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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Profession of Authorship
By George Gissing (1857–1903)
 
From ‘New Grub Street’

THE LAST volume was written in fourteen days. In this achievement Reardon rose almost to heroic pitch, for he had much to contend with beyond the mere labor of composition. Scarcely had he begun when a sharp attack of lumbago fell upon him; for two or three days it was torture to support himself at the desk, and he moved about like a cripple. Upon this ensued headaches, sore-throat, general enfeeblement. And before the end of the fortnight it was necessary to think of raising another small sum of money; he took his watch to the pawnbroker’s (you can imagine that it would not stand as security for much), and sold a few more books. All this notwithstanding, here was the novel at length finished. When he had written “The End” he lay back, closed his eyes, and let time pass in blankness for a quarter of an hour.  1
  It remained to determine the title. But his brain refused another effort; after a few minutes’ feeble search he simply took the name of the chief female character, Margaret Home. That must do for the book. Already, with the penning of the last word, all its scenes, personages, dialogues had slipped away into oblivion; he knew and cared nothing more about them.  2
  “Amy, you will have to correct the proofs for me. Never as long as I live will I look upon a page of this accursed novel. It has all but killed me.”  3
  “The point is,” replied Amy, “that here we have it complete. Pack it up and take it to the publishers to-morrow morning.”  4
  “I will.”  5
  “And—you will ask them to advance you a few pounds?”  6
  “I must.”  7
  But that undertaking was almost as hard to face as a rewriting of the last volume would have been. Reardon had such superfluity of sensitiveness that, for his own part, he would far rather have gone hungry than ask for money not legally his due. To-day there was no choice. In the ordinary course of business it would be certainly a month before he heard the publishers’ terms, and perhaps the Christmas season might cause yet more delay. Without borrowing, he could not provide for the expenses of more than another week or two.  8
  His parcel under his arm, he entered the ground-floor office, and desired to see that member of the firm with whom he had previously had personal relations. This gentleman was not in town; he would be away for a few days. Reardon left the manuscript, and came out into the street again.  9
  He crossed, and looked up at the publishers’ windows from the opposite pavement. “Do they suspect in what wretched circumstances I am? Would it surprise them to know all that depends upon that budget of paltry scribbling? I suppose not; it must be a daily experience with them. Well, I must write a begging letter.”  10
  It was raining and windy. He went slowly homewards, and was on the point of entering the public door of the flats when his uneasiness became so great that he turned and walked past. If he went in, he must at once write his appeal for money, and he felt that he could not. The degradation seemed too great.  11
  Was there no way of getting over the next few weeks? Rent, of course, would be due at Christmas, but that payment might be postponed; it was only a question of buying food and fuel. Amy had offered to ask her mother for a few pounds; it would be cowardly to put this task upon her now that he had promised to meet the difficulty himself. What man in all London could and would lend him money? He reviewed the list of his acquaintances, but there was only one to whom he could appeal with the slightest hope—that was Carter.  12
  Half an hour later he entered that same hospital door through which, some years ago, he had passed as a half-starved applicant for work. The matron met him.  13
  “Is Mr. Carter here?”  14
  “No, sir. But we expect him any minute. Will you wait?”  15
  He entered the familiar office, and sat down. At the table where he had been wont to work, a young clerk was writing. If only all the events of the last few years could be undone, and he, with no soul dependent upon him, be once more earning his pound a week in this room! What a happy man he was in those days!  16
  Nearly half an hour passed. It is the common experience of beggars to have to wait. Then Carter came in with quick step; he wore a heavy ulster of the latest fashion, new gloves, a resplendent silk hat; his cheeks were rosy from the east wind.  17
  “Ha, Reardon! How do? how do? Delighted to see you!”  18
  “Are you very busy?”  19
  “Well, no, not particularly. A few cheques to sign, and we’re just getting out our Christmas appeals. You remember?”  20
  He laughed gayly. There was a remarkable freedom from snobbishness in this young man; the fact of Reardon’s intellectual superiority had long ago counteracted Carter’s social prejudices.  21
  “I should like to have a word with you.”  22
  “Right you are!”  23
  They went into a small inner room. Reardon’s pulse beat at fever-rate; his tongue was cleaving to his palate.  24
  “What is it, old man?” asked the secretary, seating himself and flinging one of his legs over the other. “You look rather seedy, do you know. Why the deuce don’t you and your wife look us up now and then?”  25
  “I’ve had a hard pull to finish my novel.”  26
  “Finished, is it? I’m glad to hear that. When’ll it be out? I’ll send scores of people to Mudie’s after it.”  27
  “Thanks; but I don’t think much of it, to tell you the truth.”  28
  “Oh, we know what that means.”  29
  Reardon was talking like an automaton. It seemed to him that he turned screws and pressed levers for the utterance of his next words.  30
  “I may as well say at once what I have come for. Could you lend me ten pounds for a month—in fact, until I get the money for my book?”  31
  The secretary’s countenance fell, though not to that expression of utter coldness which would have come naturally under the circumstances to a great many vivacious men. He seemed genuinely embarrassed.  32
  “By Jove! I—confound it! To tell you the truth, I haven’t ten pounds to lend. Upon my word, I haven’t, Reardon! These infernal housekeeping expenses! I don’t mind telling you, old man, that Edith and I have been pushing the pace rather.” He laughed, and thrust his hands down into his trousers-pockets. “We pay such a darned rent, you know—hundred and twenty-five. We’ve only just been saying we should have to draw it mild for the rest of the winter. But I’m infernally sorry; upon my word I am.”  33
  “And I am sorry to have annoyed you by the unseasonable request.”  34
  “Devilish seasonable, Reardon, I assure you!” cried the secretary, and roared at his joke. It put him into a better temper than ever, and he said at length: “I suppose a five wouldn’t be much use?—For a month, you say?—I might manage a fiver, I think.”  35
  “It would be very useful. But on no account if——”  36
  “No, no, I could manage a fiver, for a month. Shall I give you a cheque?”  37
  “I’m ashamed——”  38
  “Not a bit of it! I’ll go and write the cheque.”  39
  Reardon’s face was burning. Of the conversation that followed when Carter again presented himself he never recalled a word. The bit of paper was crushed together in his hand. Out in the street again, he all but threw it away, dreaming for the moment that it was a ’bus ticket or a patent medicine bill.  40
  He reached home much after the dinner-hour. Amy was surprised at his long absence.  41
  “Got anything?” she asked.  42
  “Yes.”  43
  It was half his intention to deceive her, to say that the publishers had advanced him five pounds. But that would be his first word of untruth to Amy, and why should he be guilty of it? He told her all that had happened. The result of this frankness was something that he had not anticipated; Amy exhibited profound vexation.  44
  “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that!” she exclaimed. “Why didn’t you come home and tell me? I would have gone to Mother at once.”  45
  “But does it matter?”  46
  “Of course it does,” she replied sharply. “Mr. Carter will tell his wife, and how pleasant that is?”  47
  “I never thought of that. And perhaps it wouldn’t have seemed to me so annoying as it does to you.”  48
  “Very likely not.”  49
  She turned abruptly away, and stood at a distance in gloomy muteness.  50
  “Well,” she said at length, “there’s no helping it now. Come and have your dinner.”  51
  “You have taken away my appetite.”  52
  “Nonsense! I suppose you are dying of hunger.”  53
  They had a very uncomfortable meal, exchanging few words. On Amy’s face was a look more resembling bad temper than anything Reardon had ever seen there. After dinner he went and sat alone in the study. Amy did not come near him. He grew stubbornly angry; remembering the pain he had gone through, he felt that Amy’s behavior to him was cruel. She must come and speak when she would.  54
  At six o’clock she showed her face in the doorway and asked if he would come to tea.  55
  “Thank you,” he replied, “I had rather stay here.”  56
  “As you please.”  57
  And he sat alone until about nine. It was only then he recollected that he must send a note to the publishers, calling their attention to the parcel he had left. He wrote it, and closed with a request that they would let him hear as soon as they conveniently could. As he was putting on his hat and coat to go out and post the letter Amy opened the dining-room door.  58
  “You’re going out?”  59
  “Yes.”  60
  “Shall you be long?”  61
  “I think not.”  62
  He was away only a few minutes. On returning he went first of all into the study, but the thought of Amy alone in the other room would not let him rest. He looked in and saw that she was sitting without a fire.  63
  “You can’t stay here in the cold, Amy.”  64
  “I’m afraid I must get used to it,” she replied, affecting to be closely engaged upon some sewing.  65
  That strength of character which it had always delighted him to read in her features was become an ominous hardness. He felt his heart sink as he looked at her.  66
  “Is poverty going to have the usual result in our case?” he asked, drawing nearer.  67
  “I never pretended that I could be indifferent to it.”  68
  “Still, don’t you care to try and resist it?”  69
  She gave no answer. As usual in conversation with an aggrieved woman it was necessary to go back from the general to the particular.  70
  “I’m afraid,” he said, “that the Carters already knew pretty well how things were going with us.”  71
  “That’s a very different thing. But when it comes to asking them for money——”  72
  “I’m very sorry. I would rather have done anything if I had known how it would annoy you.”  73
  “If we have to wait a month, five pounds will be very little use to us.”  74
  She detailed all manner of expenses that had to be met—outlay there was no possibility of avoiding so long as their life was maintained on its present basis.  75
  “However, you needn’t trouble any more about it. I’ll see to it. Now you are free from your book try to rest.”  76
  “Come and sit by the fire. There’s small chance of rest for me if we are thinking unkindly of each other.”  77
 
  A doleful Christmas. Week after week went by and Reardon knew that Amy must have exhausted the money he had given her. But she made no more demands upon him, and necessaries were paid for in the usual way. He suffered from a sense of humiliation; sometimes he found it difficult to look in his wife’s face.  78
  When the publishers’ letter came it contained an offer of seventy-five pounds for the copyright of ‘Margaret Home,’ twenty-five more to be paid if the sale in three-volume form should reach a certain number of copies.  79
  Here was failure put into unmistakable figures. Reardon said to himself that it was all over with his profession of authorship. The book could not possibly succeed even to the point of completing his hundred pounds; it would meet with universal contempt, and indeed deserved nothing better.  80
  “Shall you accept this?” asked Amy, after dreary silence.  81
  “No one else would offer terms as good.”  82
  “Will they pay you at once?”  83
  “I must ask them to.”  84
  Well, it was seventy-five pounds in hand. The cheque came as soon as it was requested, and Reardon’s face brightened for the moment. Blessed money! root of all good, until the world invent some saner economy.  85
  “How much do you owe your mother?” he inquired, without looking at Amy.  86
  “Six pounds,” she answered coldly.  87
  “And five to Carter; and rent, twelve pounds ten. We shall have a matter of fifty pounds to go on with.”  88
 
  The prudent course was so obvious that he marveled at Amy’s failing to suggest it. For people in their circumstances to be paying a rent of fifty pounds when a home could be found for half the money was recklessness; there would be no difficulty in letting the flat for this last year of their lease, and the cost of removal would be trifling. The mental relief of such a change might enable him to front with courage a problem in any case very difficult, and, as things were, desperate. Three months ago, in a moment of profoundest misery, he had proposed this step; courage failed him to speak of it again, Amy’s look and voice were too vivid in his memory. Was she not capable of such a sacrifice for his sake? Did she prefer to let him bear all the responsibility of whatever might result from a futile struggle to keep up appearances?  89
  Between him and her there was no longer perfect confidence. Her silence meant reproach, and—whatever might have been the case before—there was no doubt that she now discussed him with her mother, possibly with other people. It was not likely that she concealed his own opinion of the book he had just finished; all their acquaintances would be prepared to greet its publication with private scoffing or with mournful shaking of the head. His feeling towards Amy entered upon a new phase. The stability of his love was a source of pain; condemning himself, he felt at the same time that he was wronged. A coldness which was far from representing the truth began to affect his manner and speech, and Amy did not seem to notice it, at all events she made no kind of protest. They no longer talked of the old subjects, but of those mean concerns of material life which formerly they had agreed to dismiss as quickly as possible. Their relations to each other—not long ago an inexhaustible topic—would not bear spoken comment; both were too conscious of the danger-signal when they looked that way.  90
  In the time of waiting for the publishers’ offer, and now again when he was asking himself how he should use the respite granted him, Reardon spent his days at the British Museum. He could not read to much purpose, but it was better to sit here among strangers than seem to be idling under Amy’s glance. Sick of imaginative writing, he turned to the studies which had always been most congenial, and tried to shape out a paper or two like those he had formerly disposed of to editors. Among his unused material lay a mass of notes he had made in a reading of Diogenes Laertius, and it seemed to him now that he might make something salable out of these anecdotes of the philosophers. In a happier mood he could have written delightfully on such a subject—not learnedly, but in the strain of a modern man whose humor and sensibility find free play among the classic ghosts; even now he was able to recover something of the light touch which had given value to his published essays.  91
  Meanwhile the first number of The Current had appeared, and Jasper Milvain had made a palpable hit. Amy spoke very often of the article called ‘Typical Readers,’ and her interest in its author was freely manifested. Whenever a mention of Jasper came under her notice she read it out to her husband. Reardon smiled and appeared glad, but he did not care to discuss Milvain with the same frankness as formerly.  92
  One evening at the end of January he told Amy what he had been writing at the Museum, and asked her if she would care to hear it read.  93
  “I began to wonder what you were doing,” she replied.  94
  “Then why didn’t you ask me?”  95
  “I was rather afraid to.”  96
  “Why afraid?”  97
  “It would have seemed like reminding you that—you know what I mean.”  98
  “That a month or two more will see us at the same crisis again. Still, I had rather you had shown an interest in my doings.”  99
  After a pause Amy asked:  100
  “Do you think you can get a paper of this kind accepted?”  101
  “It isn’t impossible. I think it’s rather well done. Let me read you a page——”  102
  “Where will you send it?” she interrupted.  103
  “To The Wayside.”  104
  “Why not try The Current? Ask Milvain to introduce you to Mr. Fadge. They pay much better, you know.”  105
  “But this isn’t so well suited for Fadge. And I much prefer to be independent, as long as it’s possible.”  106
  “That’s one of your faults, Edwin,” remarked his wife, mildly. “It’s only the strongest men that can make their way independently. You ought to use every means that offers.”  107
  “Seeing that I am so weak?”  108
  “I didn’t think it would offend you, I only meant——”  109
  “No, no; you are quite right. Certainly, I am one of the men who need all the help they can get. But I assure you, this thing won’t do for The Current.”  110
  “What a pity you will go back to those musty old times! Now think of that article of Milvain’s. If only you could do something of that kind! What do people care about Diogenes and his tub and his lantern?”  111
  “My dear girl, Diogenes Laertius had neither tub nor lantern, that I know of. You are making a mistake; but it doesn’t matter.”  112
  “No, I don’t think it does.” The caustic note was not very pleasant on Amy’s lips. “Whoever he was, the mass of readers will be frightened by his name.”  113
  “Well, we have to recognize that the mass of readers will never care for anything I do.”  114
  “You will never convince me that you couldn’t write in a popular way if you tried. I’m sure you are quite as clever as Milvain——”  115
  Reardon made an impatient gesture.  116
  “Do leave Milvain aside for a little! He and I are as unlike as two men could be. What’s the use of constantly comparing us?”  117
  Amy looked at him. He had never spoken to her so brusquely.  118
  “How can you say that I am, constantly comparing you?”  119
  “If not in spoken words, then in your thoughts.”  120
  “That’s not a very nice thing to say, Edwin.”  121
  “You make it so unmistakable, Amy. What I mean is, that you are always regretting the difference between him and me. You lament that I can’t write in that attractive way. Well, I lament it myself—for your sake. I wish I had Milvain’s peculiar talent, so that I could get reputation and money. But I haven’t, and there’s an end of it. It irritates a man to be perpetually told of his disadvantages.”  122
  “I will never mention Milvain’s name again,” said Amy coldly.  123
  “Now that’s ridiculous, and you know it.”  124
  “I feel the same about your irritation. I can’t see that I have given any cause for it.”  125
  “Then we’ll talk no more of the matter.”  126
  Reardon threw his manuscript aside and opened a book. Amy never asked him to resume his intention of reading what he had written.  127
  However, the paper was accepted. It came out in The Wayside for March, and Reardon received seven pounds ten for it. By that time he had written another thing of the same gossipy kind, suggested by Pliny’s Letters. The pleasant occupation did him good, but there was no possibility of pursuing this course. ‘Margaret Home’ would be published in April; he might get the five-and-twenty pounds contingent upon a certain sale, yet that could in no case be paid until the middle of the year, and long before then he would be penniless. His respite drew to an end.  128
  But now he took counsel of no one; as far as it was possible he lived in solitude, never seeing those of his acquaintances who were outside the literary world, and seldom even his colleagues. Milvain was so busy that he had only been able to look in twice or thrice since Christmas, and Reardon nowadays never went to Jasper’s lodgings.  129
  He had the conviction that all was over with the happiness of his married life, though how the events which were to express this ruin would shape themselves he could not foresee. Amy was revealing that aspect of her character to which he had been blind, though a practical man would have perceived it from the first; so far from helping him to support poverty, she perhaps would even refuse to share it with him. He knew that she was slowly drawing apart; already there was a divorce between their minds, and he tortured himself in uncertainty as to how far he retained her affections. A word of tenderness, a caress, no longer met with response from her; her softest mood was that of mere comradeship. All the warmth of her nature was expended upon the child; Reardon learnt how easy it is for a mother to forget that both parents have a share in her offspring.  130
  He was beginning to dislike the child. But for Willie’s existence Amy would still love him with undivided heart; not, perhaps, so passionately as once, but still with lover’s love. And Amy understood—or, at all events, remarked—this change in him. She was aware that he seldom asked a question about Willie, and that he listened with indifference when she spoke of the little fellow’s progress. In part offended, she was also in part pleased.  131
  But for the child, mere poverty, he said to himself, should never have sundered them. In the strength of his passion he could have overcome all her disappointments; and, indeed, but for that new care, he would most likely never have fallen to this extremity of helplessness. It is natural in a weak and sensitive man to dream of possibilities disturbed by the force of circumstance. For one hour which he gave to conflict with his present difficulties, Reardon spent many in contemplation of the happiness that might have been.  132
  Even yet, it needed but a little money to redeem all. Amy had no extravagant aspirations; a home of simple refinement and freedom from anxiety would restore her to her nobler self. How could he find fault with her? She knew nothing of such sordid life as he had gone through, and to lack money for necessities seemed to her degrading beyond endurance. Why, even the ordinary artisan’s wife does not suffer such privations as hers at the end of the past year. For lack of that little money his life must be ruined. Of late he had often thought about the rich uncle, John Yule, who might perhaps leave something to Amy; but the hope was so uncertain. And supposing such a thing were to happen; would it be perfectly easy to live upon his wife’s bounty—perhaps exhausting a small capital, so that, some years hence, their position would be no better than before? Not long ago, he could have taken anything from Amy’s hand; would it be so simple since the change that had come between them?  133
  Having written his second magazine-article (it was rejected by two editors, and he had no choice but to hold it over until sufficient time had elapsed to allow of his again trying The Wayside), he saw that he must perforce plan another novel. But this time he was resolute not to undertake three volumes. The advertisements informed him that numbers of authors were abandoning that procrustean system; hopeless as he was, he might as well try his chance with a book which could be written in a few weeks. And why not a glaringly artificial story with a sensational title? It could not be worse than what he had last written.  134
  So, without a word to Amy, he put aside his purely intellectual work and began once more the search for a “plot.” This was towards the end of February. The proofs of ‘Margaret Home’ were coming in day by day; Amy had offered to correct them, but after all he preferred to keep his shame to himself as long as possible, and with a hurried reading he dismissed sheet after sheet. His imagination did not work the more happily for this repugnant task; still, he hit at length upon a conception which seemed absurd enough for the purpose before him. Whether he could persevere with it even to the extent of one volume was very doubtful. But it should not be said of him that he abandoned his wife and child to penury without one effort of the kind that Milvain and Amy herself had recommended.  135
 
 
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