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A Clerk May Look At A Celebrity
by [?]

A clerk may look at a celebrity. For a number of years, we, being diligent in our business, stood and waited before kings in a celebrated book shop. Now (like Casanova, retired from the world of our triumphs and adventures) we compose our memoirs. “We know from personal experience that a slight tale, a string of gossip, will often alter our entire conception of a personality,”–from a contemporary book review. This, the high office of tittle-tattle, is what we have in our eye. We are Walpolian, Pepysian.

“These Memoirs, Confessions, Recollections, Impressions (as the title happens) are extremely valuable in the pictures they contain of the time. Especially happy are they in the intimate glimpses they give us of the distinguished people, particularly the men of letters, of the day. The writer was an attache of the court,” the writer was this, the writer was that, but always the writer had peculiar facilities for observing intimately–and so forth. So it was with the writer here.

We remember with especial entertainment, we begin, the first time we saw F. Hopkinson Smith. (We are ashamed to say that he was known among our confrere, the salesmen, as “Hop” Smith.) He introduced himself to us by his moustache. Looming rapidly and breezily upon us–“Do you know me?” he said, swelling out his “genial” chest (so it seemed) and pointing, with a militarish gesture, to this decoration. We looked a moment at this sea gull adornment, somehow not unfamiliar to us, and said, “We do.” Mr. Hopkinson Smith, we perceived, regards this literary monument, so to say, as a household word (to put it so) in every home in the land. Mr. Smith, a very robust man, wore yellow, sulphur-coloured gloves, a high hat, a flower in his buttonhole, white piping to his vest. A debonair figure, Chanticleerian. Fresh complexion. Exhaling a breeze of vigour. Though not short in stature, he is less tall than, from the air of his photographs, we had been led to expect. A surprise conveying a curious effect, reminded one of that subconscious sensation experienced in the presence of a one-time tall chair which has been lowered a little by having had a section of its legs sawed off.

Mr. Smith’s conversation with book clerks we found to be confined to inquiries (iterated upon each reappearance) concerning the sale of his own books. We appreciate that this may not be the expression of an irrestrainable vanity, or obsessing greed, realising that very probably his professional insight into human character informs him that the subject of the sales of books is the range of the book clerk’s mind. He expressed a frank and hearty pride (engaging in aspect, we felt) in the long-sustained life of “Peter,” which remarkably selling book survived on the front fiction table all its contemporaries, and in full vigour lived on to see a new generation grow up around it there. In a full-blooded, sporting spirit Mr. Smith asked us if his new book was “selling faster than John Fox’s.” Heartiness and geniality is his role. A man built to win and to relish popularity. With a breezy salute of the sulphur-gloved hand, he is gone. Immediately we feel much less electric.

Alas, what an awful thing! Oliver Herford, with heavily dipped pen poised, is about to autograph a copy of his “Pen and Ink Puppet,” when, lo! a monstrous ink blot spills upon the fair page. Hideous! Mr. Herford is nonplused. The book is ruined. No! Mr. Herford is not Mr. Herford for nothing. The book is enriched in value. Sesame! With his pen Mr. Herford deftly touches the ink blot, and it is a most amusing human silhouette. How characteristic an autograph, his delighted friend will say.