But I am watching very closely. I can actually see the minute hand creeping toward the Roman numeral X. Above, the vast blue plaster dome with its arched windows and skylight is just as it was a hundred years ago, on that terrible day when -- A distant loose-leaf binder clicks shut. Then, at last, , the moment I have been waiting for.
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I had feared he would not be there. He was not there. But everybody else was. Many writers whom I had quite forgotten, or remembered but faintly, lived again for me, they and their work, in Mr. The book was as thorough as it was brilliantly written.
I daresay I am the only person who noticed the omission. Soames had failed so piteously as all that! It is true that had his gifts, such as they were, been acknowledged in his life-time, he would never have made the bargain I saw him make—that strange bargain whose results have kept him always in the foreground of my memory. But it is from those very results that the full piteousness of him glares out. Not my compassion, however, impels me to write of him. For his sake, poor fellow, I should be inclined to keep my pen out of the ink.
It is ill to deride the dead. And how can I write about Enoch Soames without making him ridiculous? Or rather, how am I to hush up the horrid fact that he WAS ridiculous? I shall not be able to do that. Yet, sooner or later, write about him I must. You will see, in due course, that I have no option. And I may as well get the thing done now.
It drove deep, it hurtlingly embedded itself in the soil. Dons and undergraduates stood around, rather pale, discussing nothing but it. Whence came it, this meteorite? From Paris. Its name? Will Rothenstein. Its aim? To do a series of twenty-four portraits in lithograph.
These were to be published from the Bodley Head, London. The matter was urgent. He did not sue: he invited; he did not invite: he commanded. He was twenty-one years old. He wore spectacles that flashed more than any other pair ever seen. He was a wit. He was brimful of ideas. He knew Whistler. He knew Edmond de Goncourt.
He knew every one in Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris in Oxford. It was whispered that, so soon as he had polished off his selection of dons, he was going to include a few undergraduates. It was a proud day for me when I—I—was included. I liked Rothenstein not less than I feared him; and there arose between us a friendship that has grown ever warmer, and been more and more valued by me, with every passing year.
At the end of Term he settled in—or rather, meteoritically into—London. It was to him I owed my first knowledge of that forever enchanting little world-in-itself, Chelsea, and my first acquaintance with Walter Sickert and other august elders who dwelt there. It was Rothenstein that took me to see, in Cambridge Street, Pimlico, a young man whose drawings were already famous among the few—Aubrey Beardsley, by name.
With Rothenstein I paid my first visit to the Bodley Head. By him I was inducted into another haunt of intellect and daring, the domino room of the Cafe Royal. We drank vermouth.
Those who knew Rothenstein were pointing him out to those who knew him only by name. Men were constantly coming in through the swing-doors and wandering slowly up and down in search of vacant tables, or of tables occupied by friends. He had twice passed our table, with a hesitating look; but Rothenstein, in the thick of a disquisition on Puvis de Chavannes, had not seen him. He was a stooping, shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with longish and brownish hair.
He had a thin vague beard—or rather, he had a chin on which a large number of hairs weakly curled and clustered to cover its retreat. The young writers of that era—and I was sure this man was a writer—strove earnestly to be distinct in aspect. This man had striven unsuccessfully. He wore a soft black hat of clerical kind but of Bohemian intention, and a grey waterproof cape which, perhaps because it was waterproof, failed to be romantic.
I had already essayed to write, and was immensely keen on the mot juste, that Holy Grail of the period. The dim man was now again approaching our table, and this time he made up his mind to pause in front of it.
Rothenstein brightly focussed him. We met at the Cafe Groche. You showed me some of your paintings, you know Soames did not, after this monosyllable, pass along.
He stood patiently there, rather like a dumb animal, rather like a donkey looking over a gate. A sad figure, his. He looked as if he had little appetite for anything. I was sorry for him; and Rothenstein, though he had not invited him to Chelsea, did ask him to sit down and have something to drink. Seated, he was more self-assertive. He flung back the wings of his cape with a gesture which—had not those wings been waterproof—might have seemed to hurl defiance at things in general.
And he ordered an absinthe. How do you mean? But did you explain—for instance—that there was no such thing as bad or good grammar?
But in Life—no. He had weak white hands, not well washed, and with finger-tips much stained by nicotine. I think he felt he was not doing himself justice, and feared that Rothenstein was going to point out fallacies. I was young, and had not the clarity of judgment that Rothenstein already had. Soames was quite five or six years older than either of us. Also, he had written a book. It was wonderful to have written a book. If Rothenstein had not been there, I should have revered Soames.
Even as it was, I respected him. And I was very near indeed to reverence when he said he had another book coming out soon.
I asked if I might ask what kind of book it was to be. Rothenstein asked if this was to be the title of the book. The poet meditated on this suggestion, but said he rather thought of giving the book no title at all. Rothenstein objected that absence of title might be bad for the sale of a book. He then looked at his watch, exclaimed at the hour, paid the waiter, and went away with me to dinner.
Soames remained at his post of fidelity to the glaucous witch. But my mot juste fell flat. Rothenstein repeated that Soames was non-existent. Still, Soames had written a book. Painters would not then allow that any one outside their own order had a right to any opinion about painting.
This law graven on the tablets brought down by Whistler from the summit of Fujiyama imposed certain limitations. If other arts than painting were not utterly unintelligible to all but the men who practised them, the law tottered—the Monroe Doctrine, as it were, did not hold good. Therefore no painter would offer an opinion of a book without warning you at any rate that his opinion was worthless. I found in the preface no clue to the exiguous labyrinth of contents, and in that labyrinth nothing to explain the preface.
Lean very near—nearer. It was rather like a story by Catulle Mendes in which the translator had either skipped or cut out every alternate sentence. Next, a dialogue between Pan and St. Throughout, in fact, there was a great variety of form; and the forms had evidently been wrought with much care.
It was rather the substance that eluded me.
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Enoch Soames by Max Beerbohm Writing as a narrator describing events from his own past, Beerbohm presents himself as a moderately successful young English essayist during the s. He then relates the tragic history of an older colleague named Enoch Soames. The son of a bookseller from Preston , living off an inherited annuity, he is an utterly obscure, forgettable aspiring poet in the Decadent manner. Over the course of the story, he authors three unsuccessful books, of which Beerbohm provides parodies of his book of poems, "Fungoids". The self-obsessed Soames is deeply depressed, consumed with the belief that he is an unrecognised great author and, despite his complete failure so far, keenly curious about his "certain" posthumous fame. He therefore agrees to a contract offered by the Devil, who introduces himself from a neighbouring table.
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Enoch Soames – Max Beerbohm