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An Interrupted Conversation
by [?]

“And once I asked Frank Harris to explain to me the origin of his vivid story, ‘Montes the Matador.’ ‘It’s too simple,’ he said, ‘the model for Montes was a little Mexican greaser whom I met in Kansas. He was one of many in charge of cattle shipped up from Mexico and down from the States. All the white cattle men, the gringos, held him in great contempt. But,’ continued Harris, speaking deliberately with his beautifully modulated voice, and his eyes twinkling with the memory of the thing, ‘I soon found that the greaser’s contempt for the gringos was immeasureably greater than their’s for him. “Bah,” he would say, “they know nothing.” And it was so. He could go into a cattle car on a pitch dark night and make the bulls stand up, a feat that none of the white men would have attempted. I asked him how he did this and he told me the answer in three words, “I know them.” He could go into a herd of cattle just let loose together and pick out their leader immediately, pick him out before the cattle themselves had! There was the origin of “Montes the Matador.” He was named, of course, after the famous torero described by Gautier in his “Voyage en Espagne.” When I was in Madrid sometime later I went to a number of bull-fights before I put the story together.’ ‘But,’ I asked Harris, ‘Is it possible for an espada to stand in the bull ring with his back to the bull, during a charge, as you have made him do frequently in the story?’ ‘Of course not,’ he answered me at once, smiling his frankly malevolent smile, ‘Of course not. That part was put in to show how much the public will stand for in a work of fiction. I believe one of the espadas tried it some time after the book appeared and was immediately killed.’

“Fiction, history, poetry, criticism, at their best, are all the same thing. When they inflame the imagination and stir the pulse they are identical: all creative work. It does not matter what a man writes about. It matters how he writes it. Subject is nothing. Should we regard Velasquez as less important than Murillo because the former painted portraits of contemporaries, whom in his fashion he criticized, while the Spanish Bouguereau disguised his models as the Virgin? Walter Pater’s description of the Monna Lisa would live if the picture disappeared. Indeed it has created a factitious interest in da Vinci’s masterwork. Even more might be said for Huysmans’s description of Moreau’s Salome, which actually puts the figures in the picture in motion! The critic, the historian at their best are creative artists as the writers of fiction are creative artists. Should we regard, for example, ‘Imperial Purple’ less a work of creative art than ‘The Rise of Silas Lapham’?”

“I am getting your meaning more and more,” said Sitgreaves. “And it occurs to me that perhaps I have been unjust in rating Moore low as a novelist. Perhaps I should have said that he is more successful in those books which depend more on his memory and less on his imaginative instinct. He cannot, after all, have known Jesus and Paul….”

“You are quite wrong,” I said. “At least from his point of view. He says that he knows Paul better than he has ever known any one else. He even finds hair on Paul’s chest. He can describe Paul, I believe, to the last mole. He knows his favourite colours, and whether he prefers artichokes to alligator pears. As for Christ, everybody professes to know Christ these days. Since the world has become distinctly un-Christian it has become comparatively easy to discuss Christ. He is regarded as an historical character, and a much more simple one than Napoleon. I have heard anarchists in bar-rooms talk about him by the hour, sometimes very graphically and always with a certain amount of wit. No, it is all the same…. Moore, now that he has been to Palestine and read the gospels, feels as well acquainted with Christ and Paul as he does with Edward Martyn and Yeats and Lady Gregory.”