The most interesting column in any paper (always excepting those which I write myself) is that entitled “The World’s Press,” wherein one may observe the world as it appears to a press of which one has for the most part never heard. It is in this column that I have just made the acquaintance of The Shoe Manufacturers’ Monthly, the journal to which the elect turn eagerly upon each new moon. (Its one-time rival, The Footwear Fortnightly, has, I am told, quite lost its following.) The bon mot of the current number of The S.M.M. is a note to the effect that Kaffirs have a special fondness for boots which make a noise. I quote this simply as an excuse for referring to the old problem of the squeaky boots and the squeaky collar; the problem, in fact, of the unfairness of things.
The majors and clubmen who assist their country with columns of advice on clothes have often tried to explain why a collar squeaks, but have never done so to the satisfaction of any man of intelligence. They say that the collar is too large or too small, too dirty or too clean. They say that if you have your collars made for you (like a gentleman) you will be all right, but that if you buy the cheap, ready-made article, what can you expect? They say that a little soap on the outside of the shirt, or a little something on the inside of something else, that this, that, and the other will abate the nuisance. They are quite wrong.
The simple truth, and everybody knows it really, is that collars squeak for some people and not for others. A squeaky collar round the neck of a man is a comment, not upon the collar, but upon the man. That man is unlucky. Things are against him. Nature may have done all for him that she could, have given him a handsome outside and a noble inside, but the world of inanimate objects is against him.
We all know the man whom children or dogs love instinctively. It is a rare gift to be able to inspire this affection. The Fates have been kind to him. But to inspire the affection of inanimate things is something greater. The man to whom a collar or a window sash takes instinctively is a man who may truly be said to have luck on his side. Consider him for a moment. His collar never squeaks; his clothes take a delight in fitting him. At a dinner- party he walks as by instinct straight to his seat, what time you and I are dragging our partners round and round the table in search of our cards. The windows of taxicabs open to him easily. When he travels by train his luggage works its way to the front of the van and is the first to jump out at Paddington. String hastens to undo itself when he approaches; he is the only man who can make a decent impression with sealing-wax. If he is asked by the hostess in a crowded drawing-room to ring the bell, that bell comes out from behind the sofa where it hid from us and places itself in a convenient spot before his eyes. Asparagus stiffens itself at sight of him, macaroni winds itself round his fork.
You will observe that I am not describing just the ordinary lucky man. He may lose thousands on the Stock Exchange; he may be jilted; whenever he goes to the Oval to see Hobbs, Hobbs may be out first ball; he may invariably get mixed up in railway accidents. That is a kind of ill-luck which one can bear, not indeed without grumbling, but without rancour. The man who is unlucky to experience these things at least has the consolation of other people’s sympathy; but the man who is the butt of inanimate things has no one’s sympathy. We may be on a motor bus which overturns and nobody will say that it is our fault, but if our collar deliberately and maliciously squeaks, everybody will say that we ought to buy better collars; if our dinner cards hide from us, or the string of our parcel works itself into knots, we are called clumsy; our asparagus and macaroni give us a reputation for bad manners; our luggage gets us a name for dilatoriness.
I think we, we others, have a right to complain. However lucky we may be in other ways, if we have not this luck of inanimate things we have a right to complain. It is pleasant, I admit, to win œ500 on the Stock Exchange by a stroke of sheer good fortune, but even in the blue of this there is a cloud, for the next œ500 that we win by a stroke of shrewd business will certainly be put down to luck. Luck is given the credit of all our successes, but the other man is given the credit of all his luck. That is why we have a right to complain.
I do not know why things should conspire against a man. Perhaps there is some justice in it. It is possible–nay, probable–that the man whom things love is hated by animals and children–even by his fellow-men. Certainly he is hated by me. Indeed, the more I think of him, the more I see that he is not a nice man in any way. The gods have neglected him; he has no good qualities. He is a worm. No wonder, then, that this small compensation is doled out to him–the gift of getting on with inanimate things. This gives him (with the unthinking) a certain reputation for readiness and dexterity. If ever you meet a man with such a reputation, you will know what he really is.
Circumstances connected with the hour at which I rose this morning ordained that I should write this article in a dressing- gown. I shall now put on a collar. I hope it will squeak.
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