Sunday lunch is the last of the cannibal
feasts. It is the wild, tremendous orgy of the
upper classes, the hunting, killing, eating ground of all the
George-the-Fifth-and-Mary English artists. Pray do not imagine that
I consider it to
be ever so dimly related to Sunday dinner. Never!
Sunday dinner consists of a number of perfectly respectable dead
gentlemen eating perfectly respectable funeral baked meats with
all those fine
memories of what the British beef and blood has stood for, with
all that delicate
fastidiousness as to the fruit in season, of the eternal and comfortable
lunch is followed by a feeling of excessive excitement, by a general
flush, a wild
glitter of the eye, a desire to sit close to people, to lean over
backs of chairs, to light
your cigarette at some one else's cigarette, to look up and thank
them while doing so.
And above all there is that sense of agitating intimacy—that
true esprit de corps of
the cannibal gathering. Different indeed is the close to the Sunday
dinner. It has
never been known to come to a decided finish, but it dies down and
fades away like a village glee singing Handel's "Largo,"
until finally it drops into
sofas and chairs and creeps to box-ottomans and beds, with illustrated
digesting itself asleep until tea time. The Society for the Cultivation
waxes most fat and kicks hardest (strictly under the table) in Chelsea,
in St John's
Wood, in certain select squares, and (God help them) gardens. Its
legion, for there is no city in this narrow world which contains
so vast a number of
artists as London. Why, in London you cannot read the books for
the authors, you
cannot see the pictures for the studios, you simply cannot hear
the music for the
musicians' photographs. And they are so careless—so proud
of their calling. "Look at
me! Behold me, I am an artist!" Mark their continued generosity
artists; artists like ourselves." See them make sacrifice to
their Deity—not with
wreath or garland or lovely words or fragrant spices. They will
not demand of her as
of old time the gift of true vision and the grace of truth. "Ah,
no," they say, "we shall
give her of ourselves. The stuffs of our most expensive dresses,
our furniture, our
butcher's bills, our divorce cases, our thrilling adulteries. We
men shall have her into
the smoking room and split her sides with our dirty stories, we
women shall sit with
her on the bedside brushing our side curls and talking of sex until
the dawn kisses to
tearful splendour the pink rose of morning. And we shall always
remain great friends
for we shall never tell the truth to each other."
From half-past one until two of the clock the cannibal artists
gather together. They
are shown into drawing rooms by marionettes in white aprons and
marionettes in black suits and foreign complexions. The form of
expansive, critical and reminding. Hostess to female cannibal: "You
dear! How glad
I am to see you!" They kiss. Hostess glances rapidly over guest,
narrows her eyes and
nods. "Sweet!" Raises her eyebrows. " New ? From
the little French shop?" Takes the
guest's arm. "Now I want to introduce you to Kaila Scarrotski.
He's Hungarian. And
he's been doing those naked backs for that cafe. And I know you
know all about
Hungary, and those extraordinary places. He's just read your 'Pallors
of Passion' and
he swears you've Slav blood." She presses the guest's hand
thereby conveying: "Prove
you have. Remember I didn't ask you to my lunch to wait until the
food was served
and then eat it and go. Beat your tom-tom, dear." When male
meets male the
greeting is shorter. "Glad you came." Takes guest aside.
" I say, that French dancing
woman's here. Over there—on the leopard skin—with the
Chinese fan. Pitch into
her, there's a good chap." The marionette reappears. "Lunch
is served." They pay no
attention whatever to the marionette, but walk defiantly into the
though they knew the fact perfectly well and had no need of the
telling. They seat
themselves, still with this air of immense unconcern, and a sort
of "Whatever you
give me to eat and the forks and knives thereof will not surprise
me, I'm absolutely
indifferent to food. I haven't the faintest idea of what there is
on the table." And then,
quite suddenly, with most deliberate lightness, a victim is seized
by the cannibals.
"S'pose you've read Fanton's 'Grass Widower!'" "Yes."
"Not as good as the 'Evergreen
Petals.'" " No," "I did not think so either."
"Tailed off." "So long-winded." "Fifty
pounds." "But there were bits, half lines, you know, and
adjectives." The knife
pauses. "Oh, but have you read his latest?" "Nothing.
All about ships or something.
Not a hint of passion." Down comes the knife, James Fanton
is handed round. " I
haven't read it yet." "Not like 'The Old Custom.' Well,
it can't be as good." " . .
.Writing in the Daily Mail..." "Three to four thousand
a year." "A middle-class mind
but interesting." The knife wavers. "But can't keep the
big mould for more than a
paragraph." His bones are picked.
This obvious slaughter of the absentees is only a preliminary to
a finer, more keen
and difficult doing to death of each other. With kind looks and
little laughs and
questions the cannibals prick with the knife. " I liked your
But when are you going to give us a really long play ? Why are you
so against plot ?
Of course I'm old-fashioned. I'm ashamed. I still like action on
the stage . . . " "I went
to your show yesterday. There were the funniest people there. People
ignorant— you know the kind. And trying to be facetious, not
to be able to
distinguish a cabbage from a baby. I boiled with rage. . . ."
"But if they offered you
eighty pounds in America for a short poem, why ever didn't you write
it?" " I think
it's brave of you to advertise so much, I really do, I wish I had
the courage—but at
the last moment I can't. I never shall be able."
With ever greater skill and daring the cannibals draw blood, or
the stuff like blood
that flows in their veins. But the horrible tragedy of the Sunday
lunch is this:
However often the Society kills and eats itself, it is never real
enough to die, it is
never brave enough to consider itself well eaten.