My publisher, John Morgeson—the estimable individual who had first refused m_ook, and who now, moved by selfinterest, was devoting his energie_ssiduously to the business of launching it in the most modern and approve_tyle, was not like Shakespeare's _Cassio,_ strictly 'an honourable man.'
Neither was he the respectable chief of a long-established firm whose syste_f the cheating of authors, mellowed by time, had become almost sacred ;—h_as 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 o_ther, had secured the favour of a certain portion of the press, many of th_ailies and weeklies always giving special prominence to his publications ove_he heads of other far more legitimately dealing firms. He entered into _artial explanation of his methods, when, on the morning after my firs_eeting with the Earl of Elton and his daughter, I called upon him to inquir_ow things were going with regard to my book.
"We shall publish next week,"—he said, rubbing his hands complacently, an_ddressing me with all the deference due to my banking account—"And as yo_on't mind what you spend, I'll tell you just what I propose to do. I inten_o 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 o_houghf_ —or, ' _ere long everybody who is anybody will be compelled to rea_his remarkable work,'_ —or ' _as something that must be welcome to all wh_ould understand the drift of one of the most delicate and burning question_f the time.'_ These are all stock phrases, used over and over again by th_eviewers,—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 d_uty, because any allusion to a ' _delicate and burning_ question' makes _umber of people think the novel must be improper, and they send for it a_nce."
He chuckled at his own perspicuity, and I sat silent, studying him with muc_nward amusement. This man on whose decision I had humbly and anxiously waite_ot so many weeks ago was now my paid tool,—ready to obey me to any possibl_xtent for so much cash,—and I listened to him indulgently while he went o_nravelling his schemes for the gratification of _my_ vanity, and th_ocketing of _his_ extras.
"The book has been splendidly advertised"—he went on; "It could not have bee_ore lavishly done. Orders do not come in very fast yet—but they will,—the_ill. This paragraph of mine, which will take the shape of a 'leaderette,' _an get inserted in about eight hundred to a thousand newspapers here and i_merica. It will cost you,—say a hundred guineas—perhaps a trifle more. Do yo_ind that ?''
"Not in the least!" I replied, still vastly amused.
He meditated a moment,—then drew his chair closer to mine and lowered hi_oice a little.
"You understand I suppose, that I shall only issue two hundred and fift_opies 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 _canty edition."
"Wait, my dear sir, wait,—you are too impatient. You do not give me time t_xplain. All these two hundred and fifty will be _given away_ by me in th_roper quarters on the day of publication, never mind how,—they _must_ b_iven away—"
"Why?" and the worthy Morgeson laughed sweetly—"I see, my dear Mr Tempest, yo_re like most men of genius— you do not understand business. The reason why w_ive the first two hundred and fifty copies away is in order to be able t_nnounce at once in all the papers that ' _The First Large Edition of the Ne_ovel by Geoffrey Tempest being exhausted on the day of publication, a Secon_s in Rapid Preparation."_ You see we thus hoodwink the public, who of cours_re not in our secrets, and are not to know whether an edition is two hundre_r two thousand. The Second Edition will of course be ready behind the scene_nd 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 injure_xpression—" Of course it is honest! Look at the daily papers! Suc_nnouncements appear every day—in fact they are getting rather too common. _reely admit that there are a few publishers here and there who stick up fo_xactitude and go to the trouble of not only giving the number of copies in a_dition, but also publishing the date of each one as it was issued,—this ma_e principle if they like to call it so, but it involves a great deal o_recise calculation and worry! If the public like to be deceived, what is th_se of being exact! Now, to resume,—your second edition will be sent off 'o_ale or return' to provincial booksellers, and then we shall announce—' I_onsequence of the Enormous Demand for the new novel by Geoffrey Tempest, th_arge Second Edition is out of print. A Third will be issued in the course o_ext 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 ca_y skilful management work it up to a tenth. It is only a question o_iplomacy and a little dexterous humbugging of the trade. Then we shall arriv_t the one-volume issue which will require different handling. But there'_ime enough for that. The frequent advertisements will add to the expense _it, 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, mor_han fun!"
I laughed aloud.
"I'm not such a fool as to suppose that fame is secured by advertisement," _aid—"For instance I am one of those who think the fame of Millais as a_rtist was marred when he degraded himself to the level of painting the littl_reen boy blowing bubbles of Pears's Soap. That was an advertisement. And tha_ery incident in his career, trifling though it seem, will prevent his eve_tanding on the same dignified height of distinction with such masters in ar_s Romney, Sir Peter Lely, Gainsborough or Reynolds."
"I believe there is a great deal of justice in what you say,"— and Morgeso_hook his head wisely—"Viewed from a purely artistic and sentimenta_tandpoint you are right." And he became suddenly downcast and dubious.
"Yes,—it is a most extraordinary thing how fame does escape people sometime_ust when they seem on the point of grasping it. They are 'boomed' in ever_maginable way, and yet after a time nothing will keep them up. And there ar_thers again who get kicked and buffeted and mocked and derided"
"Like Christ?" I interposed with a half smile. He looked shocked,—he was _on-conformist,—but remembering in time how rich I was, he bowed with a mee_atience.
"Yes"—and he sighed—"as you suggest, Mr Tempest, like Christ. Mocked an_erided and opposed at every turn, —and yet by the queerest caprice o_estiny, 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 secula_nimation he added—" But I was not thinking of the Great Example just then, M_empest—I was thinking of a woman."
"Indeed!" I said indifferently.
"Yes—a woman who despite continued abuse and opposition is rapidly becomin_elebrated. You are sure to hear of her in literary and social circles"—and h_ave me a furtive glance of doubtful inquiry—"but she is not rich yo_now,—only famous. However,—we have nothing to do with her just now—so let u_eturn to business. The one uncertain point in the matter of your book'_uccess is the attitude of the critics. There are only six leading men who d_he reviews, and between them they cover all the English magazines and some o_he American too, as well as the London papers. Here are their names"—and h_anded me a pencilled memorandum,—"and their addresses as far as I ca_scertain them, or the addresses of the papers for which they most frequentl_rite. The man at the head of the list, David McWhing, is the most formidabl_f the lot. He writes everywhere about everything,—being a Scotchman he'_ound to have his finger in every pie. If you can secure McWhing, you need no_rouble so much about the others, as he generally gives the 'lead,' and ha_is own way with the editors. He is one of the 'personal friends' of th_ditor of the _Nineteenth Century_ for example, and you would be sure to ge_ notice there, which would otherwise be impossible. No reviewer _can_eview anything for that magazine unless he _is_ one of the editor'_riends.* You must manage McWhing, or he might, just for the sake of 'showin_ff,' 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—"Bu_n others it most emphatically does _not._ Where there is any very decide_r daring originality, adverse criticism is always the most effective. But _ork like yours requires fostering with favour,—wants 'booming' in short"
"I see!" and I felt distinctly annoyed—" You'don't think my book origina_nough to stand alone ?''
"My dear sir!—you are really—really—! what shall I say?" and he smile_pologetically—"a little brusque? I think your book shows admirabl_cholarship and delicacy of thought,—if I find fault with it at all, it i_erhaps because I am dense. The only thing it lacks in my opinion is what _hould call _tenaciousness,_ for want of a better expression,— the qualit_f holding the reader's fancy fixed like a nail. But after all this is _ommon failing of modern literature, few authors feel sufficiently themselve_o make others feel."
I made no reply for a moment. I was thinking of Lucio's remarks on this ver_ame subject.
"Well!" I said at last—" If I had no feeling when I wrote the book I certainl_ave none now. Why man, I felt every line of it!—painfully and intensely!"
"Ay, ay indeed !" said Morgeson soothingly—" Or perhaps you _thought_ yo_elt, which is another very curious phase of the literary temperament. Yo_ee, to convince people at all, you must first yourself be convinced. Th_esult 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 i_asty 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 as_f you is that you should personally endeavour to manage McWhing!"
I promised to do my best, and on this understanding we parted. I realized tha_orgeson was capable of greater discernment than I had imagined, and hi_bservations had given me material for thought which was not altogethe_greeable. For if my book as he said lacked tenacity, why then it would no_ake root in the public mind,—it would be merely the ephemeral success of _eason,—one of those brief 'booms' in literary wares for which I had suc_nmitigated contempt,— and Fame would be as far off as ever, except tha_purious imitation of it which the fact of my millions had secured. I was i_o good humour that afternoon, and Lucio saw it. He soon elicited the sum an_ubstance of my interview with Morgeson, and laughed long and somewha_proariously over the proposed ' managing' of the redoubtable McWhing. H_lanced at the five names of the other leading critics and shrugged hi_houlders.
"Morgeson is quite right"—he said—"McWhing is intimate with the rest of thes_ellows—they meet at the same clubs, dine at the same cheap restaurants an_ake love to the same painted ballet-girls. All in a comfortable littl_raternal union together, and one obliges the other on their several journal_hen 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 a_diotic thing what a slating you'd get for your pains! There's no sport _ritic loves so much as the flaying of an author who has made the mistake o_owering himself to the level of asking favours of his intellectual inferiors.
No, no, my dear fellow!—we shall manage McWhing quite differently, /know hi_hough you do not."
"Come, that's good news!" I exclaimed—"Upon my word, Lucio, you seem to kno_verybody."
"I think I know most people worth knowing—" responded Lucio quietly—"Though _y no means include Mr McWhing in the category of worthiness. I happened t_ake his personal acquaintance in a somewhat singular and exciting manner. I_as in Switzerland, on that awkward ledge of rock known as the Mauvais Pas. _ad been some weeks in the neighbourhood on business of my own, and bein_urefooted and fearless, was frequently allowed by the guides to volunteer m_ervices with theirs. In this capacity of amateur guide, capricious destin_ave me the pleasure of escorting the timid and bilious McWhing across th_hasms of the Mer de Glace, and I conversed with him in the choicest Frenc_ll the while, a language of which, despite his boasted erudition, he wa_eplorably ignorant. I knew who he was, I must tell you, as I know most of hi_raft, and had long been aware of him as one of the authorized murderers o_spiring genius. When I got him on the Mauvais Pas, I saw that he was seize_ith vertigo; I held him firmly by the arm and addressed him in sound stron_nglish thus—' Mr. McWhing, you wrote a damnable and scurrilous articl_gainst the work of a certain poet' and I named the man—'an article that was _issue of lies from beginning to end, and which by its cruelty and veno_mbittered a life of brilliant promise, and crushed a noble spirit. Now, unless you promise to write and publish in a leading magazine a tota_ecantation of this your crime when you get back to England,— _if_ you ge_ack!—giving that wronged man the 'honourable mention' he rightly deserves, —down you go! I have but to loosen my hold!' Geoffrey, 3Tou should have see_cWhing then! He whined, he wriggled, he clung! Never was an oracle of th_ress in such an unoracular condition. 'Murder!'—murder!' he gasped, but hi_oice failed him. Above him towered the snow peaks like the summits of tha_ame he could not reach and therefore grudged to others,—below him th_littering ice-waves yawned in deep transparent hollows of opaline blue an_reen,—and afar off the tinkling cowbells echoed through the still air, suggestive of safe green pastures and happy homes. 'Murder!' he whispere_urglingly. 'Nay!' said I, ''tis I should cry Murder!—for if ever an arrestin_and held a murderer, mine holds one now! Your system of slaying is worse tha_hat of the midnight assassin, for the assassin can but kill the body,— _you_trive to kill the soul. You cannot succeed 'tis true, but the mere attempt i_evilish. No shouts, no struggles will serve you here,—we are alone wit_ternal Nature,—give the man you have slandered his tardy recognition, o_lse, 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 thoug_e were my tender twin-brother I led him safely off the Mauvais Pas and dow_he kindlier hill, where, what with the fright and the remains of vertigo h_ell a'weeping grievously. Would you believe it, that before we reache_hamounix we had become the best friends in the world? He explained himsel_nd his rascally modes of action, and I nobly exonerated him,—we exchange_ards, and when we parted, this same author's bugbear McWhing, overcome wit_entiment and whisky toddy (he is a Scotchman you know) swore that I was th_randest fellow in the world, and that if ever he could serve me he would. H_new my princely title by this time, but he would have given me a still highe_ame. "You are not— _hie_ —a poet yourself?' he murmured, leaning on me fondl_s he rolled to bed. I told him no. 'I am sorry—very!' he declared, the tear_f whisky rising to his eyes, 'If you had been I would have done a great thin_or you,—I would have boomed you,— _for nothing_ /' I left him snoring nobl_nd saw him no more. But I think he'll recognise me, Geoffrey; —I'll go an_ook him up personally. By all the gods !—if he had only known who held hi_etween 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 dea_ellow, we can 'manage' McWhing!"
I was intensely interested in the story as he told it,—he had such a dramati_ay of speaking and looking, while his very gestures brought the whole scen_ividly 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 adde_uickly—" No,—there is no occasion to paint the face and prance over th_oards before a row of tawdry footlights like the paid mimes in order to b_istorically great. The finest actor is he who can play the comedy of lif_erfectly, 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 ever_an there is the dumb dreadful immortal Spirit who is real, —who canno_ct,—who Is,—and who steadily maintains an infinite though speechless protes_gainst the body's Lie!"
I said nothing in answer to this outburst,—I was beginning to be used to hi_hifting humours and strange utterances,— they increased the mysteriou_ttraction I had for him and made his character a perpetual riddle to me whic_as not without its subtle charm. Every now and then I realized, with _aintly startled sense of self-abasement, that I was completely under hi_ominance,—that my life was being entirely guided by his control an_uggestion,—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 togethe_hat night as we often did, and our conversation was entirely taken up wit_onetary and business concerns. Under Lucio's advice I was making severa_mportant investments, and these matters gave us ample subject for discussion.
At about eleven o'clock, it being a fine frosty evening and fit for bris_alking, we went out, our destination being the private gambling club to whic_y companion had volunteered to introduce me as a guest. It was situated a_he end of a mysterious little back street, not far from the respectabl_recincts of Pall-Mali, and was an unpretentious looking house enough outside, but within, it was sumptuously though tastelessly furnished. Apparently, th_remises were presided over by a woman,—a woman with painted eyes and dye_air who received us first of all within the lamp-lighted splendours of a_nglo-Japanese drawing-room. Her looks and manner undisguisedly proclaimed he_s a _demi-mondaine_ of the most pronounced type,—one of those 'pure' ladie_ith a 'past' who are represented as such martyrs to the vices of men. Luci_aid something to her apart,—whereupon she glanced at me deferentially an_miled,—then rang the bell. A discreet looking man-servant in sober black mad_is appearance, and at a slight sign from his mistress who bowed to me as _assed her, proceeded to show us upstairs. We trod on a carpet of the softes_elt,—in fact I noticed that everything was rendered as noiseless as possibl_n this establishment, the very doors being covered with thick baize an_winging on silent hinges. On the upper landing, the servant knocked ver_autiously at a side-door,—a key turned in the lock, and we were admitted int_ long double room, very brilliantly lit with electric lamps, which at a firs_lance seemed crowded with men playing at _rouge et noir_ and _baccarat._ome looked up as Lucio entered and nodded smilingly,—others glance_nquisitively at me, but our entrance was otherwise scarcely noticed. Luci_rawing me along by the arm, sat down to watch the play,—I followed hi_xample and presently found myself infected by the intense excitement whic_ermeated 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 politic_nd society whom one would never have imagined capable of supporting _ambling club by their presence and authority. But I took care to betray n_ign of surprise, and quietly observed the games and the gamesters with almos_s impassive a demeanour as that of my companion. I was prepared to play an_o lose,—I was not prepared however for the strange scene which was soon t_ccur and in which I, by force of circumstances was compelled to take _eading part.