Novel Notes by Jerome K. Jerome


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Page 33

In my cubhood I possessed a friend. Other friends have come into my life
since--very dear and precious friends--but they have none of them been to
me quite what this friend was. Because he was my first friend, and we
lived together in a world that was much bigger than this world--more full
of joy and of grief; and, in that world, we loved and hated deeper than
we love and hate in this smaller world that I have come to dwell in
since.

He also had the very young man's craving to be criticised, and we made it
our custom to oblige each other. We did not know then that what we
meant, when we asked for "criticism," was encouragement. We thought that
we were strong--one does at the beginning of the battle, and that we
could bear to hear the truth.

Accordingly, each one pointed out to the other one his errors, and this
task kept us both so busy that we had never time to say a word of praise
to one another. That we each had a high opinion of the other's talents I
am convinced, but our heads were full of silly saws. We said to
ourselves: "There are many who will praise a man; it is only his friend
who will tell him of his faults." Also, we said: "No man sees his own
shortcomings, but when these are pointed out to him by another he is
grateful, and proceeds to mend them."

As we came to know the world better, we learnt the fallacy of these
ideas. But then it was too late, for the mischief had been done.

When one of us had written anything, he would read it to the other, and
when he had finished he would say, "Now, tell me what you think of
it--frankly and as a friend."

Those were his words. But his thoughts, though he may not have known
them, were:--

"Tell me it is clever and good, my friend, even if you do not think so.
The world is very cruel to those that have not yet conquered it, and,
though we keep a careless face, our young hearts are scored with
wrinkles. Often we grow weary and faint-hearted. Is it not so, my
friend? No one has faith in us, and in our dark hours we doubt
ourselves. You are my comrade. You know what of myself I have put into
this thing that to others will be but an idle half-hour's reading. Tell
me it is good, my friend. Put a little heart into me, I pray you."

But the other, full of the lust of criticism, which is civilisation's
substitute for cruelty, would answer more in frankness than in
friendship. Then he who had written would flush angrily, and scornful
words would pass.

One evening, he read me a play he had written. There was much that was
good in it, but there were also faults (there are in some plays), and
these I seized upon and made merry over. I could hardly have dealt out
to the piece more unnecessary bitterness had I been a professional
critic.

As soon as I paused from my sport he rose, and, taking his manuscript
from the table, tore it in two, and flung it in the fire--he was but a
very young man, you must remember--and then, standing before me with a
white face, told me, unsolicited, his opinion of me and of my art. After
which double event, it is perhaps needless to say that we parted in hot
anger.

I did not see him again for years. The streets of life are very crowded,
and if we loose each other's hands we are soon hustled far apart. When I
did next meet him it was by accident.

I had left the Whitehall Rooms after a public dinner, and, glad of the
cool night air, was strolling home by the Embankment. A man, slouching
along under the trees, paused as I overtook him.

"You couldn't oblige me with a light, could you, guv'nor?" he said. The
voice sounded strange, coming from the figure that it did.

I struck a match, and held it out to him, shaded by my hands. As the
faint light illumined his face, I started back, and let the match fall:--

"Harry!"

He answered with a short dry laugh. "I didn't know it was you," he said,
"or I shouldn't have stopped you."

"How has it come to this, old fellow?" I asked, laying my hand upon his
shoulder. His coat was unpleasantly greasy, and I drew my hand away
again as quickly as I could, and tried to wipe it covertly upon my
handkerchief.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 23rd Jul 2024, 3:25