I was recently tagged by, of all people, my favorite atheist, “Bad”, over at “The Bad Idea Blog”. I must admit that I was somewhat astonished to be tagged by this highly intelligent, eminently readable, but somewhat dour individual. But on the other hand, it IS a literary meme, so perhaps it’s not so discordant after all.
The rules of this meme go like this:
1. Go to page 123 of the nearest book.
2. Find the 5th sentence.
3. Write down the next 3 sentences.
Pretty easy, as far as this sort of thing goes. This is undoubtedly why he tagged me with this in the first place: anything more involved and I probably would never have gotten to it, inveterate blogslacker that I am.
As it turns out, I happen to be re-reading J. M. Barrie’s “My Lady Nicotine”. Barrie is, of course, far more famous as the author of “Peter Pan”. In fact, Wikipedia makes no mention at all of this work in their entry about Barrie (a work extolling the pleasures of smoking is far too politically incorrect for Wikipedia, presumably).
The book was originally published in 1890, and recounts the adventures of Barrie and his four bachelor friends, Gilray, Marriot, Scrymgeour, and Jimmy (Jimmy’s last name is Moggridge, but for reasons revealed in the book, he alone of the four friends is always referred to by his first name).
While this book is comparatively obscure, it is actually rather popular with us pipe smokers. What makes this book so interesting (at least from my perspective) is that the stories are all related through the prism of the smoking habits of each of the five friends. While cigar smoking is occasionally referred to, it is the pipe which is usually at center stage in each of the short vignettes presented by Barrie. The five friends’ love of a particular mixture, known as the “Arcadia Mixture”, forms the central theme of the book.
Whether you smoke or not, the book is an extremely entertaining visit to late Victorian England, viewed through the eyes of someone who was there. Barrie’s subtle wit is in fine form here, beginning with the first chapter, in which he informs the reader that he has given up smoking. At the beginning of the chapter he is strident (like most reformed smokers) in his declaration that “I am much better without tobacco, and already have difficulty in sympathizing with the man I used to be”, yet by the end of the chapter he grows wistful, and as he launches into his series of tales, we see where his heart truly likes. Strangely, in the description of the book, the reviewer for Amazon.com seems to have complete missed the irony in this chapter.
As an interesting footnote, Barrie was close friends with the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle paid a subtle tribute to his friend in “The Crooked Man”, in which Holmes says to Watson, “You still smoke the Arcadia mixture of your bachelor
days, then! There’s no mistaking that fluffy ash upon your coat.”
So, without further ado, here is my contribution to the meme. Oddly enough, this particular passage has nothing to do at all with smoking.
I stood up and gazed. She was perhaps a hundred yards away fro me, but I could distinctly make out her swaying, girlish figure, her deerstalker cap, and the ends of her boa. (as, I think, those long furry things are called) floated in the wind. In a moment she was safe on the other side; but on the middle of the plank she had turned to kiss her hand to some of her more timid friends, and it was then that I fell in love with her.