Thirty Quotes from George Calderon

I must dine with the family, the landlady said; it will be an advantage to me, for I can improve my Russian.  Her husband, she said, was a great chatterbox, and loved to sit over his beer of an evening and discuss ‘questions’.  Charming! I thought.  Conversation with this Old King Cole will be full of local colour.  I left her, promising to return in an hour to view the husband.  The interval I spent in a Polish tavern, dining off shnail-klops and huckleberry quass – a most disastrous dinner.  Shnail-klops is stock-meat which has served its time in the soup, thinly disguised under a coating of brown boot-polish and cochineal.  The Poles are not suppressed half enough; shnail-klops should entail Siberia. […] I returned to the lodging.  The door was opened by a dishevelled cockroach four feet high.  This was Old King Cole!  Klops or no klops, I could never dine with this!  I must get out of it discreetly.  They brought me to a table where there was a samovar under full pressure.  I said I must have till the morning to think of it.  They halved the price.  I said I was by nature irresolute.  The beetle rose behind the table, smote it with his fist, and said I must decide now or never.  I said I would rather decide never.  (‘I Seek Lodgings in St Petersburg’, Pall Mall Gazette 19 December 1895)

Almost universally, the disaster [The trampling to death of 1389 people on Khodynka Field] is attributed to the total want of precautions, usually so conspicuous in Russia when they are wanted least, and to the lack of foresight, and even elementary common sense, shown in the arrangements for the distribution of the [Tsar’s] gifts.  The exasperation of the people is intense.  (‘The Moscow Disaster’, From Our Special Correspondent, The Standard, 2 June 1896)

You are all over prickles.  They tickle me wonderfully.  (Letter to Katharine Ripley, 18 December 1898)

If little George is to have no [Russian] beard he cares for none of the preliminaries to it [i.e. moustache]; he will uncase his individuality, and the sooner the better, lest his mouth look sore and constrained at the forthcoming literary dinner.  A broader and better area moreover for drinking Kitty’s soul from the surface of her flesh; what vulgar people call ‘kissing’.  (Letter to Katharine Ripley, 31 January 1899)

Dear heart, I am awfully afraid of becoming a bore.  I have the makings of a bore in me.  Will you tell me at once, do you think, when you find that I bore you?  How are you most likely to be taken with the feeling?  Will it be when I talk of my work?  Of my friends?  Of my mental experiences?  (Letter to Katharine Ripley, 11 February 1899)

We of the gniloi zapad [Rotten West] […] may well doubt whether the idea embodied by the Russian nation – to speak in Hegelian terms – is the final synthesis in the Weltgeist’s development, whether in fact Russia is capable of teaching us the ways of the Millennium.  I believe that it is Russia’s view of her own mission, but I do not think it will be universally accepted in England.  […] it is hard to believe that the secret of mankind’s perfection has been entrusted to the Russians of our day; for the conflict between the individual and the community in Russia is as keen as ever.  (‘Russian Ideals of Peace’, a paper given to the Anglo-Russian Literary Society, 4 December 1900)

Tolstoi is, above all things, a good hater.  In War and Peace he wants to lower Napoleon, his chosen enemy, in the eyes of the world.  The ascription of his successes and failures to Fate is a splendid humiliation; there is such a crushing moderation about it.  (‘Tolstoy’s Novels’, Literature, 31 August 1901)

‘The object of Cecil J. Rhodes’ Will is to civalise Oxford by the infiltration of the Ameracan element.’

‘Civilise Oxford?  Ha, ha!  Very good!  With your permission, I shall repeat that at the High Table.  How they will laugh!’

Mrs Cheney rose from her chair and stood before the Professor with folded arms.

‘If you want to see Civalisation, go to Ameraca.  Look at our Cahnstitootion, look at our Trade!  Look at our overhead railways, steam-heat, and hydrahlic ullavators in the poorest quarters!  Look at our Trusts: our Beef Trust, our Boot Trust, our Steel Trust, our Shippin’ Trust!’

‘But, surely, my dear madam, you don’t mean to say that this is the ideal of civilisation to which we are to aspire?’

‘No, sir, I do not.  It is the bed-rock on which you have to plant the scaffolding.’

‘But all the things you speak of represent only the material.’

‘An’ ef you can’t manage the Material, what business have you to be foolin’ with the Ideel?’

(The Adventures of Downy V. Green, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, 1902)

It is natural enough to thank heaven that we are Britishers; but it is wholesome at times to try and realise that there are other civilisations in the world, and that in their poor way, and for the poor folk that are born into them, they have a raison d’être.  It is unjust to picture the Tsar as a benighted Oriental potentate, scion of a house of tyrants, waking at last from Asiatic sloth, as he listens to his Scheherazade telling him what is done in the Western world.  The Romanoffs have seen and rejected our civilisation since Romanoffs were.  (‘The Obstinacy of the Romanoffs’, The Monthly Review, April 1903)

There is no remedy for the errors of Democracy; there is no elasticity of energy to fulfil purposes conceived on a larger scale than its every-day thought.  Other systems may be purged by the rising waves of national life; but Democracy is exhaustive.’  (Dwala, 1904)

As for you and your religious practices, Madam, to be dissatisfied with yourself is irreligious; for you are not idle or ‘careless’, but very energetic in your static way, and you follow the dictates of your personality, which is far better than accepting habits of childhood like your friends.  Besides, as if it mattered what you do; you are only affected by what you are, and if you change yourself I shall regard it as a breach of our marriage-contract.  (Letter to Katharine Calderon, 11 April 1905)

At night the whole town grows mysterious and wonderful.  It is very dark under the trees.  No carriages or carts are running; men and women walk silently with bare feet.  The air is heavy with the smell of unknown spicy things, and trembles to the ‘lily-slender’ voice of innumerable cicadas, scattered from the earth right up into the sky.  They are on the roofs of the houses, on the branches of the trees and on the spars of the German schooner which lies by the shore.  Every night in Pape-ete one is surprised afresh by this deafening noise, which comes out only in the darkness, like the sweet scents with which it is so inextricably bound up in sensation; as if nature, which had been silent in the presence of man, insisted on declaring itself when he had gone.  There is too much outcry for understanding; it is like bells ringing inside the skull; one feels a certain uneasiness, a vague stirring of regret and undefined desire.  (Tahiti, [1906])

Our friend, Monsieur Percier of the Governor’s Chancelleries, somehow aware of our arrival, drew us into the kitchen and shut the door again.  About twenty young Frenchmen and native women were drinking bottled beer in there.  A thin girl with black hair and a sorrowful smile, dressed in a white gown, with a garland of flowers on her head, was dancing, while another played two monotonous bars of music on an accordion, and two or three others clapped their hands.  The dancer stood with naked feet immovably planted on the dirty boards, and all her attention seemed fixed on the movements of her haunches, which described circles and ellipses in various planes.  The movement of the haunches was ugly, but there was beauty in the sleepy face, in the languorous smile, in the downcast eyes, in the gestures of the high narrow shoulders and the slender arms; she slapped her palms together as she threw out her hands alternately.  (Tahiti, [1906])

Tahiri speaks excellent French in a little polite, cooing, flute-like voice, always with a touch of the dramatic in it.  She does not talk much; she is never bursting with anything that she must impart; she does not have to tell the jokes she has played, like other humorists, in order to relish them.  When she says something particularly mocking or outrageous she speaks with a little pathetic huskiness and a break in her voice, as if from excess of timidity.  Her carriage is ordinarily quiet and demure.  Usually she is dressed all in black, then suddenly, one day, all in white.  She languishes like a flower, darts like a snake or flies like a maenad.  In the maenad mood her voice takes on a sort of low shrillness, with resolute, bassoon tones of a mock-heroic kind.  When she is more intimate she can mock openly, screwing up her nose and showing all her teeth,

She rarely tells the truth, because it is dull.  She lies over the simplest things and contradicts herself the next moment: she was brought up at the Roman Catholic school; she was brought up at the Protestant school; she never went to school at all.

Her name, Tahiri-i-te-rai, means ‘Fan the sky’.  Nobody can tell me the origin of it.  (But what a picture in the Japanese taste!)  Perhaps it signified a graceful action to no purpose, ‘le plaisir doux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile’; a symbol of her existence; perhaps it signifies a secret understanding with the powers of nature.  Where’er she walks, perhaps, trees gather in a shade and the hottest sky grows cool; perhaps, on the other hand, it is fanned to new ardour; or is the fanning like whistling for a wind?  Her name remains a mystery, like the rest of her.

Every evening at dusk I find her standing by the wicket-gate of the hotel garden, in the shadow of the chestnut-tree.  She has a little white scented flower for me, wrapped for shelter from the rude world in a sheath of coiled green leaf.  It smells like jasmine, fresh and virginal; it is shaped like a lotus.  It is the tiare maohi, or native single gardenia, the flower par éminence of the island; but I had not yet learnt its name.

– What is the name of the flower?

  C’est la fleur du coeur.

She says it sentimentally, in that shy murmur which she keeps for her more audacious jokes.  She knows quite well that it has no such name; she has made it up on the spur of the moment.  She is laughing at me, at herself, at lovers’ trysts on summer nights.  Another time the flower is a little faded, and she murmurs as she gives it to me:

Fleur fanée, coeur aimée.

(Tahiti, [1906])

As I enter the town in the twilight Monsieur Percier of the Chancellerie is standing with a friend.

– Who is that? says the friend.

– Don’t you know?  C’est Monsieur Calderon.

Tiens!  Impossible!  Ah, see to what such imprudence leads.  Two months ago that man came here rich, full of money; he threw it right and left, squandering it on liquor and harlots.  Now see to what he has reduced himself by his extravagance.  He is obliged to go about like a beggar.

– No, no, it is not that, said Percier; he still has money.

– Then what explanation is possible?

Voyez-vous, c’est un type.

A boy greeted me at the hotel: ‘Two years has been thy wandering’, i.e. ‘You are welcome back again.’

(Tahiti, [1906])

It is an altogether curious and uncomfortable world which these people inhabit.  They live in solitary cottages by unfrequented roads, and have absolutely no occupation to while away the time, though the poet smokes a little when things are darkest.  (Review of novel The Virgin Widow, TLS 12 March 1908)

It is the work of a practised craftsman; but like the work of so many practised craftsmen, it expresses so little that the skill and ingenuity rather tantalize than satisfy.  If he had a tale to tell, one feels, how well he would put it; how exquisitely he would moralize if he had any moral to impart.  His language is fastidious and nice; he is witty, he is tortuous; he is like a clown at the circus straining his muscles to lift a lump of wood painted to look like a cannon-ball, or a man dancing a ballet to draw a cork.  (Review of novel The Spanish Jade, TLS 14 May 1908)

I must confess that the glamour of [the suffragettes’] heroism is a little dimmed for me when they keep writing to the papers explaining to an indifferent public what a hardship it really is to be in Holloway […].  There was never any need to explain this sort of thing about being burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions.  Nor is it made any better by those who agitate and petition the Home Secretary to make it more comfortable in their jail; as who should plead for not quite such big lions or not quite such a hot fire.  (Woman in Relation to the State, 1908)

This general ignorance is the oddest feature of modern life.  I know a case of a temperance mission entirely supported by brewery shares.  (James Wren, The Fountain, 1909)

If public schools teach the manners of the Polynesian or the ‘gentle parfit knight’ to the sons of grocers Mr Chesterton should not sneer, but rejoice.  Cleanliness is praised by the gentry, not because it is a private luxury, but because it is a public benefit; ‘playing the game’ is not helping one’s side to win but being generous to adversaries; what Mr Chesterton calls insincerity and indifference to truth is really compromise, not infidelity to principle, but the submission of private opinion to the needs of public action; again, a deep social virtue, not a private and superficial vice.  (Review of G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World, TLS 30 June 1910)

My inspiration [in The Fountain] was certainly not derived from Widowers’ Houses.  […] Bernard Shaw, like Lloyd George and all those nurtured in the socialism of the early eighties, still believes in the fantastic old Wicked Rich myth.  Wren’s jaunty epigram ‘Villains are a literary invention of the Elizabethan drama inherited from the demonology of the Middle Ages’ […] expresses a truth which has certainly never entered the Shavian head.  Mr Shaw’s villainous landlord does not correspond to anything in real life, but is derived straight from the Iagos and Don Johns of the Tudor stage.  (Preface, The Fountain, 1911)

ROBERT: I bicycled over to Newland Hay and got some capital rubbings.  It’s an early Norman church with a leper-squint and remains of Saxon in the south transept.  The brasses are very fine, with rather unusual heraldic treatment.  Both branches of the Castleowens were buried there for generations and it’s very curious to see the way the individuals vary in their differencing for cadency.  I rather suspect Scotch influence.

AGATHA: Can I see your rubbings?

(Derelicts, 1911)

What then are the essential characters which differentiate the art of the Russian Ballet from that which we have hitherto known in England?  That they dance better – the simplest explanation – is one of the most misleading, for the elusive differentia does not lie in technique.  Certainly their technique is exquisite; all of them can do the most wonderful things with no appearance of effort, and they can do many sorts of wonderful things.  But technique is no more the source of the highest pleasure in dancing than it is in painting, in music, or any other of the arts.  It is a channel of communication; it is the means by which the artistic idea comes from the mind of the creator to the senses of the spectator.  The Russians, in fact, have so long since brought their technique of dancing, their command of their limbs and bodies, their instinct for balance, for energy without exertion, to the highest point that they have been able to develop the art for which that technique exists – namely, the conveyance of choreographic ideas.  Russian ballet-dancing never for one moment escapes from its subjection to ideas – and, moreover, to artistic ideas, ideas, that is, conceived at a high pitch of emotional intelligence.  (‘The Russian Ballet’, The Times 24 July 1911)

[STOCKFISH ascends the gasworks he had built and blows it and himself up]

Enter TESMAN, weeping

TESMAN: Blown up!  Gone to glory!  I shall nev-ver, nev-ver see them again.

MRS INQUEST: Them?  What’s them?

TESMAN: It’s the little things that hurt one most, the things that some people would look on as almost nothing!

MRS INQUEST: Come, Tesman, what things do you mean?

TESMAN: He went up in my goloshes!

HEDDA: Your goloshes?

TESMAN: My beautiful big goloshes that Aunt Jemima gave me.

HILDA (Waving a handkerchief and dancing): My plaster-builder!

TESMAN: My goloshes!

HILDA: My plaster-builder!

TESMAN: My goloshes!


(Cinderella, An Ibsen Pantomime, 1911/12)

Tchekhof had that fine comedic spirit which relishes the incongruity between the actual disorder of the world and the underlying disorder.  Seeking as he did to throw our eyes outwards from the individual destiny, to discover its relation to surrounding Life, he habitually mingled tragedy (which is life seen close at hand) with comedy (which is life seen from a distance).  His plays are comedies with the texture of tragedies.  (Two Plays by Tchekhof, 1912)

The Seagull is easy, entraînant, not much unlike a Western play; The Cherry Orchard is difficult, rébarbatif and very Russian.’  (Two Plays by Tchekhof, 1912)

However much we may sympathise with the ultimate intention of these attacks, the enrichment of the poor (an object which all decent citizens must applaud), there is no doubt that this [Coal Strike of 1912] is the most extravagant of all methods for achieving it, and can only lead to chaos and destruction.  When the community sees its very existence threatened, one thing is certain, that it will rise and defend itself; and we have to consider how that can be most effectively done, with the least permanent injury to our national life (or, more hopefully, with the greatest benefit to it) and how we can at the same time remove the causes of the discontent which inspires those attacks.  A new era looms, both threatening and inspiring, before us.  (‘Cambridge and the Coal Strike’, The Cambridge Magazine 20 April 1912)

JEFF: First it’s the Capitalists; now it’s the workmen.  God seems to have given Englishmen brains only for devising ways of hindering thought.

HODDER: What’s happened?

JEFF: The men have gone out on strike.

(Revolt, 1912)

JAMES: Well you know, the hero doesn’t really make much of a husband.  They’re so often only at their best when there’s something heroic to do.  There was Aylwin Vavasour for instance.  [To GERALD]  You remember Carrots?  He rescued a good-looking heiress from a mad bull in the most thrilling circumstances.  She married him and has regretted it ever since.    When there are no mad bulls about he’s rather a disagreeable fellow than otherwise to live with; never does a stroke of work, smokes in the drawing-room and puts his legs on the mantelpiece.  Or take Toby Strutt who knocked a man down in Oxford Street for being rude to a lady; and was fined twenty shillings or a month at Vine Street for disorderly behaviour.  No! the fighting instinct is out of place in this police-ridden civilisation of ours.  It’s all very sad; but I’m afraid we’ve got to put up with the world as we find it.  (Thompson, by St John Hankin and George Calderon, 1913)

Poor dear old Keety – don’t trouble over me;  I’m off on a new and unknown adventure, but it either ends ill or very well, and no thought can alter it – so rejoice in the colour and vigour of the thing […].  (Letter to Katharine Calderon, 10 May 1915)

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