THE other evening, in the Casino, the satisfaction of losing
my money at petits-chevaux having begun to flag a little,
I wandered into the Cercle, the reserved apartments in the
west wing of the building, where they were playing baccarat.
Thanks to the heat, the windows were open wide ; and
through them one could see, first, a vivid company of men and
women, strolling backwards and forwards, and chattering busily,
in the electric glare on the terrace ; and then, beyond them, the
sea—smooth, motionless, sombre ; silent, despite its perpetual
whisper ; inscrutable, sinister ; merging itself with the vast black
ness of space. Here and there the black was punctured by a
pin-point of fire, a tiny vacillating pin-point of fire ; and a lands-
man’s heart quailed for a moment at the thought of lonely vessels
braving the mysteries and terrors and the awful solitudes of the
sea at night. . . .
So that the voice of the croupier, perfunctory, machine-like,
had almost a human, almost a genial effect, as it rapped out
suddenly, calling upon the players to mark their play. ” Marquez
vosjeux, messieurs. Quarante louis par tableau.” It brought one
back to light and warmth and security, to the familiar earth, and
the neighbourhood of men.
One’s pleasure was fugitive, however.
The neighbourhood of men, indeed ! The neighbourhood of
some two score very commonplace, very sordid men, seated or
standing about an ugly green table, intent upon a game of
baccarat, in a long, rectangular, ugly, gas-lit room. The banker
dealt, and the croupier shouted, and the punters punted, and
the ivory counters and mother-of-pearl plaques were swept now
here, now there ; and that was all. Everybody was smoking, of
course ; but the smell of the live cigarettes couldn’t subdue the
odour of dead ones, the stagnant, acrid odour of stale tobacco, with
which the walls and hangings of the place were saturated.
The thing and the people were as banale, as unremunerative,
as things and people for the most part are ; and dispiriting,
dispiriting. There was a hardness in the banality, a sort of
cold ferocity, ill-repressed. One turned away, bored, revolted.
It was better, after all, to look at the sea ; to think of the lonely
vessel, far out there, where a pin-point of fire still faintly blinked
and glimmered in the illimitable darkness
But the voice of the croupier was insistent. ” Faites vos jeux,
messieurs. Cinquante louis par tableau. Vos jeux sont faits ?
Rien ne va plus.” It was suggestive, persuasive, besides, to one
who has a bit of a gambler’s soul. I saw myself playing, I felt
the poignant tremor of the instant of suspense, while the result is
uncertain, the glow that comes if you have won, the twinge if
you have lost. ” La banque est aux enchères,” the voice
announced presently ; and I moved towards the table.
The sums bid were not extravagant. Ten, fifteen, twenty
louis ; thirty, fifty, eighty, a hundred.
” Cent louis ? Cent ? Cent ?—Cent louis à la banque,” cried
the inevitable voice.
I glanced at the man who had taken the bank for a hundred
louis. I glanced at him, and, all at oncv=, by no means without
emotion, I recognised him.
He was a tall, thin man, and very old. He had the hands of a
very old man, dried-up, shrunken hands, with mottled-yellow skin,
dark veins that stood out like wires, and parched finger-nails.
His face, too, was mottled-yellow, deepening to brown about the
eyes, with grey wrinkles, and purplish lips. He was clearly very
old ; eighty, or more than eighty.
He was dressed entirely in black : a black frock-coat, black
trousers, a black waistcoat, cut low, and exposing an unusual
quantity of shirt-front, three black studs, and a black tie, a stiff,
narrow bow. These latter details, however, save when some
chance motion on his part revealed them, were hidden by his
beard, a broad, abundant beard, that fell a good ten inches down
his breast. His hair, also, was abundant, and he wore it long ;
trained straight back from his forehead, hanging in a fringe about
the collar of his coat. Hair and beard, despite his manifest
great age, were without a spear of white. They were of a dry,
inanimate brown, a hue to which they had faded (one surmised)
If it was surprising to see so old a man at a baccarat table, it
was still more surprising to see just this sort of man. He looked
like anything in the world, rather than a gambler. With his tall
wasted figure, with his patriarchal beard, his long hair trained in
that rigid fashion straight back from his forehead ; with his stern
aquiline profile, his dark eyes, deep-set and wide-apart, melancholy,
thoughtful : he looked—what shall I say ? He looked like
The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. D
anything in the world, rather than a gambler. He looked like a
savant, he looked like a philosopher ; he looked intellectual,
refined, ascetic even ; he looked as if he had ideas, convictions ;
he looked grave and wise and sad. Holding the bank at baccarat,
in this vulgar company at the Grand Cercle of the Casino, dealing
the cards with his withered hand?, studying them with his deep
meditative eyes, he looked improbable, inadmissible, he looked
supremely out of place.
I glanced at him, and wondered. And then, suddenly, my
heart gave a jump, my throat began to tingle.
I had recognised him. It was rather more than ten years since
I had seen him last ; and in ten years he had changed, he had
decayed terribly. But I was quite sure, quite sure.
” By Jove,” I thought, ” it’s Ambrose—it’s Augustus Ambrose !
It’s the Friend of Man ! ”
Augustus Ambrose ? I daresay the name conveys nothing to
you ? And yet forty, thirty, twenty years ago, Augustus Ambrose
was not without his measure of celebrity in the world. If almost
nobody had read his published writings, if few had any but the
dimmest notion of what his theories and aims were, almost every-
body had at least heard of him, almost everybody knew at least
that there was such a man, and that the man had theories and
aims—of some queer radical sort. One knew, in vague fashion,
that he had disciples, that there were people here and there who
called themselves ” Ambrosites.”
I say twenty years ago. But twenty years ago he was already
pretty well forgotten. I imagine the moment of his utmost
notoriety would have fallen somewhere in the fifties or the sixties,
somewhere between ’55 and ’68.
And if my sudden recognition of him in the Casino made my
heart give a jump, there was sufficient cause. During the greater
part of my childhood, Augustus Ambrose lived with us, was
virtually a member of our family. Then I saw a good deal of him
again, when I was eighteen, nineteen ; and still again, when I was
four or five and twenty.
He lived with us, indeed, from the time when I was scarcely
more than a baby till I was ten or eleven ; so that in my very
farthest memories he is a personage—looking backwards, I see
him in the earliest, palest dawn : a tall man, dressed in black,
with long hair and a long beard, who was always in our house,
and who used to be frightfully severe ; who would turn upon me
with a most terrifying frown if I misconducted myself in his
presence, who would loom up unexpectedly from behind closed
doors, and utter a soul-piercing hist-hist, if I was making a noise :
a sort of domesticated Croquemitaine, whom we had always
Always ? Not quite always, though ; for, when I stop to
think, I remember there would be breathing spells : periods during
which he would disappear—during which you could move about
the room, and ask questions, and even (at a pinch) upset things,
without being frowned at ; during which you could shout lustily
at your play, unoppressed by the fear of a black figure suddenly
opening the door and freezing you with a hist-hist ; during
which, in fine, you could forget the humiliating circumstance that
children are called into existence to be seen and not heard, with
its irksome moral that they should never speak unless they are
spoken to. Then, one morning, I would wake up, and find that
he was in the house again. He had returned during the night.
That was his habit, to return at night. But on one occasion,
at least, he returned in the daytime. I remember driving with
my father and mother, in our big open carriage, to the railway
station, and then driving back home, with Mr. Ambrose added to
our party. Why I—a child of six or seven, between whom and
our guest surely no love was lost—why I was taken upon this
excursion, I can’t at all conjecture ; I suppose my people had
their reasons. Anyhow, I recollect the drive home with particular
distinctness. Two things impressed me. First, Mr. Ambrose,
who always dressed in black, wore a brown overcoat ; I remember
gazing at it with bemused eyes, and reflecting that it was exactly
the colour of gravy. And secondly, I gathered from his conversa-
tion that he had been in prison ! Yes. I gathered that he had
been in Rome (we were living in Florence), and that one day he
had been taken up by the policemen, and put in prison !
Of course, I could say nothing ; but what I felt, what I
thought ! Mercy upon us, that we should know a man, that a
man should live with us, who had been taken up and put in
prison ! I fancied him dragged through the streets by two
gendarmes, struggling with them, and followed by a crowd of
dirty people. I felt that our family was disgraced, we who had
been the pink of respectability ; my cheeks burned, and I hung
my head. I could say nothing ; but oh, the grief, the shame, I
nursed in secret ! Mr. Ambrose, who lived with us, whose
standards of conduct (for children, at any rate) were so painfully
exalted, Mr. Ambrose had done something terrible, and had been
found out, and put in prison for it ! Mr. Ambrose, who always
dressed in black, had suddenly tossed his bonnet over the mills,
and displayed himself cynically in an overcoat of rakish, dare-devil
brown the colour of gravy ! Somehow, the notion pursued me,
there must be a connection between his overcoat and his crime.
The enormity of the affair preyed upon my spirit, day after
day, night after night, until, in the end, I could endure it silently
no longer ; and I spoke to my mother.
” Is Mr. Ambrose a burglar ? ” I enquired.
I remember my mother’s perplexity, and then, when I had
alleged the reasons for my question, her exceeding mirth. I
remember her calling my father ; and my father, also, laughed
prodigiously, and he went to the door, and cried, ” Ambrose !
Ambrose ! ” And when Mr. Ambrose came, and the incident
was related to him, even he laughed a little, even his stern face
When, by-and-by, they had all stopped laughing, and Mr.
Ambrose had gone back to his own room, my father and mother,
between them, explained the matter to me. Mr. Ambrose, I
must understand, (they said), was one of the greatest, and wisest,
and best men in the world. He spent his whole life ” doing good.”
When he was at home, with us, he was working hard, all day long
and late into the night, writing books ” to do good “—that was
why he so often had a headache, and couldn’t bear any noise in
the house. And when he went away, when he was absent, it
was to ” do good ” somewhere else. I had seen the poor people
in the streets ? I knew that there were thousands and thousands
of people in the world, grown-up people, and children like myself,
who had to wear ragged clothing, and live in dreadful houses, and
eat bad food, or go hungry perhaps, all because they were so poor ?
Well, Mr. Ambrose spent his whole life doing good to those poor
people, working hard for them, so that some day they might be rich,
and clean, and happy, like us. But in Rome there was a very
wicked, very cruel man, a cardinal : Cardinal Antonelli was his
name. And Cardinal Antonelli hated people who did good, and
was always trying to kidnap them and put them in prison. And
that was what had happened to Mr. Ambrose. He had been
doing good to the poor people in Rome, and Cardinal Antonelli
had got wind of it, and had sent his awful shirri to seize him and
put him in prison. But the Pope was a very good man, too ; very
just, and kind, and merciful ; as good as it was possible for any
man to be. Only, generally, he was so busy with the great
spiritual cares of his office, that he couldn’t pay much attention to
the practical government of his City. He left that to Cardinal
Antonelli, never suspecting how wicked he was, for the Cardinal
constantly deceived him. But when the Pope heard that the great
and good Mr. Ambrose had been put in prison, his Holiness was
shocked and horrified, and very angry ; and he sent for the
Cardinal, and gave him a sound piece of his mind, and ordered
him to let Mr. Ambrose out directly. And so Mr. Ambrose had
been let out, and had come back to us.
It was a relief, no doubt, to learn that our guest was not a
burglar, but I am afraid the knowledge of his excessive goodness
left me somewhat cold. Or, rather, if it influenced my feeling
for him in any way, I fancy it only magnified my awe. He was
one of the greatest, and wisest, and best men in the world, and he
spent his entire time doing good to the poor. Bene ; that was
very nice for the poor. But for me ? It did not make him a bit
less severe, or cross, or testy ? It did not make him a bit less an
uncomfortable person to have in the house.
Indeed, the character, in a story such as I had heard, most
likely to affect a child s imagination, would pretty certainly have
been, not the hero, but the villain. Mr. Ambrose and his
virtues moved one to scant enthusiasm ; but Cardinal Antonelli !
In describing him as wicked, and cruel, and deceitful, my
people were simply using the language, expressing the sentiment,
of the country and the epoch : of Italy before 1870. In those
days, if you were a Liberal, if you sympathised with the Italian
party, as opposed to the Papal, and especially if you were a
Catholic withal, and so could think no evil of the Pope himself—
then heaven help the reputation of Cardinal Antonelli ! For my
part, I saw a big man in a cassock, with a dark, wolfish face, and
a bunch of great iron keys at his girdle, who prowled continually
about the streets of Rome, attended by a gang of ruffian shirri,
seeking whom he could kidnap and put in prison. So that when,
not very long after this, we went to Rome for a visit, my heart
misgave me ; it seemed as if we were marching headlong into
the ogre s den, wantonly courting peril. And during the month
or two of our sojourn there, I believe I was never quite easy in
my mind. At any moment we might all be captured, loaded
with chains, and cast into prison : horrible stone dungeons, dark
and wet, infested by rats and spiders, where we should have to
sleep on straw, where they would give us nothing but bread and
water to eat and drink.
I didn’t know what the words meant, but they stuck in my
memory, and I felt that they were somehow appropriate. It
was during that same visit to Rome that I had heard them. My
Aunt Elizabeth, with whom we were staying, had applied them,
in her vigorous way, to Mr. Ambrose (whom we had left behind
us, in Florence). ” Poh ! An empty windbag, a canting
egotist, a twopenny-halfpenny charlatan, a cheap impostor,” she
had exclaimed, in the course of a discussion with my father.
Charlatan, impostor : yes, that was it. A man who never
did anything but make himself disagreeable—who never petted
you, or played with you, or told you stories, or gave you things—
who never, in fact, took any notice of you at all, except to frown,
and say hist-hist, when you were enjoying yourself—well, he
might be one of the greatest, and best, and wisest men in the
world, but, anyhow, he was a charlatan and an impostor. I had
Aunt Elizabeth s authority for that.
One day, after our return to Florence, my second-cousin
Isabel (she was thirteen, and I was in love with her)—my second-
cousin Isabel was playing the piano, alone with me, in the school
room, when Mr. Ambrose opened the door, and said, in his
testiest manner : ” Stop that noise—stop that noise ! ”
” He’s a horrid pig,” cried Isabel, as soon as his back was
“Oh, no; he isn’t a pig,” I protested. “He’s one of the
greatest, and wisest, and best men in the world, so of course he
can’t be a horrid pig. But I’ll tell you what he is. He’s a
charlatan and an impostor.”
” Really ? How do you know ? ” Isabel wondered.
” I heard Aunt Elizabeth tell my father so.”
“Oh, well, then it must be true,” Isabel assented.”
He lived with us till I was ten or eleven, at first in Florence,
and afterwards in Paris. All day long he would sit in his room
and write, (on the most beautiful, smooth, creamy paper—what
wouldn’t I have given to have acquired some of it for my own
literary purposes !) and in the evening he would receive visitors :
oh, such funny people, so unlike the people who came to see my
mother and father. The men, for example, almost all of them,
as Mr. Ambrose himself did, wore their hair long, so that it fell
about their collars ; whilst almost all the women had their hair
cut short. And then, they dressed so funnily : the women in
the plainest garments—skirts and jackets, without a touch of
ornament ; the men in sombreros and Spanish cloaks, instead of
ordinary hats and coats. They would come night after night,
and pass rapidly through the outer regions of our establishment,
and disappear in Mr. Ambrose’s private room. And thence I
could hear their voices, murmuring, murmuring, after I had gone
to bed. At the same time, very likely, in another part of the
house, my mother would be entertaining another company, such
a different company—beautiful ladies, in bright-hued silks, with
shining jewels, and diamond-dust in their hair (yes, in that
ancient period, ladies of fashion, on the continent at least, used to
powder their hair with a glittering substance known as “diamond-
dust “) and officers in gold-embroidered uniforms, and men in
dress-suits. And there would be music, and dancing, or theatri-
cals, or a masquerade, and always a lovely supper—to some of
whose unconsumed delicacies I would fall heir next day.
Only four of Mr. Ambrose’s visitors at all detach themselves,
as individuals, from the cloud.
One was Mr. Oddo Yodo. Mr. Oddo Yodo was a small,
grey-bearded, dark-skinned Hungarian gentleman, with another
name, something like Polak or Bolak. But I called him Mr.
Oddo Yodo, because whenever we met, on his way to or from
the chamber of Mr. Ambrose, he would bow to me, and smile
pleasantly, and say : ” Oddo Yoddo, Oddo Yoddo.” I discovered,
in the end, that he was paying me the compliment of saluting me
in my native tongue.
Another was an Irishman, named Slevin. I remember him,
a burly creature, with a huge red beard, because one day he
arrived at our house in a state of appalling drunkenness. I re-
member the incredulous dismay with which I saw a man in that
condition enter our very house. I remember our old servant,
Alexandre, supporting him to Mr. Ambrose’s door, nodding his
head and making a face the while, to signify his opinion.
Still another was a pale young Italian priest, with a tonsure,
round and big as a five-shilling piece, shorn in the midst of a dense
growth of blue-black hair, upon which I alwavs vaguely longed
to put my finger, to see how it would feel. I forget his name,
but I shall never forget the man, for he had an extraordinary
talent : he could write upside-down. He would take a sheet of
paper, and, beginning with the last letter, write my name for me
upside-down, terminating it at the first initial with a splendid
flourish. You will not wonder that I remember him.
The visitor I remember best, though, was a woman named
Arse”neff. She had short sandy hair, and she dressed in the ugliest
black frocks, and she wore steel-rimmed spectacles ; but she was
a dear soul, notwithstanding. One afternoon she was shown into
the room where I chanced to be studying my arithmetic lesson,
to wait for Mr. Ambrose. And first, she sat down beside me, in
the kindest fashion, and helped me out with my sums ; and then
(it is conceivable that I may have encouraged her by some cross-
questioning) she told me the saddest, saddest story about herself.
She told me that her husband had been the editor of a newspaper
in Russia, and that he had published an article in his paper, saying
that there ought to be schools where the poor people, who had to
work all day, could go in the evening, and learn to read and write.
And just for that, for nothing more than that, her husband and
her two sons, who were his assistant-editors, had been arrested, and
chained up with murderers and thieves and all the worst sorts of
criminals, and forced to march, on foot, across thousands of miles of
snow-covered country, to Siberia, where they had to work as
convicts in the mines. And her husband, she said, had died of it;
but her two sons were still there, working as convicts in the mines.
She showed me their photographs, and she showed me a button,
rather a pretty button of coloured glass, with gilt specks in it, that
she had cut from the coat of one of them, when he had been
arrested and taken from her. Poor Arséneff; my heart went out
to her, and we became fast friends. She was never tired of talking,
nor I of hearing, of her sons ; and she gave me a good deal of
practical assistance in my arithmetical researches, so that, at the
Lycée where I was then an externe, I passed for an authority on
Mr. Ambrose s visitors came night after night, and shut them-
selves up with him in his room, and stayed there, talking, talking,
till long past bed-time ; but I never knew what it was all about.
Indeed, I can’t remember that I ever felt any curiosity to know.
It was simply a fact, a quite uninteresting fact, which one
witnessed, and accepted, and thought no more of. Mr. Ambrose
was an Olympian. Kenneth Grahame has reminded us with what
superior unconcern, at the Golden Age, one regards the habits and
doings and affairs of the Olympians.
And then, quite suddenly, Mr. Ambrose left us. He packed up
his things and his books, and went away ; and I understood,
somehow, that he would not be coming back. I did not ask where
he was going, nor why he was going. His departure, like his
presence, was a fact which I accepted without curiosity. Not
without satisfaction, though ; it was distinctly nice to feel that
the house was rid of him.
And then seven or eight years passed, the longest seven or eight
years, I suppose, that one is likely ever to encounter, the seven or
eight years in the course of which one grows from a child of ten
or eleven to a youth approaching twenty. And during those
years I had plenty of other things to think of than Mr. Ambrose.
It was time more than enough for him to become a mere dim
outline on the remote horizon.
My childish conception of the man, as you perceive, was
sufficiently rudimental. He represented to me the incarnation of
a single principle : severity ; as I, no doubt, represented to him
the incarnation of vexatious noise. For the rest, we overlooked each
other. I had been told that he was one of the greatest and wisest
and best men in the world : you have seen how little that mattered
to me. It would probably have mattered quite as little if the
information had been more specific, if I had been told everything
there was to tell about him, all that I have learned since. How
could it have mattered to a child to know that the testy old man
who sat in his room all day and wrote, and every evening received a
stream of shabby visitors, was the prophet of a new social faith,
the founder of a new sect, the author of a new system for the
regeneration of mankind, of a new system of human government,
a new system of ethics, a new system of economics? What could
such a word as ” anthropocracy ” have conveyed to me ? Or such
a word as ” philarchy ” ? Or such a phrase as ” Unification versus Civilisation ” ?
My childish conception of the man was extremely rudimental.
But I saw a good deal of him again when I was eighteen, nineteen;
and at eighteen, nineteen, one begins, more or less, to observe and
appreciate, to receive impressions and to form conclusions. Any-
how, the impressions I received of Mr. Ambrose, the conclusions
I formed respecting him, when I was eighteen or nineteen, are
still very fresh in my mind ; and I can’t help believing that on the
whole they were tolerably just. I think they were just, because
they seem to explain him ; they seem to explain him in big and in
little. They explain his career, his failure, his table manners, his
testiness, his disregard of other people’s rights and feelings, his
apparent selfishness ; they explain the queerest of the many queer
things he did. They explain his taking the bank the other night
at baccarat, for instance ; and they explain what happened
afterwards, before the night was done.
One evening, when I was eighteen or nineteen, coming home
from the Latin Quarter, where I was a student, to dine with my
people, in the Rue Oudinot, I found Mr. Ambrose in the
drawing-room. Or, if you will, I found a stranger in the
drawing-room, but a stranger whom it took me only a minute or
two to recognise. My father, at my entrance, had smiled, with a
little air of mystery, and said to me, ” Here is an old friend of
yours. Can you tell who it is?” And the stranger, also—
somewhat faintly—smiling, had risen, and offered me his hand. I
looked at him—looked at him—and, in a minute, I exclaimed,
“It’s Mr. Ambrose!”
I can see him now almost as clearly as I saw him then, when
he stood before me, faintly smiling : tall and thin, stooping a
little, dressed in black, with a long broad beard, long hair, and a
pale, worn, aquiline face. It is the face especially that comes
back to me, pale and worn and finely aquiline, the face, the high
white brow, the deep eyes set wide apart, the faint, faded smile :
a striking face—an intellectual face—a handsome face, despite
many wrinkles—an indescribably sad face, even a tragic
face—and yet, for some reason, a face that was not altogether
sympathetic. Something, something in it, had the effect rather
of chilling you, of leaving you where you were, than of warming
and attracting you : something hard to fix, perhaps impossible to
name. A certain suggestion of remoteness, of aloofness ? A
suggestion of abstraction from his surroundings and his company,
of inattention, of indifference, to them ? Of absorption in matters
alien to them, outside their sphere ? I did not know. But there
was surely something in his face not perfectly sympathetic.
I had exclaimed, “It s Mr. Ambrose!” To that he had
responded, ” Ah, you have a good memory.” And then we shook
hands, and he sat down again. His hand was thin and delicate,
and slightly cold. His voice was a trifle dry, ungenial. Then
he asked me the inevitable half-dozen questions about myself—
how old I was, and what I was studying, and so forth ; but
though he asked them with an evident intention of being friendly,
one felt that he was all the while half thinking of something else,
and that he never really took in one s answers.
And gradually he seemed to become unconscious of my pre-
sence, resuming the conversation with my father, which, I suppose,
had been interrupted by my arrival.
” The world has forgotten me. My followers have dropped
away. You yourself—where is your ancient ardour ? The
cause I have lived for stands still. My propaganda is arrested.
I am poor, I am obscure, I am friendless, and I am sixty-five
years old. But the great ideals, the great truths, I have taught,
remain. They are like gold which I have mined. There the
gold lies, between the covers of my books, as in so many caskets.
Some day, in its necessities, the world will find it. What is
excellent cannot perish. It may lie hid, but it cannot perish.”
That is one of the things I remember his saying to my father,
on that first evening of our renewed acquaintance. And, at
table, I noticed, he ate and drank in a joyless, absent-minded
manner, and made unusual uses of his knife and fork, and very
unusual noises. And, by-and-by, in the midst of a silence, my
mother spoke to a servant, whereupon, suddenly, he glanced up,
with vague eyes, and the frown of one troubled in the depths of a
brown study, and I could have sworn it was on the tip of his
tongue to say hist-hist !
He stayed with us for several months—from the beginning of
November till February or March, I think—and during that
period I saw him very nearly every day, and heard him accomplish
a tremendous deal of talk.
I tried, besides, to read some of his books, an effort, however,
from which I retired, baffled and bewildered : they were a thou
sand miles above the apprehension of a nineteen-year-old potache ;
and I did actually read to its end a book about him : Augustus
Ambrose, the Friend of Man : an Account of his Life, and an
Analysis of his Teachings. By one of his Folloivers. Turin :
privately printed, 1858. Of the identity of that “Follower,”
by-the-by, I got an inkling, from a rather conscious, half
sheepish smile, which I detected in the face of my own father,
when he saw the volume in my hands. I read his Life to its
end ; and I tried to read The Foundations of Monopantology,
and Anthropocracy : a Remedy for the Diseases of the Body
Politic, and Philarchy : a Vision ; and I listened while he
accomplished a tremendous deal of talk. His talk was always
(for my taste) too impersonal ; it was always of ideas, of theories,
never of concrete things, never of individual men and women.
Indeed, the mention of an individual would often only serve him
as an excuse for a new flight into the abstract. For example, I
had learned, from the Life, that he had been an associate of
Mazzini’s and Garibaldi’s in ’48, and that it was no less a person
than Victor Emmanuel himself, who had named him—in an
official proclamation, too—” the Friend of Man.” So, one day, I
asked him to tell me something about Victor Emmanuel, and
Mazzini, and Garibaldi. ” You knew them. I should be so
glad to hear about them from one who knew them.”
” Victor Emmanuel, Garibaldi, Mazzini, Cavour—I knew
them all ; I knew them well. I worked with them, fought
under them, wrote for them, spoke for them, throughout the long
struggle for the unification of Italy. I did so because unification
is my supreme ideal, the grandest ideal the human mind has ever
formed. I worked for the unification of Italy, because I was and
am working for the unification of mankind, and the unification
of Italy was a step towards, and an illustration of, that sublime
object. Let others prate of civilisation ; civilisation means
nothing more than the invention and multiplication of material
conveniences—nothing more than that. But unification—the
unification of mankind that is the crusade which I have
preached, the cause for which I have lived. To unify the scat-
tered nations of this earth into one single nation, one single
solidarity, under one government, speaking one language, pro-
fessing and obeying one religion, pursuing one aim. The
religion—Christianity, with a purified Papacy. The government
—anthropocratic philarchy, the reign of men by the law of Love.
The language—Albigo. Albigo, which means, at the same time,
both human and universal—from Albi, pertaining to man, and
Gom, pertaining to the whole, the all. Albigo : a language
which I have discovered, as the result of years of research, to
exist already, and everywhere, as the base, the common principle,
of all known languages, and which I have extracted, in its
original simplicity, from the overgrowths which time and separ-
ateness have allowed to accumulate upon it. Albigo : the tongue
which all men speak unconsciously : the universal human tongue.
And, finally, the aim—the common, single aim—the highest
possible spiritual development of man, the highest possible culture
of the human soul.”
That is what I received in response to my request for a few personal
reminiscences of Victor Emmanuel, Garibaldi, and Mazzini.
You will infer that Mr. Ambrose lacked humour. But his
most conspicuous trait, his preponderant trait—the trait which, I
think, does more than any other to explain him, him and his
fortunes and his actions—was the trait I had vaguely noticed in
our first five minutes’ intercourse, after my re-introduction to him ;
the trait which, I have conjectured, perhaps gave its unsympathetic
quality to his face : abstraction from his surroundings and his
company, inattention, indifference, to them.
On that first evening, you may remember, he had asked me
certain questions ; but I had felt that he was thinking of something
else. I had answered them, but I had felt that he never heard my
That little negative incident, I believe, gives the key to his
character, to his fortunes, to his actions.
The Friend of Man was totally deaf and blind and insensible to
men. Man, as a metaphysical concept, was the major premiss of
his philosophy ; men, as individuals, he was totally unable to realise.
He could not see you, he could not hear you, he could get no
” realising sense ” of you. You spoke, but your voice was an
unintelligible murmur in his ears ; it was like the sound of the
wind—it might annoy him, disturb him (in which case he would
seek to silence it with a hist-hist], it could not signify to him.
The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. E
You stood up, in front of him ; but you were invisible to him ; he
saw beyond you. And even when he spoke, he did not speak to
you, he spoke to the walls and ceiling—he thought aloud. He
took no account of his auditor’s capacities, of the subject that would
interest him, of the language he would understand. You asked
him to tell you about Mazzini, and he discoursed of Albigo and
the Unification of Mankind. And then, when he ceased to speak,
directly he fell silent and somebody else took the word, the gates
of his mind were shut ; he withdrew behind them, returned to his
private meditations, and so remained, detached, solitary, preoccupied,
till the time came when he was moved to speak again. He was
the Friend of Man, but men did not exist for him. He was like
a mathematician busied with a calculation, eager for the sum-total,
but heedless of the separate integers. My father—my mother—
I—whosoever approached him—was a phantasm : a convenient
phantasm, possibly, a phantasm with a house where he might be
lodged and fed, with a purse whence might be supplied the funds
requisite for the publication of his works ; or possibly a trouble
some phantasm, a phantasm that worried him by shouting at its
play : but a phantasm, none the less.
Years ago, my downright Aunt Elizabeth had disposed of him
with two words : a charlatan, an impostor. My Aunt Elizabeth
was utte r ly mistaken. Mr. Ambrose’s sincerity was absolute.
The one thing he professed belief in, he believed in with an
intensity that rendered him unconscious of all things else ; his one
conviction was so predominant as to exclude all other convictions.
What was the one thing he believed in, the one thing he was
convinced of? It would be easy to reply, himself; to declare that,
at least, when she had called him an egotist, my Aunt Elizabeth
had been right. It would be easy, but I am sure it would be
untrue. The thing he believed in, the thing he was convinced of,
the only thing in this whole universe which he saw, was his
vision. That, I am persuaded, is the explanation of the man. It
explains him in big and in little. It explains his career, his
fortunes, his failure, his table-manners, his testiness, and the
queerest of his actions.
He saw nothing in this universe but his vision ; he did not see the
earth beneath him, nor the people round him. Is that not enough
to explain everything, almost to justify anything ? Doesn’t it
explain his failure, for example ? The fact that the world ignored
him, that his followers dropped away from him, that nobody read
his books ? For, since he was never convinced of the world, how
could he convince the world ? Since he had no ” realising sense ”
of men, how could he hold men ? Can you hold phantasms ?
Since, in writing his books, he took no account of human nature,
no account of human taste, human desires, needs, endurance, no
account of the structure of the human brain, of human habits of
thought, of the motives by which human beings can be influenced,
of the arguments they can follow, of the language they can under
stand—since, in a word, he wrote his books, as he spoke his
speeches, not to you or me, not to flesh and blood, but to the walls
and ceiling, to space, to the unpeopled air—how was it possible
that he should have human readers ? It explains his failure, the
failure of a long life of unremitting labour. He was learned, he
was in earnest, he was indefatigable ; and the net product of his
learning, his earnestness, his industry, was nil ; because there can
be no reciprocity established between something and nothing.
It explains his failure ; and it explains—it almost excuses—in a
sense it even almost justifies—the queerest of his actions. Other
people did not exist for him ; therefore other people had no
feelings to be considered, no rights, no possessions, to be respected.
They did not exist, therefore they were in no way to be reckoned
with. Their observation was not to be avoided, their power was
not to be feared. They could not do anything ; they could not
see what he did.
The queerest of his actions ? You will suppose that I must
have some very queer action still to record. Well, there was his
action the other night at the Casino, for one thing ; I haven’t yet
done with that. But the queerest of all his actions, I think, was
his treatment of Israela, his step-daughter Israela. . . .
During the visit Mr. Ambrose paid us in Paris, when I was
nineteen, he, whose early disciples had dropped away, made a new
disciple : a Madame Fontanas, a Mexican woman—of Jewish
extraction, I imagine—a widow, with a good deal of money.
Israela, her daughter, was a fragile, pale-faced, dark-haired, great-
eyed little girl, of twelve or thirteen. Madame Fontanas sat at
Mr. Ambrose’s feet, and listened, and believed. Perhaps she con-
ceived an affection for him ; perhaps she only thought that here
was a great philosopher, a great philanthropist, and that he ought
to have some one to take permanent care of him, and reduce the
material friction of his path to a minimum. Anyhow, when the
spring came, she married him. I have no definite information on
the subject, but I am sure in my own mind that it was she who
took the initiative—that she offered, and he vaguely accepted, her
hand. Anyhow, in the spring she married him, and carried him
off to her Mexican estates.
Five or six years later (by the sheerest hazard) I found him
living in London with Israela ; in the dreariest of dreary lodgings,
in a dreary street, in Pimlico. I met him one afternoon, by the
sheerest hazard, in Piccadilly, and accompanied him home. (It
was characteristic of him, by-the-by, that, though we met face to
face, and I stopped and exclaimed and held out my hand, he gazed
at me with blank eyes, and I was obliged to repeat my name
twice before he could recall me.) He was living in London, for
the present, he told me, in order to see a work through the press.
“A great work, the crown, the summary of all my work. The
Final Extensions of Monopantology. It is in twelve volumes, with
plates, coloured plates.”
” And Mrs. Ambrose is well ? ” I asked.
“Oh, my wife—my wife is dead. She died two or three
years ago,” he answered, with the air of one dismissing an
” And Israela ? ” I pursued, by-and-by.
” Israela ? ” His brows knitted themselves perplexedly, then,
in an instant, cleared. ” Oh, Israela. Ah, yes. Israela is living
And upon my suggesting that I should like to call upon her,
he replied that he was on his way home now, and, if I cared to do
so, I might come with him.
They were living in the dreariest of dreary lodgings, in the
dreariest of streets. But Israela welcomed me with a warmth I
had not anticipated. ” Oh, I am so glad to see you, so glad, so
glad,” she cried, and her big, dark eyes filled with tears, and she
clung to my hand. I was surprised by her emotion, because, after
all, I was scarcely other than a stranger to her ; a man she hadn’t
seen since she was a little girl, and even then had seen only once
or twice. I understood it afterwards, however : when one day she
confided to me that—excepting Mr. Ambrose himself, and servants
and tradesmen—I was the first human being she had exchanged a
word with since they had come to London ! ” We don’t know
anybody—not a soul, not a soul. He doesn t want to know people
—he is so absorbed in his work. I could not make acquaintances
alone. And we had been here four months, before he met you
and brought you home.”
Israela was tall, and very slight ; very delicate-looking, with a
face intensely pale, all the paler for the soft dark hair that curled
above it, and the great dark eyes that looked out of it. Consider
ing that she must have inherited a decent fortune from her mother,
I wondered, rather, to see her so plainly dressed : she wore the
plainest straight black frocks. And, of course, I wondered also to
find them living in such dismal lodgings. However, it was not
for me to ask questions ; and if presently the mystery cleared itself
up, it was by a sort of accident.
I called at the house in Pimlico as often as I could ; and I took
Israela out a good deal, to lunch or dine at restaurants ; and when
the weather smiled, we would make little jaunts into the country,
to Hampton Court, or Virginia Water, or where not. And one
day she came to tea with me, at my chambers.
” Oh, you ve got a piano,” was her first observation, and she
flew to the instrument, and seated herself, and began to play. She
played without pause for nearly an hour, I think : Chopin, Chopin,
Chopin. And when she rose, I said, ” Would you mind telling
me why you—a brilliant pianist like you—why you haven’t a
piano in your own rooms ? ”
” We can’t afford one,” she answered simply.
” What do you mean—you can’t afford one ? ”
” He says we can’t afford one. Don’t you know—we are very
poor ? ”
” You can’t be very poor,” I exclaimed. ” Your mother was
” Yes, my mother was rich. I don’t know what has become of
” Didn’t she leave a will ? ”
“Oh, yes, she left a will. She left a will making my step
father my guardian, my trustee.”
” Well, what has he done with your money ? “
” I don’t know. I only know that we are very poor—that we
can’t afford any luxuries—that we can just barely contrive to live,
in the quietest manner. He almost never gives me any money for
myself. A few shillings, very rarely, when I ask him.”
” My dear child,” I cried, ” I see it all, I see it perfectly.
You’ve got plenty of money, you’ve got your mother’s fortune.
But he’s spending it for his own purposes. He’s paying for the
printing of his gigantic book with it. Twelve volumes, and
plates, coloured plates ! It’s exactly like him. The only thing
he’s conscious of is the importance of publishing his book. He
needs money. He takes it where he finds it. He’s spending your
money for the printing of his book ; and that’s why you have to
live in dreary lodgings in the dreariest part of London, and do
without a piano. He doesn’t care how he lives—he doesn’t know
—he’s unconscious of everything but his book. My dear child,
you must stop him, you mustn’t let him go on.”
Israela was incredulous at first, but I argued and insisted, till, in
in the end, she said, “Perhaps you are right. But even so, what
can I do ? How can I stop him ? ”
” Ah, that’s a question for a lawyer. We must see a lawyer.
A lawyer will know how to stop him.”
But at this proposal, Israela shook her head. ” Oh, no, I will,
have no lawyer. Even supposing your idea is true, I can’t set a
lawyer upon my mother’s husband. After all, what does it matter ?
Perhaps he is right. Perhaps the publication of his book is
very important. I’m sure my mother would have thought so. It
was her money. Perhaps he is right to spend it for the publication
of his book.”
Israela positively declined to consult a lawyer ; and so they
continued to live narrowly in Pimlico, and he proceeded with the
issue of The Final Extensions of Monopantology, in twelve
volumes, with coloured plates. Meanwhile, the brown London
autumn had turned into a black London winter ; and Israela,
delicate-looking at its outset, grew more and more delicate-looking
” After all, what does it matter ? The money will be his, and
he can do as he wishes with it honestly, as soon as I am dead,” she
said to me, one evening, with a smile I did not like.
” What on earth do you mean ? ” I asked.
” I am going to die,” she said.
” You’re mad, you re morbid,” I cried. ” You mustn’t say such
things. You’re not ill ? What on earth do you mean ? ”
“I am going to die. I know it. I feel it. I am not ill ? I
don’t know. I think I am ill. I feel as if I were going to be ill.
I am going to die—I know I am going to die.”
I did what I could to dissipate such black presentiments. I
refused to talk of them. I did what I could to lend a little gaiety
to her life. But Israela grew whiter and more delicate-looking
day by day. I was her only visitor. I had asked if I might not
bring a friend or two to see her, but she had answered, ” I’m afraid
he would not like it. People coming and going would disturb him.
He can’t bear any noise.” So I was her only visitor—till, by-and-
by, another became necessary.
I wonder whether Mr. Ambrose ever really knew that Israela was
lying in her bed at the point of death, and that the man who called
twice every day to see her was a doctor ? True, in an absent-
minded fashion, he used to enquire how she was, he used even
occasionally to enter the sick-room, and look at her, and lay his
hand on her brow, as if to take her temperature ; but I wonder
whether he ever actually realised her condition ? He was terribly
pre-occupiedjust then with Volume VIII. At all events, on a certain
melancholy morning in April, he allowed me to conduct him to a
carriage and to help him in ; and together we drove to Kensal
Green. He was silent during the dr—thinking hard, I fancied,
about some matter very foreign to our errand. . . . And as soon
as the parson there had rattled through his office and concluded it,
Israela’s step-father pulled out his watch, and said to me, ” Ah, I
must hurry off, I must hurry off. I’ve got a long day’s work before
That was something like ten years ago—the last time I had
seen him. . . . Until now, to-night, on this sultry night of
August 1896, here he had suddenly reappeared to me, holding the
bank at baccarat, at the Grand Cercle of the Casino : Augustus
Ambrose, the Friend of Man, the dreamer, the visionary, holding
the bank at baccarat, at the Grand Cercle of the Casino !
I looked at him, in simple astonishment at first, and then
gradually I shaped a theory. ” He has probably come pretty nearly
to the end of Israela’s fortune ; it would be like him to spend
interest and principal as well. And now he finds himself in need
of money. And he is just unpractical enough to fancy that he
can supply his needs by play. Or—or is it possible he has a
system ? Perhaps he imagines he has a system.” And then I
thought how old he had grown, how terribly, terribly he had
I looked at him. He was dealing. He dealt to the right, to
the left, and to himself. But when he glanced at his own two
cards, he made a little face. The next instant he had dropped
them under the table, and helped himself to two fresh ones. . . .
The thing was done without the faintest effort at concealment,
in a room where at least forty pairs of eyes were fixed upon him.
There was, of course, an immediate uproar. In an instant
every one was on his feet ; Mr. Ambrose was surrounded. Men
were shaking their fists in his face, screaming at him excitedly,
calling him ugly names. He gazed at them placidly, vaguely.
It was clear he did not grasp the situation.
Somebody must needs intervene.
” I saw what Monsieur did. I am sure it was with no ill
intention. He made no effort at concealment. It was done in
a fit of absence of mind. Look at him. He is a very old man.
You can see he is bewildered. He does not even yet understand
what has happened. He should never have come here, at his age.
He should never have been allowed to take the bank. Let the
croupier pay both sides. Then I will take Monsieur away.
Somehow I got him out of the Casino, and led him to his hotel,
a small hotel in the least favoured quarter of the town, the name
of which I had a good deal of difficulty in extracting from him.
On the way thither scarcely a word passed between us. I forbore
to tell him who I was ; of course, he did not recognise me. But
all the while a pertinacious little voice within me insisted : ” He
did it deliberately. He deliberately tried to cheat. With his
gaze concentrated on his vision, he could see nothing else ; he
could see no harm in trying to cheat at cards. He needed money
—it didn’t matter how he obtained it. The other players were
phantasms—where’s the harm in cheating phantasms ? Only he
forgot—or, rather, he never realised—that the phantasms had eyes,
that they could see. That’s why he made no effort at conceal
ment.”—Was the voice right or wrong ?
I parted with him at the door of his hotel ; but the next day a
feeling grew within me that I ought to call upon him, that I
ought at least to call and take his news. They told me that he
had left by an early train for Paris.
As I have been writing these last pages, a line of Browning’s
has kept thrumming through my head. ” This high man, with
a great thing to pursue , . . This high man, with a great thing
to pursue . . .” How does it apply to Mr. Ambrose ? I don’t
know—unless, indeed, a high man, with a great thing to pursue,
is to be excused, is to be pitied, rather than blamed, if he loses his
sense, his conscience, of other things, of small things. After all,
wasn’t it because he lost his conscience of small things, that he
missed his great thing ?
Harland, Henry. “The Friend of Man.” The Yellow Book, vol. 11, October 1896, pp. 51-79. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV11_harland_friend/