Father Payne broke out suddenly after dinner to two or three of us about a book he had been reading.
“It’s called a Life,” he said, “at the top of every page almost. I don’t wonder the author felt it necessary to remind you—or perhaps he was reminding himself? I can see him,” said Father Payne, “saying to himself with a rueful expression, ‘This is a Life, undoubtedly!’ Why, the waxworks of Madame Tussaud are models of vivacity and agility compared to it. I never set eyes on such a book!”
“Why on earth did you go on reading it?” said I.
“Well may you ask!” said Father Payne. “It’s one of my weaknesses; if I begin a book, I can put it down if it is moderately good; but if it is either very good or very bad, I can’t get out of it—I feel like a wasp in a honey-pot. I make faint sticky motions of flight—but on I go.”
“Whose life was it?” I said, laughing.
“I hardly know,” said Father Payne. “It leaves on my mind the impression of his having been a decent old party enough. I think he must have been a general merchant—he seems to have had pretty nearly everything on hand. He wrote books, I gather”; and Father Payne groaned.
“What were they about?” I said.
“I don’t know, I’m sure,” said Father Payne. “History and stuff—literary essays, and people’s influence, perhaps. He went in for accounting for things, I fancy, and explaining things away. There were extracts which alienated my attention faster than any extracts I ever read. I could not keep my mind on them. God preserve me from ever falling in with any of his books; I should spend days in reading them! He travelled too—he was always travelling. Why couldn’t he leave Europe alone? He has left his trail all over Europe, like a snail. He has defiled all the finest scenery on the Continent. But, by Jove, he met his match in his biographer; he has been accounted for all right. And yet I feel that it was rather hard on him. If he could have held his tongue about things in general, and if his biographer could have held his tongue about him, it would have been all right. He did no harm, so far as I can make out—he was honest and upright; he would have done very well as a trustee.”
Father Payne stopped, and looked round with a melancholy air. “I have gathered,” he said, “after several hours’ reading, three interesting facts about him. The first is that he wore rather loud checks—I liked that—I detected a touch of vanity in that. The second is that he was fond of quoting poetry, and the moment he did so, his voice became wholly inaudible from emotion—that’s a good touch. And the third is that, if he had a guest staying with him, he used to talk continuously in the smoking-room, light his candle, go on talking, walk away talking—by Jove, I can hear him doing it—all up the stairs, along the passage