Egad! you will write me down a croaker if I continue in the same strain. So, by your leave, we'll turn our backs on the horrors of war now and look once more on the beauty, the gentleness, the romance in which your twentieth century is so rich.
So let us begin by talking about old things and old places: pictures, furniture, Queen Anne houses, Jacobean mantelpieces and Grinling-Gibbons carvings. What is there in them that lends them such glamour and a witchery more alluring than diamonds or pearls or a heavy banking account? I forget who wrote the lines:--
'Laces and ivory, silks and gold,
Need not be new.
And there is healing in old trees;
Old roads a glamour hold.'
but they are strikingly true. It is just this inexplicable glamour of age which turns your quiet and respectable citizen into a fierce collector of pictures, first editions, furniture, armour, and all manner of things that are of no practical use to him. You will see him in the sale-room with eyes flashing wrath when he sees some dusty treasure pass into the hands of a rival collector; and this in defiance of the commandment which enjoins him not to covet his neighbour's goods.
His eyes flash, did I say? Faith! but your fanatical collector of antiques can look as grim and as bloodthirsty as did those collectors of *aristos'* heads in the troubled Paris of my day.
What is it that gives old things a charm far beyond that of the glittering gew-gaws of to-day? You may as well ask why the sunlight surpasses in splendour this demmed new flood-lighting of yours. Is it not a fact, m'dears, that when you stand in an ancient cathedral or look on the canvas of a long-dead masterhand you feel a thrill of wonder--almost of awe--which is absent when, for instance, you gaze on modern London or Paris, on the new luxury hotels and palaces and the new dwellings on the river where Hammersmith was lovely long ago?
There are certain qualities which undoubtedly lend enchantment to old things, be they works of art, buildings or what you will.
Firstly, there is the impression of loving care with which those ancient works of art were fashioned. The canvases, statuary or buildings which you treasure to-day as supreme examples of your predecessor's art are instinct with life and feeling because the artists who created them made each one of a definite and worthy part of his life's works. They were great men, those craftsmen of old, who understood that it is more blessed to give than to receive; and so they caught and imprisoned for posterity impressions of beauty, of strength and of wonder while the world about them clamoured for more material, quicker, more ephemeral things. By gad! I remember in the old days how the dandies of my time collected lovely objects. We filled our houses with beautiful things, Tudor and Jacobean silver, delicate, fragile china from Worcester or from France, and filmy lace from Mechlin. And now you collect my snuff-boxes and Tony's wine-glasses. The world has not changed over-much since then!
Partly, this longing to collect beautiful or rare old things is due to hero-worship, which causes you moderns to feel that the possession of, say, an authentic manuscript of Shakespeare or some other great writer of the past is worth striving for, even though this may mean a financial sacrifice, the expenditure of money which took years, perhaps, of patient toil to save. But deep down in the bottom of your hearts you are ready to admit that these mighty geniuses understood not only their own age, but, prophetically, mine also and yours. They penned the words, faded now, which you are willing to purchase just as we purchased them in our days--because you know that those words were written by them with an inspired pen and that they were written not only for their contemporaries but for you who are living now.
In the same way you are conscious of a desire to own the wares for which the artists and potters of their day had perhaps failed to find a market; you want to own them because their creators call to you over the gulf of centuries, and do so in the immortal and universal language of art--a language which education is helping the world to understand more fully every day.
And then again, old things emphasize the value of leisure and of peace. You moderns are far too apt to glory in the fact that you can, by dint of turmoil and unease, crowd more action into one day than your fathers could into two. It is a passing phase, for you gain nothing by losing your appreciation of leisure. Old things, by their very contrast, recall you to the fact that while work may be a very good thing, the sense of peace which they bring is equally good.
Lastly, there is your appreciation of the value of detail in the great works of art of the past and the influence of minute factors. If you study a picture by Vermeer or a book by Chaucer you constantly come upon freshevidence of the loving care with which the artist or the writer conveyed to the insensate vehicle of his thought the vivid sensitiveness of his own master-touch. You learn to appreciate the thoroughness which brought about the exquisite results.
And so you love old things because they possess qualities which are not of your age, and are therefore but rarely met with. In spite of the modern wonders of your era, in spite of the beauty of the world to-day, you love the old beauty still, the beauty of Shakespeare and of Keats, of Sir Peter Lely and Gainsborough. Accustomed as you may be to the varying contours and charms of the ladies of to-day, you still love to feast your eyes on the types of feminine beauty which Reynolds used to paint, and the vagaries of the naughty Lady Hamilton are forgotten beneath the magic of Romney's immortal brush.
You have your cinema to-day, which shows you on the same evening events that happened but a few hours ago and even goes so far as to reproduce the sound that accompanied them; but all the same, you are not averse to lingering over the beautiful word-pictures which Addison and Swift drew of their slow-moving contemporary life.
All things are welcome by contrast with others, and you hustling, bustling people of to-day enjoy the constrast afforded by ancient calm and perfect craftsmanship. And in my own time it was just the same; never did I enjoy the peace and sweetness of my Richmond gardens so keenly as I did after I had been shouting: 'A la Lanterne!' with the worst of them, clad in a grimy coal-heaver's rags in the cobbled streets of old Paris.
And yet . . . Oddsfish! 'tis a curious reflection, my friends, that we never appreciate beauty to the full until it is beyond our reach. Looking back on the England of my own times, it seems to me a dream of Paradise; and yet see how I used to skip across the Channel in search of adventure which would whet my appetite for the joys of home.
To me your modern England is every whit as beautiful as was mine in its day. But you, my faith! find it unbeautiful and dull. You prefer to sit in a Hepplewhite chair, turn your toes to an Adam mantlepiece and, forgetting all the marvels of to-day, peruse the record of my adventures among that howling Paris mob.
Gadzooks, my friends, what fools we mortals