If I were a Dictator I would make him the Great Showman of London. I would have him taking us round and inspiring us with something of his own delight in our astonishing City. We should no longer look upon London then as if it were a sort of Bradshaw’s Guide: we should find it as fascinating as a fairy tale, as full of human interest as a Canterbury Pilgrimage. We should never go to Snow Hill without memories of Fagin, or to Eastcheap without seeing Falstaff swaggering along its pavements. Bread Street would resound to us with the tread of young Milton, and Southwark with the echoes of Shakespeare’s voice and the jolly laughter of the Pilgrims at the Tabard. Hogarth would accompany us about Covent Garden, and out of Bolt Court we should see the lumbering figure of Johnson emerging into his beloved Fleet Street. We would sit by the fountain in the Temple with Tom Pinch, and take a wherry to Westminster with Mr. Pepys. We should see London then as a great spiritual companionship, in which it is our privilege to have a fleeting part.
Thank heaven! I have caught it.... I am in a corner seat, the compartment is not crowded, the train is about to start, and for an hour and a half, while we rattle towards that haven of solitude on the hill that I have written of aforetime, I can read, or think, or smoke, or sleep, or talk, or write as I choose. I think I will write, for I am in the humour for writing. Do you know what it is to be in the humour for writing—to feel that there is a head of steam somewhere that must blow off? It isn’t so much that you have something you want to say as that you must say something. And, after all, what does the subject matter? Any peg will do to hang your hat on. The hat is the thing. That saying of Rameau fits the idea to perfection. Some one was asking that great composer if he did not find difficulty in selecting a subject. “Difficulty? A subject?” said Rameau. “Not at all. One subject is as good as another. Here, bring me the Dutch Gazette.”
That is how I feel now, as the lights of London fade in our wake and the fresh air of the country blows in at the window. Subject? Difficulty? Here bring me the Dutch Gazette. But while any subject would serve there is one of particular interest to me at this moment. It came into my mind as I ran along the platform just now. It is the really important subject of catching trains. There are some people who make nothing of catching trains. They can catch trains with as miraculous an ease as Cinquevalli catches half-a-dozen billiard-balls. I believe they could catch trains in their sleep. They are never too early and never too late. They leave home or office with a quiet certainty of doing the thing that is simply stupefying. Whether they walk, or take a bus, or call a taxi, it is the same: they do not hurry, they do not worry, and when they find they are in time and that there’s plenty of room they manifest no surprise.