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IN this title, be it distinctly understood, no reference
is intended to those anti-AEsculapian persons who,
from time to time, sacrifice to Moloch among the
Essex marshes. It is not necessary to journey even
as far as Plumstead in search of peculiarity, since the
most manifold and ever-varying types of it lie at one's
very doors. And here, at the outset, without quite
endorsing the maxim that genius is always eccentric,
let it be confessed that a slight deviation from the
beaten track is generally apt to be interesting. When
we see the photograph of some distinguished artist,
musician, or poet, and find the features very like those
of the pork butcher in the next street, or the footman
over the way, we are conscious of a feeling of disappointment
almost amounting to a personal grievance.
Mr. Carlyle and Algernon Swinburne satisfy as.
They look as we feel graphic writers and erotic poets
ought to look. Not so the literary females who affect
the compartment labelled "For ladies only," in the
reading room of the British Museum or on the Metropolitan
Railway. They are mostly like one's maiden
aunts, and savour far less of the authoress than some
of the charming girls who studiously avoid their exclusive
locale, and evidently use their reading ticket
only to cover with an appearance of propriety a most
unmistakable flirtation. This they carry on sotto voce
with ardent admirers of the male sex, who, though
regular frequenters of the reading room, are no more
literary than themselves. One might pick out a good
many peculiar people from that learned retreat - that
poor scholar's club room; but let us rather avoid any
such byways of life, and select our peculiars from the
broad highway. Hunting there, Diogenes-wise, with
one's modest lantern, in search - not of honest - but
And first of all, having duly attended to the ladies at the outset, let there be " Place for the Clergy." There is my dear friend the Rev. Gray Kidds, the best fellow breathing, but, from a Diogenes point of view, decidedly eccentric. Gray Kidds is one of those individuals whose peculiarity it is never to have been a boy. Kidds at fifteen had whiskers as voluminous he now has at six-and-twenty, and as he gambolled heavily amongst his more puerile schoolfellows, visitors to the playground used to ask the assistant masters who that man was playing with the boys. They evidently had an uneasy notion that a private lunatic asylum formed a branch of the educational establishment, and that Gray Kidds was a harmless [-200-] patient allowed to join the boys in their sports. Gray Kidds was and is literally harmless. He grew up through school and college, innocently avoiding all those evils which proved the ruin of many who were deemed far wiser than himself. He warbled feebly on the flute, and was adored as a curate, not only for his tootle-tooings, but for his diligent presence at mothers' meetings, and conscientious labours among the poor. A preacher Kidds never pretended to be ; but he had the singular merit of brevity, and crowded more harmless heresies into ten minutes' pulpit oratory than Colenso or Voysey could have done in double the time. The young ladies made a dead set at him, of course, for Kidds was in every respect eligible ; and he let them stroke him like a big pet lamb, but there matters ended. Kidds never committed himself. He is now the incumbent of a pretty church in the suburbs, built for him by his aunt, and, strange to say, the church fills. Whether it is that his brevity is attractive, or his transparent goodness compensates for his other peculiarities, certainly he has a congregation ; and if you polled that congregation, the one point on which all would agree, in addition to his eligibility or innocence, would be that the Rev. Gray Kidds was "so funny."
And now, for our second type of peculiarity, let us beat back for one moment to the fair sex again. Mrs. Ghoul is the reverse of spirituelle ; but she is some-[-201-]thing more - she is spiritualistic. She devoutly believes that the spirits of deceased ancestors come at her bidding, and tilt the table, move furniture insanely about, or write idiotic messages automatically. She is perfectly serious. She does "devoutly" believe this. It is her creed. It is a comfort to her. It is extremely difficult to reconcile such a source of comfort with any respect for one's departed relatives, but that is Mrs. Ghoul's peculiarity and qualification for a niche amongst our originals.
Miss Deedy, on the other hand, is ecclesiastical to the backbone. Miss Deedy ruins her already feeble health with early mattins (she insists on the double t) and frequent fasts. Beyond an innocuous flirtation with the curate at decorations, or a choral meeting, Miss Deedy has as few sins as most of us to answer for ; but, from her frequent penances, she might be a monster of iniquity. She is known to confess, and is suspected of wearing sackcloth. Balls and theatres she eschews as "worldly," and yet she is only just out of her teens. She would like to be a nun, she says, if the habits were prettier, and they allowed long curls down the back, and Gainsboroughs above the brow. As it is, Miss Deedy occupies a somewhat abnormal position, dangling, like Mahomet's coffin, between the Church and the world. That, again, is Miss Deedy's peculiarity.
Miss Wiggles is a "sensitive." That is a new [-202-] vocation struck out by the prolific ingenuity of the female mind. Commonplace doctors would simply call her "hysterical ;" but she calls herself magnetic. She is stout and inclined to a large appetite, particularly affecting roast pork with plenty of seasoning ; but she passes readily into "the superior condition" under the manipulations of a male operator. She makes nothing, save notoriety, by her clairvoyance and other peculiarities; but she is very peculiar, though the type of a larger class than is perhaps imagined in this highly sensational age of ours.
Peculiar boys, too - what lots of them there are ! What is called affectation in a girl prevails to quite as large an extent in the shape of endless peculiarities among boys. A certain Dick (his name is Adolphus, but he is universally, and for no assignable reason, known as Dick) rejoices in endorsing Darwinism by looking and acting like a human gorilla. Dick is no fool, but assumes that virtue though he has it not. To see him mumbling his food at meals, or making mops and mows at the wall, you would think him qualified for Earlswood ; but if it comes to polishing off a lesson briskly or being mulct of his pudding or pocket-money, Master Dick accomplishes the polishing process with a rapidity that gives the lie to his Darwinian assumption.
Well, they are a source of infinite fun, these eccentrics - the comets of our social system. They have, [-203-] no doubt, an object in their eccentricity, a method in their madness, which we prosaic planetary folks cannot fathom. At all events, they amuse us and don't harm themselves. They are uniformly happy and contented with themselves. Of them assuredly is true, and without the limitation he appends, Horace's affirmation, Dulce est desipere, which Mr. Theodore Martin translates, " 'Tis pleasing at times to be slightly insane."