Puslapio vaizdai

However, to Conrad, ten years my hill path of Willems and foreshad

senior, and incomparably more versed in worldly affairs, the ways of publishers, reviewers and editors were then an uncharted land, and his first view of New Grub Street, as he put it later to me, was "as inviting as a peep into a brigand's cave and a good deal less reassuring." When later that evening I had recurred to the subject of "Almayer's Folly," Conrad suddenly picked up the pile of sheets from the little table and told me that he had embarked on a second book and that I should live to regret my responsibility for inciting him. This charming flattery was very characteristic of Conrad. Placing the manuscript in my hands he retired behind the screen and left me to glance through the pages. By the time he had reappeared with a bottle of Benedictine I had been captivated by the brilliant opening of "An Outcast of the Islands." I exclaimed with delight at the following passage:

"They were a half-caste, lazy lot, and he saw them as they wereragged, lean, unwashed, undersized men of various ages, shuffling about aimlessly in slippers; motionless old women who looked like monstrous bags of pink calico stuffed with shapeless lumps of fat, and deposited askew upon decaying rattan chairs in shady corners of dusty verandas; young women, slim and yellow, big-eyed, long-haired, moving languidly amongst the dirt and rubbish of their dwellings as if every step they took was going to be their very last."


Conrad, exhilarated by my praise, then described his idea of the down

owed Aissa's part in the drama. The plot had already taken shape in Conrad's mind, but most of the action was still in a state of flux. Conrad's attitude toward this novel was from the first a strange blend of creative ardor and skepticism. He spoke deprecatingly of his knowledge of Malay life, but all the same the figures of Willems, Joanna and Aissa captivated his imagination. His sardonic interest in Willems' disintegration reflected, I believe, his own disillusionment over the Congo. I agree with M. Jean-Aubry that Conrad's Congo experiences were the turning-point in his mental life and that their effects on him determined his transformation from a sailor to a writer. According to his emphatic declaration to me, in his early years at sea he had "not a thought in his head." "I was a perfect animal," he reiterated, meaning of course that he had reasoned and reflected hardly at all over all the varieties of life he had encountered. The sinister voice of the Congo with its murmuring undertone of human fatuity, baseness and greed, had swept away the generous illusions of his youth and had left him gazing into the heart of an immense darkness. So Willems' figure was not merely the vehicle for Conrad's sardonic irony, but through it Conrad had to express also his own "romantic feeling of reality"; hence this character had to bear too great a burden both of feeling and commentary. I do not think that this criticism was ever formulated exactly by either Conrad or myself during the nine months in which "An Outcast of the Islands" came to me in batches. He was too

engrossed in wrestling with his characters to see precisely the effect of all the parts in relation to the whole, and I was too enthralled by the strange atmosphere and poetic vision, and too intent on encouraging him to criticize Willems till the end was at hand. I well remember penciling notes of admiration on the margins of certain pages, as on those poetical passages that conclude Part II. On the delivery of the final instalment, however, I criticized adversely the psychology of Willems' motives and behavior just before his death at Aissa's hand; and Conrad agreed, with reservations, to my strictures and set to work to remodel various passages. I think now that my criticism was not so just as I imagined at the time.


However, to come back to that first evening at Gillingham Street, I recall that Conrad took alarm at some declaration of mine about the necessity for a writer to follow his own path and disregard the public's taste. His tone was emphatic. "But I won't live in an attic!" he retorted. "I'm past that, you understand? I won't live in an attic!" I saw then that it was essential to reassure Conrad about the prospects of "Almayer's Folly." And I cited the names of various authors who, whatever they may have been doing, were certainly then not living in attics, public favorites such as Stevenson and Kipling and Rider Haggard-the work of the last-named, I remember, Conrad stigmatized as being "too horrible for words." He objected specifically to the figure of Captain Goode, as well he might!

As I look back at that evening and

at our subsequent meetings in little Soho restaurants, in Newgate Street, St. Paul's Churchyard and in a Mecca café in Cheapside, I recall an atmosphere of humble conspiracy à deux, which infolded us. Conrad was then more obscure than any publisher's reader. At that time he was experiencing all the hot and cold fits and the exultations of literary creation, often thrown back and skeptical, but also boyishly eager while perfecting his strokes and broadening his effects as the novel grew under his hands; and I was taking this development of his genius for granted, being very enthusiastic over the romantic magic of his scenes. My part indeed was simpleto appreciate and criticize all that he wrote, and to ask for more,



While Conrad's brilliant charm arrested our notice in those early years, the depth of his creative vision eluded us. In his voice we heard the seaman and the artist speaking, but the poet, secretly inspiring the finest subtleties of his work, remained unseen. From what I gathered, then and since, of Conrad's parents I believe that from his mother he inherited his caressing sweetness, and from his father his sharp and somber insight, with its fierce sardonic underplay. There were two natures interwoven in Conrad, one feminine, affectionate, responsive, clear-eyed, the other masculine, formidably critical, fiercely ironical, dominating, intransigent. Often the sweet mood would change in a flash, and with an upward fling of the head he would stare hard with wide-opened sardonic

eyes at the perpetrator of some fatuity or sentimental falsity. His eyes would grimace ironically, and he would boil over suddenly while attempting to conceal his violent distaste; and the person who had awakened this mood would go away to circulate some alarming legend about his intractability. In the impetuosity of his prejudiced judgments, Conrad had a streak of Lieutenant Ferand, but also the contemplative wisdom and clarity of vision of Lieutenant D'Hubert, those two immortal creations of his own. His fine courtesy kept his Polish impetuosity in check in those early years, but he resented bad manners when addressed, and I remember how the slighting remarks of a Mr. N. at a National Liberal Club meeting in 1895 so chafed on him that he would have sent the speaker a challenge had the country been France. But unless offended or rubbed the wrong way he was as sympathetic and as softly responsive to people as a sensitive woman.

I remember being struck by this quality one day in the summer of 1897, when he had taken me for a sail in the boat that he shared with his old sailor friend, G. F. W. Hope, at Stanford-le-Hope. The plan was to land at some jetty lower down the Thames, but the wind kept dying away on each occasion as we tacked and neared the bank, and we lay becalmed for over an hour in the hot glare. Hope disdaining to put out an oar, Conrad deferred with alacrity-like a young sailor boy to his least wish and drew him out in talk with a fine tact, while whispering to me that to row the boat ashore was unthinkable, for

such a proceeding would wound Hope's pride as a seaman!


Conrad's moods of gay tenderness could be quite seductive. On the few occasions I saw him with Stephen Crane he was delightfully sunny, and bantered "poor Steve" in the gentlest, most affectionate style, while the latter sat silent, Indian-like, turning inquiring eyes under his chiseled brow, now and then jumping up suddenly and confiding some new project with intensely electric feeling. At one of these sittings Crane passionately appealed to me to support his idea that Conrad should collaborate with him in a play on the theme of a ship wrecked on an island. I knew it was hopelessly unworkable this plan, but Crane's brilliant visualization of the scenes was so strong and infectious that I had not the heart to declare my own opinion. And Conrad's skeptical answers were couched in the tenderest, most reluctant tone. I can still hear the shades of Crane's poignant friendliness in his cry "Joseph!" And Conrad's delight in Crane's personality glowed in the shining warmth of his brown eyes. When Conrad wished to surrender himself to anybody he did it single-heartedly in irresistible fashion. I remember on the occasion of a visit which he and Jessie Conrad paid to the Cearne in 1898, coming suddenly on him and my son David, aged six, sailing in the grass plot in a big zinc tub, rigged up with a broomstick, a table-cloth and a clothes-line. The illusion of a real boat was strangely complete, with Conrad shifting the sheet in the breeze while giving sharp orders to the boy crew in nautical language.

This gay buoyancy of spirit, while more in evidence in early years, contrasted curiously with the antithetic mental atmosphere of Conrad's sardonic brooding and disenchantment with life. The serious, contemplative stare Conrad's features often assumed in repose, with a shade of the saturnine, is well rendered in Miss E. M. Heath's portrait of him, done in 1898, a likeness which he himself declared bore a strong resemblance to his father. The portrait does not how ever convey the extraordinary soft warmth of Conrad's eyes, which always struck me when talking with him. The painting was executed in a single sitting at the Cearne while I tasked myself to entertain him. One of my anecdotes drew from him the following: "Yes, dear Edward. But have you ever had to keep an enraged negro armed with a razor from coming aboard, along a teninch plank, and drive him back to the wharf with only a short stick in your hand?" But to recur to the temperamental moods that blend in Conrad's creations and endow them with the most complex qualities, one may say that the Korzienowski parental side, with its "terrible gift of irony" rules, as astrologers put it, over the majority of the pages of "The Secret Agent," and that his Bobrowski heritage rules similarly over most of the pages of "The Mirror of the Sea." Of course these are approximate labels, but M. JeanAubry has shown that the letters to Conrad from his maternal uncle Thaddeus Bobrowski attribute certain of Conrad's traits to his Korzienowski inheritance.

fusion of the two moods in Conrad's temperament, to my mind, is that example of his Polish virtuosity, his story "The Duel." That brilliant, gay, ironical, masterpiece has been underrated because the Anglo-Saxon is temperamentally unsympathetic to its qualities. I once witnessed a ludicrous interview between Conrad and a certain hard north country Englishman who shall here be nameless. Conrad, for an admirable reason, was anxious to propitiate his host, but his ingratiating manner roused the Englishman's suspicions, and the latter became stiffer and harder, while Conrad struggled bravely to disarm his insular doubts. It was a relief to both of us when we had bowed ourselves out from this dour north countryman's presence.


Great quickness of eye was one of Conrad's gifts. I remember while sitting one evening with him in the Café Royal I asked him, after a painted lady had brushed haughtily past our table, what he had specially noticed about her. "The dirt in her nostril," he replied instantly. On this acute sense rested his faculty of selecting the telling detail. It was an unconscious faculty, so he said. I remarked once of the first draft of "The Rescue," that as a seaman he must have noted professionally the details of the rain-storm at sea described in Chapter III. Conrad denied this, and asserted that all such pictures of nature had been stored up unconsciously in his memory, and that they only sprung into life when he took up the pen.

That Conrad's memory had extraordinary wealth of observation to

One of the finest examples of the draw on I had an illuminating proof

in "Heart of Darkness." Some time before he wrote this story of his Congo experience he narrated it at length one morning while we were walking up and down under a row of Scotch firs that leads down to the Cearne. I listened enthralled while he gave me in detail a very full synopsis of what he intended to write. To my surprise when I saw the printed version I found that about a third of the most striking incidents had been replaced by others of which he had said nothing at all. The effect of the written narrative was no less somber than the spoken, and the end was more consummate; but I regretted the omission of various scenes, one of which described the hero lying sick to death in a native hut, tended by an old negress who brought him water from day to day, when he had been abandoned by all the Belgians. "She saved my life," Conrad said, "the white men never came near me." When on several occasions in those early years I praised his psychological insight he questioned seriously whether he possessed such a power and deplored the lack of opportunities for intimate observa

tion that a sailor's life had offered him. On one occasion on describing to him a terrible family tragedy of which I had been an eye-witness, Conrad became visibly ill-humored and at last cried out with exasperation, "Nothing of the kind has ever come my way! I have spent half my life knocking about in ships, only getting ashore between voyages. I know nothing, nothing! except from the outside. I have to guess at everything!" This was of course the artist's blind jealousy speaking, coveting the experiences he had not had, and certainly he could have woven a literary masterpiece out of the threads I held, had he ever known the actors.

I may here note that Conrad's "strong foreign accent" in March 1893 to which Mr. Galsworthy has testified in his "Reminiscences of Joseph Conrad," seemed to me only slight in November 1894. But when he read aloud to me some newly written manuscript pages of “An Outcast of the Islands" he mispronounced so many words that I followed him with difficulty. I found then that he had never once heard these English words spoken, but had learned them all from books!

(Concluded next month)

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