“You see,” said old Osborne to George, “what comes of merit and industry and judicious speculations and that. Look at me and my banker’s account. Look at your poor grandfather Sedley and his failure. And yet he was a better man than I was, this day twenty years—a better man I should say by twenty thousand pounds.”
I fancy I, too, have my professional way of looking at things, and am disposed to judge men, not by what they do but by the skill they have in the use of words. And I know that when an artist comes into my house he “sizes me up” from the pictures on the wall, just as when the upholsterer comes he “places” me according to the style of the chairs and the quality of the carpet, or as when the gourmet comes he judges by the cooking and the wine. If you give him champagne he reverences you; if hock he puts you among the commonplace.
In short, we all go through life wearing spectacles coloured by our own tastes, our own calling, and our own prejudices, measuring our neighbours by our own tape-measure, summing them up according to our own private arithmetic. We see subjectively, not objectively; what we are capable of seeing, not what there is to be seen. It is not wonderful that we make so many bad guesses at that prismatic thing, the truth.
I see that the Spectator, in reviewing a new book on the Tower, says that, whilst visitors to London usually visit that historic monument, Londoners themselves rarely visit it. There is, I suppose, a good deal of truth in this. I know a man who was born in London, and has spent all his working life in Fleet Street, who confesses that he has never yet been inside the Tower. It is not because he is lacking in interest. He has been to St. Peter’s at Rome, and he went to Madrid largely to see the Prado. If the Tower had been on the other side of Europe, I think he would probably have made a pilgrimage to it, but it has been within a stone’s-throw of him all his life, and therefore he has never found time to visit it.
It is so, more or less, with most of us. Apply the test to yourself or to your friends who live in London, and you will probably be astonished at the number of precious things that you and they have not seen—not because they are so distant, but because they are so near. Have you been to the Record Office, for example? I haven’t, although it is within a couple of hundred yards of where I work and although I know it is rich in priceless treasures. I am always going, but “never get,” as they say in Lancashire. It is too handy.
I was talking the other day to a City merchant who lives at Sydenham, and who has never seen Hampstead Heath. He had been travelling from Sydenham to the City for a quarter of a century, and has worn the rut so deep that he cannot get out of it, and has hardly more likelihood of seeing the Northern Heights than of visiting the mountains of the moon. Yet Hampstead Heath, which he could see in a morning for the cost of a threepenny ride in the Tube, is one of the incomparable things of Nature. I doubt whether there is such a wonderful open space within the limits of any other great city. It has hints of the seaside and the mountain, the moor and the down in most exquisite union, and the Spaniards Road is as noble a promenade as you will find anywhere.