Writing On Literature

  • 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,
  • You are going to live in a country far far away, not by distance, but by ideas and behaviour. You are going to live in a difficult and mysterious country. In the first few days you will think: ‘This undertaking is hopeless; I’ll never get to know them; the gulf is too wide to be bridged.’ Don’t panic. We can bridge it. Tell yourself that when you are eventually adopted they will be the most faithful of friends. Read Lawrence’s book Revolt in the Desert; you’ll see how this lone Englishman crossed a dangerous desert to search for a nobody Arab left behind by the caravan. Such is the friendship of the best among them. I tested it out for myself

    Jul 01,