CONCERNING LETTERS - BY JOHN GALSWORTHY
CONCERNING LETTERS - BY JOHN GALSWORTHY
"Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
TABLE OF CONTENTS: A NOVELIST'S ALLEGORY
SOME PLATITUDES CONCERNING DRAMA
MEDITATION ON FINALITY
ON OUR DISLIKE OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
A NOVELIST'S ALLEGORY
Once upon a time the Prince of Felicitas had occasion to set forth on
a journey. It was a late autumn evening with few pale stars and a
moon no larger than the paring of a finger-nail. And as he rode
through the purlieus of his city the white mane of his amber-
coloured steed was all that he could clearly see in the dusk of the
high streets. His way led through a quarter but little known to him
and he was surprised to find that his horse instead of ambling
forward with his customary gentle vigour stepped carefully from side
to side stopping now and then to curve his neck and prick his ears-
as though at some thing of fear unseen in the darkness; while on
either hand creatures could be heard rustling and scuttling and
little cold draughts as of wings fanned the rider's cheeks.
The Prince at last turned in his saddle but so great was the
darkness that he could not even see his escort.
"What is the name of this street?" he said.
"Sire it is called the Vita Publica."
"It is very dark." Even as he spoke his horse staggered but
recovering its foothold with an effort stood trembling violently.
Nor could all the incitements of its master induce the beast again to
"Is there no one with a lanthorn in this street?" asked the Prince.
His attendants began forthwith to call out loudly for any one who had
a lanthorn. Now it chanced that an old man sleeping in a hovel on a
pallet of straw was awakened by these cries. When he heard that it
was the Prince of Felicitas himself he came hastily carrying his
lanthorn and stood trembling beside the Prince's horse. It was so
dark that the Prince could not see him.
"Light your lanthorn old man" he said.
The old man laboriously lit his lanthorn. Its pale rays fled out on
either hand; beautiful but grim was the vision they disclosed. Tall
houses fair court-yards and a palm grown garden; in front of the
Prince's horse a deep cesspool on whose jagged edges the good
beast's hoofs were planted; and as far as the glimmer of the
lanthorn stretched both ways down the rutted street paving stones
displaced and smooth tesselated marble; pools of mud the hanging
fruit of an orange tree and dark scurrying shapes of monstrous rats
bolting across from house to house. The old man held the lanthorn
higher; and instantly bats flying against it would have beaten out
the light but for the thin protection of its horn sides.
The Prince sat still upon his horse looking first at the rutted
space that he had traversed and then at the rutted space before him.
"Without a light" he said "this thoroughfare is dangerous. What is
your name old man?"
"My name is Cethru" replied the aged churl.
"Cethru!" said the Prince. "Let it be your duty henceforth to walk
with your lanthorn up and down this street all night and every
night"--and he looked at Cethru: "Do you understand old man what
it is you have to do?"
The old man answered in a voice that trembled like a rusty flute:
"Aye aye!--to walk up and down and hold my lanthorn so that folk can
see where they be going."
The Prince gathered up his reins; but the old man lurching forward
touched his stirrup.
"How long be I to go on wi' thiccy job?"
"Until you die!"
Cethru held up his lanthorn and they could see his long thin face
like a sandwich of dried leather jerk and quiver and his thin grey
hairs flutter in the draught of the bats' wings circling round the
"'Twill be main hard!" he groaned; "an' my lanthorn's nowt but a poor
With a high look the Prince of Felicitas bent and touched the old
"Until you die old man" he repeated; and bidding his followers to
light torches from Cethru's lanthorn he rode on down the twisting
street. The clatter of the horses' hoofs died out in the night and
the scuttling and the rustling of the rats and the whispers of the
bats' wings were heard again.
Cethru left alone in the dark thoroughfare sighed heavily; then
spitting on his hands he tightened the old girdle round his loins
and slinging the lanthorn on his staff held it up to the level of
his waist and began to make his way along the street. His progress
was but slow for he had many times to stop and rekindle the flame
within his lanthorn which the bats' wings his own stumbles and the
jostlings of footpads or of revellers returning home were for ever
extinguishing. In traversing that long street he spent half the
night and half the night in traversing it back again. The saffron
swan of dawn slow swimming up the sky-river between the high roof-
banks bent her neck down through the dark air-water to look at him
staggering below her with his still smoking wick. No sooner did
Cethru see that sunlit bird than with a great sigh of joy he sat him
down and at once fell asleep.
Now when the dwellers in the houses of the Vita Publica first gained
knowledge that this old man passed every night with his lanthorn up
and down their street and when they marked those pallid gleams
gliding over the motley prospect of cesspools and garden gates over