Chapter VIII, continued
"There isn't any doubt in my mind," said Shakespeare, reverting to his original proposition, "that the only perfectly satisfactory life is under a system not yet adopted in either world — the one we have quitted or this. There we had hard work in which our mortal limitations hampered us grievously; here we have the freedom of the immortal with no hard work; in other words, now that we feel like fighting-cocks, there isn't any fighting to be done. The great life in my estimation, would be to return to earth and battle with mortal problems, but equipped mentally and physically with immortal weapons."
"Some people don't know when they are well off," said Beau Brummel. "This strikes me as being an ideal life. There are no tailors bills to pay — we are ourselves nothing but memories, and a memory can clothe himself in the shadow of his former grandeur — I clothe myself in the remembrance of my departed clothes, and as my memory is good I flatter myself I'm the best-dressed man here. The fact that there are ghosts of departed unpaid bills haunting my bedside at night doesn't bother me in the least, because the bailiffs that in the old life lent terror to an overdue account, thanks to our beneficent system here, are kept in the less agreeable sections of Hades. I used to regret that bailiffs were such low people, but now I rejoice at it. If they had been of a different order they might have proven unpleasant here."
"You are right, my dear Brummel," interposed Munchausen. "This life is far preferable to that in the other sphere. Any of you gentlemen who happen to have had the pleasure of reading my memoirs must have been struck with the tremendous difficulties that encumbered my progress. If I wished for a rare liqueur for my luncheon, a liqueur served only at the table of an Oriental potentate, more jealous of it than of his one thousand queens, I had to raise armies, charter ships, and wage warfare in which feats of incredible valor had to be performed by myself alone and unaided to secure the desired thimbleful. I have destroyed empires for a bon-bon at great expense of nervous energy."
"That's very likely true," said Carlyle. "I should think your feats of strength would have wrecked your imagination in time."
"Not so," said Munchausen. "On the contrary, continuous exercise served only to make it stronger. But, as I was going to say, in this life we have none of these fearful obstacles — it is a life of leisure; and if I want a bird and a cold bottle at any time, instead of placing my life in peril and jeopardizing the peace of all mankind to get it, I have only to summon before me the memory of some previous bird and cold bottle, dine thereon like a well-ordered citizen, and smoke the spirit of the best cigar my imagination can conjure up."
"You miss my point," said Shakespeare. "I don't say this life is worse or better than the other we used to live. What I do say is that a combination of both would suit me. In short, I'd like to live here and go to the other world every day to business, like a suburban resident who sleeps in the country and makes his living in the city. For instance, why shouldn't I dwell here and go to London every day, hire an office there, and put out a sign something like this:
Plays written while you wait
I guess I'd find plenty to do."
"Guess again," said Tennyson. "My dear boy, you forget one thing. YOU ARE OUT OF DATE. People don't go to the theatres to hear YOU, they go to see the people who DO you."
"That is true," said Ward. "And they do do you, my beloved William. It's a wonder to me you are not dizzy turning over in your grave the way they do you."
"Can it be that I can ever be out of date?" asked Shakespeare. "I know, of course, that I have to be adapted at times; but to be wholly out of date strikes me as a hard fate."
"You're not out of date," interposed Carlyle; "the date is out of you. There is a great demand for Shakespeare in these days, but there isn't any stuff."
"Then I should succeed," said Shakespeare.
"No, I don't think so," returned Carlyle. "You couldn't stand the pace. The world revolves faster to-day than it did in your time — men write three or four plays at once. This is what you might call a Type-Writer Age, and to keep up with the procession you'd have to work as you never worked before."
"That is true," observed Tennyson. "You'd have to learn to be ambidextrous, so that you could keep two type-writing machines going at once; and, to be perfectly frank with you, I cannot even conjure up in my fancy a picture of you knocking out a tragedy with the right hand on one machine, while your left hand is fashioning a farce-comedy on another."
"He might do as a great many modern writers do," said Ward; "go in for the Paper-Doll Drama. Cut the whole thing out with a pair of scissors. As the poet might have said if he'd been clever enough:
Oh, bring me the scissors,
"You draw a very blue picture, it seems to me," said Shakespeare, sadly.
"Well, it's true," said Carlyle. "The world isn't at all what it used to be in any one respect, and you fellows who made great reputations centuries ago wouldn't have even the ghost of a show now. I don't believe Homer could get a poem accepted by a modern magazine, and while the comic papers are still printing Diogenes' jokes the old gentleman couldn't make enough out of them in these days to pay taxes on his tub, let alone earning his bread."
"That is exactly so," said Tennyson. "I'd be willing to wager too that, in the line of personal prowess, even D'Artagnan and Athos and Porthos and Aramis couldn't stand London for one day."
"Or New York either," said Mr. Barnum, who had been an interested listener. "A New York policeman could have managed that quartet with one hand."
"Then," said Shakespeare, "in the opinion of you gentlemen, we old-time lions would appear to modern eyes to be more or less stuffed?"
"That's about the size of it," said Carlyle.
"But you'd draw," said Barnum, his face lighting up with pleasure. "You'd drive a five-legged calf to suicide from envy. If I could take you and Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte and Nero over for one circus season we'd drive the mint out of business."
"There's your chance, William," said Ward. "You write a play for Bonaparte and Caesar, and let Nero take his fiddle and be the orchestra. Under Barnum's management you'd get enough activity in one season to last you through all eternity."
"You can count on me," said Barnum, rising. "Let me know when you've got your plan laid out. I'd stay and make a contract with you now, but Adam has promised to give me points on the management of wild animals without cages, so I can't wait. By-by."
"Humph!" said Shakespeare, as the eminent showman passed out. "That's a gay proposition. When monkeys move in polite society William Shakespeare will make a side-show of himself for a circus."
"They do now," said Thackeray, quietly.
Which merely proved that Shakespeare did not mean what he said; for in spite of Thackeray's insinuation as to the monkeys and polite society, he has not yet accepted the Barnum proposition, though there can be no doubt of its value from the point of view of a circus manager.