By W. PETT RIDGE.
MY friend Platitude—a tall youth of serious appearance and a voice that seems, by some ventriloquial effort, to come from the roof, is gradually obtaining a reputation for shrewd common-sense. People are telling each other that young Platitude has a lot in him, that young Platitude is deep, that the things young Platitude does not know would scarce fill a match-box. I regret to have to state formally that young Platitude is a humbug.
He is an Oxford-made youth, and I think he must have remained in the oven there a little too long, for all the Oxford characteristics have been burnt into him, and will, I fear, never be chipped off. He went straight to a Teaching Centre in the East End when he first came down, and I shall never forget the wise air with which he presided at a series of lectures on Palaentology for the Working Classes. (The place was not really in the East End being, in fact, but a hop, skip, and jump from the Bank; the working classes came to it by underground train from Sloane Square,) He had little to do but to blink warningly at the people who came in late, and to make a few announcements at the end. but these things he did with such a fine air of superiority that people held their breath when they met his eye.
"Have to 'nouuce.'" he said once in his head voice after a lecture. "that the-er—usual Tharsday meeting will take place——"
Here he turned over table and dropped his adjusted them. Everybody craned forward with eagerness to listen to his important pronouncement.
"On Tharsday next," he said impressively.
He tired of the Teaching Centre after awhile, and took rooms in an old Inn off Holborn. He told me that he regarded the lower classes as to a certain extent low and added that he thought journalism required a new note. He also said that newspaper writers had got into a groove, and being there—well, there they were, don't you know.
"What the public wants," said young Platitude, in a burst of great confidence, "is something new, Mark my words."
He was kind enough to show me his first efforts in journalism. They included a brief article called "Town and Country": in this it was pointed out that there were differences between town and country, in that towns invariably had a larger population and more houses; a short story entitled "A Mistaken Marriage," that I seemed to have read before, and a four-thousand-word sketch called "Wit in the Olden Days." This latter he thought of sending to Punch; the other two he wanted the Times to have.
"Guvnor takes them in," he said as excuse for this weakness, "and if he likes them he 'll be—er—gratified. What?"
I gave young Platitude no advice, because I knew it was better that he should go through the mill of experience. Later I learned that he had called at Printing House Square with his manuscript, had insisted upon seeing a sub-editor, and the sub-editor had given a frank opinion. Platitude told us that the sub-editor was not a gentleman.
His opportunity came when a friend of his father's, then editing a weekly review, sent him a parcel of six books to notice. I shall never forget young Platitude's air as he sat down to undertake this work. He took three days to complete it, and called into my rooms on the third evening with the result.
"Rather think," he said, with a faint suggestion of relaxing his wooden countenance, "rather think I 've done some deuced good slates."
It is always interesting to read acrid criticism (of other people's books) and I took up the slips of paper with the joy of anticipation. Poor young Platitude!
"Mind you," he urged, as I went through them, "if a man thinks a book's bad, a man ought to say so. When a man thinks a book's good, why then a man ought to say so too."
But Platitude had not said so. What he had said in regard to this book was that greater pains would have improved it; in regard to this', that the good parts of the book were commendable, while the inferior parts were not commendable; of this he had said that no doubt it would meet a long-felt want, always supposing that that long-felt want did really exist.
"Rather smart, aren't they?" said young Platitude. "What I mean to say, they're straight from the shoulder. Nothing people like so much as hard hitting."
He took the slips off without waiting for an answer. A few days afterwards he told me that he feared he had been too outspoken, for the weekly review had not used them; he mentioned rather bitterly that most papers were edited by their advertisement managers, and that there existed no place in journalism for a man with opinions of his own. This is the oddest thing about young Platitude. He really believes that he is a reckless iconoclast; has really convinced himself that he is a thinker of the most daring school, that he is one leading men ingeniously and without allowing them to become aware of the fact. To a meeting the other day in a Grosvenor Square drawing-room for the purpose of urging marriage reforms upon the thoughtless natives of the recently discovered country called Barala, Platitude was taken by a delightful young lady. Young Platitude found himself called upon to move a vote of thanks to the chair.
"If I may be allowed to make suggestion," said young Platitude, in his earnest, impressive way, "it is this. That our scheme of—er—reform should not be too large and not be"—here he paused—"and not be too small."
The noble Lord in the chair, in seizing upon this invaluable suggestion, complimented Platitude on his acumen, adding a phrase about old heads on young shoulders; the delightful young lady gave him a smile of reverence mixed with affection.
And this is where young Platitude scores.