The few remarks I have to make on what I saw and heard have nothing beyond the value of first impressions; but as I have already said, if these are simply given, without pretending to be anything more, they are not worthless. At least they can do little harm, and may sometimes amuse a reader whom they fail to instruct. But we must all beware of hasty conclusions. If a foreigner of limited intelligence were whirled through England on the railways, he would naturally come to the conclusion that the chief product of that country is mustard, and that its most celebrated people are Mr. Keen and Mr. Colman, whose great advertising boards, yellow letters on a black ground, and black letters on a yellow ground, stare the traveller in the face at every station.
At eleven o'clock on the following day we who were to receive degrees met at Balliol College, whence we proceeded in solemn procession to the Sheldonian Theatre. Among my companions on this occasion were Mr. John Bright, the Lord Chancellor Herschell, and Mr. Aldis Wright. I have an instantaneous photograph, which was sent me, of this procession. I can identify Mr. Bright and myself, but hardly any of the others, though many better acquainted with their faces would no doubt recognize them. There is a certain sensation in finding one's self invested with the academic gown, conspicuous by its red facings, and the cap with its square top and depending tassel, which is not without its accompanying satisfaction. One can walk the streets of any of the university towns in his academic robes without being jeered at, as I am afraid he would be in some of our own thoroughfares. There is a noticeable complacency in the members of our Phi Beta Kappa society when they get the pink and blue ribbons in their buttonholes, on the day of annual meeting. How much more when the scholar is wrapped in those flowing folds, with their flaming borders, and feels the dignity of the distinction of which they are the symbol! I do not know how Mr. John Bright felt, but I cannot avoid the impression that some in the ranks which moved from Balliol to the Sheldonian felt as if Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like the candidates for the degree of D.C.L.
'Tis wisdom to believe.
To return from my digression and my illustration. I did not do a great deal of shopping myself while in London, being contented to have it done for me. But in the way of looking in at shop windows I did a very large business. Certain windows attracted me by a variety in unity which surpassed anything I have been accustomed to. Thus one window showed every conceivable convenience that could be shaped in ivory, and nothing else. One shop had such a display of magnificent dressing-cases that I should have thought a whole royal family was setting out on its travels. I see the cost of one of them is two hundred and seventy guineas. Thirteen hundred and fifty dollars seems a good deal to pay for a dressing-case.
Where doubt is disenchantment
There was one place I determined to visit, and one man I meant to see, before returning. The place was a certain book-store or book-shop, and the person was its proprietor, Mr. Bernard Quaritch. I was getting very much pressed for time, and I allowed ten minutes only for my visit. I never had any dealings with Mr. Quaritch, but one of my near relatives had, and I had often received his catalogues, the scale of prices in which had given me an impression almost of sublimity. I found Mr. Bernard Quaritch at No. 15 Piccadilly, and introduced myself, not as one whose name he must know, but rather as a stranger, of whom he might have heard through my relative. The extensive literature of catalogues is probably little known to most of my readers. I do not pretend to claim a thorough acquaintance with it, but I know the luxury of reading good catalogues, and such are those of Mr. Quaritch. I should like to deal with him; for if he wants a handsome price for what he sells, he knows its value, and does not offer the refuse of old libraries, but, on the other hand, all that is most precious in them is pretty sure to pass through his hands, sooner or later.
"No offence," he answered.