of Bohemianism — Evening dress — "Going to have a bloater
for tea?" — A weekend visit to my friend's "cottage" — The
impromptu fancy dress dinner party — The dénouement
— Amusing story of a fancy dress ball — The story of the
bugler and the barman —Bacchanalian entertainments — The
mysterious drink — Stories of Bohemianism
I CAN recall nothing of a wildly exciting
nature as having occurred during the three years I spent
at No. 10 Blenheim Place, although there were many
interesting incidents which at the time became magnified
into events, but only by reason of their comparative
significance, as a hillock on a straight level plain from
the distance assumes the importance of a mountain. I
remember that I worked hard and played hard, and I had
plenty of time and opportunity for both, for one had one's
life before one, and no cares beyond getting sufficient to
pay one's rent, firing, and occasionally something to eat.
This may sound like a solecism; but I really fancy it
conveys the placid state of mind I was in during those
It was too early in one's career to be hide-bound by
conventionality; if one chose even to go out without a
collar or tie it didn't matter a jot. One's circle of
influential acquaintances had hardly yet come into being.
Those folk, whose opinion of ourselves we attach so much
importance to in later life, did not worry us then.
As a man I knew remarked, if he chose to go out in his
shirt sleeves the people who knew him didn't care, and he
didn't care about those he didn't know. Conventionality in
every form was laughed at in the set I used to frequent.
Most of my artist friends had studied abroad, so were
imbued with my ideas of what Bohemianism meant, and there
was no humbug about us. It was not "pose" in any sense of
the word, I am convinced.
We had not a lot of money to spend, so why try and ape
those who had it?" Going to have a bloater for tea, old
man?" asked one of my pals of me one evening, as he ran
across me in the street as I was hurrying along to a
dinner-party without the slightest idea of putting on
"side." Of course I was in evening dress, which afforded
him the opportunity for his really funny remark, but which
at the same time echoed his notion on the subject.
The mention of dress clothes in connection with
Bohemianism recalls an amusing episode of this kind. A
friend of mine, a distinguished author and playwright, had
invited me to spend a weekend at what he called his
"cottage" in the country. It was some little distance from
town; but as I happened to have enough money to pay the
railway fare I gladly accepted. The invitation was one of
those that are first given casually, and which are never
accepted right away off — you must really come and spend a
weekend with us, old chap, sort of thing — no date
mentioned. Well this time he fixed it up, and I said I
My prospective host, I must mention, was apparently as
typical a Bohemian as myself, and although I knew he made
a good income out of his work, it never entered my head
that he was in any sense a society man, and I had looked
forward to a couple of days at his "cottage," in our usual
unconventional go-as-you-please style. With this idea in
my head I simply bundled a country knickerbocker suit, a
couple of flannel shirts, a dressing-gown, and a few
necessary odds and ends into a hand-bag, jumped into a
'bus, and caught the train from Paddington I had been told
I should be expected to come by.
When I arrived at my destination I did not find my host
waiting for me as I expected, which somewhat surprised me,
and I was obliged to make enquiries as to the best way to
get to the house, which I knew from what I had been told
was three miles away from the tiny little country station,
when a porter came up, and touching his hat respectfully
asked me if I was going to Mr. So-and-so's, because if so
they had sent the dog-cart over to fetch me.
Outside the station I found a very dapper turn-out waiting
for me, so smart a conveyance, in fact, that I remember I
felt ashamed of my particularly shabby and unpretentious
"Gladstone" as it was hoisted up behind.
After a drive through lovely country we reached the
entrance to a park with a lodge and big gates; into this
we turned, and drew up at last at a delightful old country
house. So this was my friend's "cottage!" I realized he
had been pulling my leg.
A footman in livery ushered me into a spacious inner hall
where tea was in progress, and I found a large party
assembled. A glance round was sufficient to prove to me
that this was not Bohemia at all, but smart society, and I
felt hot at the thought that I had not come prepared as to
toilet for such surroundings. I had not even brought my
dress suit with me. I was then struck with quite a
brilliant idea, as will be seen, which, if I could arrange
it, would save me having to dress for dinner.
My host and his wife received me in most genial fashion,
and I was introduced to the house party, which included
several people I knew already, so I lost no time in
putting my idea into execution, and at once explained that
I had been almost on the point of having to say that I
couldn't come, that some important work had turned up from
the Paper. I should therefore have to get them to excuse
me and get back to town after lunch the following day at
the latest. My friends very kindly said they would be
sorry to lose me, but if I must go, of course I must.
During tea, which was very lively, I managed somehow to
spring my idea on them. It makes me smile even now to
think how they all caught on. Had they heard, I asked, of
the latest craze at weekend country house parties of
having impromptu fancy dress dinners. Of course no one had
heard of it since I had only imagined it half an hour
previously. They thought it ought to be splendid fun, why
not have one tonight, suggested one of the guests — almost
taking the words out of my mouth, for that was what I was
driving at. What a capital idea! the rest chimed in. Well,
to cut a long story short, after a lot of talk our host
promised to give a prize for the most original costume.
It was agreed that every one would appear for dinner in
fancy dress of some description, no matter how ridiculous
and incongruous, so long as it was not the orthodox
evening attire. So on that understanding, and with much
laughter, we all separated at once, as there was no time
to lose, and every one seemed imbued with the idea of
evolving something strikingly novel. It may be imagined
how delighted I was at the success of my ruse.
Fortunately I had brought with me a real Japanese
dressing-gown and slippers, which were quite curiosities
in their way, so I had no need to worry about a costume.
Mine was ready, and had the additional advantage of being
delightfully cool and comfortable and easily put on; as a
matter of fact I had nothing but my pajama trousers under
Well, as arranged, we all assembled in the hall before
dinner, and although each arrival was received with roars
of laughter, it was positively amazing how ingeniously and
wonderfully most of the party had managed to fix up fancy
costumes out of the most extraordinary things, and at such
short notice. One would have expected ludicrous results,
instead of which the general effect was quite remarkable.
I remember I took in to dinner a lady who was got up as a
pierrette, with powdered hair, a hat made out of an
ordinary white conical jelly bag from the kitchen, with
black pompoms on it, black pompoms, too, on the white
bodice and short skirt, while black silk stockings and
shoes quite completed a fancy costume that would have held
its own anywhere.
One of the men looked like a Mexican with the tails of his
evening dress turned up, low collar, big black bow, no
waistcoat, red sash tied round his waist, and white duck
trousers. Nothing could have looked more effective.
Every one had done his or her best to look attractive, and
it was a huge success. I won't mention what was said about
my "costume," except that it held its own well with the
others. After dinner we finished up a delightful evening
with a dance, and all agreed that I deserved a medal for
my happy suggestion.
The next day I returned to town "to get on with my work."
Shortly after I received from my hostess a copy of a
weekly paper in which was a story written by her, almost
exactly describing my impromptu fancy dress dinner, and
making the hero of the piece also an artist; but it
finished up somewhat differently to my episode. It told
how the artist suggested the party, and how he had to
return to town the following day, but she had sacrificed
accuracy to effect in the dénouement which
she had made distinctly funny. "I am writing," said the
hostess, "to thank you for your brilliant suggestion last
Saturday. We enjoyed the fancy dress dinner immensely.
Come and liven us up again soon. Yours, etc. P.S. The
enclosed was picked up in your bedroom after you had
left." The "enclosed" was a pawn ticket for a suit of
It is odd how one story recalls another. The mention of
fancy dress reminds me of a curious experience which a
friend told me he had in connection with a big fancy dress
ball. He was very keen on these dances, and put himself to
no end of trouble and expense in getting himself up in
On this particular occasion he fancied himself as Charles
II, and on the eventful evening a dresser came from the
costumiers to help him don the costume, as it was a very
elaborate and difficult one to get into, unless one was
accustomed to making oneself up, and besides which he had
to wear a special wig of flowing hair and a false
moustache and eyebrows.
It took him over an hour to complete his toilet, and when
at last he was quite ready, and to his satisfaction, he
looked at the clock and discovered he was much too early.
So having had a tiring day in the city, he thought the
best thing to do was to have a little rest before going,
in order to be in better form for dancing and an
all-night's enjoyment. I forgot to mention that he had
been looking forward to this ball for a long time, as he
expected a very special lady friend of his to meet him
Well, he got the dresser before he left him to help him
settle himself comfortably in front of the fire in his
large arm-chair in such a way that he should not
disarrange his wig or crush his lace, then telling his man
to turn down the gas, and that he was not to be disturbed,
prepared himself for a little doze. His description of the
way he was spread out in the chair, like a lay figure, was
The next thing he knew was waking up with a start, aghast
— feeling very cold and stiff. The fire had gone out, and
the pale grey of dawn was visible through the curtains.
For the moment he could not recollect where he was or what
he was doing, then suddenly he remembered the fancy dress
ball. Up he jumped to see the time. To his horror he
discovered it was five o'clock in the morning — he had
slept peacefully in the arm-chair since nine o'clock the
previous evening. His language may be imagined as he
divested himself of his regal apparel and went to bed.
Whether or not unconventional ideas help one to get on or
make anything so far as one's work was concerned, is a
matter which I will not pretend to discuss, although I
have my own ideas on the subject now. I am simply
recalling my impressions of those days when I was well on
the right side of thirty. I loved the life then.
The Bohemianism which existed in St John's Wood in my time
would not be possible nowadays; everything is so changed,
and possibly for the better, although there are doubtless
many men like myself who regret the transition. It is not
that we would care to live again in that happy-go-lucky
fashion, but the thought that it would no longer be
condoned in these days of taxi-cabs and motor cars.
Much that took place in St John's Wood studios that I knew
savored of Montmartre anglicized, with the exception that
there was a good deal of hard drinking — in the shape of
whiskey especially — that was non-existent among the
artists in Paris. In this connection I recall an amusing
and typical instance of this particular form of English
On Queen's Terrace there was a small public-house called
"The Knights of St John's," where several of us used to
meet for lunch, as they provided a really excellent
shilling ordinary, as I have said. The barman was an Army
Reservist. He had been a bugler in some cavalry regiment,
the 5th Dragoon Guards, if I remember rightly.
Opposite the "pub" is a narrow, graveled alley leading to
Finchley Road. In this passage were several studios, and
the one nearest to the "Knights of St John's" was occupied
by two artists, one of whom was rather a clever amateur
musician as well. They were neither of them exactly
teetotallers — rather the contrary, in fact — and as they
were fairly well-to-do, they dispensed liquid hospitality
with a lavish hand. This was well known, and they had many
visitors at all times, the result being that it frequently
would happen that their stock of whiskey or other
refreshment would run out. As they kept no servant, living
as they did in the studio in thorough Bohemian fashion,
they would take it in turn to go out and across to "The
Knights" to fetch what was required.
Suddenly a really brilliant idea occurred to the musical
one. He was rather good on the cornet, so he got the
barman to teach him a few military bugle calls, and it was
arranged that they were to have certain meanings when
sounded from the door of the studio — as, for instance, if
he gave the "reveille" it meant that they wanted a bottle
of whiskey; the "last post," a bottle of gin; " stables,"
a quart of bitter, and so forth — and the barman would
send it over. The scheme answered admirably, and, as may
be imagined, caused much amusement in the vicinity.
The open-handed hospitality of this particular studio was
well known, and one heard of wild orgies there at times;
but these festivities invariably took the form of drinking
bouts, to which no women were ever invited.
I remember a model telling me that on one occasion on the
morning after one of these Bacchanalian entertainments, on
arriving at the studio at 10 o'clock for a sitting, she
found the whole floor of the place covered with sleeping
revelers lying just where they had fallen on being
overcome by the effects of the carousing. She described
the scene as an extraordinary one, as it doubtless was.
In those days the first thing a man did when you went to
see him was to ask you to have a drink, and the bottle was
handy at all times.
A pal of mine told me of an amusing practical joke he
played late one night on an acquaintance he had met on his
way home, and on whom he had taken compassion and offered
a drink at his studio. Of course he did not refuse; but on
the way my friend suddenly remembered that he hadn't a
drop of whiskey left in the place. He didn't know what to
do, so when they reached the studio he pretended he hadn't
got a match on him to light the gas, so started hunting
around for a box in order to gain time and think out how
to break the dreadful news. "Don't bother about lighting
up on my account," said his guest. "I can manage to find
the way to my mouth in the dark; let's have the drink and
I'll be off." Then an idea occurred to my friend.
An empty bottle and a jug of water were on the table.
Picking up the glass he said he would give him something
very special, and pretended to pour from the bottle into
it, and taking up the jug, put the time-honored question,
"Say when?" "Oh, full up, I haven't had a drink for nearly
a hour, and I'm as parched as a limekiln," was the reply.
So up it was filled to the brim. "Well, here's luck, old
man," said he, and drank off the glass of water in one
gulp without even stopping to take breath. "That was
fine," he said, as he put down the glass. "I wanted it
badly. No, I won't have another — thanks awfully,
good-night." The next day they happened to meet again, and
the visitor of the previous night remarked to my friend,
"That was a stunning drink you gave me yesterday. What was
Of stories of Bohemianism of this type there were no end;
one could probably fill a volume with them alone. Here are
some more sufficiently funny to bear telling.
One of the most distinguished of the younger artists,
whose name I won't give for obvious reasons, was married
and lived with his wife in a sort of studio suite. Their
married bliss was only marred with one thing, and that was
the weakness of the artist for boon companions and
whiskey. Otherwise he was a model husband, and the couple
were devoted to each other. The curious part of this was
that he would leave off the drink for days at a time, and
to all appearances have turned over a new leaf, and then
suddenly by an uncontrollable impulse he would break out
again. To his credit it must be said that he always
regretted it afterwards, and felt heartily ashamed of
On the occasion I am about to describe he had been
exceptionally "good" for quite a long time, and had been
quite a model Benedict, so much so, in fact, that his wife
one Saturday evening told him that it would perhaps do him
no harm to go down and spend an hour or two with his
friends at the Savage Club. He did not require much
persuasion, and promised not only that he would not drink,
but that he would not stay out late, and would be back
again before twelve. This he said with the sure conviction
that he would carry it out.
The inevitable happened, as might have been expected. He
was a very popular fellow, and it was nearly five o'clock
when he rolled home. He was very fuddled, but still had
enough intelligence left to realize he had broken his word
with his wife.
It was a lovely summer morning, and the sun was shining
brilliantly. I forgot to mention that their bedroom led
out of the studio. Taking off his boots as quietly as
possible, he crept into the room. He was in luck's way;
his wife was fast asleep and had not heard him come in, so
he undressed and tried to climb into the bed without
disturbing her; but he was very unsteady, and of course
woke her. To his surprise she turned round drowsily and
asked him why he was "getting up so early." He had not the
heart to tell her he was only just coming to bed, when an
inspiration occurred to him, and he told her that he could
not sleep any longer, and it was such a fine morning he
was going to take his sketch book and the dog and go for a
stroll up to Hampstead. And he actually dressed again,
tired though he was, and walked up to the Heath.
The other story, which is also humorous, was of a somewhat
similar character. Another friend of mine, also a married
man, burst out now and then. He had on this particular
occasion been to a card party, and when at last he made
his way homeward he had no idea whatever of the time, and
he was so knocked up that he fell asleep in the cab.
The cabman woke him up when he reached his destination.
With unsteady steps he made his way to his street door,
when, much to his astonishment, he saw it was wide open.
The discovery had the effect of instantly pulling him
together. His first impulse was to get into a violent rage
at the carelessness of his servant; then it struck him
that burglars must have broken in. Yes, there was no doubt
about it. He thought it best not to alarm the household,
so he decided to wait where he was until a policeman came
along before he did anything.
Whilst he was standing, or rather leaning, against the
railing, the cook came out with a pail of water to clean
the steps; she had left the door open while she went to
sweep out the hall. It was a quarter to eight in the
There was another story of a somewhat similar character
they used to tell of a distinguished music hall artiste
who also lived in the neighborhood. He was a very late
bird, and seldom got home until well on in the small
hours. On one occasion he drove up to his house at 9
o'clock in the morning. A policeman who was passing, and
who knew him well, called out cheerily, "Good-night, sir."
In the quaint little alley I have referred to, which led
from Queen's Terrace to Finchley Road, there were only
studios, and I never pass through it without remembering a
funny occurrence there one day. Yeend King had one of the
studios, and I often used to go round and have a smoke
with him. One Sunday morning I strolled round and found a
typical top-hatted bourgeois waiting outside the door — a
picture-dealer probably. He was evidently in a great state
of irritation, and glad of an opportunity to air his
grievance, and although I was quite a stranger to him, and
was about to ring the bell, he said testily, "It isn't any
use doing that, I have been waiting here for over an hour,
and he hasn't come back yet. Disgusting making an
appointment and keeping one waiting like this! I have a
good mind to go away and not trouble about seeing his
damned picture at all!"
I then saw that pinned on the door was a card on which was
written "Back in ten minutes." Almost mechanically, whilst
we were speaking, I rang the bell, and to our surprise
King, palette and brushes in hand, opened the door
immediately. He nodded to me, then turned to the
top-hatted gentleman and said, "I like your idea of
keeping an appointment, I have been waiting in for you
since eleven o'clock and now it's past twelve."
I thought I would act as peacemaker and pointed to the
notice on the door. It then appeared that King had gone
out for a few minutes and forgotten to take the notice off
on his return.
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