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- Not that it Matters - 2/26 -
may tree, on the Cedars with its two clean limes, it casts its shadow on the ivy of Holly House, and upon the whole road there rests a pleasant afternoon peace. I cannot walk along Acacia Road without feeling that life could be very happy in it--when the sun is shining. It must be jolly, for instance, to live in Laburnum Lodge with its pink may tree. Sometimes I fancy that a suburban home is the true home after all.
When I pass Laburnum Lodge I think of Him saying good-bye to Her at the gate, as he takes the air each morning on his way to the station. What if the train is crowded? He has his newspaper. That will see him safely to the City. And then how interesting will be everything which happens to him there, since he has Her to tell it to when he comes home. The most ordinary street accident becomes exciting if a story has to be made of it. Happy the man who can say of each little incident, "I must remember to tell Her when I get home." And it is only in the suburbs that one "gets home." One does not "get home" to Grosvenor Square; one is simply "in" or "out."
But the master of Laburnum Lodge may have something better to tell his wife than the incident of the runaway horse; he may have heard a new funny story at lunch. The joke may have been all over the City, but it is unlikely that his wife in the suburbs will have heard it. Put it on the credit side of marriage that you can treasure up your jokes for some one else. And perhaps She has something for him too; some backward plant, it may be, has burst suddenly into flower; at least he will walk more eagerly up Acacia Road for wondering. So it will be a happy meeting under the pink may tree of Laburnum Lodge when these two are restored safely to each other after the excitements of the day. Possibly they will even do a little gardening together in the still glowing evening.
If life has anything more to offer than this it will be found at Holly House, where there are babies. Babies give an added excitement to the master's homecoming, for almost anything may have happened to them while he has been away. Dorothy perhaps has cut a new tooth and Anne may have said something really clever about the baker's man. In the morning, too, Anne will walk with him to the end of the road; it is perfectly safe, for in Acacia Road nothing untoward could occur. Even the dogs are quiet and friendly. I like to think of the master of Holly House saying good-bye to Anne at the end of the road and knowing that she will be alive when he comes back in the evening. That ought to make the day's work go quickly.
But it is the Cedars which gives us the secret of the happiness of the suburbs. The Cedars you observe is a grander house altogether; there is a tennis lawn at the back. And there are grown-up sons and daughters at the Cedars. In such houses in Acacia Road the delightful business of love-making is in full swing. Marriages are not "arranged" in the suburbs; they grow naturally out of the pleasant intercourse between the Cedars, the Elms, and Rose Bank. I see Tom walking over to the Elms, racket in hand, to play tennis with Miss Muriel. He is hoping for an invitation to remain to supper, and indeed I think he will get it. Anyhow he is going to ask Miss Muriel to come across to lunch to-morrow; his mother has so much to talk to her about. But it will be Tom who will do most of the talking.
I am sure that the marriages made in Acacia Road are happy. That is why I have no fears for Holly House and Laburnum Lodge. Of course they didn't make love in this Acacia Road; they are come from the Acacia Road of some other suburb, wisely deciding that they will be better away from their people. But they met each other in the same way as Tom and Muriel are meeting; He has seen Her in Her own home, in His home, at the tennis club, surrounded by the young bounders (confound them!) of Turret Court and the Wilderness; She has heard of him falling off his bicycle or quarrelling with his father. Bless you, they know all about each other; they are going to be happy enough together.
And now I think of it, why of course there is a local theatre where they can do their play- going, if they are as keen on it as that. For ten shillings they can spread from the stage box an air of luxury and refinement over the house; and they can nod in an easy manner across the stalls to the Cedars in the opposite box-- in the deep recesses of which Tom and Muriel, you may be sure, are holding hands.
When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an emptier room. Together we hurried the books into the new white shelves which awaited them, the order in which they stood being of no matter so long as they were off the floor. Armful after armful was hastily stacked, the only pause being when (in the curious way in which these things happen) my own name suddenly caught the eye of the foreman. "Did you write this one, sir?" he asked. I admitted it. "H'm," he said noncommittally. He glanced along the names of every armful after that, and appeared a little surprised at the number of books which I hadn't written. An easy-going profession, evidently.
So we got the books up at last, and there they are still. I told myself that when a wet afternoon came along I would arrange them properly. When the wet afternoon came, I told myself that I would arrange them one of these fine mornings. As they are now, I have to look along every shelf in the search for the book which I want. To come to Keats is no guarantee that we are on the road to Shelley. Shelley, if he did not drop out on the way, is probably next to How to Be a Golfer Though Middle-aged.
Having written as far as this, I had to get up and see where Shelley really was. It is worse than I thought. He is between Geometrical Optics and Studies in New Zealand Scenery. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, whom I find myself to be entertaining unawares, sits beside Anarchy or Order, which was apparently "sent in the hope that you will become a member of the Duty and Discipline Movement"--a vain hope, it would seem, for I have not yet paid my subscription. What I Found Out, by an English Governess, shares a corner with The Recreations of a Country Parson; they are followed by Villette and Baedeker's Switzerland. Something will have to be done about it. But I am wondering what is to be done. If I gave you the impression that my books were precisely arranged in their old shelves, I misled you. They were arranged in the order known as "all anyhow." Possibly they were a little less "anyhow" than they are now, in that the volumes of any particular work were at least together, but that is all that can be claimed for them. For years I put off the business of tidying them up, just as I am putting it off now. It is not laziness; it is simply that I don't know how to begin.
Let us suppose that we decide to have all the poetry together. It sounds reasonable. But then Byron is eleven inches high (my tallest poet), and Beattie (my shortest) is just over four inches. How foolish they will look standing side by side. Perhaps you don't know Beattie, but I assure you that he was a poet. He wrote those majestic lines:--
"The shepherd-swain of whom I mention made On Scotia's mountains fed his little flock; The sickle, scythe or plough he never swayed-- An honest heart was almost all his stock."
Of course, one would hardly expect a shepherd to sway a plough in the ordinary way, but Beattie was quite right to remind us that Edwin didn't either. Edwin was the name of the shepherd- swain. "And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy," we are told a little further on in a line that should live. Well, having satisfied you that Beattie was really a poet, I can now return to my argument that an eleven-inch Byron cannot stand next to a four-inch Beattie, and be followed by an eight-inch Cowper, without making the shelf look silly. Yet how can I discard Beattie-- Beattie who wrote:--
"And now the downy cheek and deepened voice Gave dignity to Edwin's blooming prime."
You see the difficulty. If you arrange your books according to their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf. If you arrange your books according to their size and colour you get an effective wall, but the poetically inclined visitor may lose sight of Beattie altogether. Before, then, we decide what to do about it, we must ask ourselves that very awkward question, "Why do we have books on our shelves at all?" It is a most embarrassing question to answer.
Of course, you think that the proper answer (in your own case) is an indignant protest that you bought them in order to read them, and that yon put them on your shelves in order that you could refer to them when necessary. A little reflection will show you what a stupid answer that is. If you only want to read them, why are some of them bound in morocco and half-calf and other expensive coverings? Why did you buy a first edition when a hundredth edition was so much cheaper? Why have you got half a dozen copies of The Rubaiyat? What is the particular value of this other book that you treasure it so carefully? Why, the fact that its pages are uncut. If you cut the pages and read it, the value would go.
So, then, your library is not just for reference. You know as well as I do that it furnishes your room; that it furnishes it more effectively than does paint or mahogany or china. Of course, it is nice to have the books there, so that one can refer to them when one wishes. One may be writing an article on sea-bathing, for instance, and have come to the sentence which begins: "In the well-remembered words of Coleridge, perhaps almost too familiar to be quoted"--and then one may have to look them up. On these occasions a library is not only ornamental but useful. But do not let us be ashamed that we find it ornamental. Indeed, the more I survey it, the more I feel that my library is sufficiently ornamental as it stands. Any reassembling of the books might spoil the colour-scheme. Baedeker's Switzerland and Villette are both in red, a colour which is neatly caught up again, after an interlude in blue, by a volume of Browning and Jevons' Elementary Logic. We had a woman here only yesterday who said, "How pretty
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