A Chair on the Boulevard

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A CHAIR ON THE BOULEVARD

By LEONARD MERRICK

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY A. NEIL LYONS

1921

CONTENTS

I THE TRAGEDY OF A COMIC SONG
II TRICOTRIN ENTERTAINS
III THE FATAL FLOROZONDE
IV THE OPPORTUNITY OF PETITPAS
V THE CAFÉ OF THE BROKEN HEART
VI THE DRESS CLOTHES OF MONSIEUR POMPONNET
VII THE SUICIDES IN THE RUE SOMBRE
VIII THE CONSPIRACY FOR CLAUDINE
IX THE DOLL IN THE PINK SILK DRESS
X THE LAST EFFECT
XI AN INVITATION TO DINNER
XII THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
XIII THE FAIRY POODLE
XIV LITTLE-FLOWER-OF-THE-WOOD
XV A MIRACLE IN MONTMARTRE
XVI THE DANGER OF BEING A TWIN
XVII HERCULES AND APHRODITE
XVIII “PARDON, YOU ARE MADEMOISELLE GIRARD!”
XIX HOW TRICOTRIN SAW LONDON
XX THE INFIDELITY OF MONSIEUR NOULENS

INTRODUCTION

These disjointed thoughts about one of Leonard Merrick’s most
articulate books must begin with a personal confession.

For many years I walked about this earth avoiding the works of Leonard
Merrick, as other men might have avoided an onion. This insane aversion
was created in my mind chiefly by admirers of what is called the
“cheerful” note in fiction. Such people are completely agreed in
pronouncing Mr. Merrick to be a pessimistic writer. I hate pessimistic
writers.

Years ago, when I was of an age when the mind responds acutely to
exterior impressions, some well-meaning uncle, or other fool, gave me a
pessimistic book to read. This was a work of fiction which the British
Public had hailed as a masterpiece of humour. It represented, with an
utter fury of pessimism, the spiritual inadequacies of—but why go into
details.

Now, I have to confess that for a long time I did Mr. Merrick the
extraordinary injustice of believing him to be the author of that
popular masterpiece.

The mistake, though intellectually unpardonable, may perhaps be
condoned on other grounds. By virtue of that process of thought which
we call the “association of ideas,” I naturally connected Mr. Merrick
with this work of super-pessimism; my friends being so confirmed in
their belief that he was a super-pessimist.

But by virtue of a fortunate accident, I at last got the truth about

Mr. Merrick. This event arose from the action of a right-minded

butcher, who, having exhausted his stock of The Pigeon-Fancier’s

Gazette, sent me my weekly supply of dog-bones wrapped about with

Leonard Merrick.

These dog-bones happened to reach my house at a moment when no other
kind of literary nutriment was to be had. Having nothing better to read
I read the dog-bone wrappers. Thus, by dog-bones, was I brought to
Merrick: the most jolly, amusing, and optimistic of all spiritual
friends.

The book to which these utterances are prefixed is to my mind one of

the few really amusing books which have been published in

England during my lifetime. But, then, I think that all of Mr.

Merrick’s books are amusing: even his “earnest” books, such as The

Actor-Manager, When Love Flies out o’ the Window, or The

Position of Peggy Harper.

It is, of course, true that such novels as these are unlikely to be
found congenial by those persons who derive entertainment from fiction
like my uncle’s present. On the other hand, there are people in the
world with a capacity for being amused by psychological inquiry. To
such people I would say: “Don’t miss Merrick.” The extraordinary
cheerfulness of Mr. Merrick’s philosophy is a fact which will impress
itself upon all folk who are able to take a really cheerful view of
life.

All of Mr. Merrick’s sermons—I do not hesitate to call his novels
“sermons,” because no decent novel can be anything else—all his
sermons, I say, point to this conclusion: that people who go out
deliberately to look for happiness, to kick for it, and fight for it,
or who try to buy it with money, will miss happiness; this being a
state of heart—a mere outgrowth, more often to be found by a careless
and self-forgetful vagrant than by the deliberate and self-conscious
seeker. A cheerful doctrine this. Not only cheerful, but self-evidently
true. How right it is, and how cheerful it is, to think that while
philosophers and clergymen strut about this world looking out, and
smelling out, for its prime experiences, more careless and less
celebrated men are continually finding such things, without effort,
without care, in irregular and unconsecrated places.

In novel after novel, Mr. Merrick has preached the same good-humoured,
cheerful doctrine: the doctrine of anti-fat. He asks us to believe—he
makes us believe—that a man (or woman) is not merely virtuous,
but merely sane, who exchanges the fats of fulfilment for the little
lean pleasures of honourable hope and high endeavour. Oh wise, oh witty
Mr. Merrick!

Mr. Merrick has not, to my knowledge, written one novel in which his
hero is represented as having achieved complacency. Mr. Merrick’s
heroes all undergo the very human experience of “hitting a snag.” They
are none of them represented as enjoying this experience; but
none of them whimper and none of them “rat.”

If anybody could prove to me that Mr. Merrick had ever invented a hero
who submitted tamely to tame success, to fat prosperity; or who had
stepped, were it ever so lightly, into the dirty morass of accepted
comfort, then would I cheerfully admit to anybody that Leonard Merrick
is a Pessimistic Writer. But until this proof be forthcoming, I stick
to my opinion: I stick to the conviction that Mr. Merrick is the
gayest, cheer fullest, and most courageous of living humorists.

This opinion is a general opinion, applicable to Mr. Merrick’s general
work. This morning, however, I am asked to narrow my field of view: to
contemplate not so much Mr. Merrick at large as Mr. Merrick in
particular: to look at Mr. Merrick in his relationship to this one
particular book: A Chair on the Boulevard.

Now, if I say, as I have said, that Mr. Merrick is cheerful in his
capacity of solemn novelist, what am I to say of Mr. Merrick in his
lighter aspect, that of a writer of feuilletons? Addressing
myself to an imaginary audience of Magazine Enthusiasts, I ask them to
tell me whether, judged even by comparison with their favourite
fiction, some of the stories to be found in this volume are not
exquisitely amusing?

The first story in the book—that which Mr. Merrick calls “The Tragedy
of a Comic Song”—is in my view the funniest story of this century:
but I don’t ask or expect the Magazine Enthusiast to share this view or
to endorse that judgment. “The Tragedy of a Comic Song” is essentially
one of those productions in which the reader is expected to
collaborate. The author has deliberately contrived certain voids of
narrative; and his reader is expected to populate these anecdotal
wastes. This is asking more than it is fair to ask of a Magazine
Enthusiast. No genuine Magazine reader cares for the elusive or
allusive style in fiction. “The Tragedy of a Comic Song” won’t do for
Bouverie Street, however well and completely it may do for me.

But there are other stories in this book. There is that screaming farce
called “The Suicides in the Rue Sombre.” Now, then, you Magazine
zealots, speak up and tell me truly: is there anything too difficult
for you in this? If so, the psychology of what is called “public taste”
becomes a subject not suited to public discussion.

The foregoing remarks and considerations apply equally to such stories

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