W. N. P. Barbellion

An average day

January 19, 1915

After a morning of very mixed emotions and more than one annoyance … at last sat down to lunch and a little peace and quiet with R——-. We began by quoting verse at one another in open competition. Of course neither of us listened to the other’s verses. We merely enjoyed the pleasure of recollecting and repeating our own. I began with Tom Moore’s “Row gently here, my Gondolier.” R——- guessed the author rightly at once and fidgeted until he burst out with, “The Breaths of kissing night and day”—to me an easy one. I gave, “The Moon more indolently sleeps tonight” (Baudelaire), and in reply he did a great stroke by reciting some of the old French of François Villon which entirely flummuxed me.

I don’t believe we really love each other, but we cling to each other out of ennui and discover in each other a certain cold intellectual sympathy.

At the pay desk (Lyons’ is our rendezvous) we joked with the cashier—a cheerful, fat little girl, who said to R——- (indicating me),—

“He’s a funny boy, isn’t he?”

“Dangerous,” chirped R——-, and we laughed. In the street we met an aged, decrepit newsvendor—very dirty and ragged—but his voice was unexpectedly fruity.

“British Success,” he called, and we stopped for the sake of the voice.

“I’m not interested,” I said—as an appetizer.

“What! Not … Just one, sir: I haven’t sold a single copy yet and I’ve a wife and four children.”

“That’s nothing to me—I’ve three wives and forty children,” I remarked.

“What!” in affected surprise, turning to R——-, “he’s Brigham Young from Salt Lake City. Yes I know it—I’ve been there myself and been dry ever since. Give us a drink, sir — just one.”

In consideration of his voice we gave him 2d. and passed on… .

After giving a light to a Belgian soldier whose cigarette had gone out, farther along we entered a queer old music shop where they sell flageolets, serpents, clavichords, and harps. We had previously made an appointment with the man to have Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony played to us, so as to recall one or two of the melodies which we can’t recall and it drives us crazy. “What is that one in the second movement which goes like this?” and R——- whistled a fragment. “I don’t know,” I said, “but let’s go in here and ask.” In the shop, a youth was kind enough to say that if we cared to call next day, Madame A——-, the harp player would be home and would be ready to play us the symphony.

So this morning, before Madame’s appearance, this kind and obliging youth put a gramophone record of it on, to which we listened like two intelligent parrots with heads sideways. Presently, the fat lady harpist appeared and asked us just what we wanted to find out—a rather awkward question for us, as we did not want to “find out” anything excepting how the tunes went.

I therefore explained that as neither of us had sisters or wives, and we both wanted, etc… . so would she …? In response, she smiled pleasantly and played us the second movement on a shop piano. Meanwhile, Henry the boy, hid himself behind the instruments at the rear of the shop and as we signed to her she would say,—

“What’s that, Henry?”

And Henry would duly answer from his obscurity, “Wood wind,” or “Solo oboe,” or whatever it was, and the lad really spoke with authority. In this way, I began to find out something about the work. Before I left, I presented her with a copy of the score, which she did not possess and because she would not accept any sort of remuneration.

“Won’t you put your name on it?” she inquired.

I pointed gaily to the words “Ecce homo,” which I had scribbled across Schubert’s name and said, “There you are.” Madame smiled incredulously and we said, “Good-bye.”

It was a beautifully clement almost springlike day, and at the street corner, in a burst of joyousness, we each bought a bunch of violets off an old woman, stuck them on the ends of our walking-sticks, and marched off with them in triumphant protest to the B. M. Carried over our shoulders, our flowers amused the police and ——-, who scarcely realised the significance of the ritual. “This is my protest,” said R——-, “against the war. It’s like Oscar Wilde’s Sunflower.”

On the way, we were both bitterly disappointed at a dramatic meeting between a man and woman of the artizan class which instead of beginning with a stormy, “Robert, where’s the rent, may I ask?” fizzled out into, “Hullo, Charlie, why you are a stranger.”

At tea in the A.B.C. shop, we had a violent discussion on Socialism, and on the station platform, going home, I said that before marriage I intended saving up against the possibility of divorce—a domestic divorce fund.

“Very dreadful,” said R——- with mock gravity, “to hear a recently affianced young man talk like that.”

… What should I do then? Marry? I suppose so. Shadows of the prison-house. At first I said I ought not to marry for two years. Then when I am wildly excited with her I say “next week.” We could. There are no arrangements to be made. All her furniture—flat, etc. But I feel we ought to wait until the War is over.

At dinner-time tonight I was feverish to do three things at once: write out my day’s Journal, eat my food, and read the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff. Did all three—but unfortunately not at once, so that when I was occupied with one I would surreptitiously cast a glance sideways at the other—and repined.

After dinner, paid a visit to the ——- and found Mrs——- playing Patience. I told her that 12,000 lives had been lost in the great Italian earthquake. Still going on dealing out the cards, she said in her gentle voice that that was dreadful and still absorbed in her cards inquired if earthquakes had aught to do with the weather.

“An earthquake must be a dreadful thing,” she gently piped, as she abstractedly dealt out the cards for a new game in a pretty Morris-papered room in Kensington.


MLA Citation

Barbellion, W. N. P.. “An average day.” . Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 27 Nov 2006. 01 Oct 2023 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/barbellion/an_average_day/>.

Patrick Madden's New Book
Quotidiana by Patrick Madden

Join Us on Facebook
facebook logo

Generate PDF

Related Essays

“On the realities of imagination”

Leigh Hunt

the advantage, nay even the test, of seeing and hearing, at any time, is not in the seeing and hearing, but in the ideas we realise, and the pleasure we derive.

“On marriage”

Harriet Martineau

The degree of the degradation of woman is as good a test as the moralist can adopt for ascertaining the state of domestic morals in any country.

“Old Italian gardens”

Vernon Lee

Flowers in Italy are a crop like corn, hemp, or beans; you must be satisfied with fallow soil when they are over.

“On advertising for marriage”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It would if it became a general custom, teach both sexes to cultivate the mind and the power of expression in writing more than the beauty of the body and its sexual attraction.

“A bitter complaint of the ungentle reader”

Louise Imogen Guiney

The man's attitude towards a book of poetry which is tough to him, is to drop it, even as the gods would have him do; the woman's is to smother it in a sauce of spurious explanation, and gulp it down.