12 Charleville Circus
8 Feb 1914
My dear Betty
Whilst most good people and some bad ones are in church, and while most bad people and a few good ones are taking their ease out of church – of course, I class myself in the second division of the second category – I will occupy the time which, authority tells me, should be spent in devotional duties and reception of sermonic wisdom, in devoting myself to the duty of answering your admirably prompt letter which fulfilled the promise of your previous postcard, equally admirable for its exact punctuality. I must excuse myself from reception of sermonic wisdom: I will do better; following the principle that it is better to give than to receive. I will transmit to you any wisdom (or wit either) sermonic or otherwise which comes to my mind while my pen is in my hand and my pad before me. What an advantage the armchair has over the pulpit! I wonder why wit and laughter have to be barred out, so rigidly, from consecrated buildings. Perhaps it is because they are chiefly intended for the practice of devotion which, in nature, admits and needs no wit or laughter: and that habit of solemn mind and face may have spread to the instructional and discursive part of the rites that take place within the same walls.
It seems such a pity. Everywhere else, where serious men discuss serious and difficult matters, there is no bar to the use of descriptive wit and the interplay and counter-position of congruous and incongruous ideas to illustrate the thinker’s thought. It helps him to express himself; it helps his hearers to understand him; it stimulates both to a more lively state of mind. Why should churches deny themselves this assistance? I am not sure whether the Oriental origins of all the great religions may not be the partial cause. But there again I am in the dark. I don’t think that any Oriental races have our Western habits of indirect thought or the power of being stirred to laughter by the exercise of it; yet I am not sure. I should like, if such a book exists, to read a history of wit and laughter, its origin and growth and its racial distribution. Perhaps Dr Frazer treats of it in the Golden Bough. It would be an absorbing subject for a world historian: what an amount of personal observation it would require, though! For all we know, some races may express states of mind, exactly similar to mine when I stretch my face muscles, by wriggling their toes or twitching their pectoral muscles. This is, I think, enough speculative philosophy for one morning: I will turn to subjects of which I know something; which allow me to say “I know” instead of “I wonder”.
First then of my young and growing comedy. Yes, growing. Though you may be rather disappointed to hear that the second Act is not yet finished. For a fortnight after Christmas I could do nothing; partly because I was greatly harried by work; partly because I was unsettled in mind, for some reason, and seemed quite unable to assure myself that I was satisfied with what was done and that it was worth continuing. Since then I have done more, though at a slow rate. This was due to inherent difficulties of the subject. I have only been able to average about half a page a day, but with what I have done I am well pleased; I ought to finish the Act before the end of this week for I am moving faster now. I did a fine long stretch last night and, what is more, I carried away in my head the material for another good long stretch. It is a delicious feeling to be roughing out dialogue and action about a page ahead all the while you are writing. I think that if anything, Act II is better than Act I as regards workmanship. This is a good thing, for it is a quieter Act and requires to grip attention more closely on the strength of its dialogue than does Act I, in which there is more movement and diverse action. I have polished and added a good deal since you saw it. When you come for this term’s weekend you must see it again, unless you prefer to wait until it is finished. There are distinct disadvantages and annoyances abut reading an unfinished article. I have quite made up my mind that it is not a play that will appeal to producers when it is finished; nevertheless I am truly pleased with it. I think it is every bit as good as I could have hoped to make it, within the limits of my inexperience. So I shall be ready to send it on its journeys with the quiet expectation that it will always return unwanted, and continual rejections will not disturb me. If anybody is prepared to consider it in an altered form, I shall be prepared to listen to suggestions; but my own knowledge of its real vitalities will not permit any considerable alterations. It is a great boon to have a professional independence that leaves one an amateur of the pen. It leaves me the liberty to be a vain being, proud of work as one has conceived and done it; and to be more content with lack of recognition than with recognition that is dependent on revision that is at variance with one’s own judgment.
Much to my annoyance I did not go to the first of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I told myself that I was too broke (which was true), and sternly put myself off till March. So, well and good! But I should not have allowed my resolution to break down and my weakness to take me to Anna Karenina next day. That proved that I could have at least equally well gone to the Dream; to which I wanted to go much more! I have only read a few notices of the production at present; all of them are conspicuous for the things they don’t say. Daily paper dramatic criticism is a negligible thing; I don’t blame them considering how quickly it has to be done. No man should be kept at the work for more than a few months; so soon as the quick decisions, high pressure thought and rapid writing that are necessary begin to atrophy the critic’s work, as they are bound to do after the first fervour of the new occupation has disappeared, he should be relieved of the duty.
Anna Karenina is a long, fervent, depressing work which I had almost entirely forgotten. As a play, naturally much less frolic, it is still inclined to be tedious, yet contains much that is interesting and some things that are brilliant. Anna herself is a wonderfully human piece of whim and contradiction and Madame Yavorsha is a very brilliant actress who shows to the very life the bewildering moods and lighting changes of an unreasonable woman. There is a long cast to the play and it is unfortunate that their abilities are in inverse ratio to their numbers. I can well imagine that a foreign actress who comes to London to stage plays in English finds difficulty in collecting a company. Many of the members were obviously drawn from the misfits of the profession or from the ranks of young and untrained or half-trained actors who are unwise enough to put an ambition to appear in London in first class company in front of the ambition to learn their business. Apart from that, however, I enjoyed the play. It gave the impression of having in it a very true picture of a section of Russian life; and Russia is such a great den of mystery that ti is good to meet anything that gives a graphic idea of things as they are.
I am glad you had the strength of mind to apply for a reduction of work. Eight hours a day is too much for a young thing like you. You didn’t tell me what new music you are learning or thinking to learn this term. There was an excellent quartette at the theatre yesterday that played Russian music between the acts – Tchaikowski, Glinka etc – much of it I had heard before but some was new; the unbroken succession of Russian melodies brought home to me, however, the intensely poetic quality of their music in a way I had never fully felt before. It is the same with all their artistic work with which I am acquainted; it is full of grace and fervour. I think that very big works will come out of Russia.
We must have our usual mid-term madness – a Midsummer madness, maybe, this time; but I think it will not be until March. I am arranging to go home for Easter and stay the week afterwards, so I shall see Hester Grierson, who is not a flapper, or a door-knocker, but a Viginti and an OG and all sorts of other horrible things.
Much love from
Your affectionate brother