Jerome K. Jerome
Transcribed from the 1903 Hutchinson & Co. edition by David Price,
"They are very pretty, some of them," said the Woman of the World;
"not the sort of letters I should have written myself."
"I should like to see a love-letter of yours," interrupted the Minor
"It is very kind of you to say so," replied the Woman of the World.
"It never occurred to me that you would care for one."
"It is what I have always maintained," retorted the Minor Poet; "you
have never really understood me."
"I believe a volume of assorted love-letters would sell well," said
the Girton Girl; "written by the same hand, if you like, but to
different correspondents at different periods. To the same person
one is bound, more or less, to repeat oneself."
"Or from different lovers to the same correspondent," suggested the
Philosopher. "It would be interesting to observe the response of
various temperaments exposed to an unvaried influence. It would
throw light on the vexed question whether the qualities that adorn
our beloved are her own, or ours lent to her for the occasion.
Would the same woman be addressed as 'My Queen!' by one
correspondent, and as 'Dear Popsy Wopsy!' by another, or would she
to all her lovers be herself?"
"You might try it," I suggested to the Woman of the World,
"selecting, of course, only the more interesting."
"It would cause so much unpleasantness, don't you think?" replied
the Woman of the World. "Those I left out would never forgive me.
It is always so with people you forget to invite to a funeral--they
think it is done with deliberate intention to slight them."
"The first love-letter I ever wrote," said the Minor Poet, "was when
I was sixteen. Her name was Monica; she was the left-hand girl in
the third joint of the crocodile. I have never known a creature so
ethereally beautiful. I wrote the letter and sealed it, but I could
not make up my mind whether to slip it into her hand when we passed
them, as we usually did on Thursday afternoons, or to wait for
"There can be no question," murmured the Girton Girl abstractedly,
"the best time is just as one is coming out of church. There is so
much confusion; besides, one has one's Prayer-book--I beg your
"I was saved the trouble of deciding," continued the Minor Poet.
"On Thursday her place was occupied by a fat, red-headed girl, who
replied to my look of inquiry with an idiotic laugh, and on Sunday I
searched the Hypatia House pews for her in vain. I learnt
subsequently that she had been sent home on the previous Wednesday,
suddenly. It appeared that I was not the only one. I left the
letter where I had placed it, at the bottom of my desk, and in
course of time forgot it. Years later I fell in love really. I sat
down to write her a love-letter that should imprison her as by some
subtle spell. I would weave into it the love of all the ages. When
I had finished it, I read it through and was pleased with it. Then
by an accident, as I was going to seal it, I overturned my desk, and
on to the floor fell that other love-letter I had written seven
years before, when a boy. Out of idle curiosity I tore it open; I
thought it would afford me amusement. I ended by posting it instead
of the letter I had just completed. It carried precisely the same
meaning; but it was better expressed, with greater sincerity, with
more artistic simplicity."
"After all," said the Philosopher, "what can a man do more than tell
a woman that he loves her? All the rest is mere picturesque
amplification, on a par with the 'Full and descriptive report from
our Special Correspondent,' elaborated out of a three-line telegram
"Following that argument," said the Minor Poet, "you could reduce
'Romeo and Juliet' to a two-line tragedy -
Lass and lad, loved like mad;
Silly muddle, very sad."
"To be told that you are loved," said the Girton Girl, "is only the
beginning of the theorem--its proposition, so to speak."
"Or the argument of the poem," murmured the Old Maid.
"The interest," continued the Girton Girl, "lies in proving it--why
does he love me?"
"I asked a man that once," said the Woman of the World. "He said it
was because he couldn't help it. It seemed such a foolish answer--
the sort of thing your housemaid always tells you when she breaks
your favourite teapot. And yet, I suppose it was as sensible as any
"More so," commented the Philosopher. "It is the only possible
"I wish," said the Minor Poet, "it were a question one could ask of
people without offence; I so often long to put it. Why do men marry
viragoes, pimply girls with incipient moustaches? Why do beautiful
heiresses choose thick-lipped, little men who bully them? Why are
old bachelors, generally speaking, sympathetic, kind-hearted men;
and old maids, so many of them, sweet-looking and amiable?"
"I think," said the Old Maid, "that perhaps--" But there she
"Pray go on," said the Philosopher. "I shall be so interested to
have your views."
"It was nothing, really," said the Old Maid; "I have forgotten."
"If only one could obtain truthful answers," the Minor Poet, "what a
flood of light they might let fall on the hidden half of life!"
"It seems to me," said the Philosopher, "that, if anything, Love is
being exposed to too much light. The subject is becoming
vulgarised. Every year a thousand problem plays and novels, poems
and essays, tear the curtain from Love's Temple, drag it naked into
the market-place for grinning crowds to gape at. In a million short
stories, would-be comic, would-be serious, it is handled more or
less coarsely, more or less unintelligently, gushed over, gibed and
jeered at. Not a shred of self-respect is left to it. It is made
the central figure of every farce, danced and sung round in every
music-hall, yelled at by gallery, guffawed at by stalls. It is the
stock-in-trade of every comic journal. Could any god, even a Mumbo
Jumbo, so treated, hold its place among its votaries? Every term of
endearment has become a catchword, every caress mocks us from the
hoardings. Every tender speech we make recalls to us even while we
are uttering it a hundred parodies. Every possible situation has
been spoilt for us in advance by the American humorist."
"I have sat out a good many parodies of 'Hamlet,'" said the Minor
Poet, "but the play still interests me. I remember a walking tour I
once took in Bavaria. In some places the waysides are lined with
crucifixes that are either comic or repulsive. There is a firm that
turns them out by machinery. Yet, to the peasants who pass by, the
Christ is still beautiful. You can belittle only what is already
"Patriotism is a great virtue," replied the Philosopher: "the
Jingoes have made it ridiculous."
"On the contrary," said the Minor Poet, "they have taught us to
distinguish between the true and the false. So it is with love.
The more it is cheapened, ridiculed, employed for market purposes,
the less the inclination to affect it--to be in love with love, as
Heine admitted he was, for its own sake."
"Is the necessity to love born in us," said the Girton Girl, "or do
we practise to acquire it because it is the fashion--make up our
mind to love, as boys learn to smoke, because every other fellow
does it, and we do not like to be peculiar?"
"The majority of men and women," said the Minor Poet, "are incapable
of love. With most it is a mere animal passion, with others a mild
"We talk about love," said the Philosopher, "as though it were a
known quantity. After all, to say that a man loves is like saying
that he paints or plays the violin; it conveys no meaning until we
have witnessed his performance. Yet to hear the subject discussed,
one might imagine the love of a Dante or a society Johnny, of a
Cleopatra or a Georges Sand, to be precisely the same thing."
"It was always poor Susan's trouble," said the Woman of the World;
"she could never be persuaded that Jim really loved her. It was
very sad, because I am sure he was devoted to her, in his way. But
he could not do the sort of things she wanted him to do; she was so
romantic. He did try. He used to go to all the poetical plays and
study them. But he hadn't the knack of it and he was naturally
clumsy. He would rush into the room and fling himself on his knees
before her, never noticing the dog, so that, instead of pouring out
his heart as he had intended, he would have to start off with, 'So
awfully sorry! Hope I haven't hurt the little beast?' Which was
enough to put anybody out."
"Young girls are so foolish," said the Old Maid; "they run after
what glitters, and do not see the gold until it is too late. At
first they are all eyes and no heart."
"I knew a girl," I said, "or, rather, a young married woman, who was
cured of folly by the homoeopathic method. Her great trouble was
that her husband had ceased to be her lover."
"It seems to me so sad," said the Old Maid. "Sometimes it is the
woman's fault, sometimes the man's; more often both. The little
courtesies, the fond words, the tender nothings that mean so much to
those that love--it would cost so little not to forget them, and
they would make life so much more beautiful."
"There is a line of common sense running through all things," I
replied; "the secret of life consists in not diverging far from it
on either side. He had been the most devoted wooer, never happy out
of her eyes; but before they had been married a year she found to
her astonishment that he could be content even away from her skirts,
that he actually took pains to render himself agreeable to other
women. He would spend whole afternoons at his club, slip out for a
walk occasionally by himself, shut himself up now and again in his
study. It went so far that one day he expressed a distinct desire
to leave her for a week and go a-fishing with some other men. She
never complained--at least, not to him."
"That is where she was foolish," said the Girton Girl. "Silence in
such cases is a mistake. The other party does not know what is the
matter with you, and you yourself--your temper bottled up within--
become more disagreeable every day."
"She confided her trouble to a friend," I explained.
"I so dislike people who do that," said the Woman of the World.
"Emily never would speak to George; she would come and complain
about him to me, as if I were responsible for him: I wasn't even
his mother. When she had finished, George would come along, and I
had to listen to the whole thing over again from his point of view.
I got so tired of it at last that I determined to stop it."
"How did you succeed?" asked the Old Maid, who appeared to be
interested in the recipe.
"I knew George was coming one afternoon," explained the Woman of the
World, "so I persuaded Emily to wait in the conservatory. She
thought I was going to give him good advice; instead of that I
sympathised with him and encouraged him to speak his mind freely,
which he did. It made her so mad that she came out and told him
what she thought of him. I left them at it. They were both of them
the better for it; and so was I."
"In my case," I said, "it came about differently. Her friend
explained to him just what was happening. She pointed out to him
how his neglect and indifference were slowly alienating his wife's
affections from him. He argued the subject.
"'But a lover and a husband are not the same,' he contended; 'the
situation is entirely different. You run after somebody you want to
overtake; but when you have caught him up, you settle down quietly
and walk beside him; you don't continue shouting and waving your
handkerchief after you have gained him.'
"Their mutual friend presented the problem differently."
"'You must hold what you have won,' she said, 'or it will slip away
from you. By a certain course of conduct and behaviour you gained a
sweet girl's regard; show yourself other than you were, how can you
expect her to think the same of you?'
"'You mean,' he inquired, 'that I should talk and act as her husband
exactly as I did when her lover?'
"'Precisely,' said the friend 'why not?'
"'It seems to me a mistake,' he grumbled.
"'Try it and see,' said the friend.
"'All right,' he said, 'I will.' And he went straight home and set
"Was it too late," asked the Old Maid, "or did they come together
"For the next mouth," I answered, "they were together twenty-four
hours of the day. And then it was the wife who suggested, like the
poet in Gilbert's Patience, the delight with which she would welcome
an occasional afternoon off."
"He hung about her while she was dressing in the morning. Just as
she had got her hair fixed he would kiss it passionately and it
would come down again. All meal-time he would hold her hand under
the table and insist on feeding her with a fork. Before marriage he
had behaved once or twice in this sort of way at picnics; and after
marriage, when at breakfast-time he had sat at the other end of the
table reading the paper or his letters, she had reminded him of it
reproachfully. The entire day he never left her side. She could
never read a book; instead, he would read to her aloud, generally
Browning' poems or translations from Goethe. Reading aloud was not
an accomplishment of his, but in their courting days she had
expressed herself pleased at his attempts, and of this he took care,
in his turn, to remind her. It was his idea that if the game were
played at all, she should take a hand also. If he was to blither,
it was only fair that she should bleat back. As he explained, for
the future they would both be lovers all their life long; and no
logical argument in reply could she think of. If she tried to write
a letter, he would snatch away the paper her dear hands were
pressing and fall to kissing it--and, of course, smearing it. When
he wasn't giving her pins and needles by sitting on her feet he was
balancing himself on the arm of her chair and occasionally falling
over on top of her. If she went shopping, he went with her and made
himself ridiculous at the dressmaker's. In society he took no
notice of anybody but of her, and was hurt if she spoke to anybody
but to him. Not that it was often, during that month, that they did
see any society; most invitations he refused for them both,
reminding her how once upon a time she had regarded an evening alone
with him as an entertainment superior to all others. He called her
ridiculous names, talked to her in baby language; while a dozen
times a day it became necessary for her to take down her back hair
and do it up afresh. At the end of a month, as I have said, it was
she who suggested a slight cessation of affection."
"Had I been in her place," said the Girton Girl, "it would have been
a separation I should have suggested. I should have hated him for
the rest of my life."
"For merely trying to agree with you?" I said.
"For showing me I was a fool for ever having wanted his affection,"
replied the Girton Girl.
"You can generally," said the Philosopher, "make people ridiculous
by taking them at their word."
"Especially women," murmured the Minor Poet.
"I wonder," said the Philosopher, "is there really so much
difference between men and women as we think? What there is, may it
not be the result of Civilisation rather than of Nature, of training
rather than of instinct?"
"Deny the contest between male and female, and you deprive life of
half its poetry," urged the Minor Poet.
"Poetry," returned the Philosopher, "was made for man, not man for
poetry. I am inclined to think that the contest you speak of is
somewhat in the nature of a 'put-up job' on the part of you poets.
In the same way newspapers will always advocate war; it gives them
something to write about, and is not altogether unconnected with
sales. To test Nature's original intentions, it is always safe to
study our cousins the animals. There we see no sign of this
fundamental variation; the difference is merely one of degree."
"I quite agree with you," said the Girton Girl. "Man, acquiring
cunning, saw the advantage of using his one superiority, brute
strength, to make woman his slave. In all other respects she is
undoubtedly his superior."
"In a woman's argument," I observed, "equality of the sexes
invariably does mean the superiority of woman."
"That is very curious," added the Philosopher. "As you say, a woman
never can be logical."
"Are all men logical?" demanded the Girton Girl.
"As a class," replied the Minor Poet, "yes."
"What woman suffers from," said the Philosopher, "is over-praise.
It has turned her head."
"You admit, then, that she has a head?" demanded the Girton Girl.
"It has always been a theory of mine," returned the Philosopher,
"that by Nature she was intended to possess one. It is her admirers
who have always represented her as brainless."
"Why is it that the brainy girl invariably has straight hair?" asked
the Woman of the World.
"Because she doesn't curl it," explained the Girton Girl. She spoke
somewhat snappishly, it seemed to me.
"I never thought of that," murmured the Woman of the World.
"It is to be noted in connection with the argument," I ventured to
remark, "that we hear but little concerning the wives of
intellectual men. When we do, as in the case of the Carlyles, it is
to wish we did not."
"When I was younger even than I am now," said the Minor Poet, "I
thought a good deal of marriage--very young men do. My wife, I told
myself, must be a woman of mind. Yet, curiously, of all the women I
have ever loved, no single one has been remarkable for intellect--
present company, as usual, of course excepted."
"Why is it," sighed the Philosopher, "that in the most serious
business of our life, marriage, serious considerations count for
next to nothing? A dimpled chin can, and often does, secure for a
girl the best of husbands; while virtue and understanding combined
cannot be relied upon to obtain her even one of the worst."
"I think the explanation is," replied the Minor Poet, "that as
regards, let us say, the most natural business of our life,
marriage, our natural instincts alone are brought into play.
Marriage--clothe the naked fact in what flowers of rhetoric we will-
-has to do with the purely animal part of our being. The man is
drawn towards it by his primeval desires; the woman by her inborn
craving towards motherhood."
The thin, white hands of the Old Maid fluttered, troubled, where
they lay upon her lap. "Why should we seek to explain away all the
beautiful things of life?" she said. She spoke with a heat unusual
to her. "The blushing lad, so timid, so devotional, worshipping as
at the shrine of some mystic saint; the young girl moving spell-
bound among dreams! They think of nothing but of one another."
"Tracing a mountain stream to its sombre source need not mar its
music for us as it murmurs through the valley," expounded the
Philosopher. "The hidden law of our being feeds each leaf of our
life as sap runs through the tree. The transient blossom, the
ripened fruit, is but its changing outward form."
"I hate going to the roots of things," said the Woman of the World.
"Poor, dear papa was so fond of doing that. He would explain to us
the genesis of oysters just when we were enjoying them. Poor mamma
could never bring herself to touch them after that. While in the
middle of dessert he would stop to argue with my Uncle Paul whether
pig's blood or bullock's was the best for grape vines. I remember
the year before Emily came out her favourite pony died; I have never
known her so cut up about anything before or since. She asked papa
if he would mind her having the poor creature buried in the garden.
Her idea was that she would visit now and then its grave and weep
awhile. Papa was awfully nice about it and stroked her hair.
'Certainly, my dear,' he said, 'we will have him laid to rest in the
new strawberry bed.' Just then old Pardoe, the head gardener, came
up to us and touched his hat. 'Well, I was just going to inquire of
Miss Emily,' he said, 'if she wouldn't rather have the poor thing
buried under one of the nectarine-trees. They ain't been doing very
well of late.' He said it was a pretty spot, and that he would put
up a sort of stone. Poor Emily didn't seem to care much where the
animal was buried by that time, so we left them arguing the
question. I forget how it was settled; but I know we neither of us
ate either strawberries or nectarines for the next two years."
"There is a time for everything," agreed the Philosopher. "With the
lover, penning poetry to the wondrous red and white upon his
mistress' cheek, we do not discuss the subject of pigment in the
blood, its cause and probable duration. Nevertheless, the subject
"We men and women," continued the Minor Poet, "we are Nature's
favourites, her hope, for whom she has made sacrifice, putting aside
so many of her own convictions, telling herself she is old-
fashioned. She has let us go from her to the strange school where
they laugh at all her notions. We have learnt new, strange ideas
that bewilder the good dame. Yet, returning home it is curious to
notice how little, in the few essential things of life, we differ
from her other children, who have never wandered from her side. Our
vocabulary has been extended and elaborated, yet face to face with
the realities of existence it is unavailing. Clasping the living,
standing beside the dead, our language still is but a cry. Our
wants have grown more complicated; the ten-course banquet, with all
that it involves, has substituted itself for the handful of fruits
and nuts gathered without labour; the stalled ox and a world of
trouble for the dinner of herbs and leisure therewith. Are we so
far removed thereby above our little brother, who, having swallowed
his simple, succulent worm, mounts a neighbouring twig and with easy
digestion carols thanks to God? The square brick box about which we
move, hampered at every step by wooden lumber, decked with many rags
and strips of coloured paper, cumbered with odds and ends of melted
flint and moulded clay, has replaced the cheap, convenient cave. We
clothe ourselves in the skins of other animals instead of allowing
our own to develop into a natural protection. We hang about us bits
of stone and metal, but underneath it all we are little two-legged
animals, struggling with the rest to live and breed. Beneath each
hedgerow in the springtime we can read our own romances in the
making--the first faint stirring of the blood, the roving eye, the
sudden marvellous discovery of the indispensable She, the wooing,
the denial, hope, coquetry, despair, contention, rivalry, hate,
jealousy, love, bitterness, victory, and death. Our comedies, our
tragedies, are being played upon each blade of grass. In fur and
feather we run epitomised."
"I know," said the Woman of the World; "I have heard it all so
often. It is nonsense; I can prove it to you."
"That is easy," observed the Philosopher. "The Sermon on the Mount
itself has been proved nonsense--among others, by a bishop.
Nonsense is the reverse side of the pattern--the tangled ends of the
thread that Wisdom weaves."
"There was a Miss Askew at the College," said the Girton Girl. "She
agreed with every one. With Marx she was a Socialist, with Carlyle
a believer in benevolent despotism, with Spinoza a materialist, with
Newman a fanatic. I had a long talk with her before she left, and
tried to understand her; she was an interesting girl. 'I think,'
she said, 'I could choose among them if only they would answer one
another. But they don't. They won't listen to one another. They
only repeat their own case.'"
"There never is an answer," explained the Philosopher. "The kernel
of every sincere opinion is truth. This life contains only the
questions--the solutions to be published in a future issue."
"She was a curious sort of young woman," smiled the Girton Girl; "we
used to laugh at her."
"I can quite believe it," commented the Philosopher.
"It is so like shopping," said the Old Maid.
"Like shopping!" exclaimed the Girton Girl.
The Old Maid blushed. "I was merely thinking," she said. "It
sounds foolish. The idea occurred to me."
"You were thinking of the difficulty of choosing?" I suggested.
"Yes," answered the Old Maid. "They will show you so many different
things, one is quite unable--at least, I know it is so in my own
case. I get quite angry with myself. It seems so weak-minded, but
I cannot help it. This very dress I have on now--"
"It is very charming," said the Woman of the World, "in itself. I
have been admiring it. Though I confess I think you look even
better in dark colours."
"You are quite right," replied the Old Maid; "myself, I hate it.
But you know how it is. I seemed to have been all the morning in
the shop. I felt so tired. If only--"
The Old Maid stopped abruptly. "I beg your pardon," she said, "I am
afraid I've interrupted."
"I am so glad you told us," said the Philosopher. "Do you know that
seems to me an explanation?"
"Of what?" asked the Girton Girl.
"Of how so many of us choose our views," returned the Philosopher;
"we don't like to come out of the shop without something."
"But you were about to explain," continued the Philosopher, turning
to the Woman of the World, "--to prove a point."
"That I had been talking nonsense," reminded her the Minor Poet; "if
you are sure it will not weary you."
"Not at all," answered the Woman of the World; "it is quite simple.
The gifts of civilisation cannot be the meaningless rubbish you
advocates of barbarism would make out. I remember Uncle Paul's
bringing us home a young monkey he had caught in Africa. With the
aid of a few logs we fitted up a sort of stage-tree for this little
brother of mine, as I suppose you would call him, in the gun-room.
It was an admirable imitation of the thing to which he and his
ancestors must have been for thousands of years accustomed; and for
the first two nights he slept perched among its branches. On the
third the little brute turned the poor cat out of its basket and
slept on the eiderdown, after which no more tree for him, real or
imitation. At the end of the three months, if we offered him
monkey-nuts, he would snatch them from our hand and throw them at
our head. He much preferred gingerbread and weak tea with plenty of
sugar; and when we wanted him to leave the kitchen fire and enjoy a
run in the garden, we had to carry him out swearing--I mean he was
swearing, of course. I quite agree with him. I much prefer this
chair on which I am sitting--this 'wooden lumber,' as you term it--
to the most comfortable lump of old red sandstone that the best
furnished cave could possibly afford; and I am degenerate enough to
fancy that I look very nice in this frock--much nicer than my
brothers or sisters to whom it originally belonged: they didn't
know how to make the best of it."
"You would look charming anyhow," I murmured with conviction, "even-
"I know what you are going to say," interrupted the Woman of the
World; "please don't. It's very shocking, and, besides, I don't
agree with you. I should have had a thick, coarse skin, with hair
all over me and nothing by way of a change."
"I am contending," said the Minor Poet, "that what we choose to call
civilisation has done little beyond pandering to our animal desires.
Your argument confirms my theory. Your evidence in support of
civilisation comes to this--that it can succeed in tickling the
appetites of a monkey. You need not have gone back so far. The
noble savage of today flings aside his clear spring water to snatch
at the missionary's gin. He will even discard his feathers, which
at least were picturesque, for a chimney-pot hat innocent of nap.
Plaid trousers and cheap champagne follow in due course. Where is
the advancement? Civilisation provides us with more luxuries for
our bodies. That I grant you. Has it brought us any real
improvement that could not have been arrived at sooner by other
"It has given us Art," said the Girton Girl.
"When you say 'us,'" replied the Minor Poet, "I presume you are
referring to the one person in half a million to whom Art is
anything more than a name. Dismissing the countless hordes who have
absolutely never heard the word, and confining attention to the few
thousands scattered about Europe and America who prate of it, how
many of even these do you think it really influences, entering into
their lives, refining, broadening them? Watch the faces of the thin
but conscientious crowd streaming wearily through our miles of
picture galleries and art museums; gaping, with guide-book in hand,
at ruined temple or cathedral tower; striving, with the spirit of
the martyr, to feel enthusiasm for Old Masters at which, left to
themselves, they would enjoy a good laugh--for chipped statues
which, uninstructed, they would have mistaken for the damaged stock
of a suburban tea-garden. Not more than one in twelve enjoys what
he is looking at, and he by no means is bound to be the best of the
dozen. Nero was a genuine lover of Art; and in modern times August
the Strong, of Saxony, 'the man of sin,' as Carlyle calls him, has
left undeniable proof behind him that he was a connoisseur of the
first water. One recalls names even still more recent. Are we so
sure that Art does elevate?"
"You are talking for the sake of talking," told him the Girton Girl.
"One can talk for the sake of thinking also," reminded her the Minor
Poet. "The argument is one that has to be faced. But admitting
that Art has been of service to mankind on the whole, that it
possesses one-tenth of the soul-forming properties claimed for it in
the advertisement--which I take to be a generous estimate--its
effect upon the world at large still remains infinitesimal."
"It works down," maintained the Girton Girl. "From the few it
spreads to the many."
"The process appears to be somewhat slow," answered the Minor Poet.
"The result, for whatever it may be worth, we might have obtained
sooner by doing away with the middleman."
"What middleman?" demanded the Girton Girl.
"The artist," explained the Minor Poet; "the man who has turned the
whole thing into a business, the shopman who sells emotions over the
counter. A Corot, a Turner is, after all, but a poor apology
compared with a walk in spring through the Black Forest or the view
from Hampstead Heath on a November afternoon. Had we been less
occupied acquiring 'the advantages of civilisation,' working upward
through the weary centuries to the city slum, the corrugated-iron-
roofed farm, we might have found time to learn to love the beauty of
the world. As it is, we have been so busy 'civilising' ourselves
that we have forgotten to live. We are like an old lady I once
shared a carriage with across the Simplon Pass."
"By the way," I remarked, "one is going to be saved all that bother
in the future. They have nearly completed the new railway line.
One will be able to go from Domo d'Orsola to Brieg in a little over
the two hours. They tell me the tunnelling is wonderful."
"It will be very charming," sighed the Minor Poet. "I am looking
forward to a future when, thanks to 'civilisation,' travel will be
done away with altogether. We shall be sewn up in a sack and shot
there. At the time I speak of we still had to be content with the
road winding through some of the most magnificent scenery in
Switzerland. I rather enjoyed the drive myself, but my companion
was quite unable to appreciate it. Not because she did not care for
scenery. As she explained to me, she was passionately fond of it.
But her luggage claimed all her attention. There were seventeen
pieces of it altogether, and every time the ancient vehicle lurched
or swayed, which on an average was once every thirty seconds, she
was in terror lest one or more of them should be jerked out. Half
her day was taken up in counting them and re-arranging them, and the
only view in which she was interested was the cloud of dust behind
us. One bonnet-box did contrive during the course of the journey to
make its escape, after which she sat with her arms round as many of
the remaining sixteen articles as she could encompass, and sighed."
"I knew an Italian countess," said the Woman of the World; "she had
been at school with mamma. She never would go half a mile out of
her way for scenery. 'Why should I?' she would say. 'What are the
painters for? If there is anything good, let them bring it to me
and I will look at it. She said she preferred the picture to the
real thing, it was so much more artistic. In the landscape itself,
she complained, there was sure to be a chimney in the distance, or a
restaurant in the foreground, that spoilt the whole effect. The
artist left it out. If necessary, he could put in a cow or a pretty
girl to help the thing. The actual cow, if it happened to be there
at all, would probably be standing the wrong way round; the girl, in
all likelihood, would be fat and plain, or be wearing the wrong hat.
The artist knew precisely the sort of girl that ought to be there,
and saw to it that she was there, with just the right sort of hat.
She said she had found it so all through life--the poster was always
an improvement on the play."
"It is rapidly coming to that," answered the Minor Poet. "Nature,
as a well known painter once put it, is not 'creeping up' fast
enough to keep pace with our ideals. In advanced Germany they
improve the waterfalls and ornament the rocks. In Paris they paint
the babies' faces."
"You can hardly lay the blame for that upon civilisation," pleaded
the Girton Girl. "The ancient Briton had a pretty taste in woads."
"Man's first feeble steps upon the upward path of Art," assented the
Minor Poet, "culminating in the rouge-pot and the hair-dye."
"Come!" laughed the Old Maid, "you are narrow-minded. Civilisation
has given us music. Surely you will admit that has been of help to
"My dear lady," replied the Minor Poet, "you speak of the one
accomplishment with which Civilisation has had little or nothing to
do, the one art that Nature has bestowed upon man in common with the
birds and insects, the one intellectual enjoyment we share with the
entire animal creation, excepting only the canines; and even the
howling of the dog--one cannot be sure--may be an honest, however
unsatisfactory, attempt towards a music of his own. I had a fox
terrier once who invariably howled in tune. Jubal hampered, not
helped us. He it was who stifled music with the curse of
professionalism; so that now, like shivering shop-boys paying gate-
money to watch games they cannot play, we sit mute in our stalls
listening to the paid performer. But for the musician, music might
have been universal. The human voice is still the finest instrument
that we possess. We have allowed it to rust, the better to hear
clever manipulators blow through tubes and twang wires. The musical
world might have been a literal expression. Civilisation has
contracted it to designate a coterie."
"By the way," said the Woman of the World, "talking of music, have
you heard that last symphony of Grieg's? It came in the last
parcel. I have been practising it."
"Oh! do let us hear it," urged the Old Maid. "I love Grieg."
The Woman of the World rose and opened the piano.
"Myself, I have always been of opinion--" I remarked.
"Please don't chatter," said the Minor Poet.
"I never liked her," said the Old Maid; "I always knew she was
"To my thinking," said the Minor Poet, "she has shown herself a true
"Really," said the Woman of the World, laughing, "I shall have to
nickname you Dr. Johnson Redivivus. I believe, were the subject
under discussion, you would admire the coiffure of the Furies. It
would occur to you that it must have been naturally curly."
"It is the Irish blood flowing in his veins," I told them. "He must
always be 'agin the Government.'"
"We ought to be grateful to him," remarked the Philosopher. "What
can be more uninteresting than an agreeable conversation I mean, a
conversation--where everybody is in agreement? Disagreement, on the
other hand, is stimulating."
"Maybe that is the reason," I suggested, "why modern society is so
tiresome an affair. By tabooing all difference of opinion we have
eliminated all zest from our intercourse. Religion, sex, politics--
any subject on which man really thinks, is scrupulously excluded
from all polite gatherings. Conversation has become a chorus; or,
as a writer wittily expressed it, the pursuit of the obvious to no
conclusion. When not occupied with mumbling, 'I quite agree with
you'--'As you say'--'That is precisely my opinion'--we sit about and
ask each other riddles: 'What did the Pro-Boer?' 'Why did Julius
"Fashion has succeeded where Force for centuries has failed," added
the Philosopher. "One notices the tendency even in public affairs.
It is bad form nowadays to belong to the Opposition. The chief aim
of the Church is to bring itself into line with worldly opinion.
The Nonconformist Conscience grows every day a still smaller voice."
"I believe," said the Woman of the World, "that was the reason why
Emily never got on with poor dear George. He agreed with her in
everything. She used to say it made her feel such a fool."
"Man is a fighting animal," explained the Philosopher. "An officer
who had been through the South African War was telling me only the
other day: he was with a column, and news came in that a small
commando was moving in the neighbourhood. The column set off in the
highest of spirits, and after three days' trying work through a
difficult country came up with, as they thought, the enemy. As a
matter of fact, it was not the enemy, but a troop of Imperial
Yeomanry that had lost its way. My friend informs me that the
language with which his column greeted those unfortunate Yeomen--
their fellow countrymen, men of their own blood--was most
"Myself, I should hate a man who agreed with me," said the Girton
"My dear," replied the Woman of the World, "I don't think any
"Why not?" demanded the Girton Girl.
"I was thinking more of you, dear," replied the Woman of the World.
"I am glad you all concur with me," murmured the Minor Poet. "I
have always myself regarded the Devil's Advocate as the most useful
officer in the Court of Truth."
"I remember being present one evening," I observed, "at a dinner-
party where an eminent judge met an equally eminent K. C.; whose
client the judge that very afternoon had condemned to be hanged.
'It is always a satisfaction,' remarked to him genially the judge,
'condemning any prisoner defended by you. One feels so absolutely
certain he was guilty.' The K. C. responded that he should always
remember the judge's words with pride."
"Who was it," asked the Philosopher, "who said: 'Before you can
attack a lie, you must strip it of its truth'?"
"It sounds like Emerson," I ventured.
"Very possibly," assented the Philosopher; "very possibly not.
There is much in reputation. Most poetry gets attributed to
"I entered a certain drawing-room about a week ago," I said. "'We
were just speaking about you,' exclaimed my hostess. 'Is not this
yours?' She pointed to an article in a certain magazine lying open
on the table. 'No,' I replied; 'one or two people have asked me
that same question. It seems to me rather an absurd article,' I
added. 'I cannot say I thought very much of it,' agreed my
"I can't help it," said the Old Maid. "I shall always dislike a
girl who deliberately sells herself for money."
"But what else is there to sell herself for?" asked the Minor Poet.
"She should not sell herself at all," retorted the Old Maid, with
warmth. "She should give herself, for love."
"Are we not in danger of drifting into a difference of opinion
concerning the meaning of words merely?" replied the Minor Poet.
"We have all of us, I suppose, heard the story of the Jew clothier
remonstrated with by the Rabbi for doing business on the Sabbath.
'Doing bithness!' retorted the accused with indignation; 'you call
thelling a thuit like that for eighteen shillings doing bithness!
By, ith's tharity!' This 'love' for which the maiden gives herself-
-let us be a little more exact--does it not include, as a matter of
course, material more tangible? Would not the adored one look
somewhat astonished on discovering that, having given herself for
'love,' love was all that her lover proposed to give for her. Would
she not naturally exclaim: 'But where's the house, to say nothing
of the fittings? And what are we to live on'?"
"It is you now who are playing with words," asserted the Old Maid.
"The greater includes the less. Loving her, he would naturally
"With all his worldly goods her to endow," completed for her the
Minor Poet. "In other words, he pays a price for her. So far as
love is concerned, they are quits. In marriage, the man gives
himself to the woman as the woman gives herself to the man. Man has
claimed, I am aware, greater liberty for himself; but the claim has
always been vehemently repudiated by woman. She has won her case.
Legally and morally now husband and wife are bound by the same laws.
This being so, her contention that she gives herself falls to the
ground. She exchanges herself. Over and above, she alone of the
twain claims a price."
"Say a living wage," corrected the Philosopher. "Lazy rubbish lolls
in petticoats, and idle stupidity struts in trousers. But, class
for class, woman does her share of the world's work. Among the
poor, of the two it is she who labours the longer. There is a many-
versed ballad popular in country districts. Often I have heard it
sung in shrill, piping voice at harvest supper or barn dance. The
chorus runs -
A man's work 'tis till set of sun,
But a woman's work is never done!
"My housekeeper came to me a few months ago," said the Woman of the
World, "to tell me that my cook had given notice. 'I am sorry to
hear it,' I answered; 'has she found a better place?' 'I am not so
sure about that,' answered Markham; 'she's going as general
servant.' 'As general servant!' I exclaimed. 'To old Hudson, at
the coal wharf,' answered Markham. 'His wife died last year, if you
remember. He's got seven children, poor man, and no one to look
after them.' 'I suppose you mean,' I said, 'that she's marrying
him.' 'Well, that's the way she puts it,' laughed Markham. 'What I
tell her is, she's giving up a good home and fifty pounds a year, to
be a general servant on nothing a week. But they never see it.'"
"I recollect her," answered the Minor Poet, "a somewhat depressing
lady. Let me take another case. You possess a remarkably pretty
housemaid--Edith, if I have it rightly."
"I have noticed her," remarked the Philosopher. "Her manners strike
me as really quite exceptional."
"I never could stand any one about me with carroty hair," remarked
the Girton Girl.
"I should hardly call it carroty," contended the Philosopher.
"There is a golden tint of much richness underlying, when you look
"She is a very good girl," agreed the Woman of the World; "but I am
afraid I shall have to get rid of her. The other woman servants
don't get on with her."
"Do you know whether she is engaged or not?" demanded the Minor
"At the present moment," answered the Woman of the World, "she is
walking out, I believe, with the eldest son of the 'Blue Lion.' But
she is never adverse to a change. If you are really in earnest
about the matter--"
"I was not thinking of myself," said the Minor Poet. "But suppose
some young gentleman of personal attractions equal to those of the
'Blue Lion,' or even not quite equal, possessed of two or three
thousand a year, were to enter the lists, do you think the 'Blue
Lion' would stand much chance?"
"Among the Upper Classes," continued the Minor Poet, "opportunity
for observing female instinct hardly exists. The girl's choice is
confined to lovers able to pay the price demanded, if not by the
beloved herself, by those acting on her behalf. But would a
daughter of the Working Classes ever hesitate, other things being
equal, between Mayfair and Seven Dials?"
"Let me ask you one," chimed in the Girton Girl. "Would a
bricklayer hesitate any longer between a duchess and a scullery-
"But duchesses don't fall in love with bricklayers," returned the
Minor Poet. "Now, why not? The stockbroker flirts with the
barmaid--cases have been known; often he marries her. Does the lady
out shopping ever fall in love with the waiter at the bun-shop?
Hardly ever. Lordlings marry ballet girls, but ladies rarely put
their heart and fortune at the feet of the Lion Comique. Manly
beauty and virtue are not confined to the House of Lords and its
dependencies. How do you account for the fact that while it is
common enough for the man to look beneath him, the woman will almost
invariably prefer her social superior, and certainly never tolerate
her inferior? Why should King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid appear
to us a beautiful legend, while Queen Cophetua and the Tramp would
"The simple explanation is," expounded the Girton Girl, "woman is so
immeasurably man's superior that only by weighting him more or less
heavily with worldly advantages can any semblance of balance be
"Then," answered the Minor Poet, "you surely agree with me that
woman is justified in demanding this 'make-weight.' The woman gives
her love, if you will. It is the art treasure, the gilded vase
thrown in with the pound of tea; but the tea has to be paid for."
"It all sounds very clever," commented the Old Maid; "yet I fail to
see what good comes of ridiculing a thing one's heart tells one is
"Do not be so sure I am wishful to ridicule," answered the Minor
Poet. "Love is a wondrous statue God carved with His own hands and
placed in the Garden of Life, long ago. And man, knowing not sin,
worshipped her, seeing her beautiful. Till the time came when man
learnt evil; then saw that the statue was naked, and was ashamed of
it. Since when he has been busy, draping it, now in the fashion of
this age, now in the fashion of that. We have shod her in dainty
bottines, regretting the size of her feet. We employ the best
artistes to design for her cunning robes that shall disguise her
shape. Each season we fix fresh millinery upon her changeless head.
We hang around her robes of woven words. Only the promise of her
ample breasts we cannot altogether hide, shocking us not a little;
only that remains to tell us that beneath the tawdry tissues still
stands the changeless statue God carved with His own hands."
"I like you better when you talk like that," said the Old Maid; "but
I never feel quite sure of you. All I mean, of course, is that
money should not be her first consideration. Marriage for money--it
is not marriage; one cannot speak of it. Of course, one must be
"You mean," persisted the Minor Poet, "you would have her think also
of her dinner, of her clothes, her necessities, luxuries."
"It is not only for herself," answered the Old Maid.
"For whom?" demanded the Minor Poet.
The white hands of the Old Maid fluttered on her lap, revealing her
trouble; for of the old school is this sweet friend of mine.
"There are the children to be considered," I explained. "A woman
feels it even without knowing. It is her instinct."
The Old Maid smiled on me her thanks.
"It is where I was leading," said the Minor Poet. "Woman has been
appointed by Nature the trustee of the children. It is her duty to
think of them, to plan for them. If in marriage she does not take
the future into consideration, she is untrue to her trust."
"Before you go further," interrupted the Philosopher, "there is an
important point to be considered. Are children better or worse for
a pampered upbringing? Is not poverty often the best school?"
"It is what I always tell George," remarked the Woman of the World,
"when he grumbles at the tradesmen's books. If Papa could only have
seen his way to being a poor man, I feel I should have been a better
"Please don't suggest the possibility," I begged the Woman of the
World; "the thought is too bewildering."
"You were never imaginative," replied the Woman of the World.
"Not to that extent," I admitted.
"'The best mothers make the worst children,'" quoted the Girton
Girl. "I intend to bear that in mind."
"Your mother was a very beautiful character--one of the most
beautiful I ever knew," remarked the Old Maid.
"There is some truth in the saying," agreed the Minor Poet, "but
only because it is the exception; and Nature invariably puts forth
all her powers to counteract the result of deviation from her laws.
Were it the rule, then the bad mother would be the good mother and
the good mother the bad mother. And--"
"Please don't go on," said the Woman of the World. "I was up late
"I was merely going to show," explained the Minor Poet, "that all
roads lead to the law that the good mother is the best mother. Her
duty is to her children, to guard their infancy, to take thought for
"Do you seriously ask us to believe," demanded the Old Maid, "that
the type of woman who does marry for money considers for a single
moment any human being but herself?"
"Not consciously, perhaps," admitted the Minor Poet. "Our
instincts, that they may guide us easily, are purposely made
selfish. The flower secretes honey for its own purposes, not with
any sense of charity towards the bee. Man works, as he thinks, for
beer and baccy; in reality, for the benefit of unborn generations.
The woman, in acting selfishly, is assisting Nature's plans. In
olden days she chose her mate for his strength. She, possibly
enough, thought only of herself; he could best provide for her then
simple wants, best guard her from the disagreeable accidents of
nomadic life. But Nature, unseen, directing her, was thinking of
the savage brood needing still more a bold protector. Wealth now is
the substitute for strength. The rich man is the strong man. The
woman's heart unconsciously goes out to him."
"Do men never marry for money?" inquired the Girton Girl. "I ask
merely for information. Maybe I have been misinformed, but I have
heard of countries where the dot is considered of almost more
importance than the bride."
"The German officer," I ventured to strike in, "is literally on
sale. Young lieutenants are most expensive, and even an elderly
colonel costs a girl a hundred thousand marks."
"You mean," corrected the Minor Poet, "costs her father. The
Continental husband demands a dowry with his wife, and sees that he
gets it. He in his turn has to save and scrape for years to provide
each of his daughters with the necessary dot. It comes to the same
thing precisely. Your argument could only apply were woman equally
with man a wealth producer. As it is, a woman's wealth is
invariably the result of a marriage, either her own or that of some
shrewd ancestress. And as regards the heiress, the principle of
sale and purchase, if I may be forgiven the employment of common
terms, is still more religiously enforced. It is not often that the
heiress is given away; stolen she may be occasionally, much to the
indignation of Lord Chancellors and other guardians of such
property; the thief is very properly punished--imprisoned, if need
be. If handed over legitimately, her price is strictly exacted, not
always in money--that she possesses herself, maybe in sufficiency;
it enables her to bargain for other advantages no less serviceable
to her children--for title, place, position. In the same way the
Neolithic woman, herself of exceptional strength and ferocity, may
have been enabled to bestow a thought upon her savage lover's
beauty, his prehistoric charm of manner; thus in other directions no
less necessary assisting the development of the race."
"I cannot argue with you," said the Old Maid. "I know one case.
They were both poor; it would have made no difference to her, but it
did to him. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that, as you say,
our instincts are given us to guide us. I do not know. The future
is not in our hands; it does not belong to us. Perhaps it were
wiser to listen to the voices that are sent to us."
"I remember a case, also," said the Woman of the World. She had
risen to prepare the tea, and was standing with her back to us.
"Like the woman you speak of, she was poor, but one of the sweetest
creatures I have ever known. I cannot help thinking it would have
been good for the world had she been a mother."
"My dear lady," cried the Minor Poet, "you help me!"
"I always do, according to you," laughed the Woman of the World. "I
appear to resemble the bull that tossed the small boy high into the
apple-tree he had been trying all the afternoon to climb."
"It is very kind of you," answered the Minor Poet. "My argument is
that woman is justified in regarding marriage as the end of her
existence, the particular man as but a means. The woman you speak
of acted selfishly, rejecting the crown of womanhood because not
tendered to her by hands she had chosen."
"You would have us marry without love?" asked the Girton Girl.
"With love, if possible," answered the Minor Poet; "without, rather
than not at all. It is the fulfilment of the woman's law."
"You would make of us goods and chattels," cried the Girton Girl.
"I would make of you what you are," returned the Minor Poet, "the
priestesses of Nature's temple, leading man to the worship of her
mysteries. An American humorist has described marriage as the
craving of some young man to pay for some young woman's board and
lodging. There is no escaping from this definition; let us accept
it. It is beautiful--so far as the young man is concerned. He
sacrifices himself, deprives himself, that he may give. That is
love. But from the woman's point of view? If she accept thinking
only of herself, then it is a sordid bargain on her part. To
understand her, to be just to her, we must look deeper. Not sexual,
but maternal love is her kingdom. She gives herself not to her
lover, but through her lover to the great Goddess of the Myriad
Breasts that shadows ever with her guardian wings Life from the
outstretched hand of Death."
"She may be a nice enough girl from Nature's point of view," said
the Old Maid; "personally, I shall never like her."
"What is the time?" asked the Girton Girl.
I looked at my watch. "Twenty past four," I answered.
"Exactly?" demanded the Girton Girl.
"Precisely," I replied.
"Strange," murmured the Girton Girl. "There is no accounting for
it, yet it always is so."
"What is there no accounting for?" I inquired. "What is strange?"
"It is a German superstition," explained the Girton Girl, "I learnt
it at school. Whenever complete silence falls upon any company, it
is always twenty minutes past the hour."
"Why do we talk so much?" demanded the Minor Poet.
"As a matter of fact," observed the Woman of the World, "I don't
think we do--not we, personally, not much. Most of our time we
appear to be listening to you."
"Then why do I talk so much, if you prefer to put it that way?"
continued the Minor Poet. "If I talked less, one of you others
would have to talk more."
"There would be that advantage about it," agreed the Philosopher.
"In all probability, you," returned to him the Minor Poet. "Whether
as a happy party we should gain or lose by the exchange, it is not
for me to say, though I have my own opinion. The essential remains-
-that the stream of chatter must be kept perpetually flowing. Why?"
"There is a man I know," I said; "you may have met him, a man named
Longrush. He is not exactly a bore. A bore expects you to listen
to him. This man is apparently unaware whether you are listening to
him or not. He is not a fool. A fool is occasionally amusing--
Longrush never. No subject comes amiss to him. Whatever the topic,
he has something uninteresting to say about it. He talks as a
piano-organ grinds out music steadily, strenuously, tirelessly. The
moment you stand or sit him down he begins, to continue ceaselessly
till wheeled away in cab or omnibus to his next halting-place. As
in the case of his prototype, his rollers are changed about once a
month to suit the popular taste. In January he repeats to you Dan
Leno's jokes, and gives you other people's opinions concerning the
Old Masters at the Guild-hall. In June he recounts at length what
is generally thought concerning the Academy, and agrees with most
people on most points connected with the Opera. If forgetful for a
moment--as an Englishman may be excused for being--whether it be
summer or winter, one may assure oneself by waiting to see whether
Longrush is enthusing over cricket or football. He is always up-to-
date. The last new Shakespeare, the latest scandal, the man of the
hour, the next nine days' wonder--by the evening Longrush has his
roller ready. In my early days of journalism I had to write each
evening a column for a provincial daily, headed 'What People are
Saying.' The editor was precise in his instructions. 'I don't want
your opinions; I don't want you to be funny; never mind whether the
thing appears to you to be interesting or not. I want it to be
real, the things people ARE saying.' I tried to be conscientious.
Each paragraph began with 'That.' I wrote the column because I
wanted the thirty shillings. Why anybody ever read it, I fail to
understand to this day; but I believe it was one of the popular
features of the paper. Longrush invariably brings back to my mind
the dreary hours I spent penning that fatuous record."
"I think I know the man you mean," said the Philosopher. "I had
forgotten his name."
"I thought it possible you might have met him," I replied. "Well,
my cousin Edith was arranging a dinner-party the other day, and, as
usual, she did me the honour to ask my advice. Generally speaking,
I do not give advice nowadays. As a very young man I was generous
with it. I have since come to the conclusion that responsibility
for my own muddles and mistakes is sufficient. However, I make an
exception in Edith's case, knowing that never by any chance will she
"Speaking of editors," said the Philosopher, "Bates told me at the
club the other night that he had given up writing the 'Answers to
Correspondents' personally, since discovery of the fact that he had
been discussing at some length the attractive topic, 'Duties of a
Father,' with his own wife, who is somewhat of a humorist."
"There was the wife of a clergyman my mother used to tell of," said
the Woman of the World, "who kept copies of her husband's sermons.
She would read him extracts from them in bed, in place of curtain
lectures. She explained it saved her trouble. Everything she felt
she wanted to say to him he had said himself so much more forcibly."
"The argument always appears to me weak," said the Philosopher. "If
only the perfect may preach, our pulpits would remain empty. Am I
to ignore the peace that slips into my soul when perusing the
Psalms, to deny myself all benefit from the wisdom of the Proverbs,
because neither David nor Solomon was a worthy casket of the jewels
that God had placed in them? Is a temperance lecturer never to
quote the self-reproaches of poor Cassio because Master Will
Shakespeare, there is evidence to prove, was a gentleman, alas! much
too fond of the bottle? The man that beats the drum may be himself
a coward. It is the drum that is the important thing to us, not the
"Of all my friends," said the Woman of the World, "the one who has
the most trouble with her servants is poor Jane Meredith."
"I am exceedingly sorry to hear it," observed the Philosopher, after
a slight pause. "But forgive me, I really do not see--"
"I beg your pardon," answered the Woman of the World. "I thought
everybody knew 'Jane Meredith.' She writes 'The Perfect Home'
column for The Woman's World."
"It will always remain a riddle, one supposes," said the Minor Poet.
"Which is the real ego--I, the author of 'The Simple Life,'
fourteenth edition, three and sixpence net--"
"Don't," pleaded the Old Maid, with a smile; "please don't."
"Don't what?" demanded the Minor Poet.
"Don't ridicule it--make fun of it, even though it may happen to be
your own. There are parts of it I know by heart. I say them over
to myself when-- Don't spoil it for me." The Old Maid laughed, but
"My dear lady," reassured her the Minor Poet, "do not be afraid. No
one regards that poem with more reverence than do I. You can have
but small conception what a help it is to me also. I, too, so often
read it to myself; and when-- We understand. As one who turns his
back on scenes of riot to drink the moonlight in quiet ways, I go to
it for sweetness and for peace. So much do I admire the poem, I
naturally feel desire and curiosity to meet its author, to know him.
I should delight, drawing him aside from the crowded room, to grasp
him by the hand, to say to him: 'My dear--my very dear Mr. Minor
Poet, I am so glad to meet you! I would I could tell you how much
your beautiful work has helped me. This, my dear sir--this is
indeed privilege!' But I can picture so vividly the bored look with
which he would receive my gush. I can imagine the contempt with
which he, the pure liver, would regard me did he know me--me, the
liver of the fool's hot days."
"A short French story I once read somewhere," I said, "rather
impressed me. A poet or dramatist--I am not sure which--had married
the daughter of a provincial notary. There was nothing particularly
attractive about her except her dot. He had run through his own
small fortune and was in some need. She worshipped him and was, as
he used to boast to his friends, the ideal wife for a poet. She
cooked admirably--a useful accomplishment during the first half-
dozen years of their married life; and afterwards, when fortune came
to him, managed his affairs to perfection, by her care and economy
keeping all worldly troubles away from his study door. An ideal
Hausfrau, undoubtedly, but of course no companion for our poet. So
they went their ways; till, choosing as in all things the right
moment, when she could best be spared, the good lady died and was
"And here begins the interest of the story, somewhat late. One
article of furniture, curiously out of place among the rich
appointments of their fine hotel, the woman had insisted on
retaining, a heavy, clumsily carved oak desk her father had once
used in his office, and which he had given to her for her own as a
birthday present back in the days of her teens.
"You must read the story for yourselves if you would enjoy the
subtle sadness that surrounds it, the delicate aroma of regret
through which it moves. The husband finding after some little
difficulty the right key, fits it into the lock of the bureau. As a
piece of furniture, plain, solid, squat, it has always jarred upon
his artistic sense. She too, his good, affectionate Sara, had been
plain, solid, a trifle squat. Perhaps that was why the poor woman
had clung so obstinately to the one thing in the otherwise perfect
house that was quite out of place there. Ah, well! she is gone now,
the good creature. And the bureau--no, the bureau shall remain.
Nobody will need to come into this room, no one ever did come there
but the woman herself. Perhaps she had not been altogether so happy
as she might have been. A husband less intellectual--one from whom
she would not have lived so far apart--one who could have entered
into her simple, commonplace life! it might have been better for
both of them. He draws down the lid, pulls out the largest drawer.
It is full of manuscripts, folded and tied neatly with ribbons once
gay, now faded. He thinks at first they are his own writings--
things begun and discarded, reserved by her with fondness. She
thought so much of him, the good soul! Really, she could not have
been so dull as he had deemed her. The power to appreciate rightly-
-this, at least, she must have possessed. He unties the ribbon.
No, the writing is her own, corrected, altered, underlined. He
opens a second, a third. Then with a smile he sits down to read.
What can they be like, these poems, these stories? He laughs,
smoothing the crumpled paper, foreseeing the trite commonness, the
shallow sentiment. The poor child! So she likewise would have been
a litterateure. Even she had her ambition, her dream.
"The sunshine climbs the wall behind him, creeps stealthily across
the ceiling of the room, slips out softly by the window, leaving him
alone. All these years he had been living with a fellow poet. They
should have been comrades, and they had never spoken. Why had she
hidden herself? Why had she left him, never revealing herself?
Years ago, when they were first married--he remembers now--she had
slipped little blue-bound copy-books into his pocket, laughing,
blushing, asking him to read them. How could he have guessed? Of
course, he had forgotten them. Later, they had disappeared again;
it had never occurred to him to think. Often in the earlier days
she had tried to talk to him about his work. Had he but looked into
her eyes, he might have understood. But she had always been so
homely-seeming, so good. Who would have suspected? Then suddenly
the blood rushes into his face. What must have been her opinion of
his work? All these years he had imagined her the amazed devotee,
uncomprehending but admiring. He had read to her at times,
comparing himself the while with Moliere reading to his cook. What
right had she to play this trick upon him? The folly of it! The
pity of it! He would have been so glad of her."
"What becomes, I wonder," mused the Philosopher, "of the thoughts
that are never spoken? We know that in Nature nothing is wasted;
the very cabbage is immortal, living again in altered form. A
thought published or spoken we can trace, but such must only be a
small percentage. It often occurs to me walking down the street.
Each man and woman that I pass by, each silently spinning his silken
thought, short or long, fine or coarse. What becomes of it?"
"I heard you say once," remarked the Old Maid to the Minor Poet,
"that 'thoughts are in the air,' that the poet but gathers them as a
child plucks wayside blossoms to shape them into nosegays."
"It was in confidence," replied the Minor Poet. "Please do not let
it get about, or my publisher will use it as an argument for cutting
down my royalties."
"I have always remembered it," answered the Old Maid. "It seemed so
true. A thought suddenly comes to you. I think of them sometimes,
as of little motherless babes creeping into our brains for shelter."
"It is a pretty idea," mused the Minor Poet. "I shall see them in
the twilight: pathetic little round-eyed things of goblin shape,
dimly luminous against the darkening air. Whence come you, little
tender Thought, tapping at my brain? From the lonely forest, where
the peasant mother croons above the cradle while she knits? Thought
of Love and Longing: lies your gallant father with his boyish eyes
unblinking underneath some tropic sun? Thought of Life and Thought
of Death: are you of patrician birth, cradled by some high-born
maiden, pacing slowly some sweet garden? Or did you spring to life
amid the din of loom or factory? Poor little nameless foundlings!
I shall feel myself in future quite a philanthropist, taking them
in, adopting them."
"You have not yet decided," reminded him the Woman of the World,
"which you really are: the gentleman we get for three and sixpence
net, or the one we are familiar with, the one we get for nothing."
"Please don't think I am suggesting any comparison," continued the
Woman of the World, "but I have been interested in the question
since George joined a Bohemian club and has taken to bringing down
minor celebrities from Saturday to Monday. I hope I am not narrow-
minded, but there is one gentleman I have been compelled to put my
foot down on."
"I really do not think he will complain," I interrupted. The Woman
of the World possesses, I should explain, the daintiest of feet.
"It is heavier than you think," replied the Woman of the World.
"George persists I ought to put up with him because he is a true
poet. I cannot admit the argument. The poet I honestly admire. I
like to have him about the place. He lies on my drawing-room table
in white vellum, and helps to give tone to the room. For the poet I
am quite prepared to pay the four-and-six demanded; the man I don't
want. To be candid, he is not worth his own discount."
"It is hardly fair," urged the Minor Poet, "to confine the
discussion to poets. A friend of mine some years ago married one of
the most charming women in New York, and that is saying a good deal.
Everybody congratulated him, and at the outset he was pleased enough
with himself. I met him two years later in Geneva, and we travelled
together as far as Rome. He and his wife scarcely spoke to one
another the whole journey, and before I left him he was good enough
to give me advice which to another man might be useful. 'Never
marry a charming woman,' he counselled me. 'Anything more
unutterably dull than "the charming woman" outside business hours
you cannot conceive.'"
"I think we must agree to regard the preacher," concluded the
Philosopher, "merely as a brother artist. The singer may be a
heavy, fleshy man with a taste for beer, but his voice stirs our
souls. The preacher holds aloft his banner of purity. He waves it
over his own head as much as over the heads of those around him. He
does not cry with the Master, 'Come to Me,' but 'Come with me, and
be saved.' The prayer 'Forgive them' was the prayer not of the
Priest, but of the God. The prayer dictated to the Disciples was
'Forgive us,' 'Deliver us.' Not that he should be braver, not that
he should be stronger than they that press behind him, is needed of
the leader, but that he should know the way. He, too, may faint,
he, too, may fall; only he alone must never turn his back."
"It is quite comprehensible, looked at from one point of view,"
remarked the Minor Poet, "that he who gives most to others should
himself be weak. The professional athlete pays, I believe, the
price of central weakness. It is a theory of mine that the
charming, delightful people one meets with in society are people who
have dishonestly kept to themselves gifts entrusted to them by
Nature for the benefit of the whole community. Your conscientious,
hard-working humorist is in private life a dull dog. The dishonest
trustee of laughter, on the other hand, robbing the world of wit
bestowed upon him for public purposes, becomes a brilliant
"But," added the Minor Poet, turning to me, "you were speaking of a
man named Longrush, a great talker."
"A long talker," I corrected. "My cousin mentioned him third in her
list of invitations. 'Longrush,' she said with conviction, 'we must
have Longrush.' 'Isn't he rather tiresome?' I suggested. 'He is
tiresome,' she agreed, 'but then he's so useful. He never lets the
"Why is it?" asked the Minor Poet. "Why, when we meet together,
must we chatter like a mob of sparrows? Why must every assembly to
be successful sound like the parrot-house of a zoological garden?"
"I remember a parrot story," I said, "but I forget who told it to
"Maybe one of us will remember as you go on," suggested the
"A man," I said--"an old farmer, if I remember rightly--had read a
lot of parrot stories, or had heard them at the club. As a result
he thought he would like himself to be the owner of a parrot, so
journeyed to a dealer and, according to his own account, paid rather
a long price for a choice specimen. A week later he re-entered the
shop, the parrot borne behind him by a boy. 'This bird,' said the
farmer, 'this bird you sold me last week ain't worth a sovereign!'
'What's the matter with it?' demanded the dealer. 'How do I know
what's the matter with the bird?' answered the farmer. 'What I tell
you is that it ain't worth a sovereign--'tain' t worth a half a
sovereign!' 'Why not?' persisted the dealer; 'it talks all right,
don't it?' 'Talks!' retorted the indignant farmer, 'the damn thing
talks all day, but it never says anything funny!'"
"A friend of mine," said the Philosopher, "once had a parrot--"
"Won't you come into the garden?" said the Woman of the World,
rising and leading the way.
"Myself," said the Minor Poet, "I read the book with the most
intense enjoyment. I found it inspiring--so inspiring, I fear I did
not give it sufficient attention. I must read it again."
"I understand you," said the Philosopher. "A book that really
interests us makes us forget that we are reading. Just as the most
delightful conversation is when nobody in particular appears to be
"Do you remember meeting that Russian man George brought down here
about three months ago?" asked the Woman of the World, turning to
the Minor Poet. "I forget his name. As a matter of fact, I never
knew it. It was quite unpronounceable and, except that it ended, of
course, with a double f, equally impossible to spell. I told him
frankly at the beginning I should call him by his Christian name,
which fortunately was Nicholas. He was very nice about it."
"I remember him distinctly," said the Minor Poet. "A charming man."
"He was equally charmed with you," replied the Woman of the World.
"I can credit it easily," murmured the Minor Poet. "One of the most
intelligent men I ever met."
"You talked together for two hours in a corner," said the Woman of
the World. "I asked him when you had gone what he thought of you.
'Ah! what a talker!' he exclaimed, making a gesture of admiration
with his hands. 'I thought maybe you would notice it,' I answered
him. 'Tell me, what did he talk about?' I was curious to know; you
had been so absorbed in yourselves and so oblivious to the rest of
us. 'Upon my word,' he replied, 'I really cannot tell you. Do you
know, I am afraid, now I come to think of it, that I must have
monopolised the conversation.' I was glad to be able to ease his
mind on that point. 'I really don't think you did,' I assured him.
I should have felt equally confident had I not been present."
"You were quite correct," returned the Minor Poet. "I have a
distinct recollection of having made one or two observations myself.
Indeed, if I may say so, I talked rather well."
"You may also recollect," continued the Woman of the World, "that
the next time we met I asked you what he had said, and that your
mind was equally a blank on the subject. You admitted you had found
him interesting. I was puzzled at the time, but now I begin to
understand. Both of you, no doubt, found the conversation so
brilliant, each of you felt it must have been your own."
"A good book," I added--"a good talk is like a good dinner: one
assimilates it. The best dinner is the dinner you do not know you
"A thing will often suggest interesting thought," observed the Old
Maid, "without being interesting. Often I find the tears coming
into my eyes as I witness some stupid melodrama--something said,
something hinted at, will stir a memory, start a train of thought."
"I once," I said, "sat next to a country-man in the pit of a music-
hall some years ago. He enjoyed himself thoroughly up to half-past
ten. Songs about mothers-in-law, drunken wives, and wooden legs he
roared at heartily. At ten-thirty entered a well-known artiste who
was then giving a series of what he called 'Condensed Tragedies in
Verse.' At the first two my country friend chuckled hugely. The
third ran: 'Little boy; pair of skates: broken ice; heaven's
gates.' My friend turned white, rose hurriedly, and pushed his way
impatiently out of the house. I left myself some ten minutes later,
and by chance ran against him again in the bar of the 'Criterion,'
where he was drinking whisky rather copiously. 'I couldn't stand
that fool,' he explained to me in a husky voice. 'Truth is, my
youngest kid got drowned last winter skating. Don't see any sense
making fun of real trouble.'"
"I can cap your story with another," said the Philosopher. "Jim
sent me a couple of seats for one of his first nights a month or two
ago. They did not reach me till four o'clock in the afternoon. I
went down to the club to see if I could pick up anybody. The only
man there I knew at all was a rather quiet young fellow, a new
member. He had just taken Bates's chambers in Staple Inn--you have
met him, I think. He didn't know many people then and was grateful
for my invitation. The play was one of those Palais Royal farces--
it cannot matter which, they are all exactly alike. The fun
consists of somebody's trying to sin without being found out. It
always goes well. The British public invariably welcomes the theme,
provided it be dealt with in a merry fashion. It is only the
serious discussion of evil that shocks us. There was the usual
banging of doors and the usual screaming. Everybody was laughing
around us. My young friend sat with rather a curious fixed smile
upon his face. 'Fairly well constructed,' I said to him, as the
second curtain fell amid yells of delight. 'Yes,' he answered, 'I
suppose it's very funny.' I looked at him; he was little more than
a boy. 'You are rather young,' I said, 'to be a moralist.' He gave
a short laugh. 'Oh! I shall grow out of it in time,' he said. He
told me his story later, when I came to know him better. He had
played the farce himself over in Melbourne--he was an Australian.
Only the third act had ended differently. His girl wife, of whom he
was passionately fond, had taken it quite seriously and had
committed suicide. A foolish thing to do."
"Man is a beast!" said the Girton Girl, who was prone to strong
"I thought so myself when I was younger," said the Woman of the
"And don't you now, when you hear a thing like that?" suggested the
"Certainly, my dear," replied the Woman of the World; "there is a
deal of the animal in man; but--well, I was myself expressing that
same particular view of him, the brute, to a very old lady with whom
I was spending a winter in Brussels, many years ago now, when I was
quite a girl. She had been a friend of my father's, and was one of
the sweetest and kindest--I was almost going to say the most perfect
woman I have ever met; though as a celebrated beauty, stories,
dating from the early Victorian era, were told about her. But
myself I never believed them. Her calm, gentle, passionless face,
crowned with its soft, silver hair--I remember my first sight of the
Matterhorn on a summer's evening; somehow it at once reminded me of
"My dear," laughed the Old Maid, "your anecdotal method is becoming
as jerky as a cinematograph."
"I have noticed it myself," replied the Woman of the World; "I try
to get in too much."
"The art of the raconteur," observed the Philosopher, "consists in
avoiding the unessential. I have a friend who never yet to my
knowledge reached the end of a story. It is intensely unimportant
whether the name of the man who said the thing or did the deed be
Brown or Jones or Robinson. But she will worry herself into a fever
trying to recollect. 'Dear, dear me!' she will leave off to
exclaim; 'I know his name so well. How stupid of me!' She will
tell you why she ought to recollect his name, how she always has
recollected his name till this precise moment. She will appeal to
half the people in the room to help her. It is hopeless to try and
induce her to proceed, the idea has taken possession of her mind.
After a world of unnecessary trouble she recollects that it was
Tomkins, and is delighted; only to be plunged again into despair on
discovery that she has forgotten his address. This makes her so
ashamed of herself she declines to continue, and full of self-
reproach she retires to her own room. Later she re-enters, beaming,
with the street and number pat. But by that time she has forgotten
"Well, tell us about your old lady, and what it was you said to
her," spoke impatiently the Girton Girl, who is always eager when
the subject under discussion happens to be the imbecility or
criminal tendency of the opposite sex.
"I was at the age," continued the Woman of the World, "when a young
girl tiring of fairy stories puts down the book and looks round her
at the world, and naturally feels indignant at what she notices. I
was very severe upon both the shortcomings and the overgoings of
man--our natural enemy. My old friend used to laugh, and that made
me think her callous and foolish. One day our bonne--like all
servants, a lover of gossip--came to us delighted with a story which
proved to me how just had been my estimate of the male animal. The
grocer at the corner of our rue, married only four years to a
charming and devoted little wife, had run away and left her.
"'He never gave her even a hint, the pretty angel!' so Jeanne
informed us. 'Had had his box containing his clothes and everything
he wanted ready packed for a week, waiting for him at the railway
station--just told her he was going to play a game of dominoes, and
that she was not to sit up for him; kissed her and the child good-
night, and--well, that was the last she ever saw of him. Did Madame
ever hear the like of it?' concluded Jeanne, throwing up her hands
to heaven. 'I am sorry to say, Jeanne, that I have,' replied my
sweet Madame with a sigh, and led the conversation by slow degrees
back to the subject of dinner. I turned to her when Jeanne had left
the room. I can remember still the burning indignation of my face.
I had often spoken to the man myself, and had thought what a
delightful husband he was--so kind, so attentive, so proud,
seemingly, of his dainty femme. 'Doesn't that prove what I say,' I
cried, 'that men are beasts?' 'I am afraid it helps in that
direction,' replied my old friend. 'And yet you defend them,' I
answered. 'At my age, my dear,' she replied, 'one neither defends
nor blames; one tries to understand.' She put her thin white hand
upon my head. 'Shall we hear a little more of the story?' she said.
'It is not a pleasant one, but it may be useful to us.' 'I don't
want to hear any more of it,' I answered; 'I have heard enough.'
'It is sometimes well,' she persisted, 'to hear the whole of a case
before forming our judgment.' And she rang the bell for Jeanne.
'That story about our little grocer friend,' she said--'it is rather
interesting to me. Why did he leave her and run away--do you know?'
Jeanne shrugged her ample shoulders. 'Oh! the old story, Madame,'
she answered, with a short laugh. 'Who was she?' asked my friend.
'The wife of Monsieur Savary, the wheelwright, as good a husband as
ever a woman had. It's been going on for months, the hussy!'
'Thank you, that will do, Jeanne.' She turned again to me so soon
as Jeanne had left the room. 'My dear,' she said, 'whenever I see a
bad man, I peep round the corner for the woman. Whenever I see a
bad woman, I follow her eyes; I know she is looking for her mate.
Nature never makes odd samples.'"
"I cannot help thinking," said the Philosopher, "that a good deal of
harm is being done to the race as a whole by the overpraise of
"Who overpraises them?" demanded the Girton Girl. "Men may talk
nonsense to us--I don't know whether any of us are foolish enough to
believe it--but I feel perfectly sure that when they are alone most
of their time is occupied in abusing us."
"That is hardly fair," interrupted the Old Maid. "I doubt if they
do talk about us among themselves as much as we think. Besides, it
is always unwise to go behind the verdict. Some very beautiful
things have been said about women by men."
"Well, ask them," said the Girton Girl. "Here are three of them
present. Now, honestly, when you talk about us among yourselves, do
you gush about our virtue, and goodness, and wisdom?"
"'Gush,'" said the Philosopher, reflecting, "'gush' would hardly be
the correct word."
"In justice to the truth," I said, "I must admit our Girton friend
is to a certain extent correct. Every man at some time of his life
esteems to excess some one particular woman. Very young men,
lacking in experience, admire perhaps indiscriminately. To them,
anything in a petticoat is adorable: the milliner makes the angel.
And very old men, so I am told, return to the delusions of their
youth; but as to this I cannot as yet speak positively. The rest of
us--well, when we are alone, it must be confessed, as our
Philosopher says, that 'gush' is not the correct word."
"I told you so," chortled the Girton Girl.
"Maybe," I added, "it is merely the result of reaction. Convention
insists that to her face we show her a somewhat exaggerated
deference. Her very follies we have to regard as added charms--the
poets have decreed it. Maybe it comes as a relief to let the
pendulum swing back."
"But is it not a fact," asked the Old Maid, "that the best men and
even the wisest are those who have held women in most esteem? Do we
not gauge civilization by the position a nation accords to its
"In the same way as we judge them by the mildness of their laws,
their tenderness for the weak. Uncivilised man killed off the
useless numbers of the tribe; we provide for them hospitals,
almshouses. Man's attitude towards woman proves the extent to which
he has conquered his own selfishness, the distance he has travelled
from the law of the ape: might is right.
"Please don't misunderstand me," pleaded the Philosopher, with a
nervous glance towards the lowering eyebrows of the Girton Girl. "I
am not saying for a moment woman is not the equal of man; indeed, it
is my belief that she is. I am merely maintaining she is not his
superior. The wise man honours woman as his friend, his fellow-
labourer, his complement. It is the fool who imagines her unhuman."
"But are we not better," persisted the Old Maid, "for our ideals? I
don't say we women are perfect--please don't think that. You are
not more alive to our faults than we are. Read the women novelists
from George Eliot downwards. But for your own sake--is it not well
man should have something to look up to, and failing anything
"I draw a very wide line," answered the Philosopher, "between ideals
and delusions. The ideal has always helped man; but that belongs to
the land of his dreams, his most important kingdom, the kingdom of
his future. Delusions are earthly structures, that sooner or later
fall about his ears, blinding him with dust and dirt. The
petticoat-governed country has always paid dearly for its folly."
"Elizabeth!" cried the Girton Girl. "Queen Victoria!"
"Were ideal sovereigns," returned the Philosopher, "leaving the
government of the country to its ablest men. France under its
Pompadours, the Byzantine Empire under its Theodoras, are truer
examples of my argument. I am speaking of the unwisdom of assuming
all women to be perfect. Belisarius ruined himself and his people
by believing his own wife to be an honest woman."
"But chivalry," I argued, "has surely been of service to mankind?"
"To an immense extent," agreed the Philosopher. "It seized a
natural human passion and turned it to good uses. Then it was a
reality. So once was the divine right of kings, the infallibility
of the Church, for cumbering the ground with the lifeless bodies of
which mankind has paid somewhat dearly. Not its upstanding lies--
they can be faced and defeated--but its dead truths are the world's
stumbling-blocks. To the man of war and rapine, trained in cruelty
and injustice, the woman was the one thing that spoke of the joy of
yielding. Woman, as compared with man, was then an angel: it was
no mere form of words. All the tender offices of life were in her
hands. To the warrior, his life divided between fighting and
debauchery, his womenfolk tending the sick, helping the weak,
comforting the sorrowing, must have moved with white feet across a
world his vices had made dark. Her mere subjection to the
priesthood, her inborn feminine delight in form and ceremony--now an
influence narrowing her charity--must then, to his dim eyes, trained
to look upon dogma as the living soul of his religion, have seemed a
halo, deifying her. Woman was then the servant. It was naturally
to her advantage to excite tenderness and mercy in man. Since she
has become the mistress of the world. It is no longer her
interested mission to soften his savage instincts. Nowadays, it is
the women who make war, the women who exalt brute force. Today, it
is the woman who, happy herself, turns a deaf ear to the world's low
cry of pain; holding that man honoured who would ignore the good of
the species to augment the comforts of his own particular family;
holding in despite as a bad husband and father the man whose sense
of duty extends beyond the circle of the home. One recalls Lady
Nelson's reproach to her lord after the battle of the Nile. 'I have
married a wife, and therefore cannot come,' is the answer to his God
that many a woman has prompted to her lover's tongue. I was
speaking to a woman only the other day about the cruelty of skinning
seals alive. 'I feel so sorry for the poor creatures,' she
murmured; 'but they say it gives so much more depth of colour to the
fur.' Her own jacket was certainly a very beautiful specimen."
"When I was editing a paper," I said, "I opened my columns to a
correspondence on this very subject. Many letters were sent to me--
most of them trite, many of them foolish. One, a genuine document,
I remember. It came from a girl who for six years had been
assistant to a fashionable dressmaker. She was rather tired of the
axiom that all women, at all times, are perfection. She suggested
that poets and novelists should take service for a year in any large
drapery or millinery establishment where they would have an
opportunity of studying woman in her natural state, so to speak."
"It is unfair to judge us by what, I confess, is our chief
weakness," argued the Woman of the World. "Woman in pursuit of
clothes ceases to be human--she reverts to the original brute.
Besides, dressmakers can be very trying. The fault is not entirely
on one side."
"I still fail to be convinced," remarked the Girton Girl, "that
woman is over-praised. Not even the present conversation, so far as
it has gone, altogether proves your point."
"I am not saying it is the case among intelligent thinkers,"
explained the Philosopher, "but in popular literature the convention
still lingers. To woman's face no man cares to protest against it;
and woman, to her harm, has come to accept it as a truism. 'What
are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all that's nice.' In
more or less varied form the idea has entered into her blood,
shutting out from her hope of improvement. The girl is discouraged
from asking herself the occasionally needful question: Am I on the
way to becoming a sound, useful member of society? Or am I in
danger of degenerating into a vain, selfish, lazy piece of good-for-
nothing rubbish? She is quite content so long as she can detect in
herself no tendency to male vices, forgetful that there are also
feminine vices. Woman is the spoilt child of the age. No one tells
her of her faults. The World with its thousand voices flatters her.
Sulks, bad temper, and pig-headed obstinacy are translated as
'pretty Fanny's wilful ways.' Cowardice, contemptible in man or
woman, she is encouraged to cultivate as a charm. Incompetence to
pack her own bag or find her own way across a square and round a
corner is deemed an attraction. Abnormal ignorance and dense
stupidity entitle her to pose as the poetical ideal. If she give a
penny to a street beggar, selecting generally the fraud, or kiss a
puppy's nose, we exhaust the language of eulogy, proclaiming her a
saint. The marvel to me is that, in spite of the folly upon which
they are fed, so many of them grow to be sensible women."
"Myself," remarked the Minor Poet, "I find much comfort in the
conviction that talk, as talk, is responsible for much less good and
much less harm in the world than we who talk are apt to imagine.
Words to grow and bear fruit must fall upon the earth of fact."
"But you hold it right to fight against folly?" demanded the
"Heavens, yes!" cried the Minor Poet. "That is how one knows it is
Folly--if we can kill it. Against the Truth our arrows rattle
"But what is her reason?" demanded the Old Maid.
"Reason! I don't believe any of them have any reason." The Woman
of the World showed sign of being short of temper, a condition of
affairs startlingly unusual to her. "Says she hasn't enough work to
"She must be an extraordinary woman," commented the Old Maid.
"The trouble I have put myself to in order to keep that woman, just
because George likes her savouries, no one would believe," continued
indignantly the Woman of the World. "We have had a dinner party
regularly once a week for the last six months, entirely for her
benefit. Now she wants me to give two. I won't do it!"
"If I could be of any service?" offered the Minor Poet. "My
digestion is not what it once was, but I could make up in quality--a
recherche little banquet twice a week, say on Wednesdays and
Saturdays, I would make a point of eating with you. If you think
that would content her!"
"It is really thoughtful of you," replied the Woman of the World,
"but I cannot permit it. Why should you be dragged from the simple
repast suitable to a poet merely to oblige my cook? It is not
"I was thinking rather of you," continued the Minor Poet.
"I've half a mind," said the Woman of the World, "to give up
housekeeping altogether and go into an hotel. I don't like the
idea, but really servants are becoming impossible."
"It is very interesting," said the Minor Poet.
"I am glad you find it so!" snapped the Woman of the World.
"What is interesting?" I asked the Minor Poet.
"That the tendency of the age," he replied, "should be slowly but
surely driving us into the practical adoption of a social state that
for years we have been denouncing the Socialists for merely
suggesting. Everywhere the public-houses are multiplying, the
private dwellings diminishing."
"Can you wonder at it?" commented the Woman of the World. "You men
talk about 'the joys of home.' Some of you write poetry--generally
speaking, one of you who lives in chambers, and spends two-thirds of
his day at a club." We were sitting in the garden. The attention
of the Minor Poet became riveted upon the sunset. "'Ethel and I by
the fire.' Ethel never gets a chance of sitting by the fire. So
long as you are there, comfortable, you do not notice that she has
left the room to demand explanation why the drawing-room scuttle is
always filled with slack, and the best coal burnt in the kitchen
range. Home to us women is our place of business that we never get
"I suppose," said the Girton Girl--to my surprise she spoke with
entire absence of indignation. As a rule, the Girton Girl stands
for what has been termed "divine discontent" with things in general.
In the course of time she will outlive her surprise at finding the
world so much less satisfactory an abode than she had been led to
suppose--also her present firm conviction that, given a free hand,
she could put the whole thing right in a quarter of an hour. There
are times even now when her tone suggests less certainty of her
being the first person who has ever thought seriously about the
matter. "I suppose," said the Girton Girl, "it comes of education.
Our grandmothers were content to fill their lives with these small
household duties. They rose early, worked with their servants, saw
to everything with their own eyes. Nowadays we demand time for
self-development, for reading, for thinking, for pleasure.
Household drudgery, instead of being the object of our life, has
become an interference to it. We resent it."
"The present revolt of woman," continued the Minor Poet, "will be
looked back upon by the historian of the future as one of the chief
factors in our social evolution. The 'home'--the praises of which
we still sing, but with gathering misgiving--depended on her
willingness to live a life of practical slavery. When Adam delved
and Eve span--Adam confining his delving to the space within his own
fence, Eve staying her spinning-wheel the instant the family hosiery
was complete--then the home rested upon the solid basis of an actual
fact. Its foundations were shaken when the man became a citizen and
his interests expanded beyond the domestic circle. Since that
moment woman alone has supported the institution. Now she, in her
turn, is claiming the right to enter the community, to escape from
the solitary confinement of the lover's castle. The 'mansions,'
with common dining-rooms, reading-rooms, their system of common
service, are springing up in every quarter; the house, the villa, is
disappearing. The story is the same in every country. The separate
dwelling, where it remains, is being absorbed into a system. In
America, the experimental laboratory of the future, the houses are
warmed from a common furnace. You do not light the fire, you turn
on the hot air. Your dinner is brought round to you in a travelling
oven. You subscribe for your valet or your lady's maid. Very soon
the private establishment, with its staff of unorganised,
quarrelling servants, of necessity either over or underworked, will
be as extinct as the lake dwelling or the sandstone cave."
"I hope," said the Woman of the World, "that I may live to see it."
"In all probability," replied the Minor Poet, "you will. I would I
could feel as hopeful for myself."
"If your prophecy be likely of fulfilment," remarked the
Philosopher, "I console myself with the reflection that I am the
oldest of the party. Myself; I never read these full and exhaustive
reports of the next century without revelling in the reflection that
before they can be achieved I shall be dead and buried. It may be a
selfish attitude, but I should be quite unable to face any of the
machine-made futures our growing guild of seers prognosticate. You
appear to me, most of you, to ignore a somewhat important
consideration--namely, that mankind is alive. You work out your
answers as if he were a sum in rule-of-three: 'If man in so many
thousands of years has done so much in such a direction at this or
that rate of speed, what will he be doing--?' and so on. You forget
he is swayed by impulses that can enter into no calculation--drawn
hither and thither by powers that can never be represented in your
algebra. In one generation Christianity reduced Plato's republic to
an absurdity. The printing-press has upset the unanswerable
conclusions of Machiavelli."
"I disagree with you," said the Minor Poet.
"The fact does not convince me of my error," retorted the
"Christianity," continued the Minor Poet, "gave merely an added
force to impulses the germs of which were present in the infant
race. The printing-press, teaching us to think in communities, has
nonplussed to a certain extent the aims of the individual as opposed
to those of humanity. Without prejudice, without sentiment, cast
your eye back over the panorama of the human race. What is the
picture that presents itself? Scattered here and there over the
wild, voiceless desert, first the holes and caves, next the rude-
built huts, the wigwams, the lake dwellings of primitive man.
Lonely, solitary, followed by his dam and brood, he creeps through
the tall grass, ever with watchful, terror-haunted eyes; satisfies
his few desires; communicates, by means of a few grunts and signs,
his tiny store of knowledge to his offspring; then, crawling beneath
a stone, or into some tangled corner of the jungle, dies and
disappears. We look again. A thousand centuries have flashed and
faded. The surface of the earth is flecked with strange quivering
patches: here, where the sun shines on the wood and sea, close
together, almost touching one another; there, among the shadows, far
apart. The Tribe has formed itself. The whole tiny mass moves
forward, halts, runs backwards, stirred always by one common
impulse. Man has learnt the secret of combination, of mutual help.
The City rises. From its stone centre spreads its power; the Nation
leaps to life; civilisation springs from leisure; no longer is each
man's life devoted to his mere animal necessities. The artificer,
the thinker--his fellows shall protect him. Socrates dreams,
Phidias carves the marble, while Pericles maintains the law and
Leonidas holds the Barbarian at bay. Europe annexes piece by piece
the dark places of the earth, gives to them her laws. The Empire
swallows the small State; Russia stretches her arm round Asia. In
London we toast the union of the English-speaking peoples; in Berlin
and Vienna we rub a salamander to the deutscher Bund; in Paris we
whisper of a communion of the Latin races. In great things so in
small. The stores, the huge Emporium displaces the small
shopkeeper; the Trust amalgamates a hundred firms; the Union speaks
for the worker. The limits of country, of language, are found too
narrow for the new Ideas. German, American, or English--let what
yard of coloured cotton you choose float from the mizzenmast, the
business of the human race is their captain. One hundred and fifty
years ago old Sam Johnson waited in a patron's anteroom; today the
entire world invites him to growl his table talk the while it takes
its dish of tea. The poet, the novelist, speak in twenty languages.
Nationality--it is the County Council of the future. The world's
high roads run turnpike-free from pole to pole. One would be blind
not to see the goal towards which we are rushing. At the outside it
is but a generation or two off. It is one huge murmuring Hive--one
universal Hive just the size of the round earth. The bees have been
before us; they have solved the riddle towards which we in darkness
have been groping.
The Old Maid shuddered visibly. "What a terrible idea!" she said.
"To us," replied the Minor Poet; "not to those who will come after
us. The child dreads manhood. To Abraham, roaming the world with
his flocks, the life of your modern City man, chained to his office
from ten to four, would have seemed little better than penal
"My sympathies are with the Abrahamitical ideal," observed the
"Mine also," agreed the Minor Poet. "But neither you nor I
represent the tendency of the age. We are its curiosities. We, and
such as we, serve as the brake regulating the rate of progress. The
genius of species shows itself moving in the direction of the
organised community--all life welded together, controlled by one
central idea. The individual worker is drawn into the factory.
Chippendale today would have been employed sketching designs; the
chair would have been put together by fifty workers, each one
trained to perfection in his own particular department. Why does
the hotel, with its five hundred servants, its catering for three
thousand mouths, work smoothly, while the desirable family
residence, with its two or three domestics, remains the scene of
waste, confusion, and dispute? We are losing the talent of living
alone; the instinct of living in communities is driving it out."
"So much the worse for the community," was the comment of the
Philosopher. "Man, as Ibsen has said, will always be at his
greatest when he stands alone. To return to our friend Abraham,
surely he, wandering in the wilderness, talking with his God, was
nearer the ideal than the modern citizen, thinking with his morning
paper, applauding silly shibboleths from a theatre pit, guffawing at
coarse jests, one of a music-hall crowd? In the community it is the
lowest always leads. You spoke just now of all the world inviting
Samuel Johnson to its dish of tea. How many read him as compared to
the number of subscribers to the Ha'penny Joker? This 'thinking in
communities,' as it is termed, to what does it lead? To mafficking
and Dreyfus scandals. What crowd ever evolved a noble idea? If
Socrates and Galileo, Confucius and Christ had 'thought in
communities,' the world would indeed be the ant-hill you appear to
regard as its destiny."
"In balancing the books of life one must have regard to both sides
of the ledger," responded the Minor Poet. "A crowd, I admit, of
itself creates nothing; on the other hand, it receives ideals into
its bosom and gives them needful shelter. It responds more readily
to good than to evil. What greater stronghold of virtue than your
sixpenny gallery? Your burglar, arrived fresh from jumping on his
mother, finds himself applauding with the rest stirring appeals to
the inborn chivalry of man. Suggestion that it was right or proper
under any circumstances to jump upon one's mother he would at such
moment reject with horror. 'Thinking in communities' is good for
him. The hooligan, whose patriotism finds expression in squirting
dirty water into the face of his coster sweetheart: the
boulevardiere, primed with absinth, shouting 'Conspuez les Juifs!'--
the motive force stirring them in its origin was an ideal. Even
into making a fool of itself, a crowd can be moved only by
incitement of its finer instincts. The service of Prometheus to
mankind must not be judged by the statistics of the insurance
office. The world as a whole has gained by community, will attain
its goal only through community. From the nomadic savage by the
winding road of citizenship we have advanced far. The way winds
upward still, hidden from us by the mists, but along its tortuous
course lies our track into the Promised Land. Not the development
of the individual--that is his own concern--but the uplifting of the
race would appear to be the law. The lonely great ones, they are
the shepherds of the flock--the servants, not the masters of the
world. Moses shall die and be buried in the wilderness, seeing only
from afar the resting-place of man's tired feet. It is unfortunate
that the Ha'penny Joker and its kind should have so many readers.
Maybe it teaches those to read who otherwise would never read at
all. We are impatient, forgetting that the coming and going of our
generations are but as the swinging of the pendulum of Nature's
clock. Yesterday we booked our seats for gladiatorial shows, for
the burning of Christians, our windows for Newgate hangings. Even
the musical farce is an improvement upon that--at least, from the
humanitarian point of view."
"In the Southern States of America," observed the Philosopher,
sticking to his guns, "they run excursion trains to lynching
exhibitions. The bull-fight is spreading to France, and English
newspapers are advocating the reintroduction of bear-baiting and
cock-fighting. Are we not moving in a circle?"
"The road winds, as I have allowed," returned the Minor Poet; "the
gradient is somewhat steep. Just now, maybe, we are traversing a
backward curve. I gain my faith by pausing now and then to look
behind. I see the weary way with many a downward sweep. But we are
climbing, my friend, we are climbing."
"But to such a very dismal goal, according to your theory," grumbled
the Old Maid. "I should hate to feel myself an insect in a hive, my
little round of duties apportioned to me, my every action regulated
by a fixed law, my place assigned to me, my very food and drink, I
suppose, apportioned to me. Do think of something more cheerful."
The Minor Poet laughed. "My dear lady," he replied, "it is too
late. The thing is already done. The hive already covers us, the
cells are in building. Who leads his own life? Who is master of
himself? What can you do but live according to your income in, I am
sure, a very charming little cell; buzz about your little world with
your cheerful, kindly song, helping these your fellow insects here,
doing day by day the useful offices apportioned to you by your
temperament and means, seeing the same faces, treading ever the same
narrow circle? Why do I write poetry? I am not to blame. I must
live. It is the only thing I can do. Why does one man live and die
upon the treeless rocks of Iceland, another labour in the vineyards
of the Apennines? Why does one woman make matches, ride in a van to
Epping Forest, drink gin, and change hats with her lover on the
homeward journey; another pant through a dinner-party and half a
dozen receptions every night from March to June, rush from country
house to fashionable Continental resort from July to February, dress
as she is instructed by her milliner, say the smart things that are
expected of her? Who would be a sweep or a chaperon, were all roads
free? Who is it succeeds in escaping the law of the hive? The
loafer, the tramp. On the other hand, who is the man we respect and
envy? The man who works for the community, the public-spirited man,
as we call him; the unselfish man, the man who labours for the
labour's sake and not for the profit, devoting his days and nights
to learning Nature's secrets, to acquiring knowledge useful to the
race. Is he not the happiest, the man who has conquered his own
sordid desires, who gives himself to the public good? The hive was
founded in dark days before man knew; it has been built according to
false laws. This man will have a cell bigger than any other cell;
all the other little men shall envy him; a thousand fellow-crawling
mites shall slave for him, wear out their lives in wretchedness for
him and him alone; all their honey they shall bring to him; he shall
gorge while they shall starve. Of what use? He has slept no
sounder in his foolishly fanciful cell. Sleep is to tired eyes, not
to silken coverlets. We dream in Seven Dials as in Park Lane. His
stomach, distend it as he will--it is very small--resents being
distended. The store of honey rots. The hive was conceived in the
dark days of ignorance, stupidity, brutality. A new hive shall
"I had no idea," said the Woman of the World, "you were a
"Nor had I," agreed the Minor Poet, "before I began talking."
"And next Wednesday," laughed the Woman of the World; "you will be
arguing in favour of individualism."
"Very likely," agreed the Minor Poet. "'The deep moans round with
"I'll take another cup of tea," said the Philosopher.
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