A Picture of Tuesday

G. K. Chesterton (1896)

Chesterton understood that modern cynicism cannot stand against an encounter with the Creator.

Oscar Plumtree was a rising artist, who painted his general impressions of his intimate friends, and belonged to a sketching club which met every Tuesday. He was a small square man with masses of black hair, and stood with his hands in his pockets, a little too conscious that his head was against a green curtain.

“How decorative Plumtree is,” said Noel Starwood, symbolist, to Patrick Staunton, realist. “I never noticed that his colour was so arbitrary. But, like all the works of God, you have to see him twenty times before you see him for the first time.”

“If you can suggest any course likely to result in seeing him for the last time,” said Staunton, lighting a pipe, “I shall be more gratified. So he looks decorative, does he?”

“So flat,” murmured Starwood, dreamily. “So admirably flat. He looks as if he had just come out of a panel by Albert Moor.”

“Yes,” said Staunton; “I wish he’d go back again.”

Patrick Staunton was a large young man with a handsome passive face, that looked blasé but was only sleepy. He was very young, it is true, but not quite young enough to have grown weary of the world. He was, in fact, the average young man, with the average young man’s two admirable qualities, a sense of humour and an aversion to egoists. This was why he disliked Plumtree. Noel Starwood, a slight, fiery-haired, fiery-tinted type, like a high-spirited girl, was a visionary, the painter of a series of Seven Dreams of Adam before the Creation of Eve. He did not dislike Plumtree. He said it was the great test and trial of true Christian philosophy not to dislike Plumtree.

He moved off, and another member came up to Staunton.

“Do you know it is Plumtree’s turn to give out a subject for the sketches?” he said. “These subject days are generally rather a lark. Do you remember the first time Starwood was asked for one? There was a silence, and then such a gentle, plaintive little voice said, The Resurrection of Cain. But then he’s a mystic, don’t you know, and pities the Devil.”

“Well, well,” said Staunton charitably. “I heard Plumtree was going to the devil the other day and since then I rather pitied the devil myself.”

“But the joke of the thing is,” continued the other, “that Plumtree is for ever telling us that the artistic mind cares no more for the subject of a picture, than for its weight in avoirdupois. He was immensely proud of his last picture, because three eminent art-critics looked at it the wrong way up.”

A small crowd had already gathered round Plumtree, and were pressuring him for a subject.

“What do you want with a subject?” he said, contemptuously. “I don’t want a subject, I want a picture. Won’t anything do?”

“The primal enigma, Anything,” said Starwood thoughtfully. “A fine conception. Something bizarre, hasty, fantastic. Some wild, low shape of life, to symbolise the germ-fact, the indestructible minimum, the everlasting Yea. After all, it is but a superficial philosophy which is founded on the existence of everything. The deeper philosophy is founded on the existence of anything.”

“Well, we won’t have that,” said Plumtree, abruptly. “You fellows don’t seem to understand that art—”

Staunton cut him short hastily. “I say, Plumtree, I asked for bread and you gave me a piece of india-rubber. Thanks. You were saying that the subject—”

“Oh, take anything you like: what does the subject matter? What’s the day of the week? Tuesday; very well.” He turned to the throng and said in a clear voice, “The subject for the sketches will be Tuesday.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Staunton politely.

“Tuesday,” repeated Plumtree. “A picture of Tuesday.”

Patrick Staunton lifted his full six feet two from the bench, and formally announced that he was relegated to a state of spiritual reprobation.

Only four members of the club exhibited sketches on this singular subject. The group consisted of Plumtree, Staunton and Starwood, and one Middleton, who had before him a lucrative career in virtue of an inexhaustible output of corpulent and comic monks.

The uncovering of his picture was received with loud cheers and laughter. It represented six monastic gentlemen of revolting joviality tossing pancakes. Thus it suggested Shrove Tuesday. Plumtree’s was an admirable little suggestion of gaslight in early morning. It might just as well be Tuesday morning as any other morning.

Staunton annoyed him very much by elaborately describing the noble thoughts that the picture suggested to him. His own was a study of his mother’s at-home day, which occurred on Tuesday, in which he introduced all the uncles who had told him things for his own good.

Starwood’s picture was the largest. When it was unveiled it seemed to fill the room. It was a dark picture, dark with an intricate density of profound colours, a complex scheme of sombre and subtle harmonies, a kind of gorgeous twilight. Plumtree, who was far too good an artist to let cynicism rob him of the gift of wonder, followed the labyrinth of colour keenly and slowly.

Suddenly he gave a little cry and stepped back.

The whole was a huge human figure. Grey and gigantic, it rose with its back to the spectator. As far as the vast outline could be traced, he had one hand heaved above his head, driving up a load of waters, while below, his feet moved upon a solemn, infinite sea. It was a dark picture, but when grasped, it blinded like a sun.

Above it was written ‘Tuesday,’ and below, ‘And God divided the waters that were under the firmament from the waters that were above the firmament: and the evening and the morning were the second day.’ There was a long silence, and Staunton was heard damning himself softly.

“It is certainly very good,” he said, “like creation. But why did you reckon Tuesday the second instead of the third day of the Jewish week?”

“I had to reckon from my own seventh day: the day of praise, the day of saying ‘It is good,’ or I could not have felt it a reality.”

“Do you seriously mean that you, yourself, look at the days of the week in that way?”

“The week is the colossal epic of creation,” cried Starwood excitedly. “Why are there not rituals for every day? The Day of the Creation of Light, why is it not honoured with mystic illuminations? The Day of the Waters, why is it not the day of awful cleansings and sacred immersions—”

“Do you Transcendentalists only wash once a week?” asked Staunton.

The Day of the Earth—what a fire of flowers and fruit; the Day of Birds, what a blaze of decorative plumage; the Day of Beasts, what a—”

“What a deed lot of nonsense,” said Middleton, who was getting a trifle tired of all this. “If it comes to religion, and quotations from the Bible, what is there for us, Staunton? Can you think of a text for an at-home day?”

Staunton suggested, “And Job lifted up his voice and cursed his day.”

But Plumtree was staring at the picture of Tuesday.