Ugly and Silent, Like an Elf, the Secret of the Street

… so, from a rather wet Lord’s, it’s back to the studio – where we have some topical satire for you from G.K. Chesterton. 

(I suspect this is only accidentally topical.  For Fleet Street read Wapping.)


When I Came Back To Fleet Street

When I came back to Fleet Street,
Through a sunset nook at night,
And saw the old Green Dragon
With the windows all alight,
And hailed the old Green Dragon
And the Cock I used to know,
Where all good fellows were my friends
A little while ago;

I had been long in meadows,
And the trees took hold of me,
And the still towns in the beech-woods,
Where men were meant to be.
But old things held; the laughter,
The long unnatural night,
And all the truth they talk in hell,
And all the lies they write.

For I came back to Fleet Street,
And not in peace I came;
A cloven pride was in my heart,
And half my love was shame.
I came to fight in fairy-tale,
Whose end shall no man know–
To fight the old Green Dragon
Until the Cock shall crow!

Under the broad bright windows
Of men I serve no more,
The groaning of the old great wheels
Thickened to a throttled roar;
All buried things broke upward;
And peered from its retreat,
Ugly and silent, like an elf,
The secret of the street.

They did not break the padlocks,
Or clear the wall away.
The men in debt that drank of old
Still drink in debt to-day;
Chained to the rich by ruin,
Cheerful in chains, as then
When old unbroken Pickwick walked
Among the broken men.

Still he that dreams and rambles
Through his own elfin air,
Knows that the street’s a prison,
Knows that the gates are there:
Still he that scorns or struggles
Sees, frightful and afar.
All that they leave of rebels
Rot high on Temple Bar.

All that I loved and hated,
All that I shunned and knew,
Clears in broad battle lightning,
Where they, and I, and you,
Run high the barricade that breaks
The barriers of the street,
And shout to them that shrink within,
The Prisoners of the Fleet.


Ugly and Silent, Like an Elf, the Secret of the Street

Edgar Wallace

Working on a different site today, just off Fleet Street.  Where Fleet Street meets Ludgate Circus there is this –

Edgar Wallace

Edgar Wallace

a plaque in memory of Edgar Wallace. 
At one point – according to his publishers (so, not an entirely reliable source) – one in four of all books sold in the world was written by Wallace.  This is almost certainly an exaggeration, but his books certainly sold in vast amounts.  Now, I’d guess, he’s virtually forgotten, if not quite out of print.
I can only remember reading one of his books, and can’t remember a thing about it – the impression I have is that they were efficiently manufactured page-turners that you might buy at a railway station to pass the time on the journey – so, the equivalent of today’s airport fiction, perhaps.
None of his characters seem to taken on an independent longevity in the way that a Poirot or Wimsey,  a Campion or a Fen has – J.G. Reader?  The Green Archer?
I feel though that the Four Just Men have some potential for revival, as their role in life was apparently to “kill the Foreign Secretary if he tried to ratify an unjust law” – they’d have their work cut out these days.
EW seems to have led an eventful, racketty life, rather like a more likeable Jeffrey Archer.  He died leaving substantial debts, although, in fairness, these soon vanished under the weight of royalties. 
On the other hand, he did cause severe financial incovenience to Lord Harmsworth, and stood as an Independent Liberal in Blackpool at the 1931 election.  So not all bad.
Must try to read one of his books, come to think of it.