Writing On Literature

  • In England, don’t kill anybody.  You’ll be hung.  In front of a French jury, if you have a bit of imagination, a good-looking face and a smart lawyer, you can just about save yourself.  But twelve English jurors will have no sympathy for your hurt and heartbreak.  They'll have you strung up by the neck until you’re dead. So be careful, and avoid their courts of law.  The cross-questioning of their lawyers is so unbearably skilful that to escape their hail of questions you'll gladly swear you stole Nelson’s Column. Remember that respect for the law is greater here than elsewhere.  In English, ‘Keep Off the Grass’ does not mean ‘Go On Then, No-one Really Cares.’

    Jul 09,
  • Before you leave, everyone will tell you how poor the food is in England.  This isn’t entirely true.  If you know how to time your hunger, you’ll be able to eat perfectly well.  In England there are two excellent meals: breakfast and tea.  Reserve your appetite for these meals only. Learn to appreciate new pleasures: porridge, kippers, marmelade.  At lunch-time, fill yourself up with a big piece of rare beef or some admirably pink ham.  Refuse desert, in as manly a way as possible.  Say firmly: ‘I don’t like sweet.’ In England, every other shop is a sweet shop, but even so the English have no idea what to do with sugar.  Leave the desserts to the women and children. Adopt

    Jul 07,
  • Only two rules.  Dress like they do. Dress simply.  The English are conformists.  If you play golf in jodhpurs, if you turn up for a regimental dinner in shorts, you will shock and sadden them.  But you’ll shock them even more if you have the bad taste to be overdressed.  None of your clothes should be over-tailored, nor your shoes over-new.  Miss Jane Harrison, in her Reminiscences of a Student’s Life, described the pleasure that she felt watching the Duke of Devonshire, at Cambridge, receive an honorary doctorate with his socks showing through the holes in his shoes.  ‘Right down to the holes in his shoes,’ she says, ‘I recognized that he was truly a Duke.’ Don’t think that

    Jul 06,
  • I’ll give you an example.  There was once a young Englishman who was invited to a fancy-dress ball at his neighbour’s in the country.  He decided to disguise himself as an Elizabethan jester.  He ordered a satin jacket, half-red and half-green, and short culottes with one green leg and one red.  He wore a two-toned pointed hat.  On the evening of the ball, he had himself driven to his friends’ house, but before he went in he sent his driver away.  He was a little surprised that the house was neither open nor lit up.  He rang the bell.  A butler opened the door, looked at him, and said nothing.  He showed the visitor, who he knew well, into the

    Jul 04,
  • At least until you’ve found your feet, speak little.  In France it is impolite to let a conversation drop; in England it’s imprudent to pick it up again.  No-one here will reproach you for your silence, and when after three years you still haven’t opened your mouth they’ll think:  ‘What a calm and pleasant Frenchman this one is.’  Be modest.  An Englishman will say to you: ‘I’ve a little place in the country’.  When he takes you there, you’ll discover that the little place is a stately home with 300 rooms.  If you are a world champion tennis-player, say: ‘Yes, I don’t play too badly.’  If you've sailed a six-metre skiff across the Atlantic, you might mention you do a little canoeing. 

    Jul 03,