Punch’s Almanack for 1903
(published December 1902)
He seated himself opposite me, and ordered a bun and a glass of milk. Directly he spoke I remembered where it was that I had seen him before. It had been at Bow Street, and he had been charged with causing a crowd to collect in Long Acre to the disturbance of the traffic. The magistrate, I remembered, had remarked, irritated apparently rather than interested at the coincidence, that he had already appeared before him on the same charge on two previous occasions. I determined if possible to draw him into conversation. Waiting until his attention was attracted elsewhere, I knocked his bun neatly on to the floor. By this method, at the cost of a penny (for a fresh bun), it is possible to make a friend for life. In the present case even that expense was unnecessary. He picked up the bun, dusted it, observed that really it was as good as new, and proceeded forthwith to keep the wolf from the door.
“Yes, I paid the fine,” said he, in answer to a tentative question. “You will agree with me that the magistrate was brusque?”
“And unnecessarily so. He complained after seeing me three times. Most of our London magistrates have seen me more times than they can remember.”
“Indeed?” I said.
“Yes. And always for the same thing.”
“You amaze me,” I said. “You seem to be very unlucky.”
“Pardon me, Sir, pardon me, but I am quite the reverse. I am probably one of the most successful collectors now living.”
“Collector?” I said interrogatively.
“Then do you mean to say that you collect these crowds on purpose?”
“Undoubtedly, Sir, undoubtedly. And why not, Sir, why not? In what way is such a hobby inferior to philatelism or the collection of autographs? But there—excuse my warmth. The consistent inability of my fellowman to appreciate my tastes has, I fear, rendered me somewhat irritable.”
I murmured, “Not at all.”
“I have always been fond of crowds,” he went on, “but during the earlier portion of my life I was singularly unfortunate with them. The only really substantial crowd I saw up to my thirtieth year was on the occasion of my being run over by a hansom. The request of a doctor that they would give me air attracted thousands. I have seldom seen so fine a gathering. After that I wished to be perpetually the centre of a crowd, and not seeing my way to being run over again I began to think. If crowds would not collect of themselves, why should I not collect crowds? You follow me?”
“Perfectly. Mahomet had a similar difficulty, and came to a similar arrangement with the mountain.”
“Exactly. I have now perhaps the finest collection in the world.”
“But how do you preserve your specimens?” I asked. “You can hardly paste a crowd into an album.”
“I have an assistant. His part in the work is purely mechanical. He presses the button. I do the rest.”
“Ah, you photograph them?”
“My assistant does. I am, of course, too occupied with the necessary brain work. Now this,” he went on, producing an album from under his chair, “is one of my earlier specimens, and, so I always consider, one of the gems of my collection. I began at ten o’clock sharp by mentioning to an errand boy that I had dropped a sovereign. At a quarter past my assistant photographed us in the position you see. Now here is a later picture. The former is a trifle the finer specimen as regards mere bulk, but this is my favourite. You will observe me in the centre, as usual. I got that specimen simply by standing still and looking with interest into the empyrean. An artistic triumph, I think, Sir. I think so.”
He rose at this point.
“I should very much like to see you at work, Sir,” I said.
“Certainly,” said he, “certainly. Of course you will understand that this is not a serious effort. I shall not include it among my specimens. It is simply an object-lesson.”
I remained in the doorway. It was then half-past four. My companion stood in the centre of the pavement, and began to look earnestly through a small grating. At a quarter to six the street was tolerably empty again, and I started for home. I looked round for my friend, the collector. He was moving off in the opposite direction with a policeman.
Unsigned story as printed; entered by P. G. Wodehouse as published on December 1, 1902 in “Money Received for Literary Work.”
“He presses the button. I do the rest.”: A takeoff on the slogan for the Kodak No. 1 camera (1888): “You press the button, we do the rest.” This was almost literally true; the user did have to wind the film to the next shot. Then, after taking 100 pictures, the entire camera would be mailed back to Rochester, New York, for unloading, developing, printing, and reloading with fresh film.