entries in rough draft.

February 7, 1917

Chinese Lanterns

The other morning as I dressed, I could see the sun like a large yellow moon rising on a world, stiff, stark, its contours merely indicated beneath a winding-sheet of snow. Further around the horizon was another moon — the full moon itself — yellow likewise, but setting. It was the strangest picture I ever saw. I might well have been upon another planet; I could not have been more surprised even at a whole ring of yellow satellites arranged at regular intervals all around the horizon.

In the evening of the same day, I drove home from the Station in a little governess-cart, over a snow-clogged road. The cautious little pony picked out her way so carefully in little strides — pat-pat-pat — wherever it was slippery, and the Landlord of the Inn sat opposite me extolling all the clever little creature’s merits. It was dusk, and for some reason of the atmosphere the scraps of cloud appeared as blue sky and the blue sky as cloud, beneath which the full moon like a great Chinese lantern hung suspended so low down it seemed to touch the trees and hills. How have folk been able to ‘carry on’ in a world so utterly strange as this one during the past few days! I marvel that beneath such moons and suns, the peoples of the world have not ceased for a while from the petty business of war during at least a few of our dancing revolutions around this furnace of a star. One of these days I should not be surprised if this fascinated earth did not fall into it like a moth into a candle. And where would our Great War be then?

February 28, 1917

The Strangeness of my Life

Consider the War: and the current adventures of millions of men on land, sea and air; and the incessant labours of millions of men in factory and workshop and in the field; think of the hospitals and all they hold, of everyone hoping, fearing, suffering, waiting — of the concentration of all humanity on the one subject — the War. And then think of me, poor little me, deserted and forgotten, a tiny fragment sunk so deep and helplessly between the sheer granite walls of my environment that scarce an echo reaches me of the thunder among the mountains above. I read about the War in a ha’penny paper, and see it in the pictures of the Daily Mirror. For the rest, I live by counting the joints on insects’ legs and even that much effort is almost beyond my strength.

That is strange enough. But my life is stranger still by comparison. And this is the marvel: that every day I spend by the waters of Babylon, weeping and neglected among enthusiasts, enthusiastically counting joints, while every evening I return to Zion to my books, to Hardy’s poems, to Maurice de Guérin’s Journals, to my own memoirs. Mine is a life of consummate isolation, and I frequently marvel at it.

The men I meet accept me as an entomologist and ipso facto, an enthusiast in the science. That is all they know of me, and all they want to know of me, or of any man. Surely no man’s existence was ever quite such a duplicity as mine. I smile bitterly to myself ten times a day, as I engage in all the dreary technical jargon of professional talk with them. How they would gossip over the facts of my life if they knew! How scandalised they would be over my inner life’s activities, how resentful of enthusiasm other than entomological!

I find it very irksome to keep up this farce of concealment. I would love to declare myself. I loathe, hate and detest the secrecy of my real self: the continuous restraint enforced on me ulcerates my heart and makes harmonious social existence impossible with those who do not know me thoroughly. ‘On dit qu’au jugement dernier le secret des consciences sera révélé à tout l’univers; je voudrais qu’il en fût ainsi de moi dès aujourd’hui et que la vue de mon âme fût ouvert à tous venants.’ Maurice de Guérin.

March 1, 1917

It is curious for me to look at my tubes and microscope and realise that I shall never require them again for serious use. Life is a dreadful burden to me at the Museum. I am too ill for any scientific work so I write labels and put things away. I am simply marking time on the edge of a precipice awaiting the order, ‘Forward.’

It is excoriating to be thus wasting the last few precious days of my life in such mummery merely to get bread to eat. They might at least let me die in peace, and with fitting decorum. It is so ignoble to be tinkering about in a Museum among Scarabees and insects when I ought to be reflecting on life and death.

I ask myself what ought to be my most appropriate reaction in such circumstances as the present? Why, of course, to carry on as if all were normal, and the future unknown: why, so I do, to outward view, for the sake of the others. Yet that is no reason why in my own inward parts I should not at times indulge in a little relaxation. It is a relief to put off the mailed coat, to sit awhile by the green-room fire and have life as it really is, all to myself. But the necessity of living will not let me alone. I must be always mumming.

My life has been all isolation and restriction. And it now appears even my death is to be hedged around with prohibitions. Drugs for example — how beneficent a little laudanum at times in a case like mine! and how happy I could be if I knew that in my waistcoat pocket I carried a kindly, easy means of shuffling off this coil when the time comes as come it must. It horrifies me to consider how I might break the life of E—— clean in two, and sap her courage by a lingering, dawdling dying. But there is the Defence of the Realm Act. It is a case of a Scorpion in a ring of fire but without any sting in its tail.

March 2, 1917

I ask myself: what are my views on death, the next world, God? I look into my mind and discover I am too much of a mannikin to have any. As for death, I am a little bit of trembling jelly of anticipation. I am prepared for anything, but I am the complete agnostic; I simply don’t know. To have views, faith, beliefs, one needs a backbone. This great bully of a universe overwhelms me. The stars make me cower. I am intimidated by the immensity surrounding my own littleness. It is futile and presumptuous for me to opine anything about the next world. But I hope for something much freer and more satisfying after death, for emancipation of the spirit and above all for the obliteration of this puny self, this little, skulking, sharp-witted ferret.

A Potted Novel


He was an imaginative youth, and she a tragedy queen. So he fell in love with her because she was melancholy and her past tragic. ‘She is capable of tragedy, too,’ he said, which was a high encomium.

But he was also an ambitious youth and all for dalliance in love. ‘Marriage,’ said he sententiously, ‘is an economic trap.’ And then, a little wistfully: ‘If she were a bit more melancholy and a bit more beautiful she would be quite irresistible.’


But he was a miserable youth, too, and in the anguish of loneliness and lovelessness a home tempted him sorely. Still, he dallied. She waited. Ill-health after all made marriage impossible.


Yet love and misery drove him towards it. So one day he closed his eyes and offered himself up with sacrificial hands. . . . ‘Too late,’ she said. ‘Once perhaps . . . but now. . . .’ His eyes opened again, and in a second Love entered his Temple once more and finally ejected the money changers


So they married after all, and he was under the impression she had made a good match. He had ill-health perhaps, yet who could doubt his ultimate fame?

Then the War came, and he had the hardihood to open a sealed letter from his Doctor to the M.O. examining recruits. . . . Stars and staggers!! So it was she who was the victim in marriage! That harassing question: Did she know? What an ass he had been all through, what superlative egoism and superlative conceit!


Then a baby came. He broke under the strain and daily the symptoms grew more obvious. Did she know? . . . The question dazed him.

Well, she did know, and had married him for love, nevertheless, against every friendly counsel, the Doctor’s included.


And now the invalid’s gratitude is almost cringeing, his admiration boundless and his love for always. It is the perfect rapprochement between two souls, one that was honeycombed with self-love and lost in the labyrinthine ways of his own motives and the other straight, direct, almost imperious in love and altogether adorable.


March 5, 1917

At home ill again. Yesterday was a day of utter dreariness. All my nerves were frozen, my heart congealed. I had no love for anyone . . . no emotion of any sort. It was a catalepsy of the spirit harder to bear than fever or pain. . . . To-day, life is once more stirring in me, I am slowly awaking to the consciousness of acute but almost welcome misery.

March 6, 1917

An affectionate letter from H—— that warmed the cockles of my heart — poor frozen molluscs. A—— has written only once since August.

March 7, 1917

I am, I suppose, a whey-faced, lily-livered creature . . . yet even an infantry subaltern has a chance. . . .

My dear friend —— —— has died and a Memorial Exhibition of his pictures is being held at the Goupil Gallery. The most fascinating man I ever met. I was attracted by him almost as one is attracted by a charming woman: by little ways, by laughing eyes, by the manner of speech. And now he is dead, of a lingering and painful disease.

March 8, 1917


Have been reading Sir Oliver Lodge’s Raymond. I do not deny that I am curious about the next world, or about the condition of death. I am and always have been. In my early youth, I reflected continually on death and hated it bitterly. But now that my end is near and certain, I consider it less and am content to wait and see. As, for all practical purposes, I have done with life, and my own existence is often a burden to me and is like to become a burden also to others, I wish I possessed the wherewithal to end it at my will. With two or three tabloids in my waistcoat pocket, and my secret locked in my heart, how serenely I would move about among my friends and fellows, conscious that at some specially selected moment — at midnight or high noon — just when the spirit moved me, I could quietly slip out to sea on this Great Adventure. It would be well to be able to control this: the time, the place, and the manner of one’s exit. For what disturbs me in particular is how I shall conduct myself; I am afraid lest I become afraid, it is a fear of fear. By means of my tabloids, I could arrange my death in an artistic setting, say underneath a big tree on a summer’s day, with an open Homer in my hand, or more appropriately, a magnifying glass and Miall and Denny’s Cockroach. It would be stage-managing my own demise and surely the last thing in self-conscious elegance!

I think it was De Quincey who said Death to him seemed most awful in the summer. On the contrary the earth is warm then, and would welcome my old bones. It is on a cold night by the winter fire that the churchyard seems to me the least inviting: especially horrible it is the first evening after the funeral.

March 10, 1917

Have had a relapse. My hand I fear is going. Food prices are leaping up. Woe to the unfit and the old and the poor in these coming days! We shall soon have nothing left in our pantries, and a piece of Wrigley’s chewing gum will be our only comfort.

When I come to quit this world I scarcely know which will be the greater regret: the people I have never met, or the places I have never seen. In the world of books, I rest fairly content: I have read my fair share.

To-day I read down the column of to-morrow’s preachers with the most ludicrous avidity, ticking off the Churches I have visited: St. Paul’s and the Abbey, the Ethical Church in Bayswater and Westminster Cathedral. But the Unitarians, the Christadelphians, the Theosophists, the Church of Christ Scientist, the Buddhist Society, the Brompton Oratory, the Church of Humanity, the New Life Centre; all these adventures I intended one day to make. . . . It is not much fun ticking off things you have done from a list if you have done very little. I get more satisfaction out of a list of books. But lona and the Hebrides, Edinburgh, Brussels, Buenos Ayres, Spitzbergen (when the flowers are out), the Niagara Falls (by moonlight), the Grindelwald, Cairo — these names make me growl and occasionally yelp like a hurt puppy, although to outward view I am sitting in an armchair blowing smoke-rings.

March 11, 1917

The Graph of Temperament

In this Journal, my pen is a delicate needle point, tracing out a graph of temperament so as to show its daily fluctuations: grave and gay, up and down, lamentation and revelry, self-love and self-disgust. You get here all my thoughts and opinions, always irresponsible and often contradictory or mutually exclusive, all my moods and vapours, all the varying reactions to environment of this jelly which is I.

I snap at any idea that comes floating down, particularly if it is gaudy or quixotic, no matter if it is wholly incompatible with what I said the day before. People unpleasantly refer me back, and to escape I have to invent some sophistry. I unconsciously imitate the mannerisms of folk I am particularly taken with. Other people never fail to tell me of my simulations. If I read a book and like it very much, by a process of peaceful penetration the author takes possession of my whole personality just as if I were a medium giving a sitting, and for some time subsequently his ideas come spurting up like a fountain making a pretty display which I take to be my own. Other people say of me, ‘Oh! I expect he read it in a book.’

I am something between a Monkey, a Chameleon, and a Jellyfish. To any bully with an intellect like a blunderbuss, I have always timidly held up my hands and afterwards gnashed my teeth for my cowardice. In conversation with men of alien sentiment I am self-effacing to my intense chagrin, often from mere shyness. I say, ‘Yes . . . yes . . . yes,’ to nausea, when it ought to be ‘No . . . no . . . no.’ I become my own renegade, an amiable dissembler, an ass in short. It is a torture to have a sprightly mind blanketed by personal timidity and a feeble presence. The humiliating thing is that almost any strong character hypnotises me into complacency, especially if he is a stranger; I find myself for the time being in really sincere agreement with him, and only later, discover to myself his abominable doctrines. Then I lie in bed and have imaginary conversations in which I get my own back.

But, by Jove, I wreak vengeance on my familiars, and on those brethren even weaker than myself. They get my concentrated gall, my sulphurous fulminations, and would wonder to read this confession.


For an unusually long time after I grew up, I maintained a beautiful confidence in the goodness of mankind. Rumours did reach me, but I brushed them aside as slanders. I was an ingénu, unsuspecting, credulous. I thoroughly believed that men and women and I were much better than we actually are. I have not come to the end of my disillusions even now. I still rub my eyes on occasion. I simply can’t believe that we are such humbugs, hypocrites, self-deceivers. And strange to say it is the ‘good’ people above all who most bitterly disappoint me. Give me a healthy liar, or a thief, or a vagabond, and he arouses no expectations, and so I get no heart-burning. It is the good, the honest, the true, who cheat me of my boyhood’s beliefs. . . . I am a cynic then, but not a reckless cynic — a careworn unhappy cynic without the cynic’s pride. ‘It is easy to be cynical,’ someone admonished me. ‘Unfortunately it is,’ I said.

We are so cold, so aloof, so self-centred even the warmest friends. Men of piety love God, but their love for each other is so commonly but a poor thing. My own affections are always frosted over with the Englishman’s reserve. I hesitate as if I were not sure of them. I am afraid of self-deception, I hate to find out either myself or others. And yet I am always doing so. Mine is a restlessly analytical brain. I dissect everyone, even those I love, and my discoveries frequently sting me to the quick. ‘To the pure all things are pure,’ whence I should conclude I suppose that it is the beam in my own eye. But I would not tolerate being deceived concerning either my own beam or other people’s motes.

March 12, 1917

Archæopteryx and Mudflats

Yesterday I collected two distinct and several twinges and hereby save them up. They were more than that — they were pangs, and pangs that twanged.

(Why do I make fun of my suffering?)

One was when I saw the well known figure of the Archæopteryx remains in the slab of Lithographic sandstone of Bavaria: a reproduction in an illustrated encyclopedia. The other was when someone mentioned mud, and I thought of the wide estuary of the T——, its stretches of mudflats and its wild-fowl. We were turning over some pages and she said:

‘What’s that?’

Archæopteryx,’ said I.

‘Whatever is Archæopteryx?’

‘An extinct bird,’ I answered mournfully.

Like an old amour, my love of palæontology and anatomy, and all the high hopes I entertained of them, came smarting to life again, so I turned over the page quickly.

But why need I explain to you, O my Journal? To others, I could not explain. I was tongue-tied.

‘I used to get very muddy,’ I remarked lamentably, ‘in the old days when stalking birds on the mudflats.’

And they rather jeered at such an occupation in such a place, just as those beautiful sights and sounds of zostera-covered mud-banks, twinkling runnels, swiftly running thin-legged waders, their whistles and cries began to steal over my memory like a delicate pain.

To my infinite regret, I have no description, no photograph or sketch, no token of any sort to remember them by. And their doom is certain. Heavens! how I wasted my impressions and experiences then! Swinburne has some lines about saltings which console me a little, but I know of no other descriptions by either pen or brush.

March 15, 1917

How revolting it is to see some barren old woman lovesick over a baby, bestowing voluptuous kisses on its nose, eyes, hands, feet, utterly intoxicated and chattering incessantly in the ‘little language,’ and hopping about like an infatuated cock grouse.

May 5, 1917

The nurse has been here now for over five weeks. One day has been pretty much the same as another. I get out of bed usually about tea-time and sit by the window and churn over past, present, and future. However, the Swallows have arrived at last, though they were very late, there are also Cuckoos, Green Wood-peckers, Moor-hens, calling from across the park. At night, when the moon is up, I get a great deal of fun out of an extremely self-inflated Brown Owl, who hoots up through the breadth and length of the valley, and then I am sure, listens with satisfaction to his echo. Still, I have much sympathy with that Brown Owl and his hooting.

What I do (goodness knows what E—— does), is to drug my mind with print. I am just a rag-bag of Smollett, H. G. Wells, Samuel Butler, the Daily News, the Bible, the Labour Leader, Joseph Vance, etc., etc. Except for an occasional geyser of malediction when some particularly acrid memory comes uppermost in my mind, I find myself submitting with a surprising calm and even cheerfulness. That agony of frustration which gnawed my vitals so much in 1913 has disappeared, and I, who expected to go down in the smoke and sulphur of my own fulminations, am quite as likely to fold my hands across my chest with a truly Christian resignation. Joubert said, ‘Patience and misfortune, courage and death, resignation and the inevitable, generally come together. Indifference to life generally arises with the impossibility of preserving it’ — how cynical that sounds!

May 8, 1917

This and another volume of my Journal are temporarily lodged in a drawer in my bedroom. It appears to me that as I become more static and moribund, they become more active and aggressive. All day they make a perfect uproar in their solitary confinement — although no one hears it. And at night they become phosphorescent, though nobody sees it. One of these days, with continued neglect they will blow up from spontaneous combustion like diseased gunpowder, the dismembered diarist being thus hoist upon his own petard.

June 1, 1917

We discuss post mortem affairs quite genially and without restraint. It is the contempt bred of familiarity, I suppose. E—— says widows’ weeds have been so vulgarised by the war widows that she won’t go into deep mourning. ‘But you’ll wear just one weed or two for me?’ I plead, and then we laugh. She has promised me that should a suitable chance arise, she will marry again. Personally, I wish I could place my hand on the young fellow at once, so as to put him thro’ his paces — shew him where the water main runs and where the gas meter is, and so on.

You will observe what a relish I have for my own macabre, and how keenly I appreciate the present situation. Nobody can say I am not making the best of it. One might call it pulling the hangman’s beard. Yet I ought, I fancy, to be bewailing my poor wife and fatherless child.

June 15, 1917

I sit all day in my chair, moving 8 feet to my bed at night, and 8 feet from it to my chair in the morning — and wait. The assignation is certain. ‘Life is a coquetry of Death that wearies me, Too sure of the amour.’

July 5, 1917

It is odd that at this time of the breaking of nations, Destiny, with her hands so full, should spare the time to pursue a non-combatant atom like me down such a labyrinthine side-track. It is odd to find her determined to destroy me with such tremendous thoroughness — one would have thought it sufficient merely to brush the dust off my wings. Why this deliberate, slow-moving malignity? Perhaps it is a punishment for the impudence of my desires. I wanted everything so I get nothing. I gave nothing so I receive nothing. I am not offering up my life willingly — it is being taken from me piece by piece, while I watch the pilfering with lamentable eyes.

I have tendered my resignation and retire on a small gratuity.

July 7, 1917

My hand gets a little better. But it’s a cat and mouse game, and so humiliating to be the mouse.

. . . Parental affection comes to me only in spasms, and if they hurt, they do not last long. Curiously enough, as in the case of very old people, my consciousness reverts more easily to conditions long past. I seem unable to apprehend all the significance of having a nine-months old daughter, but some Bullfinches or Swallows seen thro’ the window rouse me more. No one can deny I have loved Birds to intoxication. In my youth, birds’ eggs, and little nestlings and chicken sent me into such raptures I could never tell it to you adequately. . . . I am too tired to write more.

July 23, 1917

Reading Pascal again. If Shelley was ‘gold dusty from tumbling among the stars,’ Pascal was bruised and shaken. The one was delighted, and the other frightened. I like Pascal’s prostration before the infinities of Time, Space and the Unknown. Somehow, he conveys this more vividly than the uplift afforded him by religion.

July 25, 1917

I don’t believe in the twin-soul theory of marriage. There are plenty of men any one of whom she might have married and lived with happily, and simpler men than I am. Methinks there are large tracts could be sliced off my character and she would scarcely feel the want of them. To think that she of all women, with a past such as hers, should be swept into my vicious orbit! Yet she seems to bear Destiny no resentment, so I bear it for her and enough for two. At our engagement I gave her my own ring to wear as a pledge — we thought it nicer than buying a new one. It was a signet ring with a dark smooth stone. Strange to say it never once occurred to me till now that it was a mourning ring in memory of a great-uncle of mine, actually with an inscription on the inside.

July 26, 1917

As long as I can hold a pen, I shall, I suppose, go on trickling ink into this diary!

I am amusing myself by reading the Harmsworth Encyclopædia in 15 volumes, i.e., I turn over the pages and read everything of interest that catches my eye.

I get out of bed about ten, wash and sit by the window in my blue striped pyjama suit. It is so hot I need no additional clothing. E—— comes in, brushes my hair, sprinkles me with lavender water, lights my cigarette, and gives me my book-rest and books. She forgets nothing.

From my window I look out on a field with Beech hedge down one side and beyond, tall trees — one showing in outline exactly like the profile of a Beefeater’s head, more especially at sunset each evening when the tree next behind is in shadow. The field is full of blue Scabious plants, Wild Parsley and tall grass — getting brown now in the sun. Great numbers of White Butterflies are continually rocking themselves across — they go over in coveys of four or five at a time — I counted 50 in five minutes, which bodes ill for the cabbages. Not even the heaviest thunder showers seem to debilitate their kinetic ardour. They rock on like white aeroplanes in a hail of machine-gun bullets.

Then there are the Swallows and Martins cutting such beautiful figures thro’ the air that one wishes they carried a pencil in their bills as they fly and traced the lines of flight on a Bristol board. How I hanker after the Swallows! so free and gay and vigorous. This autumn, as they prepare to start, I shall hang on every twitter they make, and on every wing-beat; and when they have gone, begin sadly to set my house in order, as when some much loved visitors have taken their departure. I am appreciating things a little more the last few days.

August 1, 1917

A Jeremiad

When I resigned my appointment last month, no one knows what I had to give up. But I know. Tho’ if I say what I know no one is compelled to believe me excepting out of charity. It will never be discovered whether what I am going to state is not simply despairing bombast. My few intimate friends and relatives are entirely innocent of science, not to say zoology, and all they realise is the significant fact that I am prone to go extravagant lengths in conversation. But you may take it or leave it: I was the ablest junior on the staff and one of the ablest zoologists in the place — but my ability was always muffled by the inferior work they gave me to do. My last memoir published last December was the best of its kind in treatment, method and technique that ever issued from the institution — I do not say the most important. It was trivial — my work always was trivial because they put me in a mouldy department where all the work was trivial and the methods used as primitive, slipshod and easy as those of Fabricius, the idea being that as I had enjoyed no academic career I was unsuited to fill other posts then vacant — one, work on the Cœlenterates and another on Vermes, both rarely favoured by amateurs and requiring laboratory training. Later, I had the mortification of seeing these posts filled by men whose powers I by no means felt inclined to estimate as greater than my own. Meanwhile, I who had been dissecting for dear life up and down the whole Animal Kingdom in a poorly equipped attic laboratory at home, with no adequate instruments, was bitterly disappointed to find still less provision made even in a so-called Scientific Institution so grandly styled the British Museum (N.H.). On my first arrival I was presented with a pen, ink, paper, ruler, and an enormous instrument of steel which on enquiry I found to be a paper cutter. I asked for my microscope and microtome. I ought to have asked what Form I was in.

So I had to continue my struggle against odds, and only within the last year or so began to squeeze the authorities with any success. In time I should have revolutionised the study of Systematic Zoology, and the anonymous paper I wrote in conjunction with R—— in the American Naturalist was a rare jeu d’esprit, and my most important scientific work.

. . . . . . .

In the literary world I have fared no better. My first published article appeared at the age of 15 over my father’s name, my motive being not so much modesty as cunning — if the literary world (!) ragged it unmercifully, there was still a chance left for me to make good.

My next achievement of any magnitude was the unexpected printing of a story in the Academy after I had unsuccessfully badgered almost every other newspaper. This was when I was 19. No proof had been sent me and no intimation of its acceptance. Moreover, there were two ugly printer’s errors. I at once wrote off to correct them in the next issue. My letter was neither published nor acknowledged. I submitted, but presently wrote again, politely hinting that my cheque was overdue. But — screams of silence, and I thought it wise not to complain in view of future printing favours. I soon discovered that the journal had changed hands and was probably on its last legs at the time of my success. As soon as it grew financially sound again no more of my stories were accepted.

A more recent affair I had with the American Forum, which delighted me by publishing my article, but did not pay — tho’ the Editor went out of his way to write that ‘payment was on publication.’ I did not venture to remonstrate as I had another article on the stocks which they also printed without paying me. In spite of uniform failure, my literary ambition has never flagged.1 I have for years past received my rejected MSS. back from every conceivable kind of periodical, from Punch to the Hibbert Journal. At one time I used to file their rejection forms and meditated writing a facetious essay on them. But I decided they were too monotonously similar. My custom was when the ordinary avenues to literary fame had failed me — the half-crown Reviews and the sixpenny Weeklies — to seek out at a library some obscure publication — a Parish Magazine or the local paper — anything was grabbed as a last chance. On one of these occasions I discovered the Westminster Review and immediately plied them with a manuscript and the usual polite note. After six weeks, having no reply, I wrote again and waited for another six weeks. My second remonstrance met with a similar fate, so I went into the City to interview the publishers, and to demand my manuscript back. The manager was out, and I was asked to call again. After waiting about for some time, I left my card, took my departure and decided I would write. The same evening I told the publishers that the anonymous editor would neither print my article nor return it. Would they kindly give me his name and address so that I could write personally. After some delay they replied that although it was not the custom to disclose the editor’s name, the following address would find her. She was a lady living in Richmond Row, Shepherd’s Bush. I wrote to her at once and received no answer. Meanwhile, I had observed that no further issues of the review had appeared on the bookstalls, and the booksellers were unable to give me any information. I wrote again to the address — this time a playful and facetious letter in which I said I did not propose to take the matter into court,but if it would save her any trouble I would call for the MS. as I lived only a few minutes’ walk distant. I received no answer. I was busy at the time and kept putting off executing my firm purpose of visiting the good lady until one evening as I was casually reading the Star coming home in the ’bus, I read an account of how some charitably disposed woman had recently visited the Hammersmith Workhouse and removed to her own home a poor soul who was once the friend of George Eliot, George Henry Lewes, and other well-known literary persons of the sixties and had, until it ceased publication a few months before, edited the once notable Westminster Review.

Recently, however, there has been evidence of a more benevolent attitude towards me on the part of London editors. A certain magnificent quarterly has published one or two of my essays, and one of these called forth two pages of quotation and flattering comment in Public Opinion, which thrill me to the marrow. I fear, however, the flood-tide has come too late.

. . . . . . .

If this achievement impressed me it did not seem to impress anyone else. A—— regarded it as a joke and laughed incredulously when someone told him of ‘P.O.’s’ eulogy. You see I am still his foolish little brother. I am secretly very nettled too because E—— treated the whole matter very indifferently. She did not even take the trouble to read the paper’s critique, and tho’ she volunteered to buy several copies to send to friends, she never remembered to do so, and the whole affair has passed out of her mind.

Now a pleasant paragraph that appeared in the press noticing some drawings of a friend of her friend, she read twice and marched off to Francesca with it in great glee. Another successful young person got his photo into the picture papers — a man we know only by hearsay, and yet it impressed her until I recalled, what strange to say she had quite forgotten, how the photographers wished to publish her own photograph in the picture papers at the time of our marriage. But she scornfully refused. (And so did I.)

But what a queer woman! . . . [And I, too, a queer man, drunken with wormwood and gall.]

1 I once received from an editor a very encouraging letter which gave me a great deal of pleasure and made me hope he was going to open the pages of his magazine to me. But three weeks after he committed suicide by jumping out of his bedroom window.

August 6, 1917

E—— and I were very modern in our courtship. Our candour was mutual and complete — parents and relatives would be shocked and staggered if they knew. . . . You see I am a biologist and we are both freethinkers. Voilà! . . . I hate all reticence and concealment. . . . There is a good deal of that ass, Gregers Werle, in my nature.

August 7, 1917

My Gastrocnemius

I become dreadfully emaciated. This morning, before getting off the bed I lifted my leg and gazed wistfully along all its length. My flabby gastrocnemius swung suspended from the tibia like a gondola from a Zeppelin. I touched it gently with the tip of my index finger and it oscillated.

August 17, 1917

My beloved wife comes home this evening after a short, much needed holiday.

August 27, 1917

My gratuity has turned out to be unexpectedly small. I hoped at least for one year’s salary. And the horrible thing is I might live for several years longer! No one was ever more enthusiastic for death than I am at this moment. I hate this world with its war, and I bitterly regret I never managed to buy laudanum in time. There are only E—— and dear R—— and one or two others — the rest of the people I know I hate en bloc. If only I could get at them. I hate to have to leave them to themselves without getting my own back.

August 31, 1917

My darling sweetheart, you ask me why I love you. I do not know. All I know is that I do love you, and beyond measure. Why do you love me?—surely a more inscrutable problem. You do not know. No one ever knows. ‘The heart has its reasons which the reason knows not of.’ We love in obedience to a powerful gravitation of our beings, and then try to explain it by recapitulating one another’s characters just as a man forms his opinions first and then thinks out reasons in support.

What delights me is to recall that our love has evolved. It did not suddenly spring into existence like some beautiful sprite. It developed slowly to perfection — it was forged in the white heat of our experiences. That is why it will always remain.

September 1, 1917

Your love, darling, impregnates my heart, touches it into calm, strongly beating life so that when I am with you, I forget I am a dying man. It is too difficult to believe that when we die true love like ours disappears with our bodies. My own experience makes me feel that human love is the earnest after death of a great reunion of souls in God who is love. When as a boy I was bending the knee to Haeckel, the saying ‘God is Love’ scarcely interested me. I am wiser now. You must not think I am still anything but an infidel (as the Churchmen say),— I should hate not to be taken for an infidel — and you must not be surprised that an embittered, angry, hateful person like myself should believe in a Gospel of Love. I am embittered because an intense desire to love has in many instances 1 been baulked by my own idealising yet also analytical mind. I have wanted to love men blindly, yet I am always finding them out, and the disappointment chills the heart. Hence my malice and venom: which, dear, do not misconstrue. I am as greedy as an Octopus, ready out of love to take the whole world into my inside — that seat of the affections! — but I am also as sensitive as an Octopus, and quickly retract my arms into the rocky, impregnable recess where I live.

1 The Egoist explains himself again.

September 2, 1917

But am I dying? I have no presentiments — no conviction — like the people you read of in books. Am I, after all, in love? ‘I dote yet doubt; suspect yet strongly love.’ It is all a matter of degree. Beside Abelard and Heloise, our love may be just glassy affection. It is a great and difficult question to decide. I love no one else but E——, that, at least, is a certainty, and I have never loved anyone more.

September 3, 1917

My bedroom is on the ground floor as I cannot mount the stairs. But the other day when they were all out, I determined to clamber upstairs if possible, and search in the bedrooms for a half-bottle of laudanum, which Mrs —— told me she found the other day in a box — a relic of the time when —— had to take it to relieve pain.

I got off the bed on to the floor and crawled around on hands and knees to the door, where I knelt up straight, reached the handle and turned it. Then I crawled across the hall to the foot of the stairs, where I sat down on the bottom step and rested. It is a short flight of only 12 steps and I soon reached the top by sitting down on each and raising myself up to the next one with my hands.

Arrived at the top, I quickly decided on the most likely room to search first, and painfully crawled along the passage and thro’ the bathroom by the easiest route to the small door — there are two. The handles of all the doors in the house are fixed some way up above the middle, so that only by kneeling with a straight back could I reach them from the floor. This door in addition was at the top of a high but narrow step, and I had to climb on to this, balance myself carefully, and then carefully pull myself up towards the handle by means of a towel hung on the handle. After three attempts I reached the handle and found the door locked on the inside.

I collapsed on the floor and could have cried. I lay on the floor of the bathroom resting with head on my arm, then set my teeth and crawled around the passage along two sides of a square, up three more steps to the other door which I opened and then entered. I had only examined two drawers containing only clothes, when a key turned in the front door lock and E—— entered with —— and gave her usual whistle.

I closed the drawers and crawled out of the room in time to hear E—— say in a startled voice to her mother: ‘Who’s that upstairs?’ I whistled, and said that being bored I had come up to see the cot: which passed at that time all right.

Next morning my darling asked me why I went upstairs. I did not answer, and I think she knows.

September 4, 1917

I am getting ill again, and can scarcely hold the pen. So good-bye Journal — only for a time perhaps.

Have read this blessed old Journal out to E——. It required some courage, and I boggled at one or two bits and left them out.

September 5, 1917


Some girls up the road spent a very wet Sunday morning playing leap-frog in their pyjamas around the tennis lawn. It makes me envious. To think I never thought of doing that! and now it is too late. They wore purple pyjamas too. I once hugged myself with pride for undressing in a cave by the sea and bathing in the pouring rain, but that seems tame in comparison.


A perfect autumn morning — cool, fine and still. What sweet music a horse and cart make trundling slowly along a country road on a quiet morning! I listened to it in a happy mood of abstraction as it rolled on further and further away. I put my head out of the window so as to hear it up to the very last, until a Robin’s notes relieved the nervous tension and helped me to resign myself to my loss. The incident reminded me of the Liebestod in ‘Tristan,’ with the Robin taking the part of the harp.

For days past my emotions have been undergoing kaleidoscopic changes, not only from day to day but from hour to hour. For ten minutes at a time I am happy or miserable, or revengeful, venomous, loving, generous, noble, angry, or murderous — you could measure them with a stop-watch. Hell’s phantoms course across my chest. If I could lie on this bed as quiet and stony as an effigy on a tomb! But a moment ago I had a sharp spasm at the sudden thought that never, never, never again should I walk thro’ the path-fields to the uplands.

September 7, 1917

My 28th birthday.

Dear old R—— (the man I love above all others) has been in a military hospital for months. It is a great hardship to have our intercourse almost completely cut off.

Dear old Journal, I love you! Good-bye.

September 29, 1917

I could never have believed so great misery compatible with sanity. Yet I am quite sane. How long I or any man can remain sane in this condition God knows. . . . It is a consummate vengeance this inability to write.1 I cannot help but smile grimly at the astuteness of the thrust. To be sure, how cunning to deprive me of my one secret consolation! How amusing that in this agony of isolation such an aggressive egotist as I should have his last means of self-expression cut off. I am being slowly stifled.

Later. (In E.’s handwriting.)

Yesterday we shifted into a tiny cottage at half the rental of the other one, and situated about two miles further out from the village. . . . A wholly ideal and beautiful little cottage you may say. But a ‘camouflaged’ cottage. For in spite of the happiness of its exterior it contains just now two of the most dejected mortals even in this present sorrow-laden world.

1 Writing difficult to decipher.

September 30, 1917

Last night, E—— sitting on the bed by me, burst into tears. It was my fault. ‘I can stand a good deal but there must come a breaking point.’ Poor, poor girl, my heart aches for you.

I wept too, and it relieved us to cry. We blew our noses. ‘People who cry in novels,’ E—— observed with detachment, ‘never blow their noses. They just weep.’ . . . But the thunder clouds soon come up again.

October 1, 1917

The immediate future horrifies me.

October 2, 1917

Poushkin (as we have named the cat) is coiled up on my bed, purring and quite happy. It does me good to see him.

But consider: A paralytic, a screaming infant, two women, a cat and a canary, shut up in a tiny cottage with no money, the war still on, and food always scarcer day by day. ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’

I want to be loved — above all, I want to love. My great danger is lest I grow maudlin and say petulantly, ‘Nobody loves me, nobody cares.’ I must have more courage and more confidence in other people’s good-nature. Then I can love more freely.

October 3, 1917

I am grateful to-day for some happy hours plucked triumphantly from under the very nose of Fate, and spent in the warm sun in the garden. They carried me out at 12, and I stayed till after tea-time. A Lark sang, but the Swallows — dear things — have gone. E—— picked two Primroses. I sat by some Michaelmas Daisies and watched the Bees, Flies, and Butterflies.

October 6, 1917

In fits of maudlin self-compassion I try to visualise Belgium, Armenia, Serbia, etc., and usually cure myself thereby.

October 12, 1917

It is winter — no autumn this year. Of an evening we sit by the fire and enjoy the beautiful sweet-smelling wood-smoke, and the open hearth with its big iron bar carrying pot-hook and hanger. E—— knits warm garments for the Baby, and I play Chopin, César-Franck hymns, Three Blind Mice (with variations) on a mouth-organ called ‘The Angels’ Choir,’ and made in Germany. . . . You would pity me, would you? I am lonely, penniless, paralysed, and just turned twenty-eight. But I snap my fingers in your face and with equal arrogance I pity you. I pity you your smooth-running good luck and the stagnant serenity of your mind. I prefer my own torment. I am dying, but you are already a corpse. You have never really lived. Your body has never been flayed into tingling life by hopeless desire to love, to know, to act, to achieve. I do not envy you your absorption in the petty cares of a commonplace existence.

Do you think I would exchange the communion with my own heart for the toy balloons of your silly conversation? Or my curiosity for your flickering interests? Or my despair for your comfortable Hope? Or my present tawdry life for yours as polished and neat as a new threepenny bit? I would not. I gather my mantle around me and I solemnly thank God that I am not as some other men are.

I am only twenty-eight, but I have telescoped into those few years a tolerably long life: I have loved and married, and have a family; I have wept and enjoyed, struggled and overcome, and when the hour comes I shall be content to die.

October 14 to 20.


October 21, 1917



[Barbellion died on December 31.]

HTML edition by Ray Davis, free for any use.