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He thus became exactly a figure for Conrad to handle. For, if Conrad were the eternal Loyalist, nevertheless the unimaginative [Pg 48] and cruel stupidity of Crown and Government officials was an essential part of his creed. He was a politician—but a politician of the impasse. The British Empire was for him the perfection of human perfections, but all its politicians, all its public officials, police, military officers of the Crown, gaolers, pilots, port admirals and policies were of an imbecility that put them in intelligence below the first lieutenant of the French navy that you could come across So, by that moment, we had worked John Kemp into a position that can have been occupied by very few unjustly accused heroes of romance.


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When he stood in the Old Bailey Dock he had the whole legal, the whole political, the whole naval forces of the Crown, the whole influence at once of the City of London, and of the Kingdom of Spain, determined to hang him. And the writer is bound to confess that reading, after an interval of twenty years, Romance —and in a French translation!

And he wondered at the melodramatic genius that had been possessed by that third writer that was neither himself nor Conrad For having got hold of that comforting theory Conrad never abandoned it. At intervals during our readings aloud that lasted for years he would say, always as if it were a trouvaille that that was certainly the writing of a third party. It had [Pg 49] not been long before he had given up all hope of swift fortune coming with the speedy finishing of that book. For the writer the pleasure of eternal technical discussion with Conrad was a sufficient motive for continuing our labours.

But for Conrad with his stern sense of the necessity for making a career that was not enough. He had to find at least an artistic justification for going on. We were both extremely unaccepted writers, but we could both write. What was the sense of not writing apart if there were no commercial gain? He found it in the aesthetically comforting thought that the world of letters was enriched by yet a third artist. So the combination was at least Thus came about our drive to the Lower Sandgate Road. Conrad considered it appropriate that we should make an official announcement.

The collaboration was determined upon.

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For the receiving of this official communication no one could have been more appropriate than the author of the Invisible Man. Conrad had in those days a very strong sense that those who had taken part in his launching as a writer had the right to have communicated to them any crucial determination at which he arrived. It was a fine trait in his character. He had originally [Pg 50] consulted Mr. Henley, Mr. Marriott Watson, and the writer presumes, Mr. Edward Garnett, these having been as it were his chief backers behind the scenes.

Wells had been his chief backer before the public—as Reviewer. All the reviews that Almayer had received had amounted to a mountain of praise: the most tremendous and moving commendation had been that contributed by Mr. Wells to the Saturday Review , an organ that was then almost miraculously regarded, under the editorship of Mr. Frank Harris.


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Wells then, living in our neighbourhood, to whom better could this junta have proceeded? So at least Conrad thought and the writer offered no active objection. Wells apparently thought the same. Of what happened at that villa in the Lower Sandgate Road, except that the back garden had, descending to the sea-beach, a step-ladder up and down which several charming creatures were disporting themselves with the Channel as background, the writer carries in his memory now only the conversation of Bob Stevenson and the remembrance of Conrad, talking to Mrs. Wells with enormous animation about the great storm in which for the first time he came up the Channel, passing that point.

The writer was engaged in remembering that great storm. He had been at school at Folkestone almost perpendicularly on the cliff above where we then sat. In the morning after the gale had blown itself out we [Pg 51] looked down in sunlight from the edge of the Leas. The whole sickle of Dungeness bay had a fleet ashore on its beaches—innumerable smacks and coasting vessels, large international sailing ships and two East Indiamen, the Plassy and the Clive , with their towering black and white sides, all heeling over, rigging and canvas hanging down like curtains right round the bay, unforgettable and helpless Bob Stevenson was engaged in telling the writer with animation almost equal to that of Conrad that Ford Madox Brown could not paint.

The writer was wishing himself with the group round Conrad and Mrs. The crossing of the voices of those two brilliant conversationalists remains still in these ears, and the odd mixture of feelings On the next day Mr. Wells bicycled up to Aldington Knoll where at about seven miles distant from the Pent the writer was once again leading an agricultural life of the severer type—in a cottage of the most minute, the Conrads occupying the Pent. The writer was, indeed, engaging himself on the invention of a new species of potato in the intervals of contriving the gallows for John Kemp.

Wells came to persuade the writer not to collaborate with Conrad. He can still see the dispirited action of Mr. Wells as he mounted his bicycle by the rear step and rode away along that ridge of little hills No more than those two speeches had been exchanged. Into the still, depressed note of the Pent there had introduced itself the tremendous panorama of sea and sky that showed from Aldington with its Knoll. We passed our time driving the amiable mare or the infamous Exmoor pony between one and the other. We went out of a sunshiny morning with bits of manuscript; we returned through bitter rain-storms, the mud splashing up visibly before the dim lanthorns, the manuscript read aloud, commented on, docketed for alteration Still a time of great tranquillities, and, at intervals, there were triumphs.

Then Conrad would come in, buttoning his overcoat over the cheque: Mr. By God, that is not cricket!

Nostromo (Annotated with a Biography about the Life and Times of Joseph Conrad)

And the two conspirators against the peace of mind of No. There, with Sir Henry Irving and Nellie Farren at adjoining tables, over smoked salmon and champagne in small tumblers, they would play dominoes until 4. There is something conducive to writing in low rooms, in a commonplace downland country, with nearly level fields that run into quiet convolutions, away to a distance. Let the direct [Pg 54] lighting be modified by a barn, the illumination coming from the peak of the sky: let there be a quarter-deck walk up and down which Conrad may turn in his pyjamas and dressing-gown occasionally, getting relief from his thoughts in a glance at the quiet fields amongst which the writer will be practising golf strokes Well, in just such a room with a barn to block the direct light, with a miniature stockyard, in a commonplace downland country the writer—sits writing!

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And you dare to tell him that he cannot go out and, in the rain, catching his dangerous pony that swings round and kicks the inviting sieve of corn out of your hand, just missing your chest He cannot drive the seven miles to the Pent to ask Conrad what he thinks of Colonel Marchand and Fashoda!

You must surely be lying We get the London papers only by the second post at 4. But in these exciting times, with Colonel Marchand crossing the Sahara and hoisting the French flag in a position which Kitchener of Khartoum has stated to be the key-point of the British Empire in Africa and consequently on the road to India And the French with their extraordinary.

It all turns on what the Germans will do, the Russians having their hands full in the Far East For the feeling, through a large part of a century, was for the writer very strong that Conrad was there who might be consulted about a difficulty—in politics, in the architecture of a story, over an English word, or about the French for Romance—for which there is no French!

The irresistible feeling that one had about him was that he was practical that the last thing that he was was Slav. For the Slav, to be true Slav, must be as helpless before the vicissitudes of this world—as helpless as is a new-born kitten, a greyish sprawling object, mostly jelly. A sort of Dostoieffsky!

If you asked Conrad how to circumvent a banker he would have an expedient. If you asked him whether women ought to have a vote he would say: No: with decision. And [Pg 56] then, remembering the part played by women in keeping alive the national feeling of his country, Poland, where all the men took to drunkenness or lechery or listlessness after the abortive revolution of , he would say that the only creature that ought to be paid the compliment of having a vote, a thing always useless, was such a woman as his mother, Mme Kurzeniowski, or his aunt, Mme Paradowski.

Or any other woman! Your power is of the night, during which, with a whisper, you shall destroy empires! He had had great experience of the life of normal men; his reading had been amazingly wide and his memory was amazingly retentive. Amazingly, even to the writer, whose memory is sufficiently retentive and whose reading wide if desultory. Yet Conrad never presented any appearance of being a bookish, or even a reading man.


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He [Pg 57] was frequently taken for a horse fancier. He liked that. His ambition was to be taken for—to be! There might have been worse ambitions. To understand how a Pole, born in the government of Kiev, infinitely far from even the sea, should have desired to be that—and should have desired it with passion—the reader must keep in mind two things if not three: one of them a vivid picture in the mind of the writer.

During the last century if you went down to Tilbury Dock you would see families of Jewish-Poland emigrants landing. As soon as they landed they fell on their hands and knees and kissed the soil of the land of Freedom. For Conrad there was another side.

As a child he lived in a great house in Poland: a great house with wide avenues and many lights at night. One night all the lights went out, the avenues were deserted; a sledge without bells came before the portico. A figure, cloaked and muffled to the hat rim came up the steps and was closeted for long with the master of the house.

Then drove away over the snow. For this was the emissary of Lord Palmerston, sowing gold all over Poland so that the Polish revolutionary spirit might be kept alive and Russia embarrassed in her encroachments on Pera or Afghanistan. With an all-powerful navy she had an all-powerful purse. She was stable, reasonable, disciplined, her hierarchies standing in their orders, her classes settled, her Services capable and instinct with an adequate tradition.

And ready to face Russia with fleet or purse when or wherever they should meet.

On Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"

The first English music-hall song that Conrad heard was:.