Richard Middleton Monologues

Richard Barham Middleton (28 October 1882 – 1 December 1911) was a British poet, who is remembered mostly for his short stories, in particular The Ghost Ship.

2 Monologues by Richard Middleton



WHEN a young man first awakens to a sense
of the beauty and value of life, it is natural
that he should be overwhelmed by the ugli-
ness of the inheritance that his ancestors
have forced upon him. He finds in the civi-
lization that he has had no place in devising,
a tyranny against which it appears almost
impossible to make any resistance, a dogma
which he is told every one except a young
fool must accept as a truth, a law the break-
ing of which will number him beyond
redemption among the criminal or the insane.
It may be that in the first joy of his appre-
ciation of the beautiful, he will think that
his life and the life of any man may best
be passed in the cultivation of a keener sense
of beauty, that, to put it in a concrete form,
it is better to grow and love roses in a
cottage garden than to reign in an umbrella
factory ; but this briefest of the allusions
of youth will be shattered forthwith by what
appears to be the first law of civilized life,
that a man can only earn his living by the
manufacture of ugliness.

It is probable that in his bitterness the
young man will turn for comfort to those
latter-day prophets and philosophers whose
wisdom perhaps may have solved a problem
which seems to him beyond hope, but he will
certainly be disappointed. On the one hand
he will find the wise men of the day devising
schemes for the proper management and
control of umbrella factories with a view
to the greatest public good ; on the other
he will find them sighing for the roses of
medievalism, or proving by ingenious para-
dox that clear vision can find the Middle
Ages even now in the lesser streets of
Balham. For our prophets and our philoso-
phers have forgotten that they were ever
young, and with the passing years their ideal
world has become a sort of placid alms-house,
free from draughts and disturbances, a place
where the aged and infirm can sit at ease
and scheme little revolutions on a sound
conservative basis, without any jarring note
of laughter or discord of the hot blood of
the young. And so the young man must
turn to the poets, and find what comfort
he may in the knowledge that there are
others who have felt and feel even as he,
that there are others who have wondered
whether the best of a man’s life should be
spent in paying for the blotting out of nature
with unsightly lumps of brick and steel, in
aiding in the manufacture of necessaries that
are not necessary, in repeating stupidly the
ugly crimes of yesterday in order to crush
the spirit of his children and his children’s

Of course it may be said that this love
of beauty on the part of a young man is
morbid and unnatural, and the just conse-
quence of an unwise or defiant education,
for civilization, with a somewhat ignoble
cunning, has guarded against possible
treachery on the part of her children, by
causing them to be taught only such things
as may lead them to her willing service.
It is unnecessary to point out that the
dangerous revolutionary spirit which wor-
ships lovely things is not encouraged in our
national schools. The children of the State
are taught to cut up flowers and to call the
fragments by cunning names, but they are
not invited to love them for their beauty,.
They can draw you a map of the railway
line from Fishguard to London, and prattle
glibly of imports and exports, and the popu-
lations of distant countries, but they know
nothing of the natural beauties of the places
they name, nor even of such claims as there
are in the city in which they live. Their
lips lisp dates and the dry husks of history,
but they have no knowledge of the splendid
pageant of bygone kingdoms and dead races.
Nor in our public life, which might better
be named our public death, is there shown
any greater regard for the spiritual side of
the parents than there is for that of the
children. Heedless of the advice of artists,
the ignorant and uncultured men whom am-
bition alone has placed in a responsible
position, will ruin the design of a street for
the sake of a few pieces of silver, and for
the fear that the spending of public money
on making London beautiful may endanger
their seats at the next election with honest
electors who have learnt their lesson of ugli-
ness only too well. The cheaper newspapers,
which alone are read by the people as a
whole, seek out and dilate on ugliness with
passionate ingenuity, and even those papers
which appear to be read by the more
leisured classes, find no disgrace in filling
five columns with the account o’f a bestial
murder, and in compressing the speech
of a great man of letters into a meagre
five lines.

Where, then, can a young man seek for
beauty in the life of to-day? Only, as I
have said above, in literature, and only there
because the mere writing of a book is not
sufficient to make it a contribution to litera-
ture if it be not at the same time an expres-
sion of that beauty of life which is, in spite
of our rulers, eternal. For there are ugly
books enough, and there are a multitude of
ugly writers to swell their numbers, but our
critics, when they are honest, can render
their labours vain ; and though there is an
outcry in the camps of the ugly when such a
critic has spoken his daring word, the word
has been spoken, and the book is dismissed
to the shelves of the folk who care for such
trash. But our critics must be honest.


IT is sometimes pleasant, when the facts of
life begin to annoy us, to remember that
we are only dreamers in a world of dreams.
Our dreams are no less real to our minds
than our waking adventures, and it is only
chance that has led us to exaggerate the im-
portance of the one at the expense of the
other. If poets had been of any importance
in the earlier days of the world, we might
easily have come to consider our waking life
as a pleasant period of rest for the emotions,
while cultivating our dream pastures, till
their roses became like crimson domes and
their lilies like silver towers under the stars.
But the hard-headed men who could throw
brick-bats farther than their neighbours had,
I presume, the ordering of events in those
far dim days, and therefore to-day we all
believe in tables and scoff at ghosts ; we
enjoy smoking-room stories and yawn at
dreams. I might almost have added that we
knight the throwers of brick-bats and starve
the majority of the poets, but I would be the
last to deny the justice of this arrangement,
for if the former class has taken the day-
light earth to itself, the poets hold in
their treasuries the title deeds of the fertile
pastures and purple mountains of sleep. I
know who is the richer.

And if our dreams pass with the morning,
it is no less true that our realities pass with
the coming of sleep. We see a man fall
asleep in a railway carriage, and our illusory
faculties tell us that he is still there, while
he himself, who should surely know, is only
too well aware that he is being chased by
a mad, white bull across the Bay of Biscay.
Probably he will return to the railway
carriage presently, but meanwhile the bull
and the blue waters are as true for him as
his stertorous body is for us who lament
his snoring. And why should we prefer our
impressions to his?

The point is important, because in sup-
porting the claims of the dream world
against those of our waking life it is neces-
sary to meet the case of the man who says :
” I should soon come to grief if I took to
dreaming.” As a matter of fact (and this
throws some light on the life histories of
our poets) it seems impossible to be suc-
cessful in both worlds. We all know the
earthly troubles that overtake dreamers, and
I am willing to wager that your Jew million-
aire goes bankrupt half a dozen times a night
in his sleep, where all his yellow money
cannot save him. Probably, if you cultivate
the art of dreaming, you will pay for it
under the sun, but whereas our chances on
the earth are limited by our opportunities,
the lands of sleep are boundless and our
holding is only limited by our capacity for
dreaming. There are no trusts in dreams.

Next it is necessary to consider how far
it is possible to command our dreams at
will, and this, I think, is very largely a
matter of practice. At first hearing, most
people would think a man who said that
he could dream when and, to a certain
degree, whatever he wanted, untruthful. But
the effects of opium on the practised eater
are known to every one, and cucumber and
lobster salads have been calculated in terms
of nightmares to a nicety, and while depre-
cating these more violent stimulants, I am
sure that by choosing a judicious daylight
environment, the will can be brought to bear
almost directly on our midnight adventures.
I may refer, in support of this, to the
number of instances quoted in Mr. Lang’s
” Book of Dreams and Ghosts,” of persons
solving problems in their sleep which had
baffled them when they were awake.

To any one who wishes to dream pleasant,
if unoriginal, dreams, I should recommend
a life of intellectual rather than emotional
idleness. The theatre, music, flowers and
novels of a badly-written, exciting character
are all serviceable for this kind of dreamer,
and he or she should cultivate a habit of
wandering and incoherent thought. The rest,
as I have suggested, is a matter of will, but
I warn the unwary that the results are apt
to be surprising.

For, after all, except possibly in certain
cases of insanity, the two worlds overlap but

slightly. Usually we can recall a small
chapter of the dream we have dreamed, and
in our sleep we retain a little of our waking
wisdom, and that is all. From the splendid
garden in which you wandered last night
you brought away nothing perhaps but a
flower or two, broken in waking. To-night
you may be flying about the house-tops as
if you had never accepted the law of gravity
as a fact. And as you may not now recall
the laws which govern your kingdom of
sleep, you can only suggest a course for your
movements therein, at the risk of finding
yourself engaged in a series of very uncom-
fortable adventures. Owing to an effort to
dream short stories after the manner of
Robert Louis Stevenson, I was compelled to
commit two singularly brutal murders,
touched with a number of lifelike but repel-
lent details. I know better now, for I have
learnt that for me it is a rule of sleep that
I should take the leading part myself, even
though, oddly enough, the dream is still a
work of art so far as to allow me to go
back and alter incidents which do not fit in
with the latter part of the story. I may
add that, owing to the extraordinary logic
which binds my movements when asleep, the
stories are hardly ever any good from a
waking point of view, but the dreams are
agreeable because I have a subconscious glow
of self-congratulation on the vast quantity
of work that I am doing. I think it possible
that all very lazy people have this glow in
their dreams, for this would account for the
quite immoral happiness of the habitually
idle. Moreover, it constitutes a quite reason-
able defence for laziness, for no one can
be expected to work all round the clock, and
if a prince has been opening imaginary
bazaars all night, you cannot ask him to
lay real foundation-stones all day. We can,
and do, punish men for preferring their
labours in the other world to their labours
in this ; but we have no right to call them
foolish as well as criminal. Rebels against
the conventional must be corrected to satisfy
the majority that it is right ; but it is
narrow-minded to despise them. They may
be tyrants in the dim places where dreams
are born.

And this brings me to the whole moral
aspect of dreams and dreaming, a point on
which I would gladly write a complete
article. It has often been noticed that in
dreams we have no sense of right or wrong ;
but as we have also no control over our
actions, it would seem that it would not
make much difference if we had that sense.
Our movements appear to be guided by a
will outside our own bodies, and to a certain
extent, at all events, this will is the will of
the normal daylight man. It is quite possible
to regard our dreams as a kind of dramatic
commentary on our waking life, or as an
expression of the emotions which the intel-
lect has forced us to suppress in that life.
If this be so, we ourselves are more real in
dreams than we are when awake, however
fantastic or ridiculous those dreams may
appear to our conventional minds. And if the
last art of living is to express ourselves as we
are, it would seem that the whole duty of
man is to dream. Perhaps when we have
at last come to understand ourselves well
enough to complete a Utopia, our uncon-
ventional lives will be devoted to a number
of simple daily preparations for the full en-
joyment of the dim world which I believe
we can make as we will, and perhaps our
true reward for the pains and uncertainties
of our little lives is the place where beauty
and joy follow desire as the night follows
the day.

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