To Morrow?

Author: Victoria Cross

Chapter I

"REJECTED! rejected!"

I crushed the letter spasmodically in my hand as I walked mechanically up and down the length of the dining-room, a rage of anger filling my brain and the blood thundering in my ears.

"Rejected! and that not for the first time. Another year and a half’s work flung away—simply flung away, and I am no nearer recognition than ever. Incredible it seems that they won’t accept that."

I stopped under the gasalier and glanced again through the letter I had just received.

"DEAR SIR,—With reference to your last MS., we regret to say we cannot undertake its publication, owing to the open way in which you express your unusual religious views and your contempt for existing institutions.

"At the same time, our reader expresses his admiration for your style, and his regret that your unmistakably brilliant genius should be directed towards unsatisfactory subjects.—We are," etc., etc.

The blood flowed hotly over my face, and my teeth closed hard upon my lip.

Always the same thing! rejection from every quarter.

The last clause in the letter, which might have brought some momentary gratification to a man less certain, less absolutely sure of his own powers than I was, could bring none to me.

It only served to make sharper the edge of my keen disappointment. Brilliant genius! I read the words with the shadow of a satirical smile.

What need to tell me that I possessed a power that inflamed every vein, that heated all the blood in my system, that filled, till they seemed buoyant, every cell of my brain? As much need as to tell the expectant mother she has a life within her own.

I was tired of praise, tired of being called gifted, tired of hearing reiterated by others that which I knew so well myself.

We are invariably little grateful for anything freely and constantly offered to us, and I cared now simply nothing for compliments, praise, or felicitation.

These had been given to me from my childhood upwards, and yet here, at six and twenty, I was still unknown, unrecognized, obscure, and not a single line of my writing had met the public eye.

I craved and thirsted after success far more than a fever-stricken man in the desert can crave after water, for the longings and desires of the body are finite, and when a fixed pitch in them has been surpassed, death grants us a merciful cessation of all desire, but the longings of the mind are infinite, absolutely without limit and without period; and where a physical desire, ungratified, must eventually destroy itself as it wears away the matter that has given it birth, a mental desire does not wane with the flesh it wastes, but remains ravening to the last, and reigns supreme over the death agony, up to the final moment of actual dissolution.

I had done what I could to attain my own wishes; I was not one of those idle, clever fellows who imagine talent independent of work, and who are too lazy to throw into words and commit to paper the brilliant but vague, unformed inspirations that visit them between the circling rings of smoke from their cigar.

I had no thought, no expectation, no wish even to be offered that celebrated sweet condition of the palm without the dust of the struggle in the arena.

But for me it had been dust, dust, and nothing but dust, and there were times when it seemed to blind, choke, overpower me.

My capacity for work was unlimited; labour was comparatively no labour to me. The mechanical work of embodying an idea in a manuscript was as nothing to me.

To write came to me as naturally as to speak.

Therefore work had not been wanting. Manuscript after manuscript had been completed, submitted to various publishers, and returned with thanks, with commendation, and regrets that I had not written something totally different.

And there they all stood in a pile, an irritating, distracting pile, a monument of unrequited labour, an unrealised capital, a silent testimony to the exceeding narrowness of the limits of British indulgence to talent.

My persistent ill-luck was all the more aggravating as I was not handicapped by poverty, as so many authors are. The question of terms had not been one to present a difficulty.

I had no need to ask a publisher to accept my MSS. at his own financial risk.

I was not the traditional struggling young writer of the lady novelist who treats poverty and genius as convertible terms, making up with the former quality whatever her hero lacks of the other.

No; although the combination may be very romantic, I confess, notwithstanding that I was an unrecognised author, I was not living in a garret, nor writing my MSS. by the proverbially flaring candle, nor going without my dinner in order to pay for foolscap.

But my feelings were as bitter, and the sense of disappointment as sharp, as any attic-dwelling genius’ could have been, even if we suppose the lady novelist to have thrown in a conventionally consumptive wife.

In fact they were stronger because more absolute, more concentrated in themselves.

There were no pangs of hunger to distract my attention, no traditionally patient wife to look sadly at me, no responsibilities for others lying upon me and my rejected MSS.

Simply all my own desires for myself centred in them.

There was one side issue which at times seemed to include everything, to be everything in itself, but the moments when this forced itself in overwhelming prominence upon my brain were few.

The wish that I had to publish my works could not be traced to distinct motives; it did not spring from a desire to gain money, nor yet celebrity.

I was not particularly keen on fame while I lived, and I certainly had no sentimental ideas of my name surviving me.

I cared little in fact whether my name ever reached the public, provided only my works were known and read. The wish to give them out was not a thing of motive, nor thought, nor will. It was the fierce, instinctive impulse that accompanies all creative power, the tremendous impetus towards production that is an integral part of all conceptive capacity. The same driving necessity that compels a writer in the middle of the night to rise and take his pen and commit to paper some thought or thoughts that are racing about in his brain, trying to find an outlet, that compels him to produce them as far as he is able, this same urgent impulse forces him to complete his manuscript, and when completed, to strain his utmost to give it actual life in the thoughts and brains of the public.

The pressing want to produce is as wholly natural, as innate, as independent of the individual’s volition as the conceptive impulse itself.

And it was thus with me.

I could not be said to wish to publish from this or that motive, because of this, that, or the other. I was simply dominated by the instinct to do so, which grew more and more urgent as it found no gratification.

It had risen now rampant at this last rebuff, and it seemed to rage about in my brain like a Bengal tiger in a net.

I walked up and down the long dining-room, backwards and forwards, from the grate where the fire blazed to the glass-panelled sideboard at the other end, where its reflection sparkled, yawning every now and then from sheer nervous irritation. "Cursed, infernal nuisance!"

I had just muttered this when the door was pushed open, but the enterer, on hearing my exclamation, promptly drew it to again, and would have shut it, but that I caught the handle.

It was the butler.

"What do you want, Simmonds," I said.

"Nothing, sir. I was told to enquire if you was in."

"Well, I am."

"Yes, sir. Please, Mr. Hilton said was you ready for dinner?"

"Certainly; and, Simmonds, where’s Nous?"

"Tied up, sir, in the stable."

"Tied up! Again! I gave orders he was never to be tied up!"

"Yes, sir; but please, sir, he was that dirty and muddy to go scrimmaging over the house, and it’s the ruination of the furniture- -"

"The dog is not to be tied up," I interrupted.

"Have him let loose at once, and in future remember, if he comes in wet and muddy, and chooses to lie on the drawing-room couch, let him."

The man disappeared, and I walked over to the hearth.

A minute or two later there was a scratching and whining outside the door, and I went to it and let Nous in.

He bounded over me, licked my face furiously, and scratched enthusiastically at my shirt front.

He was wet, and his fur laden with mud, as the butler had said, and my clothes suffered from his demonstrativeness, but his feelings were of more import than a dress-coat, and I would not have hurt them by checking his greeting.

"Dear old boy," I said, taking the collar off with which he had been chained up,—and just then my father came into the room.

"Ah, got back, Victor?"

"Yes," I said, looking up.

"They’ve rejected your last, eh?" he said at once.

"Yes. Why? Have they sent it? How did you know it was rejected?"

"By your face, my dear boy," answered my father.

"It’s odd that these failures knock you up still. You must be accustomed to them now!"

That was cutting, and it cut.

"One does not easily get accustomed to anything that is against natural law," I said, coldly.

"Oh! and you mean that it is against the natural law of things that so brilliant a genius as yourself should be perpetually rejected?"

I nodded. "Just so," I answered.

"It is a pity they will not take your estimation of your own powers!"

"There is very little difference in the estimation," I said. "The difference is in the courage. I have the courage to write things they have not the courage to print. There is no question as to my powers. No one, except yourself, perhaps, has ever denied those."

"Well, why the dickens don’t you write something that they will accept? Why not make up something quite conventional?"

I looked across the hearth at him with a half amused, half ironical smile, and said nothing. It is so hard to explain to an outsider the involuntariness of all real talent.

This great leading characteristic is invariably but imperfectly grasped by others.

They cannot realise it.

I was too flat in spirits and too tired in body to feel inclined to enter then into an abstruse discussion with him, and I would have let the matter slide.

His last remark to the ear of anyone who has genuine talent, whether artist or author or poet, or what you please, sounds like a sacrilegious blasphemy.

"Make up something!"

Great heavens! What an expression!

Is a writer, then, a cook, preparing a new dish? Is he a nursery maid soothing a refractory child? Is he a woman’s dressmaker taking her mistress’s orders?

Dinner was served just then, and we took our seats at the table in silence.

I thought I should have no need to answer.

However, when the butler had deposited the soup and shut the door after him, my father returned to the attack.

"Yes, Victor," he said in a friendly way, as if a happy solution of my difficulties had just occurred to him, "why don’t you make up something quite orthodox and keep your own opinions out of it?"

I sighed and took half a glass of claret to fortify me. I saw I was in for propounding my views upon genius, and I did not feel up to it.

I could have avoided the argument, doubtless, by seeming to assent, by promising to "make up something," and saved myself a number of words.

But there is a strong impulse in me to revolt against allowing myself to seem to accept a false statement or opinion that I do not really hold.

And I pulled myself together with an effort.

"I don’t think you understand in the least my view of a writer and his writings," I said. "It is not a voluntary thing, led up to by pre-determination. There can be no question of making up. I never try to write nor to think. I do not invoke my own ideas. They spring into being of themselves, quite unsought. And, in a measure, they are uncontrollable."

My father was staring at me in silence.

"Eh?" he said merely as I paused.

I laughed.

"What I mean is, that a man, as a man, endowed with will, control, wishes, and so on, ceases to exist, you may say, while he is writing. He becomes then the tool of that peculiar, mysterious power that is moving in his brain. He writes as a clerk writes from dictation. He is the clerk pro tem of the impulse stirring his being, which dictates to him what it pleases. There is no consideration in his mind—’I will write this or that’ or ’I won’t write the other.’ He simply feels he must write a particular thing; it crowds off his pen before he can stop it. He does not know where, whence, how, or why the idea came to him. But it is there, clamouring to be written, and he writes it because he must. The expression, very often, of a thought is as uncontrollable as a physical spasm, and the man who writes it cannot always be held responsible for it."

"My dear Victor!"

"No, really," I said, laughing, "I am simply stating ordinary facts. I believe any writer, any acknowledged writer of talent, will bear me out, more or less. It is the old idea of inspiration—one cannot express it better—a breathing into. It is exactly that. The man of genius, in any form, feels at times-that is to say, when his fit is on, that there is a breathing into his brain. It becomes full of images he is unfamiliar with, crowded with thoughts that are quite foreign perhaps to the man himself, to his life, to his habits, and invested with a peculiar knowledge of things he has had no personal experience of. Then as suddenly as it came the fit goes; it is over, and he can write no more. Should he be so foolish as to try, his sentences become mere linked chains of nouns and verbs; his inspiration has gone. He cannot invoke it, cannot restrain it, cannot retain it, cannot recall it, and only very slightly control it."

"Ha!" said my father reflectively, going on with his soup, "deuced inconvenient."

"Inconvenient it may be," I said quietly. "All the same, that which is written under inspiration is the only stuff worth reading. The Greeks expressed the peculiar feeling that a man has when his inspiration comes upon him by the phrase, entheos eimi, and we can hardly find a better one, only unfortunately we don’t believe in gods. Otherwise, entheos eimi contains everything, for the man who was only common clay before his inspiration, and will be common clay when it departs, feels, for the time, as if a god had descended, and was within him. And when, afterwards, he looks at what he has written he feels it is something not wholly his own, but that it is the work of some powerful influence he can hardly comprehend, and cannot certainly rule."

"But really I don’t see that this has much relation to what I said about your writing something to please the British public!"

"It is the whole gist of the matter," I said. "I am proving to you that I am, to a certain extent, helpless in what I write; that it is impossible for me to think of publics, British or otherwise, of publishers or critics, when I am writing. I have no time to consider them, no space in my brain for them, no memory that such things, or anything outside of what I am describing, exists even. My only thought is to drive along my pen fast enough, in obedience to the strenuous impulse urging me. I do not ’make up,’ as your phrase is, anything. I simply put down on paper, as fast as I can, the thoughts that are pouring into my brain, like the waves of a flood flowing over it. I am whirled away on the stream myself; my identity is lost, submerged. Now look here, I’ll give you a cut and dried instance which will make clear how it is that I offend the prejudices, or the proprieties, or whatever you call it, in my books; at least I imagine it is in this way: Suppose I have a death scene to write. My MS. is waiting for that to complete it. I don’t say to myself beforehand, Now there shall be a bed with Tomkins dying in it; there shall be Maria at the left-hand corner, and Jane at the right. The wife and doctor shall be grouped artistically at the foot. Tomkins shall make two speeches before he dies; no, three- -three is more natural—uneven number. Now what shall Tomkins say? Yes. Ah—hum—what the deuce shall I make him say? It must not be too much like what a dying man would say, because the British public is dead against realism. It must not either show any strong contempt for religion; a little mild contempt, of course, goes down and is fashionable, but I must not express it forcibly. He must not either evince a disbelief in immortality—at least that’s dangerous ground. Some publishers will accept it and some won’t.—Better leave it out. Ah—hum—what shall Tomkins say? I have it! A retrospect of his past life! And yet—No, stay! that won’t do. Something that sounds like something that might possibly be immoral might turn up in it, and that would be fatal—damn the MS. utterly. Well, look here, Tomkins has got to die, and I’ve got to finish the book, so I must get something down. ’Darling Mabel, this parting is terrible, but still I feel we shall meet in another world.’ Now, is that safe? Has a similar phrase been put in heaps of novels before? Because the British public won’t have anything too new. It likes to head over again what it has heard at least fifty thousand times before, and then it knows it won’t be shocked. Yes, that sentence will do. Now I must put in a few more and then, thank goodness, the scene will be done! Now," I said, springing up from the table, "do you call that art? do you call it genius? Is a collection of bald phrases and second-hand sentiments, hooked together like that, worth anything when it’s done?"

"My dear boy, don’t excite yourself like that," my father answered deliberately. "Sit down and finish your soup."

"Oh, hang the soup!" I said, resuming my seat. "Shall I sound the gong? I have not told you my way yet, but I’m coming to it when the man’s gone." I sounded the gong, and the butler came in with the next course.

There was no carving ever done at our table, so my father had only to tranquilly continue eating while I talked. He had forced me into the discussion, and now he should hear it to the end.

"Of course, if you do write the death of Tomkins like that you can keep your scenes orthodox, or whatever word you have in view. But, supposing my MS. is lying incomplete;—I have a conviction that I am going to write of death, but the method of the man’s death is at present unknown to me, unthought of.—Then, some afternoon, I happen to be sitting smoking, and just perhaps wondering whether I shall go round to the club or not, when suddenly a scene, a death scene, the scene I have been waiting for, comes rushing through my head. It comes upon me with tremendous impetus; mechanically, almost unconsciously, I take up a pen and write. Space opens before me and I see a hospital ward. A blaze of light floods it. Rows of narrow beds are there, and on one I see Tomkins—dying. I make my way to him: now I am by his bed. I see him stretched beneath my eyes. I see the pillow dark with the sweat of his death agony—the night-shirt torn at his throat to get air. Have I time to consider then whether the British public like the word night-shirt, and whether it would not be safer to put Tomkins into a dressing-gown? The man is there before me, dying, and he is in his night-shirt, and I must write it. Besides, my pen is tearing on. I cannot stop—he is dying. Will he speak before he dies? I do not know yet. His eyelids quiver, the black veins in his throat knot up, he gasps. I bend lower: ’his breath comes hurriedly: his eyes open and fix upon me: they are red, vitreous but conscious: then I know he will speak, he is going to— the next moment his half-strangled voice reaches my ear. He is speaking, and that which I hear him say, I write: no more, no less, no different. His voice dies away, inarticulate. I see his lips whiten and draw back upon his teeth. His hands clutch me as a convulsive spasm wrenches his muscles. There is a tense, rigid silence, and then one deep-drawn groan. Nerve, limb, muscle, and flesh collapse as the Life is set loose. The damp body sinks back, leaving its death sweat on my arms, its gasp in my ears. Tomkins is dead. But the impulse is not done with me yet. I cannot get out of that hospital ward till I have done everything, passed through all the circumstances that crop up naturally from the death of Tomkins. There is no ’ making up.’ The scene is being enacted before me. It is. It exists. It is the truth for the time being, and, as the truth, I write it. There is the miserable girl, sobbing convulsively, with her arms out-stretched in the bed-clothes. Can I leave her without some words of consolation? I must write down that she is there, because I see her there. There are some arrangements to be made with the nurse, and then, when I am leaving the ward, or at least intend to, my brain hurries the doctor up the ward to me. I don’t ’ make him up.’ I had not the remotest idea of the head doctor appearing when I sat down to write. But now I see him approaching me between the beds, and before I can pass him, as I want to, he button-holes me and proceeds to explain that Tomkins never would have died if he had undergone an operation that the doctor had perceived from the very first moment was necessary. After a long talk with him, perhaps, my pen stops. I pause: and when I pause I know the inspiration has gone. As the ancients would say, the Muse or the God has departed and dictates no more. I fling aside the paper and look at my watch. Several hours passed in the hospital, but I’ll go round to the club now. And I go. I know Tomkins is dead. It only occurs to me afterwards, as a secondary consideration, that in consequence the MS. is finished. Tomkins was not for the manuscript, but the manuscript for Tomkins. Now the point is—Can I be held responsible for that scene? It is not my fault that I have mentally seen a private soldier dying in hospital. The whole thing was involuntary."

"Very extraordinary views!" muttered my father.

I shrugged my shoulders in silence, and called up Nous to give him my untouched dinner.

"The best joke of it is, too," I said, suspending a strip of sirloin over the collie’s nose, "the publishers admit if I had less talent they would print my things. I could not understand why my ’Laura Dean’ was refused, so I went down to the publishers to try and find out. I saw the reader himself, and an awfully nice fellow he is, too. In reply to my question, he said the objection to the book was that it dealt with a wife leaving her husband. I stared at him in amazement. ’But, great Scott!’ I said, ’that’s a good old-fashioned theme enough. It’s as old as the hills. It’s the subject of—’ and I gave him a list of about a dozen eminent novels. ’Yes,’ he admitted. ’But they are not written in the same way.’ ’Is there anything coarse or low in the writing?’ ’Oh, no! I should not say that!’ ’Well, what is the matter with it, then?’ ’The thing is too much brought before you. Of course, in these books you have mentioned the wife runs away, but it does not make much impression. You have put it all so forcibly, and given the characters and episode so much life, and driven the idea of her infidelity so far home to one, that, well, it becomes a different thing—one realises it.’ ’Oh, then you admit the immoral theme and the language to be unobjectionable, and the book would have been accepted by the British public provided only it had been less well written?’ ’Yes, I suppose it comes to that.’ And then I caught his eye, and we both laughed. He is a clever fellow himself, I should think, and the ludicrousness of the idea tickled him as much as it did me. I came away. His admission was quite the truth. It is the British way to take the second-rate in every art and scout the best. Write a book poorly and feebly, and it passes. Write the same thing powerfully and well, and the cry is—It’s improper! It’s just the same thing in painting. Paint a nude woman snowy white, without a shade or a shadow, and looking altogether as no mortal woman ever did look, and the picture will be hung at the Academy, and people will say, ’How charming! So artistic!’ But paint a woman with a glow on her neck and bosom, and the warm blood running in her arms, dare to make her a living, breathing thing on canvas, and your picture will be rejected. ’Excellent, unequalled, perfect, but—it cannot be seen!’ And what is British art as a consequence? Justly is it looked down upon by the other nations. We simply set our heel upon the best men. And look at our productions! Look at the rot and the trash that floods the libraries every year! Look at the average novel! It’s a disgrace to our intellect! Look at the woodeny dolls that are its men and women! And behold our Academy! See our pictures!"

"Don’t rock your chair like that, Victor; it annoys me."

"Very good," I said, bringing my chair down on its fore legs again. "Are you ready for the cheese?"

"Yes; but won’t you eat anything?"

"No, thanks. I am fed upon annoyance just now."

"You are getting thin on it, too," he answered, looking at me. "It’s a pity you are so excitable!"

"It’s a pity I was born in this confounded Britain! I should have got on all right with Parisian readers. But I don’t despair even here. They can reject my MSS., but they can’t take out my brains. I daresay I shall stumble across some man at last with courage enough to stand by me in the beginning and help me force open the British public’s jaws and cram my ideas down its throat; and that once done, it will digest them perfectly, for it’s a tough old beast, though very blind. Why on earth has that fellow carried off the champagne?"

"You finished the bottle yourself just this minute!" returned my father, in surprise.

"Did I? Oh, very likely! Absence of mind!"

"It seems to me if you had a little less of this talent you boast of you would be considerably the gainer."

"Possibly," I rejoined. "But a gift is a gift. You can’t say to nature, take this back and let me have something more paying! Besides, I can’t admit that for any earthly reason I would change. I have no desire to be a second-rate writer when I know I am a first!"

"By Jove! if conceit could carry the day!"

"No, there is no conceit," I persisted. "Is it conceit to say my hair is black? It is black, and everybody can see it is. I have nothing to do with it. Nature made it black, and black it is, and I know it. Should I gain anything by contending that it was red? I don’t see that I should. However," I added, laughing, "The point is of no consequence. Put me down as a fifth-rate writer, if you like, until I become the fashion!"

"It does not seem you ever will, at this pace," he said quietly.

"Very good," I answered, equally quietly.

"Then you will not have the trouble of changing your opinion."

There was a long silence then. We each smoked without a word. At twenty minutes to ten my father got up. He always went to bed horribly early.

"What are you going to do, Victor?"

"I am going out," I answered, getting up and stretching myself.

"Will you be late?"

"Probably. I got no sleep last night, nor the night before. It’s no earthly use my going to bed when I feel like this. I can’t get to sleep by repeating hymns, as some fellow suggested the other day."

"Why don’t you take morphia or something to help you?"

"I don’t care to begin taking drugs," I said, "I would rather wear myself out, and induce sleep in that way. I shall take a three hours’ walk or so."

"Well, good-night."


When he was gone, I sat a few minutes in the easy chair, with my head in my hands thinking. I had meant to ask him a question at dinner, but that argument on talent had put it on one side. Well, it would do later.

"Coming out, Nous?" I said to the collie. The dog started and pricked his ears.

"Out?" I repeated, and he leapt to his feet and gave himself a joyful shake, and then stood on the hearth-rug in front of me, swaying slowly his great brush of a tail and poising his head at an intelligent angle. I got up, felt for my latch-key, and went into the hall. Nous waited impatiently while I put on my hat and overcoat, and then we went out together. The night was cold, wet, and foggy. It was late in November, and a light mist veiled the end of each black, deserted street.

I took no heed of anything, neither the atmosphere round me nor the direction in which my feet carried me. I was wrapped up in a maze of thoughts, and there was not a decently pleasant one in the whole lot.

They were warmed and brightened every now and then as a form that I loved glided amongst them, but even that form dragged after it a chain of painful, fettering considerations, and the gleams of light that it threw round it were only like those weak, pallid flashes of sun that flit through the clouds of thunder and storm in a hurricane.


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Chicago: Victoria Cross, "Chapter I," To Morrow?, trans. Evans, Sebastian in To Morrow? Original Sources, accessed June 7, 2023,

MLA: Cross, Victoria. "Chapter I." To Morrow?, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in To Morrow?, Original Sources. 7 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Cross, V, 'Chapter I' in To Morrow?, trans. . cited in , To Morrow?. Original Sources, retrieved 7 June 2023, from