He does more than this in his preface, indeed, a marvellous piece of reality and irony which tells how a courtesan in Gibraltar fell madly in love with a gentleman-sponger who lived on her money while he could, and then took the first boat home with discreet heartlessness on coming into a bequest from a far-off cousin. “Good God, a pretty sight I should have looked....” he explained to a kindred spirit as they paced the deck of the boat to get an appetite. “I like her well enough, but what I say is, Charity begins at home, my boy. Ah, there’s the dinner bell!” Mr. Graham has a noble courtesy, an unerring chivalry that makes him range himself on the side of the bottom dog, a detestation of anything like bullying—every gift of charity, indeed, except the shy genius of pity. For lack of this last, some of his sketches, such as Un Autre Monsieur, are mere anecdotes and decorations.
Possibly, it is as a romantic decorator that Mr. Graham, in his art as opposed to his politics, would prefer to be judged. He has dredged half the world for his themes and colours, and Spain and Paraguay and Morocco and Scotland and London’s tangled streets all provide settings for his romantic rearrangements of life in this book. He has a taste for uncivil scenes, as Henley had a taste for uncivil words. Even a London street becomes a scene of this kind as he pictures it in his imagination with huge motorbuses, like demons of violence, smashing their way through the traffic. Or he takes us to some South American forest, where the vampire bats suck the blood of horses during the night. Or he introduces us to a Spanish hidalgo, “tall, wry-necked, and awkwardly built, with a nose like a lamprey and feet like coracles.” (For there is the same note of violence, of exaggeration, in his treatment of persons as of places.) Even in Scotland, he takes us by preference to some lost mansion standing in grotesque contrast to the “great drabness of prosperity which overspreads the world.” He is a great scene-painter of wildernesses and lawless places, indeed. He is a Bohemian, a lover of adventures in wild and sunny lands, and even the men and women are apt to become features in the strange scenery of his pilgrimages rather than dominating portraits. In his descriptions he uses a splendid rhetoric such as no other living writer of English commands. He has revived rhetoric as a literary instrument. Aubrey Beardsley called Turner a rhetorician in paint. If we were to speak of Mr. Graham as a painter in rhetoric, we should be doing more than making a phrase.
But Mr. Graham cannot be summed up in a phrase. To meet him in his books is one of the desirable experiences of contemporary literature, as to hear him speak is one of the desirable experiences of modern politics. Protest, daring, chivalry, the passion for the colour of life and the colour of words—he is the impersonation of these things in a world that is muddling its way half-heartedly towards the Promised Land.