Snippets 105. Today’s snippet is a quote from Richard Le Gallienne’s Travels in England, from 1900, an interesting travel book that we have looked at in a couple of previous snippets. I always delight in finding a travel book that goes beyond just describing things and saying how wonderful everything is, and instead gives honest opinions, whether positive or negative. These kind of books can make the author seem like a bit of a Victor Meldrew character at times, but that can also be gloriously entertaining.
From the inn, however, in which I am this evening drearily incarcerated, such taste has long since fled. It is picturesque enough on the outside, possessing indeed part of one of those inn-yard galleries from which the quality were accustomed to watch the young Elizabethan drama. But its picturesque outside only accentuates the horrors of its inside. So far as those insignificant matters, comfort, cleanliness and cooking, are concerned, it is, I am bound to admit, satisfactory — though I must qualify the word “comfort;” for surely comfort means something more than clean sheets and arm-chairs. One’s dinner may be excellent, the chair which we draw up to it luxurious, but how is it possible to enjoy either, with a portrait of the Prince Consort on one. wall, “Dignity and Impudence” on another, and a German print on a third?
During dinner I vainly strove to screw my courage to ringing up the proprietor and making some such speech as this: “My dear sir, the dinner you have provided for me is delightful. The roast duck is a dream of culinary loveliness. The peas are as green — as a meadow by Chaucer. The potatoes must have been boiled to music, and I foresee that the gooseberry tart was made in heaven. My congratulations, my thanks, are sincere, and yet — what are all these things to me? How can I enjoy them in a room which, while it thus ministers to one of my senses, so cruelly violates another? How is it possible to enjoy your dinner when suffering so acutely from your pictures? Will you, therefore, have the kindness to remove the portrait of the Prince Consort from that wall, ‘Dignity and Impudence’ from that, and that from that!”
“Also,” I might have added, “there are two pictures in my bedroom which must either make sleep impossible, or fill it with distressing nightmares such as I hesitate to face. The pictures are called ‘The First Sacrament’ and ‘The Last Sacrament.’ The one represents a young surpliced clergyman in the act of baptising an infant, while the mother in a crinoline, and the father in military uniform and dated by mutton-chop whiskers, press close to a font designed in the most distressing taste, other and earlier children in ‘steps and stairs’ about them. The second picture represents a bald-headed old gentleman lying on his back in bed, and evidently at the point of death. A middle-aged surpliced clergyman bends over him administering the sacred wafer, and the crinoline and the mutton-chop whiskers and the nice little white-stockinged grandchildren are there. This picture faces the end of my bed, and whenever I wake in the night, is there with its gruesome reminder — of the most horrible period of English taste. You cannot, I am sure, think me unreasonable in desiring the temporary removal of these pictures also.”
Dignity and Impudence is a work of art by Sir Edwin Landseer, depicting two dogs. It looks nice enough to me! However, I think most people could understand Le Gallienne’s reluctance to sleep in a room with a painting of a dying man on the wall.
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