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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Three Men on the Bummel -> Chapter 5

Three Men on the Bummel - Chapter 5

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14


A necessary digression--Introduced by story containing moral--One
of the charms of this book--The Journal that did not command
success--Its boast: "Instruction combined with Amusement"--
Problem: say what should be considered instructive and what
amusing--A popular game--Expert opinion on English law--Another of
the charms of this book--A hackneyed tune--Yet a third charm of
this book--The sort of wood it was where the maiden lived--
Description of the Black Forest.

A story is told of a Scotchman who, loving a lassie, desired her
for his wife. But he possessed the prudence of his race. He had
noticed in his circle many an otherwise promising union result in
disappointment and dismay, purely in consequence of the false
estimate formed by bride or bridegroom concerning the imagined
perfectability of the other. He determined that in his own case no
collapsed ideal should be possible. Therefore, it was that his
proposal took the following form:

"I'm but a puir lad, Jennie; I hae nae siller to offer ye, and nae

"Ah, but ye hae yoursel', Davie!"

"An' I'm wishfu' it wa' onything else, lassie. I'm nae but a puir
ill-seasoned loon, Jennie."

"Na, na; there's mony a lad mair ill-looking than yoursel', Davie."

"I hae na seen him, lass, and I'm just a-thinkin' I shouldna' care

"Better a plain man, Davie, that ye can depend a' than ane that
would be a speirin' at the lassies, a-bringin' trouble into the
hame wi' his flouting ways."

"Dinna ye reckon on that, Jennie; it's nae the bonniest Bubbly Jock
that mak's the most feathers to fly in the kailyard. I was ever a
lad to run after the petticoats, as is weel kent; an' it's a weary
handfu' I'll be to ye, I'm thinkin'."

"Ah, but ye hae a kind heart, Davie! an' ye love me weel. I'm sure

"I like ye weel enoo', Jennie, though I canna say how long the
feeling may bide wi' me; an' I'm kind enoo' when I hae my ain way,
an' naethin' happens to put me oot. But I hae the deevil's ain
temper, as my mither call tell ye, an' like my puir fayther, I'm a-
thinkin', I'll grow nae better as I grow mair auld."

"Ay, but ye're sair hard upon yersel', Davie. Ye're an honest lad.
I ken ye better than ye ken yersel', an' ye'll mak a guid hame for

"Maybe, Jennie! But I hae my doots. It's a sair thing for wife
an' bairns when the guid man canna keep awa' frae the glass; an'
when the scent of the whusky comes to me it's just as though I
hae'd the throat o' a Loch Tay salmon; it just gaes doon an' doon,
an' there's nae filling o' me."

"Ay, but ye're a guid man when ye're sober, Davie."

"Maybe I'll be that, Jennie, if I'm nae disturbed."

"An' ye'll bide wi' me, Davie, an' work for me?"

"I see nae reason why I shouldna bide wi' yet Jennie; but dinna ye
clack aboot work to me, for I just canna bear the thoct o't."

"Anyhow, ye'll do your best, Davie? As the minister says, nae man
can do mair than that."

"An' it's a puir best that mine'll be, Jennie, and I'm nae sae sure
ye'll hae ower muckle even o' that. We're a' weak, sinfu'
creatures, Jennie, an' ye'd hae some deefficulty to find a man
weaker or mair sinfu' than mysel'."

"Weel, weel, ye hae a truthfu' tongue, Davie. Mony a lad will mak
fine promises to a puir lassie, only to break 'em an' her heart wi'
'em. Ye speak me fair, Davie, and I'm thinkin' I'll just tak ye,
an' see what comes o't."

Concerning what did come of it, the story is silent, but one feels
that under no circumstances had the lady any right to complain of
her bargain. Whether she ever did or did not--for women do not
invariably order their tongues according to logic, nor men either
for the matter of that--Davie, himself, must have had the
satisfaction of reflecting that all reproaches were undeserved.

I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish
here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one
to read this book under a misapprehension.

There will be no useful information in this book.

Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be
able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would
probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all
events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The
farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his

I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte.
This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me
by experience.

In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the
forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day.
Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to
what should be regarded as affording amusement and what
instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to
people about to marry--long, earnest advice that would, had they
followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole
married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by
keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must
have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up
journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved
conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit
farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at
the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand
a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might
not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he
had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit
farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many
start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has
always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a
rabbit farm saps the judgment.

We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland,
and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red
herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to
Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down
a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order
in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average
woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information
calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other

We told them how to cure fits in cats. Personally I do not
believe, and I did not believe then, that you can cure fits in
cats. If I had a cat subject to fits I should advertise it for
sale, or even give it away. But our duty was to supply information
when asked for. Some fool wrote, clamouring to know; and I spent
the best part of a morning seeking knowledge on the subject. I
found what I wanted at length at the end of an old cookery book.
What it was doing there I have never been able to understand. It
had nothing to do with the proper subject of the book whatever;
there was no suggestion that you could make anything savoury out of
a cat, even when you had cured it of its fits. The authoress had
just thrown in this paragraph out of pure generosity. I can only
say that I wish she had left it out; it was the cause of a deal of
angry correspondence and of the loss of four subscribers to the
paper, if not more. The man said the result of following our
advice had been two pounds worth of damage to his kitchen crockery,
to say nothing of a broken window and probable blood poisoning to
himself; added to which the cat's fits were worse than before. And
yet it was a simple enough recipe. You held the cat between your
legs, gently, so as not to hurt it, and with a pair of scissors
made a sharp, clean cut in its tail. You did not cut off any part
of the tail; you were to be careful not to do that; you only made
an incision.

As we explained to the man, the garden or the coal cellar would
have been the proper place for the operation; no one but an idiot
would have attempted to perform it in a kitchen, and without help.

We gave them hints on etiquette. We told them how to address peers
and bishops; also how to eat soup. We instructed shy young men how
to acquire easy grace in drawing-rooms. We taught dancing to both
sexes by the aid of diagrams. We solved their religious doubts for
them, and supplied them with a code of morals that would have done
credit to a stained-glass window.

The paper was not a financial success, it was some years before its
time, and the consequence was that our staff was limited. My own
apartment, I remember, included "Advice to Mothers"--I wrote that
with the assistance of my landlady, who, having divorced one
husband and buried four children, was, I considered, a reliable
authority on all domestic matters; "Hints on Furnishing and
Household Decorations--with Designs" a column of "Literary Counsel
to Beginners"--I sincerely hope my guidance was of better service
to them than it has ever proved to myself; and our weekly article,
"Straight Talks to Young Men," signed "Uncle Henry." A kindly,
genial old fellow was "Uncle Henry," with wide and varied
experience, and a sympathetic attitude towards the rising
generation. He had been through trouble himself in his far back
youth, and knew most things. Even to this day I read of "Uncle
Henry's" advice, and, though I say it who should not, it still
seems to me good, sound advice. I often think that had I followed
"Uncle Henry's" counsel closer I would have been wiser, made fewer
mistakes, felt better satisfied with myself than is now the case.

A quiet, weary little woman, who lived in a bed-sitting room off
the Tottenham Court Road, and who had a husband in a lunatic
asylum, did our "Cooking Column," "Hints on Education"--we were
full of hints,--and a page and a half of "Fashionable
Intelligence," written in the pertly personal style which even yet
has not altogether disappeared, so I am informed, from modern
journalism: "I must tell you about the DIVINE frock I wore at
'Glorious Goodwood' last week. Prince C.--but there, I really must
not repeat all the things the silly fellow says; he is TOO foolish-
-and the DEAR Countess, I fancy, was just the WEEISH bit jealous"--
and so on.

Poor little woman! I see her now in the shabby grey alpaca, with
the inkstains on it. Perhaps a day at "Glorious Goodwood," or
anywhere else in the fresh air, might have put some colour into her

Our proprietor--one of the most unashamedly ignorant men I ever
met--I remember his gravely informing a correspondent once that Ben
Jonson had written Rabelais to pay for his mother's funeral, and
only laughing good-naturedly when his mistakes were pointed out to
him--wrote with the aid of a cheap encyclopedia the pages devoted
to "General Information," and did them on the whole remarkably
well; while our office boy, with an excellent pair of scissors for
his assistant, was responsible for our supply of "Wit and Humour."

It was hard work, and the pay was poor, what sustained us was the
consciousness that we were instructing and improving our fellow men
and women. Of all games in the world, the one most universally and
eternally popular is the game of school. You collect six children,
and put them on a doorstep, while you walk up and down with the
book and cane. We play it when babies, we play it when boys and
girls, we play it when men and women, we play it as, lean and
slippered, we totter towards the grave. It never palls upon, it
never wearies us. Only one thing mars it: the tendency of one and
all of the other six children to clamour for their turn with the
book and the cane. The reason, I am sure, that journalism is so
popular a calling, in spite of its many drawbacks, is this: each
journalist feels he is the boy walking up and down with the cane.
The Government, the Classes, and the Masses, Society, Art, and
Literature, are the other children sitting on the doorstep. He
instructs and improves them.

But I digress. It was to excuse my present permanent
disinclination to be the vehicle of useful information that I
recalled these matters. Let us now return.

Somebody, signing himself "Balloonist," had written to ask
concerning the manufacture of hydrogen gas. It is an easy thing to
manufacture--at least, so I gathered after reading up the subject
at the British Museum; yet I did warn "Balloonist," whoever he
might be, to take all necessary precaution against accident. What
more could I have done? Ten days afterwards a florid-faced lady
called at the office, leading by the hand what, she explained, was
her son, aged twelve. The boy's face was unimpressive to a degree
positively remarkable. His mother pushed him forward and took off
his hat, and then I perceived the reason for this. He had no
eyebrows whatever, and of his hair nothing remained but a scrubby
dust, giving to his head the appearance of a hard-boiled egg,
skinned and sprinkled with black pepper.

"That was a handsome lad this time last week, with naturally curly
hair," remarked the lady. She spoke with a rising inflection,
suggestive of the beginning of things.

"What has happened to him?" asked our chief.

"This is what's happened to him," retorted the lady. She drew from
her muff a copy of our last week's issue, with my article on
hydrogen gas scored in pencil, and flung it before his eyes. Our
chief took it and read it through.

"He was 'Balloonist'?" queried the chief.

"He was 'Balloonist,'" admitted the lady, "the poor innocent child,
and now look at him!"

"Maybe it'll grow again," suggested our chief.

"Maybe it will," retorted the lady, her key continuing to rise,
"and maybe it won't. What I want to know is what you are going to
do for him."

Our chief suggested a hair wash. I thought at first she was going
to fly at him; but for the moment she confined herself to words.
It appears she was not thinking of a hair wash, but of
compensation. She also made observations on the general character
of our paper, its utility, its claim to public support, the sense
and wisdom of its contributors.

"I really don't see that it is our fault," urged the chief--he was
a mild-mannered man; "he asked for information, and he got it."

"Don't you try to be funny about it," said the lady (he had not
meant to be funny, I am sure; levity was not his failing) "or
you'll get something that YOU haven't asked for. Why, for two
pins," said the lady, with a suddenness that sent us both flying
like scuttled chickens behind our respective chairs, "I'd come
round and make your head like it!" I take it, she meant like the
boy's. She also added observations upon our chief's personal
appearance, that were distinctly in bad taste. She was not a nice
woman by any means.

Myself, I am of opinion that had she brought the action she
threatened, she would have had no case; but our chief was a man who
had had experience of the law, and his principle was always to
avoid it. I have heard him say:

"If a man stopped me in the street and demanded of me my watch, I
should refuse to give it to him. If he threatened to take it by
force, I feel I should, though not a fighting man, do my best to
protect it. If, on the other hand, he should assert his intention
of trying to obtain it by means of an action in any court of law, I
should take it out of my pocket and hand it to him, and think I had
got off cheaply."

He squared the matter with the florid-faced lady for a five-pound
note, which must have represented a month's profits on the paper;
and she departed, taking her damaged offspring with her. After she
was gone, our chief spoke kindly to me. He said:

"Don't think I am blaming you in the least; it is not your fault,
it is Fate. Keep to moral advice and criticism--there you are
distinctly good; but don't try your hand any more on 'Useful
Information.' As I have said, it is not your fault. Your
information is correct enough--there is nothing to be said against
that; it simply is that you are not lucky with it."

I would that I had followed his advice always; I would have saved
myself and other people much disaster. I see no reason why it
should be, but so it is. If I instruct a man as to the best route
between London and Rome, he loses his luggage in Switzerland, or is
nearly shipwrecked off Dover. If I counsel him in the purchase of
a camera, he gets run in by the German police for photographing
fortresses. I once took a deal of trouble to explain to a man how
to marry his deceased wife's sister at Stockholm. I found out for
him the time the boat left Hull and the best hotels to stop at.
There was not a single mistake from beginning to end in the
information with which I supplied him; no hitch occurred anywhere;
yet now he never speaks to me.

Therefore it is that I have come to restrain my passion for the
giving of information; therefore it is that nothing in the nature
of practical instruction will be found, if I can help it, within
these pages.

There will be no description of towns, no historical reminiscences,
no architecture, no morals.

I once asked an intelligent foreigner what he thought of London.

He said: "It is a very big town."

I said: "What struck you most about it?"

He replied: "The people."

I said: "Compared with other towns--Paris, Rome, Berlin,--what did
you think of it?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "It is bigger," he said; "what more can
one say?"

One anthill is very much like another. So many avenues, wide or
narrow, where the little creatures swarm in strange confusion;
these bustling by, important; these halting to pow-wow with one
another. These struggling with big burdens; those but basking in
the sun. So many granaries stored with food; so many cells where
the little things sleep, and eat, and love; the corner where lie
their little white bones. This hive is larger, the next smaller.
This nest lies on the sand, and another under the stones. This was
built but yesterday, while that was fashioned ages ago, some say
even before the swallows came; who knows?

Nor will there be found herein folk-lore or story.

Every valley where lie homesteads has its song. I will tell you
the plot; you can turn it into verse and set it to music of your

There lived a lass, and there came a lad, who loved and rode away.

It is a monotonous song, written in many languages; for the young
man seems to have been a mighty traveller. Here in sentimental
Germany they remember him well. So also the dwellers of the Blue
Alsatian Mountains remember his coming among them; while, if my
memory serves me truly, he likewise visited the Banks of Allan
Water. A veritable Wandering Jew is he; for still the foolish
girls listen, so they say, to the dying away of his hoof-beats.

In this land of many ruins, that long while ago were voice-filled
homes, linger many legends; and here again, giving you the
essentials, I leave you to cook the dish for yourself. Take a
human heart or two, assorted; a bundle of human passions--there are
not many of them, half a dozen at the most; season with a mixture
of good and evil; flavour the whole with the sauce of death, and
serve up where and when you will. "The Saint's Cell," "The Haunted
Keep," "The Dungeon Grave," "The Lover's Leap"--call it what you
will, the stew's the same.

Lastly, in this book there will be no scenery. This is not
laziness on my part; it is self-control. Nothing is easier to
write than scenery; nothing more difficult and unnecessary to read.
When Gibbon had to trust to travellers' tales for a description of
the Hellespont, and the Rhine was chiefly familiar to English
students through the medium of Caesar's Commentaries, it behoved
every globe-trotter, for whatever distance, to describe to the best
of his ability the things that he had seen. Dr. Johnson, familiar
with little else than the view down Fleet Street, could read the
description of a Yorkshire moor with pleasure and with profit. To
a cockney who had never seen higher ground than the Hog's Back in
Surrey, an account of Snowdon must have appeared exciting. But we,
or rather the steam-engine and the camera for us, have changed all
that. The man who plays tennis every year at the foot of the
Matterhorn, and billiards on the summit of the Rigi, does not thank
you for an elaborate and painstaking description of the Grampian
Hills. To the average man, who has seen a dozen oil paintings, a
hundred photographs, a thousand pictures in the illustrated
journals, and a couple of panoramas of Niagara, the word-painting
of a waterfall is tedious.

An American friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, who loved poetry
well enough for its own sake, told me that he had obtained a more
correct and more satisfying idea of the Lake district from an
eighteenpenny book of photographic views than from all the works of
Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth put together. I also remember
his saying concerning this subject of scenery in literature, that
he would thank an author as much for writing an eloquent
description of what he had just had for dinner. But this was in
reference to another argument; namely, the proper province of each
art. My friend maintained that just as canvas and colour were the
wrong mediums for story telling, so word-painting was, at its best,
but a clumsy method of conveying impressions that could much better
be received through the eye.

As regards the question, there also lingers in my memory very
distinctly a hot school afternoon. The class was for English
literature, and the proceedings commenced with the reading of a
certain lengthy, but otherwise unobjectionable, poem. The author's
name, I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten, together with the
title of the poem. The reading finished, we closed our books, and
the Professor, a kindly, white-haired old gentleman, suggested our
giving in our own words an account of what we had just read.

"Tell me," said the Professor, encouragingly, "what it is all

"Please, sir," said the first boy--he spoke with bowed head and
evident reluctance, as though the subject were one which, left to
himself, he would never have mentioned,--"it is about a maiden."

"Yes," agreed the Professor; "but I want you to tell me in your own
words. We do not speak of a maiden, you know; we say a girl. Yes,
it is about a girl. Go on."

"A girl," repeated the top boy, the substitution apparently
increasing his embarrassment, "who lived in a wood."

"What sort of a wood?" asked the Professor.

The first boy examined his inkpot carefully, and then looked at the

"Come," urged the Professor, growing impatient, "you have been
reading about this wood for the last ten minutes. Surely you can
tell me something concerning it."

"The gnarly trees, their twisted branches"--recommenced the top

"No, no," interrupted the Professor; "I do not want you to repeat
the poem. I want you to tell me in your own words what sort of a
wood it was where the girl lived."

The Professor tapped his foot impatiently; the top boy made a dash
for it.

"Please, sir, it was the usual sort of a wood."

"Tell him what sort of a wood," said he, pointing to the second

The second boy said it was a "green wood." This annoyed the
Professor still more; he called the second boy a blockhead, though
really I cannot see why, and passed on to the third, who, for the
last minute, had been sitting apparently on hot plates, with his
right arm waving up and down like a distracted semaphore signal.
He would have had to say it the next second, whether the Professor
had asked him or not; he was red in the face, holding his knowledge

"A dark and gloomy wood," shouted the third boy, with much relief
to his feelings.

"A dark and gloomy wood," repeated the Professor, with evident
approval. "And why was it dark and gloomy?"

The third boy was still equal to the occasion.

"Because the sun could not get inside it."

The Professor felt he had discovered the poet of the class.

"Because the sun could not get into it, or, better, because the
sunbeams could not penetrate. And why could not the sunbeams
penetrate there?"

"Please, sir, because the leaves were too thick."

"Very well," said the Professor. "The girl lived in a dark and
gloomy wood, through the leafy canopy of which the sunbeams were
unable to pierce. Now, what grew in this wood?" He pointed to the
fourth boy.

"Please, sir, trees, sir."

"And what else?"

"Toadstools, sir." This after a pause.

The Professor was not quite sure about the toadstools, but on
referring to the text he found that the boy was right; toadstools
had been mentioned.

"Quite right," admitted the Professor, "toadstools grew there. And
what else? What do you find underneath trees in a wood?"

"Please, sir, earth, sir."

"No; no; what grows in a wood besides trees?"

"Oh, please, sir, bushes, sir."

"Bushes; very good. Now we are getting on. In this wood there
were trees and bushes. And what else?"

He pointed to a small boy near the bottom, who having decided that
the wood was too far off to be of any annoyance to him,
individually, was occupying his leisure playing noughts and crosses
against himself. Vexed and bewildered, but feeling it necessary to
add something to the inventory, he hazarded blackberries. This was
a mistake; the poet had not mentioned blackberries.

"Of course, Klobstock would think of something to eat," commented
the Professor, who prided himself on his ready wit. This raised a
laugh against Klobstock, and pleased the Professor.

"You," continued he, pointing to a boy in the middle; "what else
was there in this wood besides trees and bushes?"

"Please, sir, there was a torrent there."

"Quite right; and what did the torrent do?"

"Please, sir, it gurgled."

"No; no. Streams gurgle, torrents--?"

"Roar, sir."

"It roared. And what made it roar?"

This was a poser. One boy--he was not our prize intellect, I
admit--suggested the girl. To help us the Professor put his
question in another form:

"When did it roar?"

Our third boy, again coming to the rescue, explained that it roared
when it fell down among the rocks. I think some of us had a vague
idea that it must have been a cowardly torrent to make such a noise
about a little thing like this; a pluckier torrent, we felt, would
have got up and gone on, saying nothing about it. A torrent that
roared every time it fell upon a rock we deemed a poor spirited
torrent; but the Professor seemed quite content with it.

"And what lived in this wood beside the girl?" was the next

"Please, sir, birds, sir."

"Yes, birds lived in this wood. What else?"

Birds seemed to have exhausted our ideas.

"Come," said the Professor, "what are those animals with tails,
that run up trees?"

We thought for a while, then one of us suggested cats.

This was an error; the poet had said nothing about cats; squirrels
was what the Professor was trying to get.

I do not recall much more about this wood in detail. I only
recollect that the sky was introduced into it. In places where
there occurred an opening among the trees you could by looking up
see the sky above you; very often there were clouds in this sky,
and occasionally, if I remember rightly, the girl got wet.

I have dwelt upon this incident, because it seems to me suggestive
of the whole question of scenery in literature. I could not at the
time, I cannot now, understand why the top boy's summary was not
sufficient. With all due deference to the poet, whoever he may
have been, one cannot but acknowledge that his wood was, and could
not be otherwise than, "the usual sort of a wood."

I could describe the Black Forest to you at great length. I could
translate to you Hebel, the poet of the Black Forest. I could
write pages concerning its rocky gorges and its smiling valleys,
its pine-clad slopes, its rock-crowned summits, its foaming
rivulets (where the tidy German has not condemned them to flow
respectably through wooden troughs or drainpipes), its white
villages, its lonely farmsteads.

But I am haunted by the suspicion you might skip all this. Were
you sufficiently conscientious--or weak-minded enough--not to do
so, I should, all said and done, succeed in conveying to you only
an impression much better summed up in the simple words of the
unpretentious guide book:

"A picturesque, mountainous district, bounded on the south and the
west by the plain of the Rhine, towards which its spurs descend
precipitately. Its geological formation consists chiefly of
variegated sandstone and granite; its lower heights being covered
with extensive pine forests. It is well watered with numerous
streams, while its populous valleys are fertile and well
cultivated. The inns are good; but the local wines should be
partaken of by the stranger with discretion."

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