(This is the last but one of those chapter-headings which have been designed merely to attract the favourable notice of the reading public; in future they will have some connection with the text, possible even a discoverable one, in certain cases of great gravity.)
How jolly it would be, and how easy to wander on for ever, canoeing, as it were, down a broad stream of absinthe to the Great Lakes of Dementia. But it may not be! Our hero — even our echo-hero, Sir Roger Bloxam — must be made sympathetic, interesting, vital. And he does not even exist so far; at least I’ve never let the reader get a glimpse of him. Yet it is he that makes me merry; and God help the men and women that cross the path of Astarte Lulu Panthea Crowley, beginning in about 1935, Era Vulgari. The truth is this; it is a very serious matter to get your hero on to the stage; for you have to do that for him; once there he’ll start like a fighting-cock, if he’s of the right stuff; but who’ll break the champagne over the bows of my battleship? There’s the D’Artagnan way of coming on, me father’s sword, letter to the Captain of the Guard, no money; then a thwacking of a duel or two, and it’s perfectly natural to be saving the queen’s honour, and never riding at less than thirty miles an hour with sixteen bullets to the cubic inch of you.
And there’s the Hamlet way of preparing the scene, and then flipping him on; and that way, which is Shakespeare’s invariable way, makes the man natural from the beginning. Ibsen does the same; it is clearly right; one must not make one’s man incredible from the moment of his appearance.
But what of the fantastics? Maître Alcofribas Nasier cares for none of these things. Nor Aristophanes, huge of laughter, eater of conventions. The fact is that I had rather conceived Sir Roger Bloxam — and the hero, of whom you hear some day, if you will — in this Punch and Judy spirit. This novel was not to be the tale of an Ego in a Cosmos, but the whirl of a Cosmos round an Ego. The scenery was to be stage properties; and now I hesitate whether I should not play in the wild woodland. Why not tell the truth? Because I do not know the truth; if I did, I were a greater philosopher than even myself.
Penrhyn Stanlaws told me that he liked a novel to begin “Bang! A rifle shot rang through the woods” because you want to know at once “who shot at whom, or what, and why, and did he hit or miss?” I tried this idea with the title of Chapter 44; but then — [?] — alas! no need to tell what then! If Gwendolen Otter were here, she would tell me how to begin; if Anna Wright were here, she would shew me how to begin; if Berthe Leroux or Marie Maddingley or Peggy Marchmont were here, I would already have begun! I would I were afoot in the Sahara desert, with my untrusty chela, Lampada Tradam, his hair chopped to look like the devil, so that the Arabs may take me for a great sorcerer to have tamed him, and with Mohammed bin Rahman and el Arabi and that prince of fools, the camel-man. To camp at Wain t’Aissha for a month, and let the peace of the desert seduce the soul. Then could Sir Roger Bloxam prance it untrammelled, horsed and armed, a very scorpion of the sand.
Nay, the Old Absinthe House must serve my turn; I will take wings and follow the Mississippi to the sacred Delta; thence I will take passage in the Gulf Stream with those two spirits that loved the Albatross, and with them, by’r Lady, I’ll put a girdle round the earth in forty chapters! But be prepared for all; you’ll not know whether I’m a realist or a phantastic till you have finished Our Story and are ready to turn back to read it over again!