Tony Luton was just a merry-eyed dancing faun, whom Fate had surrounded with streets instead of woods, and it would have been in the highest degree inartistic to have sounded him for a heart or a heartache.
The dancing of the faun took one day a livelier and more assured turn, the joyousness became more real, and the worst of the vicissitudes seemed suddenly over. A musical friend, gifted with mediocre but marketable abilities, supplied Tony with a song, for which he obtained a trial performance at an East End hall. Dressed as a jockey, for no particular reason except that the costume suited him, he sang, “They quaff the gay bubbly in Eccleston Square” to an appreciative audience, which included the manager of a famous West End theatre of varieties. Tony and his song won the managerial favour, and were immediately transplanted to the West End house, where they scored a success of which the drooping music-hall industry was at the moment badly in need.
It was just after the great catastrophe, and men of the London world were in no humour to think; they had witnessed the inconceivable befall them, they had nothing but political ruin to stare at, and they were anxious to look the other way. The words of Tony’s song were more or less meaningless, though he sang them remarkably well, but the tune, with its air of slyness and furtive joyousness, appealed in some unaccountable manner to people who were furtively unhappy, and who were trying to appear stoically cheerful.
“What must be, must be,” and “It’s a poor heart that never rejoices,” were the popular expressions of the London public at that moment, and the men who had to cater for that public were thankful when they were able to stumble across anything that fitted in with the prevailing mood.
NOTE: This third excerpt from Saki’s 1913 novel When William Came: A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns is the last I’ll post here for a while.
The weakened pulse/diminished spirit/fait accompli London and Britain Saki subtly, surgically and affectingly depicts in the book so closely resembles our own current social and political environment that it is almost too tempting to rely on it as a daily diary substitute.
When William Came is apparently disfavored by Saki enthusiasts, but since it’s the first example of his work I’ve read, I can’t be concerned with that.
Engaging in the inevitable search for relevant artistic comparisons, When William Came reminds me of the autumn decay mood John Cale sound-and-word-painted so well on his Paris, 1919 album, but especially of his summer destruction masterpiece, Leaving It Up To You, which laid bare passivity’s evil harvest.
John Cale: The Endless Plain Of Fortune (Link)
John Cale: Leaving It Up To You (Link)