a chronicler of privileged moments: “chaos and old night seems to linger on inside me”

"People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading."

". . .a beautiful phrase is the most important thing in the world. . . nothing else really matters."

Logan Pearsall Smith

Much influenced by the style and thought of Walter Pater, Logan Pearsall Smith (October 18, 1865 – March 2, 1946) was an American essayist, critic, and coiner of aphorisms and epigrams. He inspired Virginia Woolf’s character Nick Greene/Sir Nicholas Greene in Orlando.


I look at my overcoat and my hat hanging in the hall with reassurance; for although I go out of doors with one individuality to-day, when yesterday I had quite another, yet my clothes keep my various selves buttoned up together, and enable all these otherwise irreconcilable aggregates of psychological phenomena to pass themselves off as one person.


Before opening the front-door I paused, for a moment of profound consideration.

Dim-lit, shadowy, full of menace and unimaginable chances, stretched all around my door the many-peopled streets. I could hear, ominous and muffled, the tides of multitudinous traffic, sounding along their ways. Was I equipped for the navigation of those waters, armed and ready to adventure out into that dangerous world again?

Gloves? Money? Cigarettes? Matches? Yes; and I had an umbrella for its tempests, and a latchkey for my safe return.


Shoving and pushing, and shoved and pushed, a dishonoured bag of bones about London, or carted like a herring in a box through tunnels in the clay beneath it, as I bump my head in a bus, or hang, half-suffocated; from a greasy strap in the Underground, I dream, like other Idealists and Saints and Social Thinkers, of a better world than this, a world that might be, a City of Heaven brought down at last to earth.

One footman flings open the portals of my palace in that New Jerusalem for me; another unrolls a path of velvet to the enormous motor which floats me, swift and silent, through the city traffic—I leaning back like God on hallowed cushions, smoking a big cigar.


Almost always the streets are full of dreary-looking people; sometimes for weeks on end the poor face-hunter returns unblest from his expeditions, with no provision with which to replenish his daydream-larder.

Then one day the plenty is all too great; there are Princesses at the street-crossings, Queens in the taxi-cabs, Beings fair as the day-spring on the tops of busses; and the Gods themselves can be seen promenading up and down Piccadilly.


Talk of ants! It’s the precise habits, the incredible proceedings of human insects I like to note and study.

Walking to-day, like a stranger dropped upon this planet, towards Victoria, I chanced to see a female of this species, a certain Mrs. Jones of my acquaintance, approaching from the opposite direction. Immediately I found myself performing the oddest set of movements and manœuvres. I straightened my back and simpered, I lifted my hat in the air; and then, seizing the paw of this female, I moved it up and down several times, giving utterance to a set formula of articulated sounds.

These anthropological gestures and vocalisations, and my automatic performance of them, reminded me that it was after all from inside one of them, that I was observing these Bipeds.


Punctual, commonplace, keeping all appointments, as I go my round in the obvious world, a bit of Chaos and old Night seems to linger on inside me; a dark bewilderment of mind, a nebulous sea of speculation, a looming of shadowy universes out of nothing, and their collapse, as in a dream.


When people talk of Ghosts and Hauntings, I never mention the Apparition by which I am pestered, the Phantom that shadows me about the streets, the image or spectre, so familiar, so like myself, and yet so abhorrent, which lurks in the plate-glass of shop-windows, or leaps out of mirrors to waylay me.

—from Logan Pearsall Smith, More Trivia (1921)

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