I always secretly wonder what people mean when they say they are “going to the dogs.” Do they mean that they are going to enjoy themselves thoroughly, with Hell at the end of it?–or do they mean that they are going to raise Hell in their neighbourhood and prevent everybody else from enjoying themselves? Personally, I always think that it is a very empty threat–one usually employed by disillusioned lovers or children. From the casual study I have made of the authorised “dogs,” I find them unutterably boring “bow-wows.” Of course, I am not exactly a canine expert. Like most men, I have ventured near the kennels once or twice, and made good my escape almost at the first sound of a real bark. People who are habitually immoral, who make a habit of breaking all the Commandments, are rarely any other than very wearisome company. What real lasting joy is there in a “wild night up West” if you have a “head” on you next morning that you would pay handsomely to get rid of, and a “mouth”? . . . “Oh, my dear, such a‘mouth’! Appalling!” Besides, the men and women who are in the race with you are usually such dreary company. Either they are so naturally bad that they do not possess the attraction of contrast or variety, or else they are so bitterly repentant that one has to sit and endure from them long stories proving that they are more sinned against than sinning, or that they all belong to old “county families,” or are the left-handed offspring of real earls. In any case, one must needs open yet another bottle to endure the fiction to the end.
No, I have long since come to the conclusion that most people don’t really enjoy themselves a bit when they are determined to do so. They only have a thoroughly “good time” unexpectedly, or when they oughtn’t to have it. Of course, there is always the question whether people are most happy when they don’t look so, and whether they are usually most miserable when apparently smiling their delight. At any rate, if there be one day, or days, in the whole year when all England looks utterly miserable, it is on a fine Bank Holiday or at a picnic. Of course, the newspapers will tell you, for example, that Hampstead Heath was positively pink with happy, smiling faces. But if you did find yourself in the midst of the Bank Holiday crush, you would be struck by the hot, irritated, bored, and weary look of this “happy crowd.” Even at the Derby, the only people you see there who, if they are not happy, at least look so, are those who have just come out of the saloon bar. Occasionally, someone here or there will let the exuberance of his “spirits” overflow, but he won’t get much encouragement from the rest of his listeners squashed together in the same char-a-banc. At the most they will look at each other and smile in a half-discouraging manner, as if to say, “Yes, dear, he is very funny. But what a common man!” It is all rather depressing. Only a street accident or standing in a queue will make the majority of English people really animated. No wonder that foreigners believe that we take our pleasures sadly. They only observe us when we are out to enjoy ourselves. But if they could see us at a funeral, or when we’re suffering from cold feet, then they’d see us smiling and singing! No wonder the French have never really recovered from the gaiety of the British soldier as he went into battle. But if they really want to see the average Britisher looking every bit as phlegmatic as his Continental reputation, they should look at him when he’s out for a day’s gaiety. No wonder that men, when they “go to the dogs,” go to Paris. “The dogs” at home are too much like a moral purge to make a long stay in the “kennel” anything but a most determined effort of the will. We possess, as a nation, so strangely the joie de mourir without much knowledge of the joie de vivre.