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Mushrooms On The Moor
by [?]

One faint, struggling glimmer of hope I am delighted to discover. Mr. Chesterton likens Little Bethel to a monstrous mushroom. There can be only one reason for this inartistic mixture of analogy and antithesis. Mr. Chesterton evidently knows that a large mushroom is not so sweet or so toothsome as a small one. A ‘monstrous mushroom,’ even to those who like mushrooms, is coarse and less tasty. Now the gleam of hope lies in the circumstance that Mr. Chesterton knows the fine gradations of niceness (or nastiness) that distinguish mushrooms of one size from mushrooms of another. As a rule, if you get to know a thing, you get to like it. Mr. Chesterton is coming to know mushrooms. He will soon be ordering them for breakfast. He may even come, like certain tribes mentioned in the Encyclopaedia, to eat nothing else! And by that time he may have come to know Little Bethel. And if he comes to know it, he may come to like it. He will still liken it to a mushroom. But we shall be able to tell, by the way he says it, that he means that it is very good. We shall see at once that Mr. Chesterton likes mushrooms. At present, however, the stern fact remains. Mr. Chesterton does not like mushrooms. Richard Jefferies, in his Amateur Poacher, says that mushrooms are good either raw or cooked. The great naturalist is therefore altogether on the side of the Encyclopaedia. ‘Some eat mushrooms raw, fresh as taken from the ground, with a little salt; but to me the taste is then too strong.’ Perhaps that is how Mr. Chesterton has taken his mushrooms– and Little Bethel !’ Of the many ways of cooking mushrooms,’ Richard Jefferies goes on, ‘the simplest is the best; that is, on a gridiron.’ Mr. Chesterton gives the impression that that is precisely how he would prefer his mushrooms– and Little Bethel ! For Mr. Chesterton does not like mushrooms.

The really extraordinary feature of the whole thing is that I like mushrooms all the better for the very reason that leads Mr. Chesterton to pour upon them his most withering and pitiless contempt. He hates them because they spring up in the night. Little Bethel is a ‘monstrous mushroom that grows in the moonshine.’ It is perfectly true that Little Bethel, like the mushrooms, flourished in the darkness. Like Mark Tapley, she was at her brightest when her surroundings were most dreary. In this respect both the meeting-house and the mushrooms are in excellent company. Many fine things grow in the night. Indeed, Sir James Crichton-Browne, the great doctor, in his lecture on ‘Sleep,’ argues that all things that grow at all grow in the night. Night is Nature’s growing-time. Now Michael Fairless shared Richard Jefferies’ fondness for mushrooms. Every reader of The Roadmender will recall the night in the woods. ‘Through the still night I heard the nightingales calling, calling, calling, until I could bear it no longer, and went softly out into the luminous dark. The wood was manifold with sound. I heard my little brothers who move by night rustling in grass and tree; and above and through it all the nightingales sang and sang and sang! The night wind bent the listening trees, and the stars yearned earthwards to hear the song of deathless love. Louder and louder the wonderful notes rose and fell in a passion of melody, and then sank to rest on that low thrilling call which it is said Death once heard and stayed his hand. At last there was silence. The grey dawn awoke and stole with trailing robes across earth’s floor. Gathering a pile of mushrooms– children of the night –I hasten home.’