The Little Men
By MOTH. YOU like it ? " they say (they have been waiting for this). "Well, it is an unusual design (or an uncommon material : or a flavour you don't often meet with). I've got a Little Man I go to for those . . . . "
It may be laid down as a general rule that from the practice of snobbery you can derive only an unworthy, and from the study of that practice only a morbid, satisfaction. There is, however, one exception : the cult of the Little Men. That it is a form of snobbery I think there can be no doubt. You trade on your relations with a Little Man in the Tottenham Court Road as you trade on your visits to a Little Place in the Pyrenees ; they have exclusiveness-value. There is something faintly but becomingly feudal about them ; you are a Little Man's patron rather than his customer. Also you are seen, by implication, to be a connoisseur, a man with an eye for a craftsman, a man who always thinks it is worth taking a little extra trouble to get the very best : and who says-so. "And who says so."-- That is how we reveal the vice which underlies our transactions with
Little Men. We talk about them too readily. - We talk about them in a curious way. We do not use the common verbs of barter—to get, to buy, to order—in speaking of the things they sell us. "I go to my Little Man for those," we almost invariably say, flavouring the act of purchase with the rite of pilgrimage, as though these homunculi were at once irremovable and magnetic, like spas or mountains or the Pope. Their services to us we describe in pseudo-technical terms. They build us a boot. They run us up an overcoat. They roll us a cigarette. They knock us together a bookshelf. Even in the case of manufactured goods or commodities (like first editions' or mushrooms), when the Little Men are no more than retailers or distributors, these things they are always said—in a phrase connoting I know not what of the exclusive—to send us round.
Of the numerous conventions which govern people's relations with their Little Men one of the most important, as well as the most irrational, is that which forbids any form of poaching on another's preserves. It is an under- stood thing that your friends shall never take advantage of such information and advice is you may give them about your Little Man : no, not even when you draw maps for them on the backs of envelopes, marking his- premises with a cross. This is probably the chief reason why Little Men are a male prerogative. Women, who become, as at no other time, stern realists when they go shopping, could never subordinate their competitive instincts to a code so elaborate, so artificial, and so ill- defined. To be quite frank, they are not worthy of Little Men ; the atmosphere of the cult is too rarefied. They do, of course, go in a certain amount for Little Old Women, but these are creatures altogether lacking in the mystical significance of Little Men, and reflect nothing like the same sort of glory on their patrons. For one thing, the Little Old Women are seldom, if ever, creative artists. They are for the most part cleaners or repairers ; the best they can do is to make a thing look like new. Also they have a disqualifying tendency to Come Round and ' Take Things Away. They abut on everyday life. One might conceivably meet them, Coming Round. There is no mystery to them. Their addresses are exchanged without zest.
It is, as a matter:of fact, this element of mystery which has been the making of the Little Men and remains the saving. grace of-the snobbery they arouse. It is seen at its most potent and its most fascinating in attempts to describe their whereabouts. While one cannot lay down a hard-and-fast rule, it is safe to say that Little Men live not in, but just off, streets : that these streets are tho- roughfares of secondary importance rather than of a complete obscurity; and that the shops in which the Little Men carry on their business do not adjoin, but are to be found either behind or over premises devoted to a trade more picturesque than lucrative. "You know that taxidermist's," people say, "just off St. Martin's Lane ? Well, he lives just over (or behind) that. You can't miss him."
But you can. At least I can. There is no Little Man in my life. Of nothing that I wear, of nothing that I eat, of nothing that I leave lying about my room is it true to say that I go to a Little Man for it. At one time I used to feel deeply ashamed of this, and was even driven- to take a horribly unfair line about Little Men, saying, "Oh, you go there, do you ? I thought everyone had given him um" when people began to telbrie ,about their -Little.
Man. But now I have found a better and a more humane solution to the problem. If ever you hear me advising people to buy their trout-flies from a Little Man who lives just off Wardour Street, over a philatelist's, or their billiard-cues from another Little Man who keeps a shop behind the rabbit-fancier's off Kensington High Street, you may perhaps guess what the solution is. If you try to take my advice you will know for certain.
It is a satisfactory -solution. I often wonder whether it is entirely original.