My publisher, John Morgeson—the estimable individual who had first refused my book, and who now, moved by selfinterest, was devoting his energies assiduously to the business of launching it in the most modern and approved style, was not like Shakespeare's Cassio, strictly 'an honourable man.' Neither was he the respectable chief of a long-established firm whose system of the cheating of authors, mellowed by time, had become almost sacred ;—he was a 'new' man, with new ways, and a good stock of new push and impudence. All the same, he was clever, shrewd and diplomatic, and for some reason or other, had secured the favour of a certain portion of the press, many of the dailies and weeklies always giving special prominence to his publications over the heads of other far more legitimately dealing firms. He entered into a partial explanation of his methods, when, on the morning after my first meeting with the Earl of Elton and his daughter, I called upon him to inquire how things were going with regard to my book.
"We shall publish next week,"—he said, rubbing his hands complacently, and addressing me with all the deference due to my banking account—"And as you don't mind what you spend, I'll tell you just what I propose to do. I intend to write out a mystifying paragraph of about some seventy lines or so, describing the book in a vague sort of way as 'likely to create a new era of thoughf—or, 'ere long everybody who is anybody will be compelled to read this remarkable work,'—or 'as something that must be welcome to all who would understand the drift of one of the most delicate and burning questions of the time.' These are all stock phrases, used over and over again by the reviewers,—there's no copyright in them. And the last one always 'tells' wonderfully, considering how old it is and how often it has been made to do duty, because any allusion to a 'delicate and burning question' makes a number of people think the novel must be improper, and they send for it at once."
He chuckled at his own perspicuity, and I sat silent, studying him with much inward amusement. This man on whose decision I had humbly and anxiously waited not so many weeks ago was now my paid tool,—ready to obey me to any possible extent for so much cash,—and I listened to him indulgently while he went on unravelling his schemes for the gratification of my vanity, and the pocketing of his extras.
"The book has been splendidly advertised"—he went on; "It could not have been more lavishly done. Orders do not come in very fast yet—but they will,—they will. This paragraph of mine, which will take the shape of a 'leaderette,' I can get inserted in about eight hundred to a thousand newspapers here and in America. It will cost you,—say a hundred guineas—perhaps a trifle more. Do you mind that ?''
"Not in the least!" I replied, still vastly amused.
He meditated a moment,—then drew his chair closer to mine and lowered his voice a little.
"You understand I suppose, that I shall only issue two hundred and fifty copies at first?"
This limited number seemed to me absurd and I protested vehemently.
"Such an idea is ridiculous!" I said—" you cannot supply the trade with such a scanty edition."
"Wait, my dear sir, wait,—you are too impatient. You do not give me time to explain. All these two hundred and fifty will be given away by me in the proper quarters on the day of publication, never mind how,—they must be given away—"
"Why?" and the worthy Morgeson laughed sweetly—"I see, my dear Mr Tempest, you are like most men of genius— you do not understand business. The reason why we give the first two hundred and fifty copies away is in order to be able to announce at once in all the papers that ' The First Large Edition of the New Novel by Geoffrey Tempest being exhausted on the day of publication, a Second is in Rapid Preparation." You see we thus hoodwink the public, who of course are not in our secrets, and are not to know whether an edition is two hundred or two thousand. The Second Edition will of course be ready behind the scenes and will consist of another two hundred and fifty."
"Do you call that course of procedure honest?" I asked quietly.
"Honest? My dear sir! Honest?" And his countenance wore a virtuously injured expression—" Of course it is honest! Look at the daily papers! Such announcements appear every day—in fact they are getting rather too common. I freely admit that there are a few publishers here and there who stick up for exactitude and go to the trouble of not only giving the number of copies in an Edition, but also publishing the date of each one as it was issued,—this may be principle if they like to call it so, but it involves a great deal of precise calculation and worry! If the public like to be deceived, what is the use of being exact! Now, to resume,—your second edition will be sent off 'on sale or return' to provincial booksellers, and then we shall announce—' In consequence of the Enormous Demand for the new novel by Geoffrey Tempest, the Large Second Edition is out of print. A Third will be issued in the course of next week.' And so on, and so on, till we get to the sixth or seventh edition (always numbering two hundred and fifty each) in three volumes; perhaps we can by skilful management work it up to a tenth. It is only a question of diplomacy and a little dexterous humbugging of the trade. Then we shall arrive at the one-volume issue which will require different handling. But there's time enough for that. The frequent advertisements will add to the expense a bit, but if you don't mind—"
"I don't mind anything," I said—"so long as I have my fun."
"Your fun?" he queried surprisedly—"I thought it was fame you wanted, more than fun!"
I laughed aloud.
"I'm not such a fool as to suppose that fame is secured by advertisement," I said—"For instance I am one of those who think the fame of Millais as an artist was marred when he degraded himself to the level of painting the little green boy blowing bubbles of Pears's Soap. That was an advertisement. And that very incident in his career, trifling though it seem, will prevent his ever standing on the same dignified height of distinction with such masters in art as Romney, Sir Peter Lely, Gainsborough or Reynolds."
"I believe there is a great deal of justice in what you say,"— and Morgeson shook his head wisely—"Viewed from a purely artistic and sentimental standpoint you are right." And he became suddenly downcast and dubious. "Yes,—it is a most extraordinary thing how fame does escape people sometimes just when they seem on the point of grasping it. They are 'boomed' in every imaginable way, and yet after a time nothing will keep them up. And there are others again who get kicked and buffeted and mocked and derided"
"Like Christ?" I interposed with a half smile. He looked shocked,—he was a Non-conformist,—but remembering in time how rich I was, he bowed with a meek patience.
"Yes"—and he sighed—"as you suggest, Mr Tempest, like Christ. Mocked and derided and opposed at every turn, —and yet by the queerest caprice of destiny, succeed in winning a world-wide fame and power"
"Like Christ again!" I said mischievously, for I loved to jar his non-conformist conscience.
"Exactly!" He paused, looking piously down. Then with a return of secular animation he added—" But I was not thinking of the Great Example just then, Mr Tempest—I was thinking of a woman."
"Indeed!" I said indifferently.
"Yes—a woman who despite continued abuse and opposition is rapidly becoming celebrated. You are sure to hear of her in literary and social circles"—and he gave me a furtive glance of doubtful inquiry—"but she is not rich you know,—only famous. However,—we have nothing to do with her just now—so let us return to business. The one uncertain point in the matter of your book's success is the attitude of the critics. There are only six leading men who do the reviews, and between them they cover all the English magazines and some of the American too, as well as the London papers. Here are their names"—and he handed me a pencilled memorandum,—"and their addresses as far as I can ascertain them, or the addresses of the papers for which they most frequently write. The man at the head of the list, David McWhing, is the most formidable of the lot. He writes everywhere about everything,—being a Scotchman he's bound to have his finger in every pie. If you can secure McWhing, you need not trouble so much about the others, as he generally gives the 'lead,' and has his own way with the editors. He is one of the 'personal friends' of the editor of the Nineteenth Century for example, and you would be sure to get a notice there, which would otherwise be impossible. No reviewer can review anything for that magazine unless he is one of the editor's friends.* You must manage McWhing, or he might, just for the sake of 'showing off,' cut you up rather roughly.''
"That would not matter," I said, diverted at the idea of 'managing McWhing,'—" A little slating always helps a book to sell."
"In some cases it does"—and Morgeson stroked his thin beard perplexedly—"But in others it most emphatically does not. Where there is any very decided or daring originality, adverse criticism is always the most effective. But a work like yours requires fostering with favour,—wants 'booming' in short"
"I see!" and I felt distinctly annoyed—" You'don't think my book original enough to stand alone ?''
"My dear sir!—you are really—really—! what shall I say?" and he smiled apologetically—"a little brusque? I think your book shows admirable scholarship and delicacy of thought,—if I find fault with it at all, it is perhaps because I am dense. The only thing it lacks in my opinion is what I should call tenaciousness, for want of a better expression,— the quality of holding the reader's fancy fixed like a nail. But after all this is a common failing of modern literature, few authors feel sufficiently themselves to make others feel."
I made no reply for a moment. I was thinking of Lucio's remarks on this very same subject.
"Well!" I said at last—" If I had no feeling when I wrote the book I certainly have none now. Why man, I felt every line of it!—painfully and intensely!"
"Ay, ay indeed !" said Morgeson soothingly—" Or perhaps you thought you felt, which is another very curious phase of the literary temperament. You see, to convince people at all, you must first yourself be convinced. The result of this is generally a singular magnetic attraction between author
* The author has Mr Knowles's own written authority for this 'log-rolling' fact.
and public. However I am a bad hand at argument,—and it is possible that in hasty reading I may have gathered a wrong impression of your intentions. Anyhow the book shall be a success if we can make it so. All I venture to ask of you is that you should personally endeavour to manage McWhing!"
I promised to do my best, and on this understanding we parted. I realized that Morgeson was capable of greater discernment than I had imagined, and his observations had given me material for thought which was not altogether agreeable. For if my book as he said lacked tenacity, why then it would not take root in the public mind,—it would be merely the ephemeral success of a season,—one of those brief 'booms' in literary wares for which I had such unmitigated contempt,— and Fame would be as far off as ever, except that spurious imitation of it which the fact of my millions had secured. I was in no good humour that afternoon, and Lucio saw it. He soon elicited the sum and substance of my interview with Morgeson, and laughed long and somewhat uproariously over the proposed ' managing' of the redoubtable McWhing. He glanced at the five names of the other leading critics and shrugged his shoulders.
"Morgeson is quite right"—he said—"McWhing is intimate with the rest of these fellows—they meet at the same clubs, dine at the same cheap restaurants and make love to the same painted ballet-girls. All in a comfortable little fraternal union together, and one obliges the other on their several journals when occasion offers. Oh yes! I should make up to McWhing if I were you.'.'
* "But how?" I demanded, for though I knew McWhing's name well enough having seen it signed ad nauseam to literary articles in almost every paper extant, I had never met the man; "I cannot ask any favour of a press critic."
"Of course not!" and Lucio laughed heartily again—" If you were to do such an idiotic thing what a slating you'd get for your pains! There's no sport a critic loves so much as the flaying of an author who has made the mistake of lowering himself to the level of asking favours of his intellectual inferiors. No, no, my dear fellow!—we shall manage McWhing quite differently, /know him though you do not."
"Come, that's good news!" I exclaimed—"Upon my word, Lucio, you seem to know everybody."
"I think I know most people worth knowing—" responded Lucio quietly—"Though I by no means include Mr McWhing in the category of worthiness. I happened to make his personal acquaintance in a somewhat singular and exciting manner. It was in Switzerland, on that awkward ledge of rock known as the Mauvais Pas. I had been some weeks in the neighbourhood on business of my own, and being surefooted and fearless, was frequently allowed by the guides to volunteer my services with theirs. In this capacity of amateur guide, capricious destiny gave me the pleasure of escorting the timid and bilious McWhing across the chasms of the Mer de Glace, and I conversed with him in the choicest French all the while, a language of which, despite his boasted erudition, he was deplorably ignorant. I knew who he was, I must tell you, as I know most of his craft, and had long been aware of him as one of the authorized murderers of aspiring genius. When I got him on the Mauvais Pas, I saw that he was seized with vertigo; I held him firmly by the arm and addressed him in sound strong English thus—' Mr. McWhing, you wrote a damnable and scurrilous article against the work of a certain poet' and I named the man—'an article that was a tissue of lies from beginning to end, and which by its cruelty and venom embittered a life of brilliant promise, and crushed a noble spirit. Now, unless you promise to write and publish in a leading magazine a total recantation of this your crime when you get back to England,—if you get back!—giving that wronged man the 'honourable mention' he rightly deserves, —down you go! I have but to loosen my hold!' Geoffrey, 3Tou should have seen McWhing then! He whined, he wriggled, he clung! Never was an oracle of the press in such an unoracular condition. 'Murder!'—murder!' he gasped, but his voice failed him. Above him towered the snow peaks like the summits of that Fame he could not reach and therefore grudged to others,—below him the glittering ice-waves yawned in deep transparent hollows of opaline blue and green,—and afar off the tinkling cowbells echoed through the still air, suggestive of safe green pastures and happy homes. 'Murder!' he whispered gurglingly. 'Nay!' said I, ''tis I should cry Murder!—for if ever an arresting hand held a murderer, mine holds one now! Your system of slaying is worse than that of the midnight assassin, for the assassin can but kill the body,—you strive to kill the soul. You cannot succeed 'tis true, but the mere attempt is devilish. No shouts, no struggles will serve you here,—we are alone with Eternal Nature,—give the man you have slandered his tardy recognition, or else, as I said before—down you go!' Well, to make my story short he yielded, and swore to do as I bade him,— whereupon placing my arm round him as though he were my tender twin-brother I led him safely off the Mauvais Pas and down the kindlier hill, where, what with the fright and the remains of vertigo he fell a'weeping grievously. Would you believe it, that before we reached Chamounix we had become the best friends in the world? He explained himself and his rascally modes of action, and I nobly exonerated him,—we exchanged cards, and when we parted, this same author's bugbear McWhing, overcome with sentiment and whisky toddy (he is a Scotchman you know) swore that I was the grandest fellow in the world, and that if ever he could serve me he would. He knew my princely title by this time, but he would have given me a still higher name. "You are not—hie—a poet yourself?' he murmured, leaning on me fondly as he rolled to bed. I told him no. 'I am sorry—very!' he declared, the tears of whisky rising to his eyes, 'If you had been I would have done a great thing for you,—I would have boomed you,—for nothing /' I left him snoring nobly and saw him no more. But I think he'll recognise me, Geoffrey; —I'll go and look him up personally. By all the gods !—if he had only known who held him between life and death upon the Mauvais Pas!" I stared, puzzled.
"But he did know"—I said—"Did you not say you exchanged cards ?''
"True, but that was afterwards!" and Lucio laughed—"I assure you, my dear fellow, we can 'manage' McWhing!"
I was intensely interested in the story as he told it,—he had such a dramatic way of speaking and looking, while his very gestures brought the whole scene vividly before me like a picture. I spoke out my thought impulsively.
"You would certainly have made a superb actor, Lucio!"
"How do you know I am not one?" he asked with a flashing glance,—then he added quickly—" No,—there is no occasion to paint the face and prance over the boards before a row of tawdry footlights like the paid mimes in order to be historically great. The finest actor is he who can play the comedy of life perfectly, as I aspire to do. To walk well, talk well, smile well, weep well, groan well, laugh well —and die well!—it is all pure acting,—because in every man there is the dumb dreadful immortal Spirit who is real, —who cannot act,—who Is,—and who steadily maintains an infinite though speechless protest against the body's Lie!"
I said nothing in answer to this outburst,—I was beginning to be used to his shifting humours and strange utterances,— they increased the mysterious attraction I had for him and made his character a perpetual riddle to me which was not without its subtle charm. Every now and then I realized, with a faintly startled sense of self-abasement, that I was completely under his dominance,—that my life was being entirely guided by his control and suggestion,—but I argued with myself that surely it was well it should be so, seeing he had so much more experience and influence than I. We dined together that night as we often did, and our conversation was entirely taken up with monetary and business concerns. Under Lucio's advice I was making several important investments, and these matters gave us ample subject for discussion. At about eleven o'clock, it being a fine frosty evening and fit for brisk walking, we went out, our destination being the private gambling club to which my companion had volunteered to introduce me as a guest. It was situated at the end of a mysterious little back street, not far from the respectable precincts of Pall-Mali, and was an unpretentious looking house enough outside, but within, it was sumptuously though tastelessly furnished. Apparently, the premises were presided over by a woman,—a woman with painted eyes and dyed hair who received us first of all within the lamp-lighted splendours of an Anglo-Japanese drawing-room. Her looks and manner undisguisedly proclaimed her as a demi-mondaine of the most pronounced type,—one of those 'pure' ladies with a 'past' who are represented as such martyrs to the vices of men. Lucio said something to her apart,—whereupon she glanced at me deferentially and smiled,—then rang the bell. A discreet looking man-servant in sober black made his appearance, and at a slight sign from his mistress who bowed to me as I passed her, proceeded to show us upstairs. We trod on a carpet of the softest felt,—in fact I noticed that everything was rendered as noiseless as possible in this establishment, the very doors being covered with thick baize and swinging on silent hinges. On the upper landing, the servant knocked very cautiously at a side-door,—a key turned in the lock, and we were admitted into a long double room, very brilliantly lit with electric lamps, which at a first glance seemed crowded with men playing at rouge et noir and baccarat. Some looked up as Lucio entered and nodded smilingly,—others glanced inquisitively at me, but our entrance was otherwise scarcely noticed. Lucio drawing me along by the arm, sat down to watch the play,—I followed his example and presently found myself infected by the intense excitement which permeated the room like the silent tension of the air before a thunderstorm.
I recognised the faces of many well known public men,—men eminent in politics and society whom one would never have imagined capable of supporting a gambling club by their presence and authority. But I took care to betray no sign of surprise, and quietly observed the games and the gamesters with almost as impassive a demeanour as that of my companion. I was prepared to play and to lose,—I was not prepared however for the strange scene which was soon to occur and in which I, by force of circumstances was compelled to take a leading part.