Sunday 20 July 2014


2014-29  John Galsworthy - "Quality"

John Galsworthy [1885-1933]
[Best known today as the author of The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy was a popular and prolific novelist and playwright in the early decades of the twentieth century. 
Galsworthy had a lifelong interest in social and moral issues, in particular the dire effects of poverty. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.
In the narrative "Quality" [1911], Galsworthy depicts a German craftsman's heroic life of dedication to his profession, in an era where "big firms having no self respect grab all jobs by advertisement and not by work."] 

Not a man in London made a better boot!
I knew him from the days of my extreme youth, because he made my father's boots; inhabiting with his elder brother two little shops let into one, in a small by-street in the West End.

That tenement had a certain quiet distinction; there was no sign upon its face that he made for any of the Royal Family--merely his own German name of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots. 

Those pairs could only have been made by one who saw before him the Soul of Boot--so truly were they prototypes incarnating the very spirit of all foot-gear. 

I remember well my shy remark, one day, while stretching out to him my youthful foot:  "Isn't it awfully hard to do, Mr. Gessler?" And his answer, given with a sudden smile from out of the sardonic redness of his beard: "Id is an Ardt!"

Himself, he was a little as if made from leather, with his yellow crinkly face, and crinkly reddish hair and beard. And that was the character of his face, save that his eyes, which were gray-blue, had in them the simple gravity of one secretly possessed by the Ideal. 

It was not possible to go to him very often--his boots lasted terribly, having something beyond the temporary--some, as it were, essence of boot stitched into them.  One went in, not as into most shops, in the mood of: "Please serve me, and let me go!" but restfully, as one enters a church.

"How do you do, Mr. Gessler? Could you make me a pair of Russia leather boots?" Without a word he would leave me, retiring whence he came. Soon he would come back, holding in his thin, veined hand a piece of gold-brown leather. With eyes fixed on it, he would remark: "What a beaudiful biece!" When I, too, had admired it, he would speak again. "When do you wand dem?" 
But if it were some new kind of foot-gear that he had not yet made me, then indeed he would observe ceremony--divesting me of my boot and holding it long in his hand, looking at it with eyes at once critical and loving, as if recalling the glow with which he had created it, and rebuking the way in which one had disorganized this masterpiece

I cannot forget that day on which I had occasion to say to him; "Mr.Gessler, that last  pair of town walking-boots creaked, you know." "Id shouldn'd 'ave greaked." "It did, I'm afraid." "You goddem wed before dey found demselves?" "I don't think so." "Zend dem back!" he said; "Zome boods, are bad from birdt. If I can do noding wid dem, I dake dem off your bill."

Once (once only) I went absent-mindedly into his shop in a pair of boots bought in an emergency at some large firm's. He took my order without showing me any leather, and I could feel his eyes penetrating the inferior integument of my foot. At last he said:
"Dose are nod my boods." The tone was not one of anger, nor of sorrow, not even of contempt, but there was in it something quiet that froze the blood

He put his hand down and pressed a finger on the place where the left boot, endeavoring to be fashionable, was not quite comfortable"Id 'urds you dere," he said. "Dose big virms 'ave no self-respect. Drash!" "Dey get id all," he said, "dey get id by adverdisement, nod by work. Dey dake it away from us, who lofe our boods. Id gomes to this--bresently I haf no work. Every year id gets less--you will see." 

His face and voice made so deep impression that during the next few minutes I ordered many pairs. They lasted more terribly than ever. And I was not able conscientiously to go to him for nearly two years. When at last I went I was surprised to find that outside one of the two little windows of his shop another name was painted. "Ah! Mr. Gessler, What have you done to your shop?" "Id was too exbensif. Do you wand some boods?" 

I ordered three pairs, though I had only wanted two, and quickly left. And soon after that I went abroad. It was over a year before I was again in London. And the first shop I went to was my old friend's. I had left a man of sixty, I came back to one of seventy-five. 

"Oh! Mr. Gessler, how splendid your boots are! See, I've been wearing this pair nearly all the time I've been abroad; and they're not half worn out, are they?" "Do you wand any boods?" he said. "I can make dem quickly; id is a slack dime." I answered: "Please, please! I want boots all round--every kind!" To watch him was painful, so feeble had he grown; I was glad to get away

I had given those boots up, when one evening they came. In shape and fit, in finish and quality of leather, they were the best he had ever made me. A week later, passing the little street, when I came to where his shop had been, his name was gone. I went in, very much disturbed. In the two little shops--again made into one--was a young man with an English face.

"Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he went to work in such a way! Would keep the shop on; wouldn't have a soul touch his boots except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time. People won't wait. He lost everybody. And there he'd sit, goin' on and on--I will say that for him--not a man in London made a better boot

But look at the competition! He never advertised! Would 'ave the best leather, too, and do it all 'imself. Well, there it is. What could you expect with his ideas?" I used to watch him. Never gave 'imself time to eat; never had a penny in the house. All went in rent and leather. How he lived so long I don't know. He regular let his fire go out. He was a character. But he made good boots." 

"Yes," I said, "he made good boots." And I turned and went out quickly, for I did not want that youth to know that I could hardly see.


John Galsworthy's Complete Works in HTML  [Click Here]


1 comment:

  1. Let me share with you all the link of a revealing QA on Quality by John Galsworthy: