SIDE-SHOWS.* IN this delightful little volume Mr. Atkins shows himself
a master of the "touch-and-go" manner of essay-writing. It is
easy enough to choose light subjects. The difficulty is to write about them lightly, for while nothing is more delightful than the familiar in literature, there is no sorrier spectacle than that of the unfortunate man who, while trying to be graceful, is actually indulging in an awkward flounder. There is, however, not the slighest risk of any one saying of Side- Shows as Johnson said of " Lycidas,"—" familiar and therefore disgusting." There is a ripple of laughter on every page, but
nowhere a touch of emptiness, commonness, or bad taste. In our opinion, the most delightful of these delightful papers is "The New Cat." Here the author shows that he has a real insight into the nature of "the furred serpent," to use a some- what ungracious Servian phrase. The new cat, who is a talking cat, before she gets out of the hamper dismisses with utter contempt the old notion that it is wise to butter a cat's paws in order to accustom her to her new home. It was only after being told that there was no reason why she should come out of the hamper that the cat, true to the eternal cussedness of her nature, could be induced to move :—
"Upon these words the cat again extruded her off fore-paw, and put it stiffly on the ground. Then she stiffly did the same with her near fore-foot, and then with her hind-legs, lifting them slowly over the side of the hamper, as though it were two feet higher than it was."
That is a sound piece, not only of writing, but of observation as will be admitted by any one who has watched a cat in a like situation. But even better is what follows. The human hero of the essay makes some banal remarks about his beautiful
green-eyed Venus. Upon this "the cat withdrew a step or two farther away from me as I spoke, then turned and walked out of the room," which, of course, is exactly what a cat would have done. Her humble and servile admirer, having followed the cat into the dining-room, pointed out to the new mistress of the house that it was far more comfortable in his study. What follows must be given in Mr. Atkins's own words :—
" Perhaps,' said the cat; don't know. But, anyhow, this is the room I want to examine. I ought to have been shown this first.'—' I'll just wait till you've finished looking round,' I said. When I turned away from the chimney-piece, where I had seized the opportunity to wind up the clock, the cat had sauntered out into the hall, and was sitting with an appearance of immovability under a chair. You don't like the dining-room'' I said apolo- getically.—' I can't tell you yet,' she said. I never judge at first sight. It is astonishing how places grow on one. I get so attached to some places whieh aren't really nice at all that I can't bear to be away from them for more than a few hours.'—' I hope,' I said, that some one of my modest rooms will inspire that feeling in you before long.' To this sincere aspiration there was no answer. The cat sat where she was, beautiful and uncon- ciliatory."
Later in the course of the dialogue the cat becomes a little
more communicative, and she and the man exchange some home-truths. These we must leave our readers to find out for
themselves, convinced that if they are cat-lovers, as the present writer is proud to confess himself, they will be enchanted.
The last touch, however, is so inimitable that we must record it. As the man withdraws to bed he states that he will make up the fire, "and you can lie in your basket and gaze into it, and think of Ra and Rameses, and you'll find the milk near by if you want it." To which the cat's only reply was: "Good-night! I'll think it over. I daresay I shall sleep in.
Quite different in tone, except that it has the same fascina-
tion of touch, is the poignant little essay "The Road." This is the study of the professional coachman of a four-in-hand.
The description of his mounting the box is a delightful picture :—" He buttoned his gloves as he came. He seemed to give particular attention to the gloves, and yet somehow we
• Side-Shows, By J. B. Atkins. London : Christophers. r3s. Gd. n3t
all knew that he was giving very little attention to them, and a great deal to the four horses."
We turn a few pages and come to a delightful essay entitled "A Cottage in the Country," which tells the old story of a man and his wife out house-hunting. Most of our readers must at some time in their lives have done this, and therefore the essay will appeal to them. Very characteristic is the attitude of the two partners in the transaction. The man looks upon the expedition as a kind of adventure with all sorts of interesting side-issues. The woman is severely practical. "We've had a ripping day," is the final remark of the man, to which his wife answers: "I sometimes wonder if you really want to find a cottage."
"In a Country House," a rather longer essay in four parts, is full of amusing sketches of the phenomena of a country- house visit at the time of a ball. Those who on such occa- sions have had tea in the servants' hall, all the other rooms being given up to preparations for the dancing and the supper, will be much amused at the handling of this incident. Excel- lent, too, is the way in which the house party is divided into factions by Mr. Everard's proposal to Miss Toogood. The essays at the end on Paris and Madrid have a somewhat different atmosphere from that of the rest of the book, and are not, in our opinion, of equal merit. We think, indeed, that Mr. Atkins would have been better advised to have left these papers out of his book. He would by such renunciation have secured a greater unity of purpose and feeling. We should like to have said something as to the open-air essays, which form a good third of the contents, and especially as to those on yachting, did space allow. We have said enough, however, to show that the book is a very pleasant one, and will give a couple of hours' real delight to those who enjoy 'grace and clearness in literature. A more delightful Christmas card to send friends in America, India, the Colonies, or elsewhere abroad it would be impossible to imagine. We may add that one of the essays in the book before us appeared in the Spectator, and that this essay forms part of the section devoted to Paris and Madrid.