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"More Trivia", by Logan Pearsall Smith

{Logan Pearsall Smith (1865 – 1946) was an American-born British essayist and critic. Harvard and Oxford educated, hewas known for his aphorisms and epigrams, and his Trivia has been highly rated. He was a literary perfectionist and could take days refining his sentences. He is now probably most remembered for his autobiography Unforgotten Years (1938). Wikipedia}

Extracts from :

Logan Pearsall Smith

More Trivia



WHAT funny clothes you wear, dear Readers ! And your hats ! The thought of your hats make me laugh ! And I think your sex-theories quite horrid.

Thus across the void of time I send, with a wave of my hand, a greeting to that quaint, remote, outlandish, unborn people whom we call Posterity, and whom I, like other very great writers, claim as my readers––urging them to hurry up and get born––that they may have the pleasure of reading 'More Trivia.'



Punctual, commonplace, keeping all appointments, as I go my round in the obvious world, a bit of Chaos and old Night lingers on inside me; a dark bewilderment of mind, a nebulous sea of meditation; a looming of speculative universes out of nothing, and their collapse, as in a dream.


Dining Out

When I think of Etiquette and Funerals; when I consider the euphemisms and conventions and various costumes with which we invest the acts of our animal existence; when I bear in mind how elegantly we eat our victuals, and remember all the ablutions and preparations and salutations and exclamations and manipulations I performed when I dined out last evening, I reflect what creatures we are of ceremony; how elaborately polite a simian Species.


Good Practice

We met in an omnibus last evening. 'And where are you going now?' she asked, as she looked at me with amusement.

'I am going, if the awful truth must be told, to dine in Grosvenor Square.'

'Lord !' she colloquially replied, 'and what do you do that for ?'

'I do it because I am invited. And besides,' I went on, 'let me remind you of what the Persian Mystics say of the Saints — that the Saints are sometimes rich, that God sometimes endows Those Holy Ones with an outward show of wealth to hide them from the profane.'

'Oh, does He ? ; — Hides them in Grosvenor Square ?'

'Very well then, I shall tell you the real truth; I shall tell you my real reason for going to dine there. Do you remember what Diogenes replied when they wanted to know why he had begged for money from a statue ?'

'No; what did he say?'

'He said;—but I must explain another time. I have to get off here. Good-night.'

I paused, however, at the door of the bus. 'He said,' I called back, '“I am practising Disappointment.”


What's Wrong

From their corner of the half-empty drawing-room they could see in a great mirror the other dinner-guests linger and depart. But none of them were going on—what was the good?—to that evening party. They talked of satiety and disenchantment, of the wintry weather, of illness, of Age and Death.

'But what really frightens me most in life,' said one of them, 'what gives me a kind of vertigo or shiver, is—it sounds absurd, but it's simply the horror of space, l'épouvante sidérale—the dismay of Infinity, the black abysses in the Milky Way, the silence of those eternal spaces.'

'But Time,' said another of the group, 'surely Time is a worse nightmare. Think of it! the Past with never a beginning, the Future going on for ever and ever, and the little Present in which we live, twinkling for a second, between these abysses.'

'What's wrong with me,' mused the third speaker, 'is that even the Present eludes me. I don't know what it really is; I can never catch the moment as it passes; I am always far ahead or far away behind, and always somewhere else. I am not really here now with you. And why should I go to the party ? I shouldn't be there, either, if I went. My life is all reminiscence and anticipation—if you can call it life, if I am not rather a kind of ghost, haunting a past that has ceased to exist, or a future that is still more shadowy. It's ghastly in a way, this exile and isolation. But why speak of it, after all ?'

They rose, and their figures too were reflected in the great mirror, as they passed out of the drawing-room, and dispersed, each on his or her way, into the winter night.



People often seem to take me for someone else; they talk to me as if I were a person of earnest views and unalterable convictions. 'What is your opinion of Democracy?' they ask. 'Are you in favour of the Channel Tunnel?' 'Do you believe in existence after Death?'

I assume a thoughtful attitude, and by means of grave looks and evasive answers, I conceal—or at least I hope I conceal—my discreditable secret.


The Alien

The older I grow, the more of an alien I find myself in the world; I cannot get used to it, cannot believe that it is real. I think I must have been made to live on some other Star. Or perhaps I am subject to hallucinations and hear voices; perhaps what I seem to see is delusion and doesn't happen; perhaps people don't really say the things I think I hear them saying.



'And what do you think of the International Situation?' asked that foreign Countess, with her foreign, fascinating smile.

Was she a Spy ? I felt I must be careful.

'What do I think ?' I evasively echoed; and then, carried away by the profound and melancholy interest of this question, 'Think ?' I queried, 'do I ever really think ? Is there anything inside me but cotton-wool ? How can I, with a mind full of grey monkeys with blue faces, call myself a Thinker? What am I anyhow ?' I pursued the sad inquiry: 'A noodle, a pigwidgeon, a ninny-hammer — a bubble on the wave, Madame, a leaf in the wind !'



'Yes, as you say, life is so full of disappointment, disillusion ! More and more I ask myself, as I grow older, what is the good of it all? We dress, we go out to dinner,' I went on, 'but surely we walk in a vain show, as the Bible puts it, and are crushed before the moth. How good this asparagus is! I often say asparagus is the most delicious vegetable of all. And yet, I don't know — when one thinks of fresh green peas. One can get tired of asparagus, as one can of strawberries — but I could eat tender peas for ever. Then peaches, and melons; — and there are certain pears, too, that taste like heaven.

One of my favourite daydreams for the long evening of my life is to live alone, a formal, greedy, selfish old gentleman, in a square house, say, in Devonshire, with a square garden, whose walls are covered with apricots and figs and peaches: and there are precious pears, too, of my own planting, on espaliers along the paths. I shall walk out with a gold-headed cane in the smoky sunshine, and just at the ripe moment pick another pear. However, that isn't at all what I was going to say —'


The Wrong Word

We were talking of the Universe at tea, and one of our company declared that he at least was entirely without illusions. He had long since faced the fact that Nature had no sympathy with our hopes and fears, and was icily indifferent to our fate. The Universe, he said, was a great meaningless machine; Man, with his reason and moral judgements, was the product of blind forces, which, though they would so soon destroy him, he must yet despise.

To endure this tragedy of our fate with passionless despair, never to wince or bow the head, to confront the hostile powers with high disdain, to fix with eyes of scorn the Gorgon face of Destiny, to stand on the brink of the abyss, clenching his fist at the death-pale stars—this, he said, was his attitude, and it produced, as you can imagine, a powerful impression on the company. As for me, I was carried away completely.

'By Jove, that is a stunt !' I cried.



Half-way along the street I stopped; I had forgotten the errand which had brought me out. What was it I wanted? There was nothing on earth I wanted; I stood there, motionless, without desire, like a ship at sea, deserted of all winds. It seemed as if I might stand there for ever.

Then, as with the shadow of a cloud, or ripple of the returning breeze, the wind of impulse darkened over the waters and filled my sails again. Life was again momentous, full of meaning; and radiant to my imagination the stamps, red and green and golden, I had hurried out to buy.



Sometimes my soul floats out beyond the constellations; then all the vast life of the Universe is mine. Then again it evaporates, it shrinks, it dwindles; and of that flood which over-brimmed the bowl of the great Cosmos there is hardly enough now left to fill a teaspoon.



People often said that there was nothing sadder, She mourned, than the remembrance of past happiness; but to her it seemed that not the way we remember, but the way we forget, was the real tragedy of life. Everything fades from us; our joys and sorrows vanish alike in the irrevocable flux; we can't stay their fleeting. Didn't I feel, She moaned, the sadness of this forgetting, this outliving the things we care for; this constant dying, so to speak, in the midst of life ?

I felt its sadness very much; I felt quite lugubrious about it. 'And yet,' I said (for I did really want to think of something that might console this lamentable lady), 'and yet can't we find, in this fading of recollection, some recompense, after all ? Think, for instance —.' But what, alas, could I suggest ?

'Think,' I began once more after a pause of deep consideration, 'think of forgetting, and reading, and reforgetting and re-reading all Jane Austen's novels!'


The Platitude

'It's after all the little things in life that really matter !'

I was as much chagrined as they were flabbergasted by this involuntary outbreak; but I have become an expert in that Taoist art of disintegration which Yen Hui described to Confucius as 'the art of sitting and forgetting.' I have learnt to lay aside my personality in embarrassed moments, to dissolve this self of mine into the All Pervading; to fall back, in fact, into the universal flux, and sit, as I now sat there, a blameless lump of matter, rolled on according to the heavens' rolling, with rocks and trees.



'Aren't you ashamed of yourself ?' asked my hostess, when she found me alone in the supper-room, after all the other guests had gone.

'Ashamed ? Why should I be ashamed ?' I asked, as I went on eating. 'I am simply following the precepts of Aristippus of Cyrene, who maintains that we should live wholly in the present moment, which alone exists, and in which alone the absolute Good of life is before us. It's only by regarding each Moment as an eternity, with no before or after, and by calmly and resolutely culling, without fear, or passion, or prejudice, the Good it offers — it is only thus, he says, that Wisdom is made manifest; only thus,' I explained, as I took another caviare-sandwich, 'that mortals can participate in the felicity of the Gods — the bright Gods, who feed on happiness for ever.'



'But you haven't spoken a word : — you ought to tell us what you think.'

'The truth is,' I whispered in her unaverted ear, 'the truth is, I talk too much. Think of all the years I have been wagging my tongue; think how I shall go on wagging it, till it's smothered in dust !'

'And the worst of it is,' I went on hoarsely whispering, 'the horror is that no one understands me; I can never make clear to anyone my view of things. I may talk till I am black in the face, and no one will ever know — I shall go down to the deep, dark grave — and no one will know what I mean.'

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