A Christmas Garland/Christmas
G. S. St**t
One likes it or not. This said, there is plaguey little else to say of Christmas, and I (though I doubt my sentiments touch you not at all) would rather leave that little unsaid. Did I confess a distaste for Christmas, I should incur your enmity. But if I find it, as I protest I do, rather agreeable than otherwise, why should I spoil my pleasure by stringing vain words about it? Swift and the broomstick--yes. But that essay was done at the behest of a clever woman, and to annoy the admirers of Robert Boyle. Besides, it was hardly--or do you think it was?--worth the trouble of doing it. There was no trouble involved? Possibly. But I am not the Dean. And anyhow the fact that he never did anything of the kind again may be taken to imply that he would not be bothered. So would not I, if I had a deanery.
That is an hypothesis I am tempted to pursue. I should like to fill my allotted space before reaching the tiresome theme I have set myself ... A deanery, the cawing of rooks, their effect on the nervous system, Trollope's delineations of deans, the advantages of the Mid-Victorian novel ... But your discursive essayist is a nuisance. Best come to the point. The bore is in finding a point to come to. Besides, the chances are that any such point will have long ago been worn blunt by a score of more active seekers. Alas!
Since I wrote the foregoing words, I have been out for a long walk, in search of inspiration, through the streets of what is called the West End. Snobbishly so called. Why draw these crude distinctions? We all know that Mayfair happens to lie a few miles further west than Whitechapel. It argues a lack of breeding to go on calling attention to the fact. If the people of Whitechapel were less beautiful or less well-mannered or more ignorant than we, there might be some excuse. But they are not so. True, themselves talk about the East End, but this only makes the matter worse. To a sensitive ear their phrase has a ring of ironic humility that jars not less than our own coarse boastfulness. Heaven knows they have a right to be ironic, and who shall blame them for exercising it? All the same, this sort of thing worries me horribly.
I said that I found Christmas rather agreeable than otherwise. But I was speaking as one accustomed to live mostly in the past. The walk I have just taken, refreshing in itself, has painfully reminded me that I cannot hit it off with the present. My life is in the later days of the eighteenth and the earlier days of the nineteenth century. This twentieth affair is as a vision, dimly foreseen at odd moments, and put from me with a slight shudder. My actual Christmases are spent (say) in Holland House, which has but recently been built. Little Charles Fox is allowed by his father to join us for the earlier stages of dessert. I am conscious of patting him on the head and predicting for him a distinguished future. A very bright little fellow, with his father's eyes! Or again, I am down at Newstead. Byron is in his wildest spirits, a shade too uproarious. I am glad to escape into the park and stroll a quiet hour on the arm of Mr. Hughes Ball. Years pass. The approach of Christmas finds one loth to leave one's usual haunts. One is on one's way to one's club to dine with Postumus and dear old "Wigsby" Pendennis, quietly at one's consecrated table near the fireplace. As one is crossing St. James's Street an ear-piercing grunt causes one to reel back just in time to be not run over by a motor-car. Inside is a woman who scowls down at one through the window--"Serve you right if we'd gone over you." Yes, I often have these awakenings to fact--or rather these provisions of what life might be if I survived into the twentieth century. Alas!
I have mentioned that woman in the motor-car because she is germane to my theme. She typifies the vices of the modern Christmas. For her, by the absurd accident of her wealth, there is no distinction between people who have not motor-cars and people who might as well be run over. But I wrong her. If we others were all run over, there would be no one before whom she could flaunt her loathsome air of superiority. And what would she do then, poor thing? I doubt she would die of boredom--painfully, one hopes. In the same way, if the shop-keepers in Bond Street knew there was no one who could not afford to buy the things in their windows, there would be an end to the display that makes those windows intolerable (to you and me) during the month of December. I had often suspected that the things there were not meant to be bought by people who could buy them, but merely to irritate the rest. This afternoon I was sure of it. Not in one window anything a sane person would give to any one not an idiot, but everywhere a general glossy grin out at people who are not plutocrats. This sort of thing lashes me to ungovernable fury. The lion is roused, and I recognise in myself a born leader of men. Be so good as to smash those windows for me.
One does not like to think that Christmas has been snapped up, docked of its old-world kindliness, and pressed into the service of an odious ostentation. But so it has. Alas! The thought of Father Christmas trudging through the snow to the homes of gentle and simple alike (forgive that stupid, snobbish phrase) was agreeable. But Father Christmas in red plush breeches, lounging on the doorstep of Sir Gorgius Midas--one averts one's eyes.
I have--now I come to think of it--another objection to the modern Christmas. It would be affectation to pretend not to know that there are many Jews living in England, and in London especially. I have always had a deep respect for that race, their distinction in intellect and in character. Being not one of them, I may in their behalf put a point which themselves would be the last to suggest. I hope they will acquit me of impertinence in doing this. You, in your turn, must acquit me of sentimentalism. The Jews are a minority, and as such must take their chances. But may not a majority refrain from pressing its rights to the utmost? It is well that we should celebrate Christmas heartily, and all that. But we could do so without an emphasis that seems to me, in the circumstances, 'tother side good taste. "Good taste" is a hateful phrase. But it escaped me in the heat of the moment. Alas!