Euphemia's New Entertainment

Euphemia has great ideas of putting people at their ease, a thousand
little devices for thawing the very stiffest among them with a home-like
glow. Far be it from me to sing her praises, but I must admit that at
times she is extremely successful in this--at times almost too
successful. That tea-cake business, for instance. No doubt it's a genial
expedient to make your guests toast his own tea-cake: down he must go
upon his knees upon your hearthrug, and his poses will melt away like
the dews of the morning before the rising sun. Nevertheless, when it
comes to roasting a gallant veteran like Major Augustus, deliberately
roasting him, in spite of the facts that he has served his country nobly
through thirty irksome years of peace, and that he admires Euphemia with
a delicate fervour--roasting him, I say, alive, as if he were a
Strasburg goose, or suddenly affixing a delicate young genius to the
hither end of a toasting-fork while he is in the midst of a really very
subtle and tender conversation, the limits of social warmth seem to be
approaching dangerously near. However, this scarcely concerns Euphemia's
new entertainment.

This new entertainment is modelling in clay. Euphemia tells me it is to
be quite the common thing this winter. It is intended especially for the
evening, after a little dinner. As the reader is aware, the evening
after a little dinner is apt to pall. A certain placid contentment
creeps over people. I don't know in what organ originality resides; but
it's a curious thing, and one I must leave to the consideration of
psychologists, that people's output of original remarks appears to be
obstructed in some way after these gastronomic exercises. Then a little
dinner always confirms my theory of the absurdity of polygonal
conversation. Music and songs, too, have their drawbacks, especially gay
songs; they invariably evoke a vaporous melancholy. Card-playing
Euphemia objects to because her uncle, the dean, is prominent in
connection with some ridiculous association for the suppression of
gambling; and in what are called "games" no rational creature esteeming
himself an immortal soul would participate. In this difficulty it was
that Euphemia--decided, I fancy, by the possession of certain really
very becoming aprons--took up this business of clay-modelling.

You have a lump of greyish clay and a saucer of water and certain small
tools of wood (for which I cannot discover the slightest use in the
world) given you, and Euphemia puts on a very winning bib. Then,
moistening the clay until it acquires sufficient plasticity, and
incidentally splashing your cuffs and coat-sleeves with an agreeably
light tinted mud, you set to work. At first people are a little
disgusted at the apparent dirtiness of the employment, and also perhaps
rather diffident. The eldest lady says weakly deprecatory things, and
the feeblest male is jocular after his wont. But it is remarkable how
soon the charm of this delightful occupation seizes hold of you. For
really the sensations of moulding this plastic matter into shape are
wonderfully and quite unaccountably pleasing. It is ever so much easier
than drawing things--"anyone can do it," as the advertisement people
say--and the work is so much more substantial in its effects. Technical
questions arise. In moulding a head, do you take a lump and fine it
down, or do you dab on the features after the main knob of it is shaped?

So soon as your guests realise the plastic possibilities before them, a
great silence, a delicious absorption comes over them. Some rash person
states that he is moulding an Apollo, or a vase, or a bust of Mr.
Gladstone, or an elephant, or some such animal. The wiser ones go to
work in a speculative spirit, aiming secretly at this perhaps, but quite
willing to go on with that, if Providence so wills it. Buddhas are good
subjects; there is a certain genial rotundity not difficult to attain,
and the pyramidal build of the idol is well suited to the material. You
can start a Buddha, and hedge to make it a loaf of bread if the features
are unsatisfactory. For slender objects a skeletal substructure of bent
hairpins or matches is advisable. The innate egotism of the human animal
becomes very conspicuous. "His tail is too large," says the lady with
the fish, in self-criticism. "I haven't put his tail on yet--that's his
trunk," answers the young man with the elephant.

It's a pretty sight to see the first awakening of the artistic passion
in your guests--the flush of discovery, the glow of innocent pride as
the familiar features of Mr. Gladstone emerge from the bust of Clytie.
An accidental stroke of the thumbnail develops new marvels of
expression. (By the bye, it's just as well to forbid deliberate attempts
at portraiture.) And I know no more becoming expression for everyone
than the look of intent and pleasing effort--a divine touch almost--that
comes over the common man modelling. For my own part, I feel a being
infinitely my own superior when I get my fingers upon the clay. And,
incidentally, how much pleasanter this is than writing articles--to see
the work grow altogether under your hands; to begin with the large
masses and finish with the details, as every artist should! Just to show
how easy the whole thing is, I append a little sketch of the first work
I ever did. I had had positively no previous instruction. Unfortunately
the left ear of the animal--a cat, by the bye--has fallen off. (The
figure to the left is the back view of a Buddha.)

However, I have said enough to show the charm of the new amusement. It
will prove a boon to many a troubled hostess. The material is called
modelling-clay, and one may buy it of any dealer in artists' materials,
several pounds for sixpence. This has to be renewed at intervals, as a
good deal is taken away by the more careless among your guests upon
their clothes.

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