Prester John & Mr. Standfast (Two Books With Active Table of Contents)
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He kept his eyes on the book for he did not know what to say.
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The trick seemed to be to describe [Pg 41] nature in metaphors mostly drawn from music-halls and haberdashers' shops, and, when at a loss, to fall to cursing. He thought it frankly very bad, and he laboured to find words which would combine politeness and honesty. Heritage laughed. You like the meek rhyme and the conventional epithet. Well, I don't. The world has passed beyond that prettiness. You want the moon described as a Huntress or a gold disc or a flower—I say it's oftener like a beer barrel or a cheese.
You want a wealth of jolly words and real things ruled out as unfit for poetry. I say there's nothing unfit for poetry. Nothing, Dogson! Poetry's everywhere, and the real thing is commoner among drabs and pot-houses and rubbish heaps than in your Sunday parlours.
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The poet's business is to distil it out of rottenness, and show that it is all one spirit, the thing that keeps the stars in their place I wanted to call my book ' Drains ,' for drains are sheer poetry, carrying off the excess and discards of human life to make the fields green and the corn ripen. But the publishers kicked.
So I called it ' Whorls ,' to express my view of the exquisite involution of all things. Poetry is the fourth dimension of the soul Well, let's hear about your taste in prose. McCunn was much bewildered, and a little inclined to be cross.
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He disliked being called [Pg 42] Dogson, which seemed to him an abuse of his etymological confidences. But his habit of politeness held. All this passion for the picturesque! Trash, my dear man, like a schoolgirl's novelette heroes. You make up romances about gipsies and sailors and the blackguards they call pioneers, but you know nothing about them. If you did, you would find they had none of the gilt and gloss you imagine.
But the great things they have got in common with all humanity you ignore. It's like—it's like sentimentalising about a pancake because it looked like a buttercup, and all the while not knowing that it was good to eat. At that moment the Australian entered the room to get a light for his pipe. He wore a motor-cyclist's overalls and appeared to be about to take the road. He bade them good night and it seemed to Dickson that his face, seen in the glow of the fire, was drawn and anxious, unlike that of the agreeable companion at dinner.
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Heritage, nodding after the departing figure. But probably he's a bank-clerk from Melbourne Your romanticism is one vast self-delusion and it blinds your eye [Pg 43] to the real thing. We have got to clear it out and with it all the damnable humbug of the Kelt. McCunn, who spelt the word with a soft "C," was puzzled. But the other, in the flood-tide of his argument, ignored the interruption. It is the same with literature and religion and society and politics.
At them with the axe, say I. I have no use for priests and pedants. I've no use for upper classes and middle classes. There's only one class that matters, the plain man, the workers, who live close to life.
Heritage approved. We needn't imitate all their methods—they're a trifle crude and have too many Jews among them—but they've got hold of the right end of the stick. They seek truth and reality. And I want leisure and quiet to think over things.
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You'll have been educated like a gentleman? You're daft about the working-class and have no use for any other. But what in the name of goodness do you know about working-men? I come out of them myself, and have lived next door to them all my days. Take them one way and another, they're a decent sort, good and bad like the rest of us. But there's a wheen daft folk that would set them up as models—close to truth and reality, says you.
It's sheer ignorance, for you're about as well acquaint with the working-man as with King Solomon. You say I make up fine stories about tinklers and sailor-men because I know nothing about them. That's maybe true. But you're at the same job yourself. You ideelise the working-man, you and your kind, because you're ignorant.
You say that he's seeking for truth, when he's only looking for a drink and a rise in wages. You tell me he's near reality, but I tell you that his notion of reality is often just a short working day and looking on at a footba'-match on Saturday And when you run down what you call the middle-classes that do three-quarters of the world's work and keep the machine going and the working man in a job, then I tell you you're talking havers.
McCunn, having delivered his defence of the bourgeoisie, rose abruptly and went to bed. He felt jarred and irritated. His innocent little private domain had been badly trampled by this stray bull of a poet. But as he lay in bed, before blowing out [Pg 45] his candle, he had recourse to Walton, and found a passage on which, as on a pillow, he went peacefully to sleep:. And the milkmaid's mother sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days. They were old-fashioned poetry, but choicely good; I think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion in this critical age.
Dickson woke with a vague sense of irritation. As his recollections took form they produced a very unpleasant picture of Mr. John Heritage. The poet had loosened all his placid idols, so that they shook and rattled in the niches where they had been erstwhile so secure. McCunn had a mind of a singular candour, and was prepared most honestly at all times to revise his views. But by this iconoclast he had been only irritated and in no way convinced. He breakfasted alone, having outstripped even the fishermen, and as he ate he arrived at conclusions.
He had a great respect for youth, but a line must be drawn somewhere. The way he's besotted on everything daftlike, if it's only new. And he's no rightly young either—speaks like an auld dominie, whiles. And he's rather impident," he concluded, with memories of "Dogson. He was very clear that he never wanted to see [Pg 47] him again; that was the reason of his early breakfast. Having clarified his mind by definitions, Dickson felt comforted.