Somerset Maugham Stories

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LOOKING BACK ON EIGHTY YEARS
By William Somerset Maugham

In my long life I have seen many changes in our habits and customs. The world I entered when at the age of eighteen I became a medical student was a world that knew nothing of planes, motor-cars, movies, radio or telephone. When I was still at school a lecturer came to Canterbury and showed us boys a new machine which reproduced the human voice. It was the first gramophone. The world I entered was a world that warmed itself with coal fires, lit itself by gas and paraffin lamps, and looked upon a bathroom as a luxury out of the reach. On Sundays the muffin man made his rounds ringing his melancholy bell and people came out of their door to buy muffins and crumpets for afternoon tea. It was a very cheap world. When I entered St Thomas's Hospital I took a couple of furnished rooms for which I paid 18s a week. My landlady provided me with a solid breakfast before I went to the hospital and high tea when I came back at half-past six, and the two meals cost me about 12s a week. I was able to live very comfortably, pay my fees, buy my necessary instruments, and clothe myself. I had enough money to go to the theatre at least once a week. The pit, to which I went, was not the orderly thing it is now. There were no queues. The crowd collected at the doors, and when they were opened there was a struggle, with a lot of pushing and elbowing and shouting to get a good place. But that was part of the fun. Travelling was cheap, too, in those days. When I was twenty I went to Italy by myself' for the six weeks of the Easter vacation. I went to Pisa and spent a wonderful month in Florence; then I went to Venice' and Milan' and so back to London. I spent five years at St Thomas's Hospital. I was an unsatisfactory medical student, for my heart was not in it. I wanted, I had always wanted, to be a writer, and in the evening, after my tea, I wrote and read. I wrote a novel, called Liza of Lambeth, sent it to a publisher, and it was accepted. It appeared during my last year at the hospital and had something of a success. It was of course an accident, but naturally I did not know that. I felt I could afford to chuck medicine and make writing my profession; so three days after passing the final examinations which gave me my medical qualifications, I set out for Spain to learn Spanish and write another book. Looking back now, after these years, and knowing as I do the terrible difficulties of making a living by writing, I realise that I was taking a fearful risk. It never occurred to me. I abandoned the medical profession with relief, but I do not regret the five years I spent at the hospital, far from it. They taught me pretty well all I know about human nature, for in a hospital you see it in the raw. People in pain, people in fear of death, do not try to hide anything from their doctor, and if they do he can generally guess what they are hiding. The next ten years were very hard. I did not follow up my first success with another. I wrote several novels. only one of which had any merit, and I wrote a number of plays which managers more or less promptly returned to me. Then I had a bit of luck. The manager of the Court Theatre, Sloane Square, put on a play that failed. He read a play of mine, called Lady Frederick, and thought he did not much like it, thought it might just run for the six weeks, It ran for fifteen months. I had four plays running in London at the same time.

Nothing of the kind had ever happened before, and the papers made a great to-do about it. If I may say it without immodesty, I was the talk of the town. One of the students at St Thomas's Hospital asked the eminent surgeon with whom I had worked as a "dresser" whether he remembered me. "Yes, I remember him quite well," he said. "Very sad. Very sad. One of our failures I'm afraid.

THE MAN WITH THE SCAR

By William Somerset Maugham

It was on account of the scar that I first...
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