Judging Milne’s famous novels as literature
I have in front of me a beautiful little blue volume published by Methuen and Co. in London in 1928. Not That It Matters is a collection of essays from the end of that extraordinary silver age of English belles-lettres at the turn of the last century, when men such as Shaw and Belloc earned their daily bread by scribbling in newspapers and magazines about anything they could scrape a thousand or so words out of: socialism, dogs, the weather, how they celebrated Christmas, capital punishment, Wagner. For those who like this sort of thing, this volume is very nearly perfect: There are pieces on snobbery, oranges, cricket, bad fiction, “Smoking as a Fine Art” (“My first introduction to Lady Nicotine was at the innocent age of eight”), chess, thermometers, Holy Writ (“Isaiah was the ideal author. . . . He kept to one style”), and — prophetically — those bores who fetishize “good brown ale”:
I suppose that I have already said enough to have written myself down a Temperance Fanatic, a Thin-Blooded Cocoa-Drinker, and a number of other things equally contemptible; which is all very embarrassing to a man who is composing at the moment on port, and who gets entangled in the skin of cocoa whenever he tries to approach it. But if anything could make me take kindly to cocoa, it would be the sentimental rubbish which is written about the “manliness” of drinking alcohol.