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Eeldrop and Appleplex

First published in Little Review, Chicago, IL, May, 1917

I

 


Eeldrop and Appleplex rented two small rooms in a disreputable part of
town. Here they sometimes came at nightfall, here they sometimes
slept, and after they had slept, they cooked oatmeal and departed in
the morning for destinations unknown to each other. They sometimes
slept, more often they talked, or looked out of the window.

They had chosen the rooms and the neighborhood with great care. There
are evil neighborhoods of noise and evil neighborhoods of silence, and
Eeldrop and Appleplex preferred the latter, as being the more evil. It
was a shady street, its windows were heavily curtained; and over it
hung the cloud of a respectability which has something to conceal. Yet
it had the advantage of more riotous neighborhoods near by, and Eeldrop
and Appleplex commanded from their windows the entrance of a police
station across the way. This alone possessed an irresistible appeal in
their eyes. From time to time the silence of the street was broken;
whenever a malefactor was apprehended, a wave of excitement curled into
the street and broke upon the doors of the police station. Then the
inhabitants of the street would linger in dressing-gowns, upon their
doorsteps: then alien visitors would linger in the street, in caps;
long after the centre of misery had been engulphed in his cell. Then
Eeldrop and Appleplex would break off their discourse, and rush out to
mingle with the mob. Each pursued his own line of enquiry. Appleplex,
who had the gift of an extraordinary address with the lower classes of
both sexes, questioned the onlookers, and usually extracted full and
inconsistent histories: Eeldrop preserved a more passive demeanor,
listened to the conversation of the people among themselves, registered
in his mind their oaths, their redundance of phrase, their various
manners of spitting, and the cries of the victim from the hall of
justice within. When the crowd dispersed, Eeldrop and Appleplex
returned to their rooms: Appleplex entered the results of his
inquiries into large notebooks, filed according to the nature of the
case, from A (adultery) to Y (yeggmen). Eeldrop smoked reflectively.
It may be added that Eeldrop was a sceptic, with a taste for mysticism,
and Appleplex a materialist with a leaning toward scepticism; that
Eeldrop was learned in theology, and that Appleplex studied the
physical and biological sciences.

There was a common motive which led Eeldrop and Appleplex thus to
separate themselves from time to time, from the fields of their daily
employments and their ordinarily social activities. Both were
endeavoring to escape not the commonplace, respectable or even the
domestic, but the too well pigeonholed, too taken-for-granted, too
highly systematized areas, and,--in the language of those whom they
sought to avoid--they wished "to apprehend the human soul in its
concrete individuality."

"Why," said Eeldrop, "was that fat Spaniard, who sat at the table with
us this evening, and listened to our conversation with occasional
curiosity, why was he himself for a moment an object of interest to
us? He wore his napkin tucked into his chin, he made unpleasant noises
while eating, and while not eating, his way of crumbling bread between
fat fingers made me extremely nervous: he wore a waistcoat cafe au
lait, and black boots with brown tops. He was oppressively gross and
vulgar; he belonged to a type, he could easily be classified in any
town of provincial Spain. Yet under the circumstances--when we had
been discussing marriage, and he suddenly leaned forward and exclaimed:
'I was married once myself'--we were able to detach him from his
classification and regard him for a moment as an unique being, a soul,
however insignificant, with a history of its own, once for all. It is
these moments which we prize, and which alone are revealing. For any
vital truth is incapable of being applied to another case: the
essential is unique. Perhaps that is why it is so neglected: because
it is useless. What we learned about that Spaniard is incapable of
being applied to any other Spaniard, or even recalled in words. With
the decline of orthodox theology and its admirable theory of the soul,
the unique importance of events has vanished. A man is only important
as he is classed. Hence there is no tragedy, or no appreciation of
tragedy, which is the same thing. We had been talking of young
Bistwick, who three months ago married his mother's housemaid and now
is aware of the fact. Who appreciates the truth of the matter? Not
the relatives, for they are only moved by affection, by regard for
Bistwick's interests, and chiefly by their collective feeling of family
disgrace. Not the generous minded and thoughtful outsider, who regards
it merely as evidence for the necessity of divorce law reform.
Bistwick is classed among the unhappily married. But what Bistwick
feels when he wakes up in the morning, which is the great important
fact, no detached outsider conceives. The awful importance of the ruin
of a life is overlooked. Men are only allowed to be happy or miserable
in classes. In Gopsum Street a man murders his mistress. The
important fact is that for the man the act is eternal, and that for the
brief space he has to live, he is already dead. He is already in a
different world from ours. He has crossed the frontier. The important
fact is that something is done which can not be undone--a possibility
which none of us realize until we face it ourselves. For the man's
neighbors the important fact is what the man killed her with? And at
precisely what time? And who found the body? For the 'enlightened
public' the case is merely evidence for the Drink question, or
Unemployment, or some other category of things to be reformed. But the
mediaeval world, insisting on the eternity of punishment, expressed
something nearer the truth."

"What you say," replied Appleplex, "commands my measured adherence. I
should think, in the case of the Spaniard, and in the many other
interesting cases which have come under our attention at the door of
the police station, what we grasp in that moment of pure observation on
which we pride ourselves, is not alien to the principle of
classification, but deeper. We could, if we liked, make excellent
comment upon the nature of provincial Spaniards, or of destitution (as
misery is called by the philanthropists), or on homes for working
girls. But such is not our intention. We aim at experience in the
particular centres in which alone it is evil. We avoid
classification. We do not deny it. But when a man is classified
something is lost. The majority of mankind live on paper currency:
they use terms which are merely good for so much reality, they never
see actual coinage."

"I should go even further than that," said Eeldrop. "The majority not
only have no language to express anything save generalized man; they
are for the most part unaware of themselves as anything but generalized
men. They are first of all government officials, or pillars of the
church, or trade unionists, or poets, or unemployed; this cataloguing
is not only satisfactory to other people for practical purposes, it is
sufficient to themselves for their 'life of the spirit.' Many are not
quite real at any moment. When Wolstrip married, I am sure he said to
himself: 'Now I am consummating the union of two of the best families
in Philadelphia.'"

"The question is," said Appleplex, "what is to be our philosophy. This
must be settled at once. Mrs. Howexden recommends me to read Bergson.
He writes very entertainingly on the structure of the eye of the frog."

"Not at all," interrupted his friend. "Our philosophy is quite
irrelevant. The essential is, that our philosophy should spring from
our point of view and not return upon itself to explain our point of
view. A philosophy about intuition is somewhat less likely to be
intuitive than any other. We must avoid having a platform."

"But at least," said Appleplex, "we are. . ."

"Individualists. No!! nor anti-intellectualists. These also are
labels. The 'individualist' is a member of a mob as fully as any other
man: and the mob of individualists is the most unpleasing, because it
has the least character. Nietzsche was a mob-man, just as Bergson is
an intellectualist. We cannot escape the label, but let it be one
which carries no distinction, and arouses no self-consciousness.
Sufficient that we should find simple labels, and not further exploit
them. I am, I confess to you, in private life, a bank-clerk. . . ."

"And should, according to your own view, have a wife, three children,
and a vegetable garden in a suburb," said Appleplex.

"Such is precisely the case," returned Eeldrop, "but I had not thought
it necessary to mention this biographical detail. As it is Saturday
night, I shall return to my suburb. Tomorrow will be spent in that
garden. . . ."

"I shall pay my call on Mrs. Howexden," murmured Appleplex.

 


II

 


The suburban evening was grey and yellow on Sunday; the gardens of the
small houses to left and right were rank with ivy and tall grass and
lilac bushes; the tropical South London verdure was dusty above and
mouldy below; the tepid air swarmed with flies. Eeldrop, at the
window, welcomed the smoky smell of lilac, the gramaphones, the choir
of the Baptist chapel, and the sight of three small girls playing cards
on the steps of the police station.

"On such a night as this," said Eeldrop, "I often think of
Scheherazade, and wonder what has become of her."

Appleplex rose without speaking and turned to the files which contained
the documents for his "Survey of Contemporary Society." He removed the
file marked London from between the files Barcelona and Boston where it
had been misplaced, and turned over the papers rapidly. "The lady you
mention," he rejoined at last, "whom I have listed not under S. but as
Edith, alias Scheherazade, has left but few evidences in my
possession. Here is an old laundry account which she left for you to
pay, a cheque drawn by her and marked 'R/D,' a letter from her mother
in Honolulu (on ruled paper), a poem written on a restaurant bill--'To
Atthis'--and a letter by herself, on Lady Equistep's best notepaper,
containing some damaging but entertaining information about Lady
Equistep. Then there are my own few observations on two sheets of
foolscap."

"Edith," murmured Eeldrop, who had not been attending to this
catalogue, "I wonder what has become of her. 'Not pleasure, but
fulness of life. . . to burn ever with a hard gem-like flame,' those
were her words. What curiosity and passion for experience! Perhaps
that flame has burnt itself out by now."

"You ought to inform yourself better," said Appleplex severely, "Edith
dines sometimes with Mrs. Howexden, who tells me that her passion for
experience has taken her to a Russian pianist in Bayswater. She is
also said to be present often at the Anarchist Tea Rooms, and can
usually be found in the evening at the Cafe de l'Orangerie."

"Well," replied Eeldrop, "I confess that I prefer to wonder what has
become of her. I do not like to think of her future. Scheherazade
grown old! I see her grown very plump, full-bosomed, with blond hair,
living in a small flat with a maid, walking in the Park with a
Pekinese, motoring with a Jewish stock-broker. With a fierce appetite
for food and drink, when all other appetite is gone, all other appetite
gone except the insatiable increasing appetite of vanity; rolling on
two wide legs, rolling in motorcars, rolling toward a diabetic end in a
seaside watering place."

"Just now you saw that bright flame burning itself out," said
Appleplex, "now you see it guttering thickly, which proves that your
vision was founded on imagination, not on feeling. And the passion for
experience--have you remained so impregnably Pre-Raphaelite as to
believe in that? What real person, with the genuine resources of
instinct, has ever believed in the passion for experience? The passion
for experience is a criticism of the sincere, a creed only of the
histrionic. The passionate person is passionate about this or that,
perhaps about the least significant things, but not about experience.
But Marius, des Esseintes, Edith. . ."

"But consider," said Eeldrop, attentive only to the facts of Edith's
history, and perhaps missing the point of Appleplex's remarks, "her
unusual career. The daughter of a piano tuner in Honolulu, she secured
a scholarship at the University of California, where she graduated with
Honors in Social Ethics. She then married a celebrated billiard
professional in San Francisco, after an acquaintance of twelve hours,
lived with him for two days, joined a musical comedy chorus, and was
divorced in Nevada. She turned up several years later in Paris and was
known to all the Americans and English at the Cafe du Dome as Mrs.
Short. She reappeared in London as Mrs. Griffiths, published a small
volume of verse, and was accepted in several circles known to us. And
now, as I still insist, she has disappeared from society altogether."

"The memory of Scheherazade," said Appleplex, "is to me that of Bird's
custard and prunes in a Bloomsbury boarding house. It is not my
intention to represent Edith as merely disreputable. Neither is she a
tragic figure. I want to know why she misses. I cannot altogether
analyse her 'into a combination of known elements' but I fail to touch
anything definitely unanalysable.

"Is Edith, in spite of her romantic past, pursuing steadily some hidden
purpose of her own? Are her migrations and eccentricities the sign of
some unguessed consistency? I find in her a quantity of shrewd
observation, an excellent fund of criticism, but I cannot connect them
into any peculiar vision. Her sarcasm at the expense of her friends is
delightful, but I doubt whether it is more than an attempt to mould
herself from outside, by the impact of hostilities, to emphasise her
isolation. Everyone says of her, 'How perfectly impenetrable!' I
suspect that within there is only the confusion of a dusty garret."

"I test people," said Eeldrop, "by the way in which I imagine them as
waking up in the morning. I am not drawing upon memory when I imagine
Edith waking to a room strewn with clothes, papers, cosmetics, letters
and a few books, the smell of Violettes de Parme and stale tobacco.
The sunlight beating in through broken blinds, and broken blinds
keeping out the sun until Edith can compel herself to attend to another
day. Yet the vision does not give me much pain. I think of her as an
artist without the slightest artistic power."

"The artistic temperament--" began Appleplex.

"No, not that." Eeldrop snatched away the opportunity. "I mean that
what holds the artist together is the work which he does; separate him
from his work and he either disintegrates or solidifies. There is no
interest in the artist apart from his work. And there are, as you
said, those people who provide material for the artist. Now Edith's
poem 'To Atthis' proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that she is not an
artist. On the other hand I have often thought of her, as I thought
this evening, as presenting possibilities for poetic purposes. But the
people who can be material for art must have in them something
unconscious, something which they do not fully realise or understand.
Edith, in spite of what is called her impenetrable mask, presents
herself too well. I cannot use her; she uses herself too fully.
Partly for the same reason I think, she fails to be an artist: she does
not live at all upon instinct. The artist is part of him a drifter, at
the mercy of impressions, and another part of him allows this to happen
for the sake of making use of the unhappy creature. But in Edith the
division is merely the rational, the cold and detached part of the
artist, itself divided. Her material, her experience that is, is
already a mental product, already digested by reason. Hence Edith (I
only at this moment arrive at understanding) is really the most orderly
person in existence, and the most rational. Nothing ever happens to
her; everything that happens is her own doing."

"And hence also," continued Appleplex, catching up the thread, "Edith
is the least detached of all persons, since to be detached is to be
detached from one's self, to stand by and criticise coldly one's own
passions and vicissitudes. But in Edith the critic is coaching the
combatant."

"Edith is not unhappy."

"She is dissatisfied, perhaps."

"But again I say, she is not tragic: she is too rational. And in her
career there is no progression, no decline or degeneration. Her
condition is once and for always. There is and will be no
catastrophe.

"But I am tired. I still wonder what Edith and Mrs. Howexden have in
common. This invites the consideration (you may not perceive the
connection) of Sets and Society, a subject which we can pursue tomorrow
night."

Appleplex looked a little embarrassed. "I am dining with Mrs.
Howexden," he said. "But I will reflect upon the topic before I see
you again."

 

T. S. Eliot


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