The Phantasies of Philarete

The Phantasies of Philarete


James Ashcroft Noble


FOR quite a month or two it was noticed at the Shandy Club
that a certain change had passed over Hartmann West.
West was rather a notability at the club, though he was, com-
paratively speaking, a young member. To be precise, he had
belonged to it just two years and a half, and six months before
his election he had published his first book, Drafts upon Inexperi-
ence. It was a volume of somewhat exotic sentiment and para-
doxical reflection, with a dash of what was just then beginning to
be called " the new humour " ; and the novelty, as represented by
West, found no great favour with the critics. In most quarters
the book was either energetically slated or altogether ignored—
which, as we all know, is a much worse fate—but somehow,
perhaps as a consequence of the very vigour of the slating,
perhaps in virtue of that touch of unconventional genius which
critics are not always quick to detect, the Drafts were honoured
by the great reading public, and in half a year Hartmann West
was a hero of six editions, and a member of the somewhat
exclusive Shandy Club.

On the whole, he was a fairly popular member, in spite of the


196 The Phantasies of Philarete

fact that he had what is called an uncertain temper ; but, during
the period to which reference has been made, his popularity had
much declined, for the uncertainty had become a very unpleasant
certainty ; and an after-dinner chat or game of whist with Hart-
mann West was becoming, even to the most gentle and tactful
members of the club, a thing that was to be avoided, if avoidance
were at all possible. Most of those who had in a tepid way liked
him, began to regard him with a dislike which was not in
the least tepid ; but one or two Shandians—illuminated it may
be by personal experience—had been heard to say that it was
no use being hard upon poor West ; for as Major Forth, the
well-known African explorer, pithily put it : " It's plain enough
that the man has had a nasty knock-down blow of some kind or
other ; but he'll get over it all right if fellows will only give him
a chance." The Major's intuition was wonderfully accurate.
Hartmann West had received a knock-down blow ; and though
chances were not dealt out to him in overflowing measure, he did
get over it. At least, he seemed to get over it ; but I can't
forget the way in which Sumner told that he could have pulled
him through the influenza, complicated as it was, if he hadn't had
something on his mind. " He was sick of life, sir, and when a
man gets to that, it doesn't take much to make life sick of him."
It was after his death that I acquired the knowledge which
corroborated the Major's theory. And this is the story.


A few months after the date of the publication of Drafts upon
Inexperience, a great stroke of luck had come to a certain John
Errington. The influence of the only acquaintance he had in the


By James Ashcroft Noble 197

world who possessed any influence at all, had been exerted in his
favour, and he had become a member of the reviewing staff of
Noon, a mid-day paper, the conductors of which made an
emphasised appeal to the public that fancies literature and art,
without snubbing that other public which better loves the House
of Commons, the Turf, and the Divorce Court. Errington's
career up to this time had not been conspicuously successful.
All his life he had been more or less of an invalid. In his youth
he had tried one or two callings, but ill-health had compelled him
to abandon them ; and, having a genuine love of letters and gift of
expression, he had—paradoxical as the sequence may seem—
drifted into journalism. The leading paper in the northern pro-
vincial town where he lived had, in the first instance, published
his articles, and had then gone on to pay for them, the pay
becoming finally so assured as to justify him—that, at any rate,
was the poor fellow's view of the case—in marrying the pretty
Alice Blundell, and assuming the responsibilities of a British
husband and ratepayer.

They did not exactly live on the fat of the land, but they lived
somehow and kept out of debt, and were most foolishly happy
until the fatal day when it became known that Mr. Warlow the
proprietor of the Norton Post had loved American railroad invest-
ments not wisely, but too well, and that his journal had passed
into new hands. The new hands, as is sometimes the case, did
not appreciate the old hands ; and John Errington received an
intimation that at the end of the month his services on the great
organ of Norton opinion would no longer be required. Seeing
that he was a nervous, timid, and singularly unresourceful man, he
bore the blow with more of courage than might have been
expected from him ; perhaps because it came and did the worst
for him at once, the really demoralising troubles being those


The Yellow Book—Vol. V. M

198 The Phantasies of Philarete

which arrive in instalments, each one suggesting the harassing
question " What next? " Thus it was that he came to take a
step which to an ordinary man would have been simple and
obvious enough, but which in John Errington indicated the
special courage of despair, that is to ordinary courage, what the
struggle of delirium is to healthy muscular force. He broke up
his little Norton home ; bade good-bye to his friends, and to the
grave where his two little children lay buried ; and carrying in
his purse the few bank-notes which were the price of his household
goods, took his wife and their one remaining child to London, and
pitched the family tent in a dreary but reasonably clean and cheap
Camberwell lodging-house.

It was a step to which even despair would not have impelled
him had there not been one chance of possible success. About
twelve months before the trouble came, he had contributed to the
Post a short set of articles which had attracted the favourable
attention of Sir George Blunt, and a correspondence between the
Baronet and himself which had arisen out of them, had been
maintained with something of regularity. Out of this corre-
spondence sprung Errington's one hope, for Sir George, who had
always written in the friendliest manner, was known to be a large
proprietor of Noon, and if his good word could only be secured, the
terrible premier pas in the new life would be successfully taken.
Errington accordingly presented himself at the great house in
Prince's Gardens, and was received by the master of his fate
without any effusion, but with courtesy and kindliness. Sir
George was sorry to hear of Mr. Errington's misfortune, and
would be pleased to be of service to him. Mr. Errington, as a
journalist, would understand that a proprietor felt some delicacy
in taking any step, which looked like interference in the literary
management of a paper, that was in competent editorial hands ;


By James Ashcroft Noble 199

that the hands of Mr. Mackenzie who edited Noon were singularly
competent ; and that they belonged to a man who was very likely
to regard suggestion as an attempt at dictation.

John Errington listened and felt chilly ; had he been standing
his legs would have trembled.

" But," continued Sir George with a voice in a new key. " I'll
tell you what I will do, Mr. Errington. There can be no im-
propriety in my giving you a letter of introduction to Mr.
Mackenzie, in which I will tell him what I know of you, and
what I think of your work. Perhaps you had better not present
it in person, but send it by post, with a letter of your own, and a
few specimen articles—not too many. Then if there is any
opening, he will probably make an appointment. I can't promise
you that anything will come of it, but there is a chance, and
at any rate it is the best thing—indeed the only thing—that I
can do. "

The two letters and the carefully selected literary specimens
reached Mr. Mackenzie at an auspicious moment. The most
useful of his general utility men in the literary department of
Noon had suddenly levanted, and was supposed to be half-way
across the Atlantic, having for a companion, the beautiful Mrs.
Greatrex, wife of the well-known dramatist. Dick Mawson's
morals—or his want of them—had long been notorious ; but Mr.
Mackenzie did not deal in morals save in his social articles, and
very sparingly even there. What concerned him was that Mawson
was, as a writer, clever, versatile, and best of all prompt ; and his
wrath burned as he thought of Dick's perfidious treatment—not
of poor Mr. Greatrex, but of Noon and of himself, Andrew
Mackenzie. And now here was this new man. His articles
were hardly so smart as Mawson's, but he seemed to know more,
and there was a certain finish about his work which the erring


200 The Phantasies of Philarete

Dick had never attained. He should be tried. If he proved a
success, well and good ; if a failure, he could soon be got rid of, and
there would be a reasonable pretext—not that Mr. Mackenzie
needed any—for saying to Sir George : " Hands off. "

And so it happened that after a brief interview with the great
man of Noon, John Errington left the editorial office in Bouverie
Street, for the Camberwell lodgings, bearing under his arm a
couple of volumes for review, and in his mind a proposal made by
the editor that he should write one of a forthcoming series of
articles on " Fin-de-Siècle Fiction. " Some ideas for this series,
and one quite impossibly libellous contribution to it, were the
only keepsakes that the amorous fugitive Dick Mawson had left
behind him for the consolation of Mr. Andrew Mackenzie ; but
the editor made no mention of Dick to John Errington, leaving
him indeed with a vague impression that the series was an im-
promptu scheme, conceived and brought forth in ten minutes for
his special benefit.

Mr. Mackenzie did not find Errington a failure, so Sir George
Blunt did not receive the " hands off " ultimatum. Indeed the
editor rather liked the work of his new contributor, mainly
because he found that other people liked it ; and the cheques
which came monthly to the little house at Shepherd's Bush (for
Camberwell had been abandoned) sometimes represented an
amount which made Errington feel that fortune had really come
to him at last. There was, however, a harassing irregularity in
the descent of the golden or paper shower. Sometimes publishers
abstained from publishing the right sort of books ; sometimes,
even in Noon, politics raided the territory of letters ; and there
were months when Errington would have made a fair profit by
exchanging his cheque for a ten pound-note. He had tried to
get work on other newspapers, or to find an appreciative magazine


By James Ashcroft Noble 201

editor to accept his more thoughtful and elaborate literary essays ;
but the newspapers had no vacancy, and the magazine editors all
wanted short stories—the one literary commodity which he found
himself unable to supply. In spite, therefore, of what he ad-
mitted to be his wonderful good luck, there were seasons when
Errington felt somewhat anxious and depressed.

He was feeling so one day, when he entered Mr. Mackenzie's
room, seeking what he might devour. For two months the
cheques had been of the smallest ; and before very long there
would be a new and expensive arrival in the house at Shepherd's
Bush—a conjunction which roused the timid man to unwonted
persistence of appeal.

" I'm afraid there's nothing, " said Mackenzie ; " the publishers
are keeping everything back until this dynamite excitement is
over, and upon my word I am glad they are, for it fills the paper.
This is really the only thing I have in hand that is in your line,
and it has been here for nearly a month. " As he spoke the
editor took down a daintily attired book from a shelf behind him, and
continued : " I didn't intend to notice it. I think West is a con-
ceited ass who needs snubbing ; but as you want something you
can take it, and of course treat it on its merits. But you must
keep within a column, and if you only send half, so much the
better. "

John Errington left Mr. Mackenzie's room with a lighter
heart than that which he had taken there, for though the
honorarium represented by a column of copy was not much in
itself, it was just then a good deal to him. He was specially
grateful to his chief for stretching a point in his favour, for he
was inclined to agree with his opinion that The Phantasies of
Philarete was likely to prove poor stuff. During the weeks in
which it had been lying on Mr. Mackenzie's shelf, Errington had


202 The Phantasies of Philarete

read reviews of it in the Hour, the Morning Gazette, the Parthenon,
and the Book World, and these influential journals with almost
unique unanimity had pronounced it a strained, affected, pretentious,
and entirely vapid performance. " If a beginner, " said the Hour,
" were to ask us to indicate the qualities of substance and work-
manship which he, in his own attempts ought most studiously
to avoid, we should give him this volume and say, ' My dear boy,
you will find them all here.' "


When John Errington, after going upstairs to kiss his rather
worn-looking little wife, who was taking the afternoon rest which
had become a necessity, lighted his pipe and began to read the
Phantasies, he found the opening pages better than he expected.
He saw nothing of strain or affectation ; and if the substance was
slight, the style had a graceful lightsomeness which seemed to
Errington very charming. He read on and on ; his wife came
into the room with her sewing and he never noticed her entrance ;
but when he had finished the chapter which contains the episode
of old Antoine's daughter, he looked up and said, " I must read
this book to you, dear love, it is just wonderful. "

Errington did not go to bed until he had reached that last
chapter, which, you will remember, Mr. Walter Hendon cited a
few weeks ago as the most beautiful thing in contemporary prose.
The next morning he wrote and posted his review, the 1200
words of which would, he knew, just fill a column of Noon, and
in two days more it appeared. In the meantime, Errington's
enforced leisure had allowed the domestic readings to begin, and,
as the fragile wife reclined on her little couch and sewed and


By James Ashcroft Noble 203

listened, her enthusiasm was not less intense than her hus-

Then, when the paper came, he read his review, and she
exclaimed :

" Oh, John, that is lovely: it is one of the best things you
have ever done. I do wish you would send it to Mr. West and
thank him for the pleasure he has given us. I would like to write
myself, only I express myself so stupidly, but you will do it
perfectly ; and I am sure he would like to know all that we feel
about the book. "

" I don't know, " said Errington, with the self-distrust always
aroused in him by any suggestion of the mildest self-assertion, " I
don't suppose he would care for the opinion of a man about whom
he knows nothing. "

" Oh, yes, he would ; people like sympathy, even if they don't
care for praise ; and then, too, if it is really true that he is the sub-
editor of Caviare, he might be able to get you some work for it. "

Now Caviare, as proved by its name and motto, " Caviare to the
general, " was a monthly magazine, dealing exclusively with litera-
ture and art in a way that appealed to the superior few ; and some
of Errington's best essays—or those which he thought the best—
had been declined by several editors on the ground that their good-
ness was not of the kind to attract their miscellaneous clientèle.
He had once or twice thought of submitting to Caviare one of
these rejected addresses ; but he had doubted whether they were up
to the mark, and so they had never gone. His wife's last sugges-
tion startled him.

" Oh, I couldn't do that," he said ; " it would spoil the whole
thing. It would take the bloom off one's gratitude for a beautiful
thing. I couldn't do it. I would rather ask help from a perfect
stranger. "

" Well,

204 The Phantasies of Philarete

" Well, that seems to me to be morbid ; and I don't like to hear
you talk as if people did you a favour by accepting your work.
They accept it not for love of you, but because they know it is
good. You remember what Professor Miles said about your essay
on ' The Secret of Swift, ' and I am sure they would be glad to have
it for Caviare. I don't often press you to do anything ; but I don't
think you have ever repented taking my advice, and I do want you
to write to Mr. West. "

Errington was not a strong man. He was too timid to initiate,
and too timid to oppose ; and his wife was right, for he had never
adopted a suggestion of hers without finding that she was wiser
than he. And so he sat down and wrote :

            Titan Villas, Shepherd's Bush.


    I am a stranger to you, and my only introduction is the
enclosed review of The Phantasies of Philarete which I have had the
great privilege of contributing to Noon, and which appears in to-day's
issue of that journal. I have tried my best to do justice to the
truth and beauty and tenderness of the book ; but I feel that my best
does not say what I wanted to say. Nor is a second attempt likely to
be one whit more successful than the first, so I do not write now to
supplement my review ; but to express what I could not express in
public—my own personal gratitude and that of my wife, to whom I
have been reading it, for a book which has touched us as we have not
often been touched before. We live a very quiet life into which
enters little of what is ordinarily called pleasure, but such a volume as
your Phantasies brings with it delights upon which we can live for
many days. Please accept our hearty gratitude for so great a gift.

I cannot suppose that my name will be at all known to you, for I
am, comparatively speaking, a new-comer in the world of London
journalism ; and I have so far been unsuccessful in obtaining any


By James Ashcroft Noble 205

literary work besides that which has been given me by the editor of
Noon. To follow an acknowledgment of one favour by a request for
another is not usual with me, but I find something in your book which
encourages me to unwonted freedom. Just now I have special reasons
for wishing to enlarge my slender but ordinarily sufficient resources,
and I have thought it possible that you might be willing to look over an
article of mine entitled " The Secret of Swift, " with a view to giving
me your opinion as to its suitability for publication in Caviare. The
theory propounded in it is, I think, a new one, and Professor Miles
has been kind enough to say that it is at any rate sufficiently well-
supported to deserve provisional acceptance as a working hypothesis.

But please let this matter await a perfectly free moment. I write
not to trouble you about my poor affairs, but to express my gratitude
—to which my wife wishes me to add hers—for the pure and rare
delight your book has brought to us.—I am, dear sir,

        Yours very truly and gratefully,

            JOHN ERRINGTON.

Errington was not a man who expected much, yet he felt a cer-
tain disappointment when, on the second day after the despatch of
his letter, the postman passed and left no reply from Hartmann
West. But no postman ever passed the office of Noon, and while
Errington was wondering whether the author of Phantasies could
be at home, Mr. Mackenzie was perusing with ireful countenance
a letter bearing his signature. It had contained an enclosure in a
handwriting with which the editor was familiar, and it ran thus :

            Shandy Club, W.


    I have received the enclosed communication from a person
who is, or professes to be, a member of your staff. You will see that
he, truly or falsely, announces himself as the writer of a very fulsome,


206 The Phantasies of Philarete

and yet in some respects gratuitously offensive, review of my latest
book which appeared in your issue of Thursday last, and that he then
goes on to tout for employment by the editor of a magazine with
which I am supposed to be connected. I do not know whether you
have any views upon the dignity of journalism ; but you have pro-
bably strong views upon the ethics of advertising, and are not very
eager to give payment, instead of receiving it, for allowing a small
scribe to introduce his wares through your literary columns to possible
purchasers. I think it well for you to know to what base use even
Noon can be put.

        Yours faithfully,

            HARTMANN WEST.

Seldom had Andrew Mackenzie felt such an access of speechless
rage ; and for the moment he could not tell which object of his
emotion was the more hateful. He was not a physically violent
man, but had either West or Errington presented himself at that
moment, violence would certainly have been done. He had not
willingly inserted the review of The Phantasies of Philarete ; in
fact, he had remarked to his nephew and sub-editor that he wished
Errington had chosen any other book on which to " tap his
d——d private cask of gush ; " but having explicitly given the
owner of the cask a free hand, he had not felt it consistent with
dignity implicitly to cancel the authorisation. And now this
consummate cad, who ought to be off his head with exultation at
having been honoured with even the coolest notice of Noon, had
actually dared to write of its praise as " fulsome " and " gratui-
tously offensive. " What was meant by the latter term Mackenzie
did not trouble to guess ; but had he done so, his trouble would
have been fruitless, for one vain man can seldom sound the depths
of vanity in another. The fact was that Errington had made a
veiled reference to previous criticisms of the book as " attempts


By James Ashcroft Noble 207

made by malignity or incompetence to crush a rising author ; "
and the word " rising " was gall and wormwood to the man who
believed himself to have been for at least a year on the apex of
fame's pyramid. Had he read Errington's letter first, the un-
mistakable accent of timorous praise, and still more the appeal
to him as a possible patron, would have titillated his vanity and
sent him to the review with a clean palate ; but of course a
printed cutting, headed " A Western Masterpiece, " could not
wait, and the " rising " vitiated his taste for what would have
been to him the dainty dish of adulation.

But Andrew Mackenzie neither knew this nor cared to know
it, and his thoughts turned from West to Errington. It has been
said that at the moment he knew not which he hated the more ;
but he did know upon which he could inflict immediate
vengeance, and that was a great point. As he brooded upon
Errington's offence, West's seemed comparatively trivial, for
was it not Errington who had provided West with his offensive
weapon ? The member of the Shandy Club had said that he did
not know whether Mr. Mackenzie had any views upon the
dignity of journalism. His ignorance on this matter was very
general ; but there were many who knew that he held exceedingly
strong views concerning the dignity of one journal, Noon, and
one journalist, Andrew Mackenzie. It was his pride to know
that the members of his political staff were to be seen at Govern-
ment Office receptions, hobnobbing with Cabinet Ministers, that
his critics dined with literary peers whose logs they judiciously
rolled, and that both were frequently represented in the half-
crown reviews. That was as it should be : and here was a
fellow who put it in the power of a man like West to say that
one of his contributors wrote from Titan Villas, Shepherd's
Bush, about his slender resources, and his ardent desire to pick


208 The Phantasies of Philarete

up any crumbs that might fall from the table of Caviare. He, at
any rate, should be made to suffer.


While Mackenzie was devising his scheme of punishment,
John Errington was engaged in pleasant thoughts of Hartmann
West. The expected letter might now come by any post, and it
would be well to see whether " The Secret of Swift " were in fit
condition to be despatched to him, or whether he must get Alice
to make a clean copy of it in that pretty handwriting of hers
which was always seen at its neatest in her transcript of the
MSS, of which she was so proud. The present copy was, how-
ever, in capital order, but on examining it he found that one slip
was missing. Nervous search through the well-filled drawer soon
convinced him that it was not there ; but, fortunately, on
examining the two edges of the gap, he made the discovery that
the lost leaf had been devoted to little more than a long quotation,
which could be easily restored by a visit to the library of the
British Museum.

He had nothing else to do, and the day was fine. He could
start at once, copy his quotation, and have a few hours in the
metropolis of the world of books. It was six o'clock when he
reached home again, and the dusk of an evening in late autumn
was beginning to gather, but the lamp in the little general
utility chamber, which served for dining and drawing room,
was unlit. As he entered he thought no one was there, but
a second glance revealed his wife crouching upon the floor, her
head lying upon the couch which stood by the window.

" Dear Alice, " he said faintly as he strode forward, " are you


By James Ashcroft Noble 209

ill ? what is the matter ? " but there was no reply. His first
vague terror crystallised into a definite dread, which, however,
lasted only for an instant, for the hand he took in his, cold as it
was, had not the unmistakable coldness of death ; and when he
kissed the lips whose whiteness even the dusk revealed, he felt
that they were the lips of a living woman.

" Jane, Jane, " he called loudly, " bring some water quickly ;
your mistress has fainted ; " and rising from his knees he lit with
trembling hands the lamp upon the table. The maid, carrying a
basin of water, bustled in with a scared face.

" Oh, dear, dear, " she exclaimed, " she do look awful bad ; shall
I go for the doctor ? "

" No, no—we must bring her to, first. How has it happened ?
Do you know anything about it ? "

" No, indeed ; she was in the kitchen ten minutes ago, or it
might be a quarter of an hour, and the postman knocked at the
door, and she says ' That will be the letter the master was
expectin',' and then she didn't come back, but I heard nothink,
and thought nothink of it. If I'd a heard anythink I'd have
come in. "

They lifted her on to the couch. Errington loosened her dress
and sprinkled the water over her face, while the girl rubbed one
of her hands, but there was no movement. The small basin was
soon emptied.

" More water, quick, " said the man ; " and oughtn't we to burn
something ? "

" Feathers is the thing, but we haven't got no feathers ; perhaps
brown paper'd do; I'll fetch some. "

It was brought, and the woman now sprinkled the water while
the man held under his wife's nostrils the ignited paper which
threw off a pungent aromatic smoke. A slight shiver ran


210 The Phantasies of Philarete

through the recumbent figure ; the eyelids trembled, then opened,
though their glance was hardly recognition, and slowly closed

" Alice, dear heart, " exclaimed the man brokenly as he gently
put his arm round her neck, and drew her lips to his ; " speak to
me, darling. You will be all right now. I am with you. What
has frightened you ? "

For a few seconds she lay apparently unconscious ; then the
eyes opened again with less of that dreadful, unseeing look, and
she murmured sleepily, " Where am I ? What is the matter,
John ? "

" Yes, darling, I am here. You are better now. Rest a little
bit, and then tell me all about it. "

" She's coming to, " said the girl, " I'll go and make her a cup of
tea. It's the best thing now. " And she left the husband and wife

While the wife lay, again silent, with now and then a slight
movement as of a shiver, a timid voice was heard at the door. " Is
mother ill ? Can I come in ? "

" She's getting better, my pet. Run away now, and be very
quiet. You shall come in soon. "

The figure stirred again, this time with more of voluntary
motion ; she made as if to raise herself; her eyes met her
husband's with a look of full recognition ; she threw her arm
round his neck and pressed herself against him in a terrifying
outburst of hysterical weeping. It lasted for minutes—how many
John never knew—with heavy sobs that convulsed her, and inter-
mittent sounds of eerie laughter. At last the words began to
struggle forth with difficulty and intermittence.

" John—John—dear John—my own dear husband—Oh my
darling—my darling—I love you, and I have ruined you—it will


By James Ashcroft Noble 211

kill me ; but, oh, if I could have died before. " And then, with
less of violence, for the paroxysm had exhausted her, she began
silently to weep again. An hour had passed before John
Errington had heard the story, or rather read it in the type-
written letters which had dropped from his wife's hands as she fell,
and had been pushed under the sofa. He read them first rapidly ;
then again more slowly, with stunned senses :

        Office of Noon,

            October 5, 1893.


    Enclosed you will find a copy of a letter which I have just
received from Mr. Hartmann West, from which you will see that he
has done me the favour to place in my hands a letter addressed to him
by you, and written so recently that its purport must be fresh in your
memory. That I should see it did not enter into your calculations,
and I do not suppose that the man capable of writing it, would in the
least understand the emotions excited by it, in the mind of a self-
respecting journalist. I may, however, say that never in the whole
course of my professional experience—which has been tolerably varied
—can I remember an instance in which a trusted contributor to a high-
class journal had deliberately puffed a book which he knows to be
worthless (for I am assured on all hands that the worthlessness of this
particular book would be obvious to the meanest capacity), and has
made that puff a fulcrum for the epistolary leverage of two or three
contemptible guineas. I congratulate you on the invention of an
ingenious system of blackmailing, one great merit of which is that it
evades the clutch of the criminal law, though I cannot add to my
congratulations either a lament for its present failure or a hope for
its future success. Though I am unfortunately powerless to control
the operations of the inventor, I am happily able to restrict their scope
by refusing the use of Noon as a theatre of operation. Please under-


212 The Phantasies of Philarete

stand that your connection with this journal is at an end. A cheque
for the amount due to you will be at once forwarded.

        Yours truly,


Hartmann West's letter had also been read, and John Errington
was vainly endeavouring to check his wife's outpourings of

" I can't bear it, John. To think that I who love you should
have brought this upon you. Oh ! I hate myself. You would
never have written it if it hadn't been for me. You didn't want
to write, and I made you write. But oh, I didn't know. I ought
to have known that I was foolish and that you were wiser than I ;
but I thought of other times when I had done you good and not
harm. Dear, dear John ; you won't hate me, will you ? "

" Don't talk like that, darling ; you will break my heart. I
should love you more than ever, if that were possible ; but it isn't.
How could we know that the man who seemed to us an angel
was just a devil. When I read the book I felt that he was a man
to love, and I tried to put something of what I felt into what I
wrote, being sure that he would understand. I wrote from my
heart, and he calls it gratuitously offensive. Darling, you
mustn't reproach yourself any more ; I can't bear it ; how could
you know, how could I know, how could any one know, that
there could be such a man ? "

John Errington passed a wakeful night, but his wife slept the
heavy sleep of exhaustion. When at eight o'clock he quietly rose,
dressed, and went down to breakfast with his little girl, she was
sleeping still. " It will do her good, " thought Errington, and
when Doris had gone to school, he set to work upon his essay,
" The Common Factor in Shakespeare's Fools," to pass the time


By James Ashcroft Noble 213

until he heard her bell. It did not ring until half-past eleven, and
he ran rapidly up the short flight of stairs.

" Well darling," he said, " you have had a good sleep. "

" Oh, I have been awake for a long time—two hours I should
think—and I have been in great pain. I didn't ring before,
because I thought it would pass away, and I wouldn't trouble you,
but it is much worse than it was. "

John Errington looked down tenderly upon the thin face, which
seemed to have grown thinner during the night. The woman
closed her eyes and seemed to be suffering. After a moment's
silence she spoke again.

" I'm better now," she said faintly, " but I think dear, Jane
had better go for the doctor, and she might knock next door and
ask Mrs. Williams if she can come in. "

The kindly neighbour was soon by the bedside, and the doctor,
who had been found at home, was shortly in attendance. It was
not an obscure case, nor a tedious one. Three hours afterwards
Alice Errington was the mother of a dead baby-boy, and in the
early dawn of the next day Mrs. Williams with many tears placed
the little corpse on the breast of the dead mother, and drew the
lifeless arm around it. John Errington stood and watched her
silently ; then he came and kissed the two dead faces ; then he
threw himself upon the bed, which shook with his tearless sobs.

John Errington, Doris, and Alice's father, Richard Blundell,
who came from Norton for the funeral, returned from Kensal
Green, and sat down to the untimely meal prepared for Mr.
Blundell, who in a few minutes must start to catch his homeward
train at Willesden. He was a man of few words, and of the very
few he now uttered, most were addressed to his little grand-
daughter. It was only as the two men stood at the door that he
spoke to his son-in-law in that Lancashire accent that the younger


The Yellow Book—Vol. V. N

214 The Phantasies of Philarete

man still loved to hear. " Tha's been hard hit lad, and so have I,
God knows ; but try to keep up heart for th'little lass's sake.
We're proud folk i'Lancashire ; mayhap too proud ; but ye won't
mind a bit of a lift in a tight place fro' Alice's faither. Ah wish
it were ten times as much. God bless thee—and thee, my lass. "

The old man kissed the child, wiped his eyes, and was driven
away. John watched the cab till it turned a corner ; then looked
hard at the ten pound note left in his hand as if it presented some
remarkable problem for solution ; closed the door ; led Doris into
the little sitting-room ; and began the task imposed upon him—of
keeping up his heart.


The cheque from Noon had come ; John Errington had it in his
pocket, where also were five sovereigns and a few shillings. The
ten-pound note was still in his hand, and a rapid calculation told
him that when the undertaker was paid, nearly a month of safety
from absolute penury was still his. In a month surely something
could be done, and John Errington set himself to do it. The man
to whom self-assertion and self-advertisement had been impossible
horrors, now found himself wondering at himself as he bearded
editors and sub-editors, and referred—in perhaps too apologetic a
tone for persuasion—to the Noon articles on " Fin-de-Siècle Fic-
tion, " which had really excited more comment than he was aware
of in journalistic circles. His success was small. No editor had
any immediate opening, but one or two were friendly, and said they
would bear his name in mind. A proprietor who was his own
editor told him that literary paragraphs containing quite fresh infor-
mation would be always acceptable ; but of the various paragraphs
he sent in, only two—representing a sum of fourteen shillings or


By James Ashcroft Noble 215

thereabouts—found acceptance. The going up and down other
men's stairs became as hateful to him as it was to Dante ; but he
lashed himself into hope for the " little lass's " sake, and hope made
it endurable. At six o'clock every evening he arrived at Titan
Villas, and for two hours, until Doris's bedtime, in helping the
child with her lessons, or reading aloud while she nestled up to him,
he felt something that was to happiness as moonshine is to sunlight.
One evening, however, he had to forego this delight, for he had
received a message from a certain editor, who had asked him to call
after eight at his house at Wimbledon. He had seen the great
man, who had given him a long chapter of autobiography, but had
said little of practical importance, and when, just before midnight,
he reached home, he was weary and disspirited. He drew his arm-
chair to the fire, warmed his feet, smoked his pipe in the company
of an evening paper for half an hour, and then went to bed, turning
for a moment—as was his wont—into the room where the ten-
years-old little Doris must have been asleep for hours. He held
the carrying-lamp over the child's face, which was somewhat
flushed : and the bed-clothes were tumbled as if the sleeper had
been restless. As he made them straight and tucked them in, the
child stirred but did not waken, and Errington was on the point of
leaving the room, when his eye caught the little frock hanging at
the foot of the bed. The new black cashmere looked shabby and
draggled, and as he instinctively grasped one of its falling folds,
he felt it cold and wet. Then he turned to the little heap of under-
linen upon a chair and was conscious of their chill damp. " She
has been wet through, " he thought, " and her clothes have never
been changed. Poor motherless darling. " He gathered the little
garments together on his arm, and, taking them downstairs, found
a clothes-horse, and spread them upon it before the fire, which he
had replenished when he came in.


216 The Phantasies of Philarete

He knew how it had happened. A kindly girl who had once
been a near neighbour had offered to give the little Doris lessons
in music, but she had recently removed to lodgings nearly two
miles away, and the child must have been caught in the heavy
rain which he remembered had set in just about the time that she
would be leaving Miss Rumbold. The thoughtless Jane had
allowed her to sit in the saturated garments until she went to bed.

In the morning the child's eyes looked somewhat dull and
heavy, but otherwise she was apparently quite well, and she
resisted her father's suggestion that she should stay in bed instead
of going to school. In the evening when Errington returned
from his wanderings she seemed much better. Her eyes were
bright again — brighter even than usual — and for the first time
since her mother's death she chatted to her father with something
of her old animation. During the night Errington heard a short,
hard cough often repeated, but when he left his bed and went to
look at her she was fast asleep. When he rose for the day and
visited her again she seemed feverish ; the cough was more
frequent ; and her breathing was somewhat short.

" What is the matter with her ? " said the father to the doctor
whom he had hastily summoned. " I suppose it is nothing really
serious. "

" Well, " said the slowly-speaking young Scotsman, " I'm just
thinking it's a case of pneumonia, and pneumonia is never exactly
a trifle, but I see no grounds for special anxiety. You must just
keep her warm, and I'll send her some medicine over, and look in
again to-night. "

He sent the medicine and looked in, but said little.

" Of course the temperature is higher, but that was to be
expected. I will be down again in the morning, and she just
needs care—care. "


By James Ashcroft Noble 217

The care was not lacking, for Errington was himself Doris's
nurse, but, as Mr. Grant observed, " pneumonia is never a trifle, "
and even her father did not know how heavily her mother's death
had taxed the child's power of resistance. The unequal fight
lasted for five days and nights, and for the last two of them there
could be little doubt of the issue. The end came on Sunday
evening as the bells were ringing for church. The child had
been delirious during the latter part of the day, and had evidently
supposed herself to be talking to her mother, subsiding from the
delirium into heavy sleep ; but about six she awakened with the
light of fever no longer in her eyes, and stretched out a thin little
hand to Errington, and said faintly, " Dear, dear father. "

" Are you feeling better, darling ? " he said.

" I don't know," she whispered ; " I like you holding my hand.
I feel as if I were sinking through the bed. I think I am sleepy. "

She closed her eyes, and for ten minutes she lay quite still.
Then she opened them very wide and looked straight before her,
lifted her free hand, and partly raised herself from the pillow.
The glance which had been a question became a recognition.
" Oh mother, mother, " she exclaimed in the clear voice of health,
" it is you ; oh, I am so glad. " And then the grey veil fell over
the child's face ; she sank back upon the pillow ; and the eyes
closed again for the last time. In the room where there had been
two—or was it three ?—there was only one.


On the morning of the funeral there came a letter for John
Errington. It was from the editor who lived at Wimbledon, and
was very brief.

" Mr. Joliffe

218 The Phantasies of Philarete

" Mr. Joliffe regrets that on consideration he cannot entertain Mr.
Errington's proposal with regard to the series of articles for The Book
World. When Mr. Joliffe informs Mr. Errington that he has had an
interview with Mr. Mackenzie, he will doubtless understand the
reasons for this decision. "

Mr. Williams, John Errington's neighbour, was standing near
him in the darkened room. He had offered to accompany him to
Kensal Green, for Richard Blundell was confined to bed and
could not come, and the stricken man was alone in his grief.
When Errington had read the letter he quietly returned it to its
envelope, and placed it in his pocket, as the undertaker summoned
them to the waiting coach. On their return from the cemetery
Williams pressed Errington to come into his house and sit down
with his wife and himself at their midday dinner.

" It is very kind of you, " said Errington, " but I must not be
tempted ; I have work to do. But I will come in for a moment
and thank Mrs. Williams for all her goodness to me and mine. "

He went in, and the thanks were tendered.

" Well, I must go, now, " he said abruptly, after a short silence.
" God bless you both. Good-bye ! "

" Oh, Mr. Errington, not ' good-bye.' You must come in this
evening and smoke a pipe with Robert. ' Good morning ' is
what you ought to say, if you really can't stay now."

" I don't know. This is a world in which ' good-bye ' never
seems wrong. But God bless you, anyhow. That must be
right—if, " he added suddenly, " there is any God to bless. "

Then he walked hastily down the road in the direction of half
a dozen shops which supplied suburban requirements, of suburban
quality, at suburban prices ; went into one of them, and in a few
moments reappeared and turned homeward. Entering the house,
he drew up the blind of the sitting-room and sat down at the


By James Ashcroft Noble 219

table to write a letter. When it was finished he read it over, put
it in an envelope, addressed it, took it to the pillar-box about
twenty yards from his gate, and when he had dropped it in,
sauntered with a weary air back to the house. This time he
went, not to the sitting-room, but to the kitchen.

" Jane, " he said, " I'm tired out. I don't think I have slept
properly for a week, but I feel very sleepy now. I shall go and
lie down on the bed, and don't let me be disturbed, whatever
happens. If I get a chance I think I can sleep for hours. "

He turned as if to go, and then turned back again, thrust his
hand into his pocket, and drew from it a few coins. Two of them
were sovereigns. These he laid upon the table.

" Your wages are due to-morrow, Jane, aren't they ? I
may as well pay you now lest I forget. Twenty-three and
fourpence, isn't it ? "

" Yes, sir; but don't trouble about it a day like this; it'll do
any time. "

" I would rather pay it now. I haven't the even money, but
you can get me the change when you go out. "

" Thank you, sir ; but won't you have a chop before you lie
down? I can have it ready in ten minutes. "

" No, I'm not hungry ; I want rest. " Then after a pause—
" I'm afraid I spoke roughly that day—about those wet clothes,
you know. We may all forget things. I forget many things,
and I daresay I was too hard. "

The girl burst into tears. " Oh, sir, " she said, " it's kind of
you, but I can't forgive myself. The sweet pet that was so fond
of her Jane, and that I wouldn't have harmed for "—but as she
took the apron from her eyes she saw that she had no listener.
Her master had gone upstairs.

It was half-past twelve, for the funeral had been very early.


220 The Phantasies of Philarete

At eight in the evening Jane was standing at the door of the next
house, speaking eagerly in a terrified tone to Mrs. Williams's
small servant. "Oh, will you ask Mr. Williams if he would
mind stepping in. I'm frightened about the master. He's been
in his room since noon, and I can't make him hear. I'm afraid
something's happened."

" What's that ? " said Williams, stepping out into the narrow

The girl repeated her story, and without putting on his hat
he followed her into the house and up the stairs.

" It's the front room, " she said, and Williams knocked and
called loudly, but all was silent.

" How many times did you knock ? "

" Ever so many, and very hard at last. "

" Good God ! I'm afraid you're right, " and as he spoke he
tried the handle of the door.

" He has locked himself in. We must break the door open.
Have you a mallet ? Anything would do. "

" There's a screwdriver ; nothing else but a little tack hammer,
that would be of no use. "

The large screwdriver was brought, and the wood-work of the
suburban builder soon gave way before its leverage. When Mr.
Williams entered, carrying the lamp he had taken from Jane's
trembling hand, he saw that Errington had undressed himself and
got into bed. He was lying with his face towards the door, and
one arm was extended on the coverlet. He might have been
sleeping, but before Williams touched the cold hand he knew
what had happened. There was a bedroom tumbler on the
dressing table, and beside it an empty bottle bearing the label,
" Chloral Hydrate. Dose one tablespoon, 15 grains. " John
Errington was dead.


By James Ashcroft Noble 221


When during the forenoon of the next day Hartmann West
entered the Shandy Club the correspondence awaiting him—
which was usually heavy—consisted only of a single letter. He
glanced at the address, which was in a handwriting that he could
not at the moment identify, though he thought he had seen it
before. He mounted to the smoking-room on the first floor,
holding it in his hand, and when he had established himself in his
favourite arm-chair near one of the three windows, drew a small
paper knife from his waistcoat pocket and cut open the envelope.
The letter began abruptly without any one of the usual forms of
address :

I do not want you to throw this letter aside until you have read it to
the end, and therefore I mention a fact concerning it which will give
it a certain interest—even to you. It is written by a man who, when
you receive it, will be dead—dead by your hand—who has just come
from the grave of his dead wife and dead children, murdered by you
as surely as if you had drawn the knife across their throats. I wonder
if you remember me, or if you have added to all the other gifts with
which Heaven, or Hell, has dowered you, the gift of forgetfulness. I
am the man who read your book and loved it—loved it for itself, but
loved still more the heart that I thought I felt was beating behind it, and
wrote of my love which I was glad to tell—first for all who might read
what I had written, and then for you alone. I must have written
clumsily, for I seem to have angered you—how I know not, and because
I had angered you, you took your revenge. I was a poor man—I told
you I was poor—but I was rich in a wife and child who loved me, and
whom I loved ; and I only thought of my poverty when I looked at


222 The Phantasies of Philarete

them, and felt the hardness of the lot to which my physical weakness,
and perhaps other weakness as well, had led them. Then, because my
wife was looking forward to the pains and perils of motherhood, and I
had tried in vain to secure for her something of comfort in her time of
trial, I humbled myself for her—you know how ; and yet, fool that I
was, I felt no humiliation, for I thought that I was writing to, as well
as from, a human heart. Then came the blow which your letter
rendered inevitable, the blow which bereft me of the scanty work
which had perhaps been done clumsily, but which I know had been
done honestly, the blow which killed a mother and an unborn child.
I found her fainting with your letter lying beside her, and in two days
she was dead. She left me with our little girl for a sole remaining
possession ; but a child motherless is a child defenceless, and to-day I
have laid her in her grave, and she is motherless no more. Only I am
alone, and now I go to join them, if indeed the grave be not the end
of all. I know not, for you have robbed me of faith as well as of joy.
Within the last hour, I have with my lips and in my heart, denied the
God whom I have loved and trusted, even as I loved and trusted the
man who has murdered my dear ones. If there be no God I will not
curse you, for what would curses avail ? If there be a God I will not
curse you, for my cause is His cause, and shall not the Judge of all the
earth do right ? But remember that when you are where I am now—
the unknown now in which you read these words—I shall summon you
with a summons you dare not disobey, to stand as a murderer before
His judgment bar.

            JOHN ERRINGTON.

Hartmann West had lighted a cigar before he cut the envelope.
It had gone out. No connoisseur relights a cigar, and Hartmann
West was a connoisseur not only in tobacco but in many other
things. He considered himself—quite justly—a proficient in the
art of making life enjoyable, and his achievements in that art had
so far been successful. He had enjoyed the writing of his letter


By James Ashcroft Noble 223

to Andrew Mackenzie; it was, as he put it to himself, " rather
neat. " But it came back to him with an unexpected rebound ;
and Major Forth was not wrong when he talked about a knock-
down blow.

For such it undoubtedly was. West was not, like Mackenzie, a
thick-skinned and insensitive man. He was, on the contrary, a
bundle of nerves, and the nerves were well on the surface—an
idiosyncrasy of physique which accounted for the delicacy and
exquisiteness of sympathetic realisation that had charmed
Errington in The Phantasies of Philarete. But he was a colossal
egoist, and when his egoistic instincts were aroused, the man who
became almost sick when he heard or read a story of cruelty,
showed himself capable of a sustained and startling ruthlessness of
malignity. When the mood passed he became again his ordinary
self—the fastidious, sensitive creature, susceptible to tortures
which a chance word of any coarser-fibred acquaintance might
inflict. Errington's letter appealed to the quick imagination
which was his hell as well as his heaven. It made pictures for
him, and he turned from one only to find himself face to face
with another. He saw the fainting woman, the dead child, the
corpse of the man—bloody it might be, for the tormenting fiend
of fancy provided all possible accessories of horror—and as he
looked the tide of life ebbed within him.

Next morning this one ghastliness of terror was removed, but its
place was taken by a new dread. He received a copy of a suburban
news-sheet, the West London Comet, with a thick line of blue
pencilling surrounding a report headed " Sad Suicide of a Journal-
ist. " The details he knew and those that he did not know were
all there ; and there, too, was the evidence of a man Williams—
by whom he rightly conjectured this latest torture was inflicted—
who had told the jury that Errington's misfortunes had been due


224 The Phantasies of Philarete

to some unpleasantness connected with a review of a book by Mr.
Hartmann West, and would evidently have told more had not the
coroner decided that the matter was irrelevant. The West London
Comet was not taken at the Shandy Club ; but would not the report,
with this horrible mention of his name, find its way into more
highly favoured journals ? With trembling hands, which even
brandy had not served to steady, he turned over the papers of that
morning, and the evening journals of the day before, and, as he
failed to find the dreaded item, relief slowly came. But the older
terror remained ; the pictures were still with him ; and though
one had lost its streak of sanguine colour, they were still lurid
enough. Gradually the very fact upon which, for an hour, he had
congratulated himself—the fact that the world knew nothing, but
that he and one unknown man shared the hateful knowledge
between them—became in itself all but unbearable. Once, twice,
half a dozen times, he felt that he must tell the story ; but when
he thought he had nerved himself for the attempt, the words
refused to come.

Three months later, in the morning and evening papers, which
had taken no notice of the affair at Shepherd's Bush, there were
leaderettes lamenting, with grave eloquence, the loss sustained by
English literature in the death of Mr. Hartmann West. A com-
ment upon these utterances found a place in " At the Meridian,"
the column in Noon known to be written by its accomplished
editor, Mr. Andrew Mackenzie :

" Were there no such emotion as disgust I should feel nothing but
amusement in the perusal of the eulogies upon the late Mr. Hartmann
West which have appeared in the Hour and the Morning Gazette. Less
than six months ago the former journal, in reviewing Mr. West's
Phantasies of Philarete, declared the book to be ' characterised by
pretentiousness, strain, and affectation, ' and the latter authority, with


By James Ashcroft Noble 225

its well-known subtlety of satire, remarked that, ' Mr. Hartmann
West's extraordinary vogue among the shop-girls of Bermondsey, and
the junior clerks of Peckham, will probably be maintained by a volume
which is even richer than its predecessors in shoddy sentiment and
machine-made epigram. ' The Hour has now discovered that Mr.
West's work presented ' a remarkable combination of imaginative
veracity and distinction of utterance, ' and the Gazette mourns him as
' a writer whose death breaks a splendid promise, but whose life has
left a splendid performance. ' The style of these belated eulogists is
their own ; but their substance seems to have been borrowed from
this journal, which in reviewing the ' pretentious shoddy ' and
' machine-made ' work, spoke of it as ' one of those books which make
life better worth living by revealing its possibilities of beauty, which
touch us by their truth not less than by their tenderness, in which the
lovely art is all but lost in the lovely nature which the art reveals,
which make us free of the companionship of a spirit finely touched to
fine issues. ' I am not apt at sudden post-mortem eloquence, and I
have nothing to add to these words, written while Hartmann West
was still alive, and able to appreciate the sympathy he was so ready to
give. "

" Well, I never could have believed, " said a young member of
the Shandy Club, " that Mackenzie wrote that review of poor
West's Phantasies. "

The current issue of Noon had just come in, and, though it was
before luncheon, Major Forth, who had contracted bad habits in
Africa and elsewhere, was refreshing himself with whisky and
potash. He looked at the speaker, slowly emptied his tumbler,
and replied, " I don't believe it now. "

MLA citation: Noble, James Ashcroft. "The Phantasies of Philarete." The Yellow Book 5 (Apr 1895): 195-225. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. [Date of access].