Read On Something (Dodo Press) Online

Authors: Hilaire Belloc

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On Something (Dodo Press)

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Title: On Something

Author: H. Belloc

Release Date: January, 2005 [EBook #7354]
[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on April 20, 2003]

Edition: 10

Language: English

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ON SOMETHING ***

Produced by William Flis, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

ON SOMETHING
BY
H. BELLOC
DEDICATION

To
Somebody

CONTENTS
A PLEA FOR THE SIMPLER DRAMA
ON A NOTEBOOK
ON UNKNOWN PEOPLE
ON A VAN TROMP
HIS CHARACTER
ON THRUPPENNY BITS
ON THE HOTEL AT PALMA AND A PROPOSED GUIDE-BOOK
THE DEATH OF WANDERING PETER
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
A NORFOLK MAN
THE ODD PEOPLE
LETTER OF ADVICE AND APOLOGY TO A YOUNG BURGLAR
THE MONKEY QUESTION: AN APPEAL TO COMMON SENSE
THE EMPIRE BUILDER
CAEDWALLA
A UNIT OF ENGLAND
THE RELIC
THE IRONMONGER
A FORCE IN GAUL
ON BRIDGES
A BLUE BOOK
PERIGEUX OF THE PERIGORD
THE POSITION
HOME
THE WAY TO FAIRYLAND
THE PORTRAIT OF A CHILD
ON EXPERIENCE
ON IMMORTALITY
ON SACRAMENTAL THINGS
IN PATRIA

Of the various sketches in this book some appear for the first time,
others are reprinted by courtesy of the Proprietors and Editors of
The
Westminster Gazette
,
The Clarion
,
The English Review
,
The Morning
Post
and
The Manchester Guardian
, in which papers they appeared.

A PLEA FOR THE SIMPLER DRAMA

It is with the drama as with plastic art and many other things: the plain
man feels that he has a right to put in his word, but he is rather afraid
that the art is beyond him, and he is frightened by technicalities.

After all, these things are made for the plain man; his applause, in the
long run and duly tested by time, is the main reward of the dramatist as
of the painter or the sculptor. But if he is sensible he knows that his
immediate judgment will be crude. However, here goes.

The plain man sees that the drama of his time has gradually passed from
one phase to another of complexity in thought coupled with simplicity of
incident, and it occurs to him that just one further step is needed to
make something final in British art. We seem to be just on the threshold
of something which would give Englishmen in the twentieth century
something of the fullness that characterized the Elizabethans: but somehow
or other our dramatists hesitate to cross that threshold. It cannot be
that their powers are lacking: it can only be some timidity or self-torture
which it is the business of the plain man to exorcise.

If I may make a suggestion in this essay to the masters of the craft it is
that the goal of the completely modern thing can best be reached by taking
the very simplest themes of daily life—things within the experience of
the ordinary citizen—and presenting them in the majestic traditional
cadence of that peculiarly English medium, blank verse.

As to the themes taken from the everyday life of middle-class men and
women like ourselves, it is true that the lives of the wealthy afford
more incident, and that there is a sort of glamour about them which it is
difficult to resist. But with a sufficient subtlety the whole poignancy
of the lives led by those who suffer neither the tragedies of the poor
nor the exaltation of the rich can be exactly etched. The life of
the professional middle-class, of the business man, the dentist, the
money-lender, the publisher, the spiritual pastor, nay of the playwright
himself, might be put upon the stage—and what a vital change would be
here! Here would be a kind of literary drama of which the interest would
lie in the struggle, the pain, the danger, and the triumph which we all so
intimately know, and next in the satisfaction (which we now do not have)
of the mimetic sense—the satisfaction of seeing a mirror held up to a
whole audience composed of the very class represented upon the stage.

I have seen men of wealth and position absorbed in plays concerning
gambling, cruelty, cheating, drunkenness, and other sports, and so
absorbed chiefly because they saw
themselves
depicted upon the
stage; and I ask, Would not my fellows and myself largely remunerate a
similar opportunity? For though the rich go repeatedly to the play, yet
the middle-class are so much more numerous that the difference is amply
compensated.

I think we may take it, then, that an experiment in the depicting of
professional life would, even from the financial standpoint, be workable;
and I would even go so far as to suggest that a play could be written in
which there did not appear one single lord, general, Member of Parliament,
baronet, professional beauty, usurer (upon a large scale at least) or
Cabinet Minister.

The thing is possible: and I can modestly say that in the little effort
appended as an example to these lines it has been done successfully; but
here must be mentioned the second point in my thesis—I could never have
achieved what I have here achieved in dramatic art had I not harked back
to the great tradition of the English heroic decasyllable such as our
Shakespeare has handled with so felicitous an effect.

The play—which I have called "The Crisis," and which I design to be
the model of the school founded by these present advices—is specially
designed for acting with the sumptuous accessories at the disposal of
a great manager, such as Mr. (now Sir Henry) Beerbohm Tree, or for the
narrower circumstances of the suburban drawing-room.

There is perhaps but one character which needs any long rehearsal, that
of the dog Fido, and luckily this is one which can easily be supplied by
mechanical means, as by the use of a toy dog of sufficient size which
barks upon the pressure of a pneumatic attachment.

In connexion with this character I would have the student note that I
have introduced into the dog's part just before the curtain a whole line
of
dactyls
. I hope the hint will not be wasted. Such exceptions
relieve the monotony of our English
trochees
. But, saving in this
instance, I have confined myself throughout to the example of William
Shakespeare, surely the best master for those who, as I fondly hope, will
follow me in the regeneration of the British Stage.

THE CRISIS

PLACE:
The Study at the Vicarage
. TIME 9.15
p.m.

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

THE REV. ARCHIBALD HAVERTON: The Vicar.

MRS. HAVERTON: His Wife.

MISS GROSVENOR: A Governess.

MATILDA: A Maid.

FIDO: A Dog.

HERMIONE COBLEY: Daughter of a cottager who takes in washing.

MISS HARVEY: A guest, cousin to Mrs. Haverton, a Unitarian.

(
The
REV. ARCHIBALD HAVERTON
is reading the "Standard" by a lamp
with a green shade
. MRS. HAVERTON
is hemming a towel
. FIDO
is asleep on the rug. On the walls are three engravings from Landseer,
a portrait of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, a bookcase with books in
it, and a looking-glass
.)

  MRS. HAVERTON: My dear—I hope I do not interrupt you—
Helen has given notice.

  REV. A. HAVERTON (
looking up suddenly
).
                                        Given notice?
Who? Helen? Given notice? Bless my soul!
  (
A pause
.)
I never thought that she would give us notice.
  (
Ponders and frowns.
)

  MRS. HAVERTON: Well, but she has, and now the question is,
What shall we do to find another cook?
Servants are very difficult to get. (
Sighs.
)
Especially to come into the country
To such a place as this. (
Sighs.
) No wonder, either!
Oh! Mercy! When one comes to think of it,
One cannot blame them. (
Sighs.
) Heaven only knows
I try to do my duty! (
Sighs profoundly.
)

  REV. A. HAVERTON (
uneasily
): Well, my dear,
I cannot
make
preferment.

(
Front door-bell rings.
)

FIDO: Bow! wow! wow!

  REV. A. HAVERTON (
patting him to soothe him
):
    There, Fido, there!

FIDO: Wow! wow!

REV. A. HAVERTON: Good dog, there!

  FIDO: Wow,
    Wow, wow!

REV. A. HAVERTON (
very nervous
): There!

FIDO: Wow! wow!

REV. A. HAVERTON (
in an agony
): Good dog!

  FIDO: Bow! wow! wow!
    Wow, wow! Wow!! WOW!!!

  MRS. HAVERTON (
very excited
): Oh, Lord, he'll
    wake the children!

  REV. A. HAVERTON (
exploding
): How often have
    I told you, Dorothy,
Not to exclaim "Good Lord!"… Apart from manners—
Which have their own importance—blasphemy
(And I regard the phrase as blasphemous)
Cannot—

  MRS. HAVERTON (
uneasily
): Oh, very well!…
    Oh, very well!
      (
Exploding in her turn
.)
Upon my soul, you are intolerable!
      (
She jumps up and makes for the door. Before she gets to
        it there is a knock and
MATILDA
enters
.)

  MATILDA: Please, m'm, it's only Mrs. Cobley's daughter
To say the washing shall be sent to-morrow,
And would you check the list again and see,
Because she thinks she never had two collars
Of what you sent, but only five, because
You marked it seven; and Mrs. Cobley says
There must be some mistake.

REV. A. HAVERTON (
pompously
): I will attend to it.

  MRS. HAVERTON (
whispering angrily
): How can
    you, Archibald! You haven't got
The ghost of an idea about the washing!
Sit down. (
He does so
.) (
To Matilda
) Send the
    Girl in here.

MRS. HAVERTON
sits down in a fume
.

REV. A. HAVERTON: I think….

  MRS. HAVERTON (
snapping
): I don't care what you think!
      (
Groans
.) Oh, dear!
I'm nearly off my head!

Enter
MISS COBLEY. (
She bobs
.)

Good evening, m'm.

  MRS. HAVERTON (
by way of reply
):
Now, then! What's all this fuss about the washing?

  MISS COBLEY: Please, m'm, the seven collars, what you sent—
I mean the seven what was marked—was wrong,
And mother says as you'd have had the washing
Only there weren't but five, and would you mind….

  MRS. HAVERTON (
sharply
): I cannot understand a word you say.
Go back and tell your mother there were
seven
.
And if she sends home
five
she pays for
two
.
So there! (
Snorts
.)

MISS COBLEY (
sobbing
): I'm sure I….

  MRS. HAVERTON (
savagely
): Don't stand snuffling there!
Go back and tell your mother what I say….
Impudent hussy!…

(
Exit
MISS COBLEY
sobbing. A pause.
)

  REV. A. HAVERTON (
with assumed authority
): To return to Helen.
Tell me concisely and without complaints,
Why did she give you notice?

(
A hand-bell rings in the passage
.)

FIDO: Bow-wow-wow!

REV. A. HAVERTON (
giving him a smart kick
): Shurrup!

  FIDO (
howling
). Pen-an'-ink! Pen-an'-ink
                            Pen-an'-ink! Pen-an'-ink!

  REV. A. HAVERTON (
controlling himself, as well as he can, goes to
    the door and calls into the passage
): Miss Grosvenor!
(
Louder
) … Miss Grosvenor!… Was that the bell for prayers?
Was that the bell for prayers?… (
Louder
) Miss Grosvenor.
(
Louder
) Miss Gros-ve-nor! (
Tapping with his foot
.)
    Oh!…

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