Read CHAPTER VII. - MACHINERY AND THE SUCCESSFUL MERCHANT. of 'That Very Mab' , free online book, by Andrew Lang., on

     ’Now to the eye of Faith displayed,
     The Prototype is seen,
     In every office, every trade,
     I mark, in human garb arrayed,
     The conquering Machine!

     By careful evolution planned,
     With many a gliding wheel,
     To warn, to comfort, to command,
     Or fly, or drive a four-in-hand,
     Or dance a Highland Reel!

     When, urged no more by Passions gale,
     Or impulse unforeseen,
     Humanity shall faint and fail,
     Upon its ruins will prevail
     The conquering Machine!’

Perhaps the exhibition of machinery-struck Queen Mab with more horror than any other novelty in this country.  The Owl declared that she ought to develop a stronger automatic principle, and he therefore took her to an exhibition full of appliances for making the world over again, if ever, as North-country folk say, it ‘happened an accident’ All the different industries of the higher life were represented, and the scene was calculated to drive a non-automatic mind, as the Owl called Queen Mab’s, entirely out of itself in the course of three-quarters of an hour.

There was machinery, worked by electricity, for beating gold to that degree of fineness that it could not be seen except through a powerful microscope, and there was the powerful microscope for seeing it through, also worked by electricity.

‘Why do they want it so fine?’ asked Mab.

‘In order,’ said the Owl, ’that they may be able to take a microscope to it, and so increase the demand for microscopes.  The trades play into each other’s hands.  Look at these watches making themselves.’

He pointed to an arrangement of ropes and wheels and pulleys and electricity, directing the movements of a few human assistants with admirable dexterity and precision.

‘You don’t have anything like that in Polynesia!’ said the Owl with pardonable pride.

‘No, I should think not,’ said Queen Mab.  ’Why, we haven’t any watches at all there.  We look at the sun.’

‘Ah yes,’ returned the Owl.  ’But the sun is rather unreliable, after all.  He has the Ecliptic to go round, and the whole of the Solar System to attend to, and one must make allowances for him.  But, for purposes of strict chronology, watches are better, especially these watches!  They wind themselves up punctually every night, and if their owners break the mainsprings of them, they pack themselves up to go by Parcels Post back to the Company, and then they direct the parcel-or so I hear.  Oh! they are very intelligent watches!’

’Is that true? ’inquired Mab doubtfully.

‘I believe so,’ said the Owl.

There seemed to Queen Mab something rather too preternatural about this, though she could well believe it, as she looked at the wonderful manner in which the watches turned themselves out.  It frightened her, and they proceeded farther on, and came to much artillery, carefully constructed by the higher civilisation for the purpose of turning the lower civilisation, or the non-civilisation, or the alien civilisation, from the error of its ways.

‘These,’ said the Owl, pointing at random to a collection of elegantly polished torpedoes, cannons of superior excellence, gunpowder and gun-cotton of all descriptions and colours, arranged artistically in cases, to resemble sugar-candy and other confectionery, ’are the weapons of our philanthropy, the agents by which we disseminate truth, charity, and freedom, among tribes and races as yet imperfectly supplied with cardinal virtues and general ideas.  They cost a great deal, but we would sacrifice anything for such a purpose.  There is nothing mean about the British public.  “What are a few bales of gun-cotton,’ it cries-” a few tons of paltry bullets, in comparison with the march of civilisation and humanity and open markets?  We do but give them of our best, our finest Bessemer steel, our latest thing in torpedo-boats-nothing is too good for them.  What are we, if not magnanimous?’ says the British public.  I always like that about it-it never grudges a few millions for war expenditure in the cause of philanthropy!  Considering how very sharply it looks after its L s. d. in other directions, this liberality is especially touching and gratifying.’

But Queen Mab preferred to hurry past these dangerous-looking engines of Altruism, and they continued their survey.  They came next to a company of umbrellas who were also barometers, and found out when it was going to rain in time for their masters to take them out.  This, Mab said, was absurd, and, in fact, she was heartily tired of the whole thing before the Owl had explained to her half-a-dozen ingenious structures.  She said that inanimate objects had no business to be so clever, and that, if the mechanicians did not take care, they would shortly invent machines that would conspire together to assassinate them, and then share the profits.

‘Let us go away,’ she exclaimed finally, ’before we turn into machines ourselves!  Everything is going round and round, and I am afraid of having to begin to go round and round too.’

’Ah, I knew this would be the place for cultivating the automatic principle in you,’ said the Owl triumphantly.  ‘We will come again.’

‘No, thank you,’ said Mab, energetically spreading her wings, and, in her preoccupation, taking the wrong road and darting into the great luncheon-room, whither the Owl followed her.  The tables were crowded with people, and numbers of other people who had not yet lunched, were pacing up and down, looking anxiously for vacant places which were not there.  The invisible spectators recognised the British manufacturer they had seen in Richmond Park.  He was seated at a table; he had been sitting there since the disappearance of his last glass of claret, half an hour by the great clock, and for the whole of that half-hour several persons, standing very near his chair, had been fixing hungry eyes upon him, and expecting him to get up.  Every time his boots creaked they moved perceptibly nearer, and made swift mental calculations of the chances each would have to reach the chair; but the worthy manufacturer still sat on, stolid and complacent, with a sense of comfort the keener by contrast.

Queen Mab and the Owl found him uncongenial, and flew away again.

‘That is just like him,’ said the Owl, when they had reached the outside of the building at last, and were perched on the roof, enjoying the fresh air.  ’He will get all he can for his money.  In him you may see a typical and beautiful example of the Survival of the Fittest.  He worked his way, by means of native moral superiority and pure chocolate composed of mortar and molasses tinted with sepia, right from the gallery into one of the very best reserved seats, and now has little books written on himself, as exemplifying the reward of virtue, and exhorts everybody to go in and do likewise.  The pamphlets conclude: 

’"If your vocation furnishes only the trivial round and the common task; if it does not fall to your lot to invent a new pure chocolate, you can at least buy Mr. Tubbs’s pure chocolate, and reverence the benefactors of humanity.”

’He sends copies to all the dukes, and earls, and archbishops, and the result is an immense sale of the pure chocolate.  He has never missed a chance of advertising it; he takes boxes to the meetings of the Church Missionary Society for propagation among the heathen, and so has managed to get large profits from the Zunis, and the Thlinkeets, and the Mikado, and the Shah.  He nearly got into difficulty with the Low Church party once by writing privately to the Pope to solicit orders-not holy orders; orders for pure chocolate, I mean.  I hope he won’t carry it too far.  His wife’s uncle, who was a wholesale draper, seized one golden opportunity too many, and never recovered from the effects.’

‘How was that?’ asked Mab.

‘It was an incident that took place in the Strand one day,’ said the Owl with a modest air, ’of which I learned the particulars from two City sparrows.  It struck my fancy, and I wrote a few stanzas upon it.  The kingfisher, in fact, did me the honour to say that I had wedded the circumstance to immortal verse; but that was his partiality.  I will, however, repeat the little poem to you.’  And with becoming diffidence the Owl recited: 

     ’The Seraph and the Snob.

     It was a draper eminent,
     A merchant of the land,
     On lofty calculations bent,
     Who raised his eyes, on cent, per cent.

     From pondering, in the Strand. 
     He saw a Seraph standing there,
     With aspect bright and sainted,
     Ethereal robe of fabric fair,
     And wings that might have been the pair
     Sir Noel Paton painted.

     A real Seraph met his gaze-
     There was no doubt of that-
     Irradiate with celestial rays. 
     Our merchant viewed him with amaze,
     And then he touched his hat.

     I own, before he raised his hand,
     A moment he reflected,
     Because in this degenerate land,
     To meet a Seraph in the Strand
     Was somewhat unexpected.

     Yet there one stood, as wrapt in thought,
     Amid the City’s din,
     No other eye the vision caught,
     Not even a stray policeman sought
     To run that Seraph in.

But on the merchant curious eyes Men turned, and mocking finger, For well they knew his mien and guise, He was not wont, in moonstruck wise, About the Strand to linger.

     Mute stood the draper for a space,
     The mystery to probe,
     Alas! in that his hour of grace,
     His eyes forsook the Seraph’s face,
     And rested on his robe.

     And wildly did he seek in vain
     To guess the strange material,
     And golden fancies filled his brain,
     And hopes of unimagined gain
     Woke at the sight ethereal.

     Then, suffered not by fate austere
     The impulse to discard,
     He never paused to idly veer
     About the bush; but calm and clear
     He said:  ‘How much a yard?’

     A bright and tremulous lustre shone
     Through the dull, dingy Strand,
     From parting wings seraphic thrown;
     And then, mute, motionless, alone,
     Men saw the merchant stand.

     In town to-day his memory’s cold,
     No more his name on ’Change is,
     Idle his mart, his wares are sold,
     And men forget his fame of old,
     Who now in Earlswood ranges.

     Yet evermore, with toil and care
     He ponders on devices
     For stuffs superlatively rare,
     Celestial fabrics past compare,
     At reasonable prices.

     To him the padded wall and dead
     With gorgeous colour gleams,
     And huge advertisements are spread,
     And lurid placards, orange, red,
     Drive through his waking dreams.’

‘Thank you,’ said Queen Mab, ’that is very interesting; but I can’t help being sorry for the merchant.  For, after all, you know, it was his nature to.  Is it not time, now, for us to go back?’