The “casual” word—The mighty hunter—The retort discourteous—How the editor’s chair was broken—An explanation on a clove—The master of a system—A hitch in the system—The two Alhambras—A parallel—The unattached parson—Another system—A father’s legacy—The sermon—The imagination and its claims—The evening service—Saying a few words—Antique carved oak—How the chaplain’s doubts were dispersed—A literary tinker—A tinker’s triumph—The two Joneses.

THE “scratch” editor also may now and again be found to possess some eccentricities. He is the man who is taken on a newspaper in an emergency to fill the place of an editor who may perhaps be suffering from a serious illness, or who may, in an unguarded moment, have died. There is a class of journalists with whom being out of employment amounts almost to a profession in itself. But the “unattached” editor is usually no more brilliant a man than the unattached gentleman “in holy orders”—the clergyman who appears suddenly at the vestry door carrying a black bag, and probably with his nose a little red (the result of a cold railway journey), and who introduces himself to the sexton as ready to do duty for the legitimate, but temporarily incapacitated, incumbent, whose telegram he had received only the previous day.

As the congregation are glad to get any one who can read the prayers with an air of authority in the absence of their pastor, so the proprietors of a newspaper are sometimes pleased to welcome the “scratch,” or casual, editor.

I have met with a few of the class, but never with one whose chronic unattached condition I could not easily account for, before we had been together long. Most of them hated journalism—-and everything else (with one important exception). All of them boasted of their feats as journalists. A fine crusted specimen was accustomed to declare nightly that he had once kept hunters; another that he had not always been connected with such a miserable rag as the journal on which he was temporarily employed.

“I’ve been on the best papers in the three kingdoms,” he shouted one night.

“That’s only another way of saying that you’ve been kicked off the most influential organs in the country,” remarked a bystander.

“If you don’t look out you’ll soon be kicked off another.”

No verbal retort is possible to such brutality of language. None was attempted.

When I was explaining, the next day, to the proprietor how the chair in the editor’s room came to be broken, and also how the silhouette of an octopus came to be executed so boldly in ink upon the wall of the same apartment, the “scratch” editor (his appellation had a double significance this day) entered suddenly. He said he had come to explain something.

Now when a literary gentleman appears with long strips of sticking plaster loosely adhering to one side of his face, as white caterpillars adhere to a garden wall, and when, moreover, the perfume that floats on the air at his approach is that of a peppermint lozenge that has been preserved from decay in alcohol, any explanation that he may offer in regard to a preceding occurrence is likely to be received with suspicion, if not with absolute distrust. In this case, however, no opportunity was given the man for justifying any claim that he might advance to be credited.

The proprietor assured him that he had already received an account of the deplorable occurrence of the night before, and that he hoped mutual apologies would be made in the course of the day, so that, in diplomatic language, the incident might be considered closed before night.

The “scratch” man breathed again—heavily, alcoholically, peppermintally. And before night I managed to sticking-plaster up a peace between the belligerents.

At the end of a month some busybody outside the paper had the bad taste to point out to the proprietor that one of the leading articles—the one contributed by the “scratch” man—in a recent issue of the paper, was to a word identical with one which had appeared a fortnight before in a Scotch paper of some importance. The “scratch” man explained—on alcohol and a clove—that the Scotch paper had copied his article. But the proprietor expressed his grave doubts on this point, his chief reason for adopting this course being that the Scotch paper with the article had appeared ten days previously. Then the “scratch” man said the matter was a singular, but by no means unprecedented, coincidence.

The proprietor opened the office door.

One of the most interesting of these “casuals” had been a clergyman (he said). I never was quite successful in finding out with what Church he had been connected, nor, although pressed for a reply, would he ever reveal to me how he came to find himself outside the pale of his Church—whatever it was. He had undoubtedly some of the mannerisms of a clergyman who is anxious that every one should know his profession, and he could certainly look out of the corners of his eyes with the best of them. Like the parson who is so very “low” that he steadily refuses to cross his t’s lest he should be accused of adopting Romish emblems, he declined to turn his head without moving his whole body.

He wore rusty cloth gloves.

He was also the most adroit thief whom I ever met; and I have lived among some adroit ones in my time.

I never read such brilliant articles as he wrote nightly—never, until I came upon the same articles in old files of the London newspapers, where they had originally appeared. The original articles from which his were copied verbatim were, I admit, quite as brilliant as his.

His modus operandi was simplicity itself. He kept in his desk a series of large books for newspaper cuttings, and these were packed with articles on all manner of subjects, clipped from the best newspapers. Every day he spent an hour making these extracts, by the aid of a pot of paste, and indexing them on the most perfect system of double entry that could be conceived.

At night I frequently came down to my office and found that he had written two columns of the most delightful essays. One might, perhaps, be on the subject of Moresco-Gothic Architecture and its influence on the genius of Velasquez, another on Battueshooting and the Acclimatisation of the Bird of Paradise in English coverts; but both were treated with equal grace. That such erudition and originality should be associated with cloth gloves astonished me. One day, however, the man wrote a column upon the decoration of one of the courts of the Alhambra, and a more picturesque article I never read—up to a certain point; and this point was reached when he commenced a new paragraph as follows:—

“Alas! that so lovely a piece of work should have fallen a prey to the devastating element that laid the whole structure in ruins, and eclipsed the gaiety, if not of nations, at any rate of the people of London, who were wont to resort nightly to this Thespian temple of Leicester Square, feeling certain that under the liberal management of its enterprising entrepreneur some brilliant stage spectacle would be brought before their eyes. Now, however, that the company for the restoration of the building has been successfully floated, we may hope for a revival of the ancient glories of the Alhambra.”

I inquired casually of the perpetrator of the article if he had ever heard of the Alhambra?

“Why, I wrote of it yesterday,” he said.

“I’ve been in it; it’s in Leicester Square.”

“Did you ever hear of another Alhambra?”

I asked blandly.

“Yes; there’s one in Glasgow.”

“Did you ever hear of one that wasn’t a music-hall?”

“Never. Maybe the temperance people give one of their new-fashioned coffee places the name to attract sinners on false pretences.”

“Did you ever hear of an Alhambra in Spain?”

“You don’t mean to say that they have music-halls in Spain? But why shouldn’t they? Spaniards are fond of dancing, I believe.”

“Why not indeed?” said I.

The next day he had an explanation to offer to the chief of the staff. In the evening he told me that he was going to leave the paper.

“How is that?” I inquired.

“I don’t like it,” he replied. “My ideas are cribbed, cabined, and confined here.”

“They are certainly cribbed,” said I. “Did you never hear of the Alhambra at Grenada?”

“Never; that’s what played the mischief with the article. You’ll see how the mistake arose. There was a capital article in the Telegraph about the Alhambra—I see now that it must have referred to the one in Spain—about four years ago; well, I cut it out and indexed it. A year ago, when the Alhambra in Leicester Square was about to re-open, there was an article in the Daily News. I found it in my index also, and incorporated the two articles in mine. How the mischief was I to know that one referred to Grenada and the other to London? These writer chaps should be more explicit. What do they get their salaries for, anyway?”

I have referred to a certain resemblance existing between the unattached parson and the unattached editor. This resemblance is the more impressed on me now that, after recalling a memory of an appropriator of another man’s literary work by the “casual” editor, I can recollect how I lived for some years next door to a “casual” parson, who had annexed a bagful of sermons left by his father, one of which he preached whenever he obtained an engagement. It was said that on receiving the usual telegram from a disabled rector on Saturday evening, he was accustomed to go to the sermon-sack, and, putting his hand down the mouth, take out a sermon with the same ease and confidence as are displayed by the professional rat-catcher in extracting from his bag one of its lively contents for the gratification of a terrier. It so happened, however, that upon a fine Sunday morning, he set out to do duty for a clergyman at a distance, having previously felt about the sermon-sack until he found a good fat roll of manuscript, which he stuffed into his pocket. He reached the church—in which, it should be mentioned, he had never before preached—and, bustling through the service with his accustomed celerity, ascended the pulpit and flattened out with a slap or two the sermon on the cushion in front of him. The sermon proved to be the valedictory one preached by his father in the church of which he had been rector for half a century. It was unquestionably a very fine effort, but it might seem to some people to lack local colour. Delivered in a church to which the preacher was a complete stranger, it had a certain amount of inappropriateness about it which might reasonably be expected to diminish from its effect.

“It is a solemn moment for us all, my dear, dear friends. It is a solemn moment for you, but ah! how much more solemn for me! Sunday after Sunday for the past fifty years I have stood in the pulpit where I stand to-day to preach the Gospel of Truth. I see before me now the well-known faces of my flock. Those who were young when I first came among you are now well stricken in years. Some whom I baptised as infants, have brought their infants to me to be baptised; these in turn have been spared to bring their infants to be admitted into the membership of the Church Militant. For fifty years have I not taken part in your joys and your sorrows, and now who shall say that the hour of parting should not be bitter? I see tears on the faces before me——”

And the funny part of the matter was that he did. No one present seemed to see anything inappropriate in the sermon; and at the pathetic references to the hour of parting, there was not a dry eye in the church—except the remarkably bright pair possessed by a female scoffer, who told the story to me. It was not to be expected that the clergyman would become aware of the mistake—if it was a mistake—that he had made: he had for years been a preaching machine, and had become as devoid of feeling as a barrel organ; but it seemed to me incredible that only one person in the church should discover the ludicrous aspect of the situation.

So I remarked to my informant, and she said that it was all the same a fact that the people were weeping copiously on all sides.

“I asked the doctor’s wife the next day what she thought of the sermon,” added my informant, “and she replied with a sigh that it was beautifully touching; and when I put it straight to her if she did not think it was queer for a clergyman who was a total stranger to us to say that he had occupied the pulpit for fifty years, she replied, ‘Ah, my dear, you’re too matter of fact: sermons should not be taken too literally. You should make allowance for the parsons imagination.’”

It is told of the same “casual” that an attempt was made to get the better of him by a parsimonious set of churchwardens upon the occasion of his being engaged to do duty for the regular parson of the parish. The contract made with the “casual” was to perform the service and preach the sermon in the morning for the sum of two guineas. He turned up in good time on the Sunday morning and performed his part of the contract in a business-like way. In the vestry, after he had preached the sermon, he was waited on by the senior churchwarden, who handed him his fee and expressed the great satisfaction felt by the churchwardens at the manner in which the work had been executed. He added that as the clergyman’s train would not leave the village until half-past eight at night, perhaps the reverend gentleman would not mind dining with him, the senior churchwarden, and performing a short evening service at six o’clock.

“That will suit me very well indeed,” said the reverend gentleman. “I thank you very much for your hospitable offer. I charge thirty shillings for an evening service with sermon.”

The hospitable churchwarden replied that he feared the resources of the church would not be equal to such a strain upon them. He thought that the clergyman might not object under the circumstances to give his services gratis.

“Do you dispose of your excellent cheeses gratis?” asked the clergyman courteously. The churchwarden was in the cheese business.

“Well, no, of course not,” laughed the churchwarden. “But still—well, suppose we say a guinea for the evening service?”

“That’s my charge for the service, leaving out the sermon,” said the clergyman.

He explained that it was the cheapest thing in the market at the time. It was done with only the smallest margin of profit. Allowing for the wear and tear, it left hardly anything for himself.

The churchwarden shook his head. He feared that they would not be able to trade on the terms, he said. Suddenly, however, he brightened up. Could the reverend gentleman not give them a good, sound, second quality sermon? he inquired. They did not expect an A-1, copper-fastened, platinum-tipped, bevelled-edged, full-calf sermon for the money; but hadn’t the reverend gentleman a sound, clump-soled, celluloid-faced, nickel-plated sermon—something evangelical that would do very well for one evening?

The clergyman replied that he had nothing of the sort in stock.

“Well, at any rate, you will say a few words to the congregation—not a sermon, you know—after the service, for the guinea?” suggested the churchwarden.

“Oh, yes, I’ll say a few words, if that’s all,” said the clergyman.

And he did.

When he had got to that grand old Amen which closes the Evening Service, he stood up and said,—

“Dear brethren, there will be no sermon preached here this evening.”

Having entered upon the perilous path that is strewn with stories of clergymen, I cannot leave it without recalling certain negotiations which a prelate once opened with me for the purchase of an article of furniture that remained at the palace when he was translated (with footnotes in the vernacular by local tradesmen) to a new episcopate. I have always had a weakness for collecting antique carved oak, and the prelate, being aware of this, called my attention to what he termed an “antique carved oak cabinet,” which occupied an alcove in the hall. He said he thought that I might be glad to have a chance of purchasing it, for he himself did not wish to be put to the trouble of conveying it to his new home—if a palace can be called a home. Now, there had been a three days’ auction at the palace where the antiquity remained, and, apparently, all the dealers had managed to resist the temptation that was offered them of acquiring a rare specimen of old oak; but, assuming that the dignitary had placed a high reserve price upon it from which he might now be disposed to abate, I replied that it would please me greatly to buy the cabinet if it was not too large. By appointment I accompanied a seemingly meek domestic chaplain to the dis-.mantled palace; and there, sure enough, in a dark alcove of the long and narrow hall—for the palace was not palatial—I saw (dimly) a huge thing like a wardrobe with pillars, or it might have been a loose box, or perhaps a bedstead gone wrong, or a dismantled hearse.

“That’s a dreadful thing,” I remarked to the meek chaplain.

“Dreadful, indeed,” he replied. “But it’s antique carved oak, so I suppose it’s a treasure.”

“Have you a match about you?” I asked, for the place was very dark.

The meek chaplain looked scandalised—it was light enough to allow of my seeing that—at the suggestion that he carried matches. He said he thought he knew where some might be had. He walked to the end of the passage, and I saw him take out a box of matches from a pocket. He came back, saying he recollected having seen the box on a ledge “down there.” I struck a match and held the light close to the fabric. I gave a portion of it a little scrape with my knife, and then tested the carving by the same implement.

“How did his lordship describe this?” I inquired.

“He said it was antique carved oak,” said the meek chaplain.

“Did you ever hear of Cuvier and the lobster?” I inquired further.

He said he never had.

“That being so, I may venture to say that his lordship’s description of this thing is an excellent one,” I remarked; “only that it is not antique, it is not carved, and it is not oak.”

“What do you mean?” asked the meek chaplain..

I struck another match, and showed him the white patch that I had scraped with my knife, and he admitted that old oak was not usually white beneath the surface. I showed him also where the carving had sprung up before the point of my knife, making plain the ‘fact that the carving had been glued to the fabric.

“His lordship got that made by a local carpenter twenty-five years ago,” said I; “and yet he tries to sell it to me for antique carved oak. It strikes me that in Wardour Street he would find a congenial episcopate.”

The meek chaplain stroked his chin reflectively; then, putting his umbrella under one arm, he joined the tips of his fingers, saying,—

“Whatever unworthy doubts I may once have entertained on the difficult subject of Apostolic succession are now, thank God, set at rest.”

“What do you mean?” I inquired.

“Is it possible,” he asked, “that you do not perceive how strong an argument this incident furnishes in favour of our Church’s claim to the Apostolic succession of her bishops?”

I shook my head.

“St. Peter was a Jew,” said the meek chaplain.

Another of the casual ward of editors who appears on the tablets of my memory was a gentleman who came from Wales—and a large number of other places. He had a rooted objection to write anything new; but he was the best literary tinker I ever met. In Spitzhagen’s story, “Sturmfluth,” there is a most amusing account of the sculptor who made the statues of distinguished Abstractions, which he had carved in his young days, do duty for memorial commissions of lately-departed heroes. A bust of Homer he had no difficulty in transforming into one of Germania weeping for her sons killed in the war, and so forth. The sculptor’s talent was the same as that of the editor. He had the draft of about fifty articles, and three obituary notices. These he managed to tinker up, chipping a bit off here and there, and giving prominence to other portions, until his purpose of the moment was served. I have seen him turn an article that purported to show the absurdity of free trade, into an attack upon the Irish policy of the Government; and in the twinkling of an eye upon another occasion he made one on the Panama swindle do duty for one on the compulsory rescue of Emin by Stanley. With only a change of a line or, two, the obituary notice of Gambetta was that which he had used for Garibaldi; and yet when the Emperor Frederick died, it was the same article that was furbished up for the occasion. Every local medical man who died was dealt with in the appreciative article which he had written some years before on the death of Sir William Gull; and the influence of the career of every just deceased local philanthropist was described in the words (slightly altered to suit topography) that had been written for the Earl of Shaftesbury.

It was really little short of marvellous how this system worked. It was a tinker’s triumph.

I must supplement my recollections of these worthies by a few lines regarding a man of the same type who, I believe, never put pen to paper without being guilty of some extraordinary error. A high compliment was paid to me, I felt, when I had assigned to me, as part of my duties, the reading of his proof sheets nightly. In everyone that I ever read I found some monstrous mistake; and as he was old enough to be my grandfather, and extremely sensitive besides, I was completely exhausted by my expenditure of tact in pointing out to him what I called his “little inaccuracies.” One night he laid his proof sheet before me, saying triumphantly, “You’ll not find any of the usual slips in that, I’m thinking. I’ve managed to write one leader correct at last.”

I read the thing he had written. It referred to a letter which Mr. Bence Jones had contributed to The Times on the subject of the Irish Land League Agitation. After commenting on this letter, he wound up by saying that Mr. Bence Jones had proved himself to be as practical an agriculturalist as he was an expert painter.

“Are you certain that Bence Jones is a painter?” I asked.

“As certain as I can be of anything,” was the reply. “I’ve seen his work referred to dozens of times. I believe there’s a picture of his in the Grosvenor Gallery this very year. I thought you knew all about contemporary art,” he added, with a sneer.

“Art is long,” said I, searching for a Grosvenor Gallery catalogue, which I knew I had thrown among my books. “Now, will you just turn up the picture you say you saw noticed, and I’ll admit that you know more than I do?”

I handed him the catalogue. He adjusted his spectacles, looked at the index, gave a triumphant “Ha! I have you now,” and forthwith turned up “The Golden Stair,” by E. Burne Jones.

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