THE BACHELOR BEDROOM.
The great merit of this subject is that it starts itself. The Bachelor Bedroom is familiar to everybody who owns a country house, and to everybody who has stayed in a country house. It is the one especial sleeping apartment, in all civilized residences used for the reception of company, which preserves a character of its own. Married people and young ladies may be shifted about from bedroom to bedroom as their own caprice or the domestic convenience of the host may suggest. But the bachelor guest, when he has once had his room set apart for him, contrives to dedicate it to the perpetual occupation of single men from that moment. Who else is to have the room afterwards, when the very atmosphere of it is altered by tobacco-smoke? Who can venture to throw it open to nervous spinsters, or respectable married couples, when the footman is certain, from mere force of habit, to make his appearance at the door, with contraband bottles and glasses, after the rest of the family have retired for the night? Where, even if these difficulties could be got over, is any second sleeping apartment to be found, in any house of ordinary construction, isolated enough to secure the soberly reposing portion of the guests from being disturbed by the regular midnight party which the bachelor persists in giving in his bedroom? Dining-rooms and breakfast-rooms may change places; double-bedded rooms and single-bedded rooms may shift their respective characters backwards and forwards amicably among each other—but the Bachelor Bedroom remains immovably in its own place; sticks immutably to its own bad character; stands out victoriously whether the house is full, or whether the house is empty, the one hospitable institution that no repentant after-thoughts of host or hostess can ever alter.
Such a social phenomenon as this, taken with its surrounding circumstances, deserves more notice than it has yet obtained. The bachelor has been profusely served up on all sorts of literary tables; but, the presentation of him has been hitherto remarkable for a singularly monotonous flavour of matrimonial sauce. We have heard of his loneliness, and its remedy; of his solitary position in illness, and its remedy; of the miserable neglect of his linen, and its remedy. But what have we heard of him in connexion with his remarkable bedroom, at those periods of his existence when he, like the rest of the world, is a visitor at his friend’s country house? Who has presented him, in his relation to married society, under those peculiar circumstances of his life, when he is away from his solitary chambers, and is thrown straight into the sacred centre of that home circle from which his ordinary habits are so universally supposed to exclude him? Here, surely, is a new aspect of the bachelor still left to be presented; and here is a new subject for worn-out readers of the nineteenth century whose fountain of literary novelty has become exhausted at the source.
Let me sketch the history—in anticipation of a large and serious work which I intend to produce, one of these days, on the same subject—of the Bachelor Bedroom, in a certain comfortable country house, whose hospitable doors fly open to me with the beginning of summer, and close no more until the autumn is ended. I must beg permission to treat this interesting topic from the purely human point of view. In other words, I propose describing, not the Bedroom itself, but the succession of remarkable bachelors who have passed through it in my time.
The hospitable country seat to which I refer is Coolcup House, the residence of that enterprising gentleman-farmer and respected chairman of Quarter Sessions, Sir John Giles. Sir John’s Bachelor Bedroom has been wisely fitted up on the ground floor. It is the one solitary sleeping apartment in that part of the house. Fidgety bachelors can jump out on to the lawn, at night, through the bow-window, without troubling anybody to unlock the front door; and can communicate with the presiding genius of the cellar by merely crossing the hall. For the rest, the room is delightfully airy and spacious, and fitted up with all possible luxury. It started in life, under Sir John’s careful auspices, the perfection of neatness and tidiness. But the Bachelors have corrupted it long since. However carefully the servants may clean, and alter, and arrange it, the room loses its respectability again, and gets slovenly and unpresentable the moment their backs are turned. Sir John himself, the tidiest man in existence, has given up all hope of reforming it. He peeps in occasionally, and sighs and shakes his head, and puts a chair in its place, and straightens a print on the wall, and looks about him at the general litter and confusion, and gives it up and goes out again. He is a rigid man and a resolute in the matter of order, and has his way all over the rest of the house—but the Bachelor Bedroom is too much for him.
The first bachelor who inhabited the room when I began to be a guest at Coolcup House, was Mr. Bigg. Mr. Bigg is, in the strictest sense of the word, what you call a fine man. He stands over six feet, is rather more than stout enough for his height, holds his head up nobly, and dresses in a style of mingled gayety and grandeur which impresses everybody. The morning shirts of Mr. Bigg are of so large a pattern that nobody but his haberdasher knows what that pattern really is. You see a bit of it on one side of his collar which looks square, and a bit of it on the other side which looks round. It goes up his arm on one of his wristbands, and down his arm on the other. Men who have seen his shirts off (if such a statement may be permitted), and scattered loosely, to Sir John’s horror, over all the chairs in the Bedroom, have been questioned, and have not been found able to state that their eyes ever followed out the patterns of any one of them fairly to the end. In the matter of beautiful and expensive clothing for the neck Mr. Bigg is simply inexhaustible. Every morning he appears at breakfast in a fresh scarf, and taps his egg magnificently with a daily blaze of new color glowing on his capacious chest to charm the eyes of the young ladies who sit opposite to him. All the other component parts of Mr. Bigg’s costume are of an equally grand and attractive kind, and are set off by Mr. Bigg’s enviable figure to equal advantage. Outside the Bachelor Bedroom, he is altogether an irreproachable character in the article of dress. Outside the Bachelor Bedroom he is essentially a man of the world, who can be thoroughly depended on to perform any part allotted to him in any society assembled at Coolcup House; who has lived among all ranks and sorts of people; who has filled a public situation with great breadth and dignity, and has sat at table with crowned heads, and played his part there with distinction; who can talk of these experiences, and of others akin to them, with curious fluency and ease, and can shift about to other subjects, and pass the bottle, and carve, and draw out modest people, and take all other social responsibilities on his own shoulders complacently, at the largest and dreariest county dinner party that Sir John, to his own great discomfiture, can be obliged to give. Such is Mr. Bigg in the society of the house, when the door of the Bachelor Bedroom has closed behind him. But what is Mr. Bigg, when he has courteously wished the ladies good-night, when he has secretly summoned the footman with the surreptitious tray, and when he has deluded the unprincipled married men of the party into having half an hour’s cozy chat with him before they go up-stairs? Another being—a being unknown to the ladies, and unsuspected by the respectable guests. Inside the Bedroom, the outward aspect of Mr. Bigg changes as if by magic; and a kind of gorgeous slovenliness pervades him from top to toe. Buttons which have rigidly restrained him within distinct physical boundaries, slip exhausted out of their button-holes; and the figure of Mr. Bigg suddenly expands and asserts itself for the first time as a protuberant fact. His neckcloth flies on to the nearest chair, his rigid shirt-collar yawns open, his wiry under-whiskers ooze multitudinously into view, his coat, waistcoat, and braces drop off his shoulders. If the two young ladies who sleep in the room above, and who most unreasonably complain of the ceaseless nocturnal croaking and growling of voices in the Bachelor Bedroom, could look down through the ceiling now, they would not know Mr. Bigg again, and would suspect that a dissipated artisan had intruded himself into Sir John’s house.
In the same way, the company who have sat in Mr. Bigg’s neighbourhood at the dinner-table at six o’clock, would find it impossible to recognize his conversation at midnight. Outside the Bachelor Bedroom, if his talk has shown him to be anything at all, it has shown him to be the exact reverse of an enthusiast. Inside the Bachelor Bedroom, after all due attention has been paid to the cigar-box and the footman’s tray, it becomes unaccountably manifest to everybody that Mr. Bigg is, after all, a fanatical character, a man possessed of one fixed idea. Then, and then only, does he mysteriously confide to his fellow revellers that he is the one remarkable man in Great Britain who has discovered the real authorship of Junius’s Letters. In the general society of the house, nobody ever hears him refer to the subject; nobody ever suspects that he takes more than the most ordinary interest in literary matters. In the select society of the Bedroom, inspired by the surreptitious tray and the midnight secrecy, wrapped in clouds of tobacco smoke, and freed from the restraint of his own magnificent garments, the truth flies out of Mr. Bigg, and the authorship of Junius’s Letters becomes the one dreary subject which this otherwise variously gifted man persists in dilating on for hours together. But for the Bachelor Bedroom nobody alive would ever have discovered that the true key to unlock Mr. Bigg’s character is Junius. If the subject is referred to the next day by his companions of the night, he declines to notice it; but, once in the Bedroom again, he takes it up briskly, as if the attempted reference to it had been made but the moment before. The last time I saw him was in the Bachelor Bedroom. It was three o’clock in the morning; two tumblers were broken; half a lemon was in the soap-dish, and the soap itself was on the chimney-piece; restless married rakes, who were desperately afraid of waking up their wives when they left us, were walking to and fro absently, and crunching knobs of loaf-sugar under foot at every step; Mr. Bigg was standing, with his fourth cigar in his mouth, before the fire; one of his hands was in the tumbled bosom of his shirt, the other was grasping mine, while he pathetically appointed me his literary executor, and generously bequeathed to me his great discovery of the authorship of Junius’s Letters. Upon the whole, Mr. Bigg is the most incorrigible bachelor on record in the annals of the Bedroom; he has consumed more candles, ordered more footmen’s trays, seen more early daylight, and produced more pale faces among and the gentlemen at breakfast-time than any other single visitor at Coolcup House.
The next bachelor in the order of succession, and the completest contrast conceivable to Mr. Bigg, is Mr. Jollins. He is, perhaps, the most miserable-looking little man that ever tottered under the form of humanity. Wear what clothes he may, he invariably looks shabby in them. He is the victim of perpetual accidents and perpetual ill-health; and the Bachelor Bedroom, when he inhabits it, is turned into a doctor’s shop, and bristles all over with bottles and pills. Mr. Jollins’s personal tribute to the hospitalities of Coolcup House is always paid in the same singularly unsatisfactory manner to his host. On one day in the week, he gorges himself gaily with food and drink, and soars into the seventh heaven of convivial beatitude. On the other six, he is invariably ill in consequence, is reduced to the utmost rigours of starvation and physic, sinks into the lowest depths of depression, and takes the bitterest imaginable views of human life. Hardly a single accident has happened at Coolcup House in which he has not been personally and chiefly concerned; hardly a single malady can occur to the human frame the ravages of which he has not practically exemplified in his own person under Sir John’s roof. If any one guest, in the fruit season, terrifies the rest by writhing under the internal penalties in such cases made and provided by the laws of Nature, it is Mr. Jollins. If any one tumbles up-stairs, or down-stairs, or off a horse, or out of a dog-cart, it is Mr. Jollins. If you want a case of sprained ankle, a case of suppressed gout, a case of complicated earache, toothache, headache, and sore-throat, all in one, a case of liver, a case of chest, a case of nerves, or a case of low fever, go to Coolcup House while Mr. Jollins is staying there, and he will supply you, on demand, at the shortest notice and to any extent. It is conjectured by the intimate friends of this extremely wretched bachelor, that he has but two sources of consolation to draw on, as a set-off against his innumerable troubles. The first is the luxury of twisting his nose on one side, and stopping up his air passages and Eustachian tubes with inconceivably large quantities of strong snuff. The second is the oleaginous gratification of incessantly anointing his miserable little beard and mustachios with cheap-bear’s grease, which always turns rancid on the premises before he has half done with it. When Mr. Jollins gives a party in the Bachelor Bedroom, his guests have the unexpected pleasure of seeing him take his physic, and hearing him describe his maladies and recount his accidents. In other respects, the moral influence of the Bedroom over the characters of those who occupy it, which exhibits Mr. Bigg in the unexpected literary aspect of a commentator on Junius, is found to tempt Mr. Jollins into betraying a horrible triumph and interest in the maladies of others, of which nobody would suspect him in the general society of the house.
“I noticed you, after dinner to-day,” says this invalid bachelor, on such occasions, to any one of the Bedroom guests who may be rash enough to complain of the slightest uneasiness in his presence; “I saw the corners of your mouth get green, and the whites of your eyes look yellow. You have got a pain here,” says Mr. Jollins, gaily indicating the place to which he refers on his own shattered frame, with an appearance of extreme relish—”a pain here, and a sensation like having a cannon-ball inside you, there. You will be parched with thirst and racked with fidgets all to-night; and to-morrow morning you will get up with a splitting headache, and a dark brown tongue, and another cannon-ball in your inside. My dear fellow, I’m a veteran at this sort of thing; and I know exactly the state you will be in next week, and the week after, and when you will have to try the sea-side, and how many pounds’ weight you will lose, to a dead certainty, before you can expect to get over this attack. He’s congested, you know” continues Mr. Jollins, addressing himself confidentially to the company in general, “congested—I mean as to his poor unfortunate liver. A nasty thing, gentlemen—ah, yes, yes, yes, a long, tiresome, wearing, nasty thing, I can tell you.”
Thus, while Mr. Bigg always astonishes the Bedroom guests on the subject of Junius, Mr. Jollins always alarms them on the subject of themselves. Mr. Smart, the next, and third bachelor, placed in a similar situation, displays himself under a more agreeable aspect, and makes the convivial society that surrounds him, for the night at least, supremely happy.
On the first day of his arrival at Coolcup House, Mr. Smart deceived us all. When he was first presented to us, we were deeply impressed by the serene solemnity of this gentleman’s voice, look, manner, and costume. He was as carefully dressed as Mr. Bigg himself, but on totally different principles. Mr. Smart was fearfully and wonderfully gentlemanly in his avoidance of anything approaching to bright colour on any part of his body. Quakerish drabs and greys clothed him in the morning. Dismal black, unrelieved by an atom of jewellery, undisturbed even by so much as a flower in his button-hole, encased him grimly in the evening. He moved about the room and the garden with a ghostly and solemn stalk. When the ladies got brilliant in their conversation, he smiled upon them with a deferential modesty and polite Grandisonian admiration that froze the blood of “us youth” in our veins. When he spoke it was like reading a passage from an elegant moral writer—the words were so beautifully arranged, the sentences were turned so musically, the sentiment conveyed was so delightfully well regulated, so virtuously appropriate to nothing in particular. At such times he always spoke in a slow, deep, and gentle drawl, with a thrillingly clear emphasis on every individual syllable. His speech sounded occasionally like a kind of highly-bred foreign English, spoken by a distinguished stranger who had mastered the language to such an extent that he had got beyond the natives altogether. We watched enviously all day for any signs of human infirmity in this surprising individual. The men detected him in nothing. Even the sharper eyes of the women only discovered that he was addicted to looking at himself affectionately in every glass in the house, when he thought that nobody was noticing him. At dinner-time we all pinned our faith on Sir John’s excellent wine, and waited anxiously for its legitimate effect on the superb and icy stranger. Nothing came of it; Mr. Smart was as carefully guarded with the bottle as he was with the English language. All through the evening, he behaved himself so dreadfully well that we quite began to hate him. When the company parted for the night, and when Mr. Smart (who was just mortal enough to be a bachelor) invited us to a cigar in the Bedroom, his highly-bred foreign English was still in full perfection; his drawl had reached its elocutionary climax of rich and gentle slowness; and his Grandisonian smile was more exasperatingly settled and composed than ever.
The Bedroom door closed on us. We took off our coats, tore open our waistcoats, rushed in a body on the new bachelor’s cigar-box, and summoned the evil genius of the footman’s tray.
At the first round of the tumblers, the false Mr. Smart began to disappear, and the true Mr. Smart approached, as it were, from a visionary distance, and took his place among us. He chuckled—Grandison chuckled—within the hearing of every man in the room! We were surprised at that, but what were our sensations when, in less than ten minutes afterwards, the highly-bred English and the gentle drawl mysteriously disappeared, and there came bursting out upon us, from the ambush of Mr. Smart’s previous elocution, the jolliest, broadest, and richest Irish brogue we had ever heard in our lives! The mystery was explained now. Mr. Smart had a coat of the smoothest English varnish laid over him, for highly-bred county society, which nothing mortal could peel off but bachelor company and whisky-and-water. He slipped out of his close-fitting English envelope, in the loose atmosphere of the Bachelor Bedroom, as glibly as a tightly-laced young lady slips out of her stays when the admiring eyes of the world are off her waist for the night. Never was man so changed as Mr. Smart was now. His moral sentiments melted like the sugar in his grog; his grammar disappeared with his white cravat. Wild and lavish generosity suddenly became the leading characteristic of this once reticent man. We tried all sorts of subjects, and were obliged to drop every one of them, because Mr. Smart would promise to make us a present of whatever we talked about. The family mansion in Ireland contained everything that this world can supply; and Mr. Smart was resolved to dissipate that priceless store in gifts distributed to the much-esteemed company. He promised me a schooner yacht, and made a memorandum of the exact tonnage in his pocket-book. He promised my neighbour, on one side, a horse, and, on the other, a unique autograph letter of Shakespeare’s. We had all three been talking respectively of sailing, hunting, and the British Drama; and we now held our tongues for fear of getting new presents if we tried new subjects. Other members of the festive assembly took up the ball of conversation, and were prostrated forthwith by showers of presents for their pains. When we all parted in the dewy morning, we left Mr. Smart with dishevelled hair, checking off his voluminous memoranda of gifts with an unsteady pencil, and piteously entreating us, in the richest Irish-English, to correct him instantly if we detected the slightest omission anywhere.
The next morning, at breakfast, we rather wondered which nation our friend would turn out to belong to. He set all doubts at rest the moment he opened the door, by entering the room with the old majestic stalk, saluting the ladies with the serene Grandison smile, trusting we had all rested well during the night, in a succession of elegantly-turned sentences, and enunciating the highly-bred English with the imperturbably-gentle drawl which we all imagined, the night before, that we had lost forever. He stayed more than a fortnight at Coolcup House; and, in all that time, nobody ever knew the true Mr. Smart except the guests in the Bachelor Bedroom.
The fourth Bachelor on the list deserves especial consideration and attention. In the first place, because he presents himself to the reader, in the character of a distinguished foreigner. In the second place, because he contrived, in the most amiable manner imaginable, to upset all the established arrangements of Coolcup House—inside the Bachelor Bedroom, as well as outside it—from the moment when he entered its doors, to the moment when he left them behind him on his auspicious return to his native country. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a rare, probably a unique, species of bachelor; and Mr. Bigg, Mr. Jollins, and Mr. Smart have no claim whatever to stand in the faintest light of comparison with him.
When I mention that the distinguished guest now introduced to notice is Herr von Müffe, it will be unnecessary for me to add that I refer to the distinguished German poet, whose far-famed Songs Without Sense have aided so immeasurably in thickening the lyric obscurities of his country’s harp. On his arrival in London, Herr von Müffe forwarded his letter of introduction to Sir John by post, and immediately received, in return, the usual hospitable invitation to Coolcup House.
The eminent poet arrived barely in time to dress for dinner; and made his first appearance in our circle while we were waiting in the drawing-room, for the welcome signal of the bell. He waddled in among us softly and suddenly, in the form of a very short, puffy, florid, roundabout old gentleman, with flowing gray hair and a pair of huge circular spectacles. The extreme shabbiness and dinginess of his costume was so singularly set off by the quantity of foreign orders of merit which he wore all over the upper part of it, that a sarcastic literary gentleman among the guests defined him to me, in a whisper, as a compound of “decorations and dirt.” Sir John advanced to greet his distinguished guest, with friendly right hand extended as usual. Herr von Müffe, without saying a word, took the hand carefully in both his own, and expressed affectionate recognition of English hospitality, by transferring it forthwith to that vacant space between his shirt and his waistcoat which extended over the region of the heart. Sir John turned scarlet, and tried vainly to extricate his hand from the poet’s too affectionate bosom. The dinner-bell rang, but Herr von Müffe still held fast. The principal lady in the company half rose, and looked perplexedly at her host—Sir John made another and a desperate effort to escape—failed again—and was marched into the dining-room, in full view of his servants and his guests, with his hand sentimentally imprisoned in his foreign visitor’s waistcoat.
After this romantic beginning, Herr von Müffe rather surprised us by showing that he was decidedly the reverse of a sentimentalist in the matter of eating and drinking. Neither dish nor bottle passed him, without paying heavy tribute, all through the repast. He mixed his liquors, especially, with the most sovereign contempt for all sanitary considerations; drinking Champagne and beer, the sweetest Constantia and the tawniest port, all together, with every appearance of the extremest relish. Conversation with Herr von Müffe, both at dinner, and all through the evening, was found to be next to impossible, in consequence of his knowing all languages (his own included) equally incorrectly. His German was pronounced to be a dialect never heard before; his French was inscrutable; his English was a philological riddle which all of us guessed at and none of us found out. He talked, in spite of these difficulties, incessantly; and, seeing that he shed tears several times in the course of the evening, the ladies assumed that his topics were mostly of a pathetic nature, while the coarser men compared notes with each other, and all agreed that the poet was drunk. When the time came for retiring, we had to invite ourselves into the Bachelor Bedroom; Herr von Müffe having no suspicion of our customary midnight orgies, and apparently feeling no desire to entertain us, until we informed him of the institution of the footman’s tray—when he became hospitable on a sudden, and unreasonably fond of his gay young English friends.
While we were settling ourselves in our places round the bed, a member of the company kicked over one of the poet’s capacious Wellington boots. To the astonishment of every one, there instantly ensued a tinkling of coin, and some sovereigns and shillings rolled surprisingly out on the floor from the innermost recesses of the boot. On receiving his money back, Herr von Müffe informed us, without the slightest appearance of embarrassment, that he had not had time, before dinner, to take more than his watch, rings, and decorations, out of his boots. Seeing us all stare at this incomprehensible explanation, our distinguished friend kindly endeavoured to enlighten us further by a long personal statement in his own polyglot language. From what we could understand of this narrative (which was not much), we gathered that Herr von Müffe had started at noon that day, as a total stranger in our metropolis, to reach the London-bridge station in a cab; and that the driver had taken him, as usual, across Waterloo-bridge. On going through the Borough, the narrow streets, miserable houses, and squalid population had struck the lively imagination of Herr von Müffe, and had started in his mind a horrible suspicion that the cabman was driving him into a low neighbourhood, with the object of murdering a helpless foreign fare, in perfect security, for the sake of the valuables he carried on his person. Chilled to the very marrow of his bones by this idea, the poet raised the ends of his trousers stealthily in the cab, slipped his watch, rings, orders, and money into the legs of his Wellington boots, arrived at the station quaking with mortal terror, and screamed “Help!” at the top of his voice, when the railway policeman opened the cab door. The immediate starting of the train had left him no time to alter the singular travelling arrangements he had made in the Borough; and he arrived at Coolcup House, the only individual who had ever yet entered that mansion with his property in his boots.
Amusing as it was in itself, this anecdote failed a little in its effect on us at the time, in consequence of the stifling atmosphere in which we were condemned to hear it. Although it was then the sultry middle of summer, and we were all smoking, Herr von Müffe insisted on keeping the windows of the Bachelor Bedroom fast closed, because it was one of his peculiarities to distrust the cooling effect of the night air. We were more than half inclined to go, under these circumstances; and we were altogether determined to remove, when the tray came in, and when we found our German friend madly mixing his liquors again by pouring gin and sherry together into the same tumbler. We warned him, with a shuddering prevision of consequences, that he was mistaking gin for water; and he blandly assured us in return that he was doing nothing of the kind. “It is good for My——” said Herr von Müffe, supplying his ignorance of the word stomach by laying his chubby forefinger on the organ in question, with a sentimental smile. “It is bad for Our——” retorted the wag of the party, imitating the poet’s action, and turning quickly to the door. We all followed him—and, for the first time in the annals of Coolcup House, the Bachelor Bedroom was emptied of company before midnight.
Early the next morning, one of Sir John’s younger sons burst into my room in a state of violent excitement.
“I say, what’s to be done with Müffe?” inquired the young gentleman, with wildly staring eyes.
“Open his windows, and fetch the doctor,” I answered, inspired by the recollections of the past night.”
“Doctor!” cried the boy; “the doctor won’t do—it’s the barber.”
“Barber?” I repeated.
“He’s been asking me to shave him!” roared my young friend, with vehement comic indignation. “He rang his bell, and asked for the ‘Son of the House’—and they made me go; and there he was, grinning in the big arm-chair, with his mangy little shaving-brush in his hand, and a towel over his shoulder. ‘Good morning, my dear. Can you shave My——’ says he, and taps his quivering old double chin with his infernal shaving-brush. Curse his impudence! What’s to be done with him?”
I arranged to explain to Herr von Müffe, at the first convenient opportunity, that it was not the custom in England, whatever it might be in Germany, for “the Son of the House” to shave his father’s guests; and undertook, at the same time, to direct the poet to the residence of the village barber. When the German guest joined us at breakfast, his unshaven chin, and the external results of his mixed potations and his seclusion from fresh air, by no means tended to improve his personal appearance. In plain words, he looked the picture of dyspeptic wretchedness.
“I am afraid, sir, you are hardly so well this morning as we could all wish?” said Sir John, kindly.
Herr von Müffe looked at his host affectionately, surveyed the company all round the table, smiled faintly, laid the chubby forefinger once more on the organ whose name he did not know, and answered with the most enchanting innocence and simplicity:
“I am so sick!”
There was no harm—upon my word, there was no harm in Herr von Müffe. On the contrary, there was a great deal of good-nature and genuine simplicity in his composition. But he was a man naturally destitute of all power of adapting himself to new persons and new circumstances; and he became amiably insupportable, in consequence, to everybody in the house, throughout the whole term of his visit. He could not join one of us in any country diversions. He hung about the house and garden in a weak, pottering, aimless manner, always turning up at the wrong moment, and always attaching himself to the wrong person. He was dexterous in a perfectly childish way at cutting out little figures of shepherds and shepherdesses in paper; and he was perpetually presenting these frail tributes of admiration to the ladies, who always tore them up and threw them away in secret the moment his back was turned. When he was not occupied with his paper figures, he was out in the garden, gathering countless little nosegays, and sentimentally presenting them to everybody; not to the ladies only, but to lusty agricultural gentlemen as well, who accepted them with blank amazement; and to schoolboys, home for the holidays, who took them, bursting with internal laughter at the “molly-coddle” gentleman from foreign parts. As for poor Sir John, he suffered more than any of us; for Herr von Müffe was always trying to kiss him. In short, with the best intentions in the world, this unhappy foreign bachelor wearied out the patience of everybody in the house; and, to our shame be it said, we celebrated his departure, when he left us at last, by a festival-meeting in the Bachelor Bedroom, in honour of the welcome absence of Herr von Müffe. I cannot say in what spirit my fellow-revellers have reflected on our behaviour since that time; but I know, for my own part, that I now look back at my personal share in our proceedings with rather an uneasy conscience. I am afraid we were all of us a little hard on Herr von Müffe; and I hereby desire to offer him my own individual tribute of tardy atonement, by leaving him to figure as the last and crowning type of the Bachelor species presented in these pages. If he has produced anything approaching to a pleasing effect on the reader’s mind, that effect shall not be weakened by the appearance of any more single men, native or foreign. Let the door of the Bachelor Bedroom close with our final glimpse of the German guest; and permit the present chronicler to lay down the pen when it has traced penitently, for the last time, the name of Herr von Müffe.
All The Year Round vol. I, 6 August 1859 pp. 355-360.
go back to e-text list