The Entire Short Works of George Meredith
Part 8 out of 9
see other portraits of her in the house. This is the most youthful of
them, if I except one representing a baby, and bearing her initials.'
I remembered having noticed a similarity of feature in some of the
portraits in the different rooms. My longing to look at them again was
like a sudden jet of flame within me. There was no chance of seeing them
till morning; so, promising myself to dream of the face before me,
I dozed through a conversation with my hostess, until I had got the
French lady's eyes and hair and general outline stamped accurately, as I
hoped, on my mind. I was no sooner on my way to bed than all had faded.
The torment of trying to conjure up that face was inconceivable. I lay,
and tossed, and turned to right and to left, and scattered my sleep;
but by and by my thoughts reverted to Mr. Pollingray, and then like
sympathetic ink held to the heat, I beheld her again; but vividly,
as she must have been when she was sitting to the artist. The hair was
naturally crisped, waving thrice over the forehead and brushed clean from
the temples, showing the small ears, and tied in a knot loosely behind.
Her eyebrows were thick and dark, but soft; flowing eyebrows; far
lovelier, to my thinking, than any pencilled arch. Dark eyes, and full,
not prominent. I find little expression of inward sentiment in very
prominent eyes. On the contrary they seem to have a fish-like dependency
of gaze on what is without, and show fishy depths, if any. For instance,
my eyes are rather prominent, and I am just the little fool--but the
French lady is my theme. Madame la Marquise, your eyes are sweeter to me
than celestial. I never saw such candour and unaffected innocence in
eyes before. Accept the compliment of the pauvre Anglaise. Did you do
mischief with them? Did Vidal's delicate sketch do justice to you? Your
lips and chin and your throat all repose in such girlish grace, that if
ever it is my good fortune to see you, you will not be aged to me!
I slept and dreamed of her.
In the morning, I felt certain that she had often said: 'Mon cher
Gilbert,' to Mr. Pollingray. Had he ever said: 'Ma chere Louise?' He
might have said: 'Ma bien aimee!' for it was a face to be loved.
My change of feeling towards him dates from that morning. He had
previously seemed to me a man so much older. I perceived in him now a
youthfulness beyond mere vigour of frame. I could not detach him from my
dreams of the night. He insists upon addressing me by the terms of our
'official' relationship, as if he made it a principle of our intercourse.
'Well, and is your godpapa to congratulate you on your having had a quiet
rest?' was his greeting.
I answered stupidly: 'Oh, yes, thank you,' and would have given worlds
for the courage to reply in French, but I distrusted my accent. At
breakfast, the opportunity or rather the excuse for an attempt, was
offered. His French valet, Francois, waits on him at breakfast. Mr.
Pollingray and his sister asked for things in the French tongue, and,
as if fearing some breach of civility, Mr. Pollingray asked me if I knew
Yes, I know it; that is, I understand it,' I stuttered. Allons, nous
parlerons francais,' said he. But I shook my head, and remained like a
I was induced towards the close of the meal to come out with a few French
words. I was utterly shamefaced. Mr. Pollingray has got the French
manner of protesting that one is all but perfect in one's speaking. I
know how absurd it must have sounded. But I felt his kindness, and in my
heart I thanked him humbly. I believe now that a residence in France
does not deteriorate an Englishman. Mr. Pollingray, when in his own
house, has the best qualities of the two countries. He is gay, and, yes,
while he makes a study of me, I am making a study of him. Which of us
two will know the other first? He was papa's college friend--papa's
junior, of course, and infinitely more papa's junior now. I observe that
weakness in him, I mean, his clinging to youthfulness, less and less; but
I do see it, I cannot be quite in error. The truth is, I begin to feel
that I cannot venture to mistrust my infallible judgement, or I shall
have no confidence in myself at all.
After breakfast, I was handed over to Miss Pollingray, with the
intimation that I should not see him till dinner.
'Gilbert is anxious to cultivate the society of his English neighbours,
now that he has, as he supposes, really settled among them,' she remarked
to me. 'At his time of life, the desire to be useful is almost a malady.
But, he cherishes the poor, and that is more than an occupation, it is a
Her speech has become occasionally French in the construction of the
'Mais oui,' I said shyly, and being alone with her, I was not rebuffed by
her smile, especially as she encouraged me on.
I am, she told me, to see a monde of French people here in September.
So, the story of me is to be completer, or continued in September.
I could not get Miss Pollingray to tell me distinctly whether Madame la
Marquise will be one of the guests. But I know that she is not a widow.
In that case, she has a husband. In that case, what is the story of her
relations towards Mr. Pollingray? There must be some story. He would
not surely have so many portraits of her about the house (and they travel
with him wherever he goes) if she were but a lovely face to him.
I cannot understand it. They were frequent, constant visitors to one
another's estates in France; always together. Perhaps a man of Mr.
Pollingray's age, or perhaps M. le Marquis--and here I lose myself.
French habits are so different from ours. One thing I am certain of:
no charge can be brought against my Englishman. I read perfect rectitude
in his face. I would cast anchor by him. He must have had a dreadful
Mama kept her promise by sending my riding habit and hat punctually, but
I had run far ahead of all the wishes I had formed when I left home, and
I half feared my ride out with Mr. Pollingray. That was before I had
received Charles's letter, letting me know the object of my invitation
here. I require at times a morbid pride to keep me up to the work. I
suppose I rode befittingly, for Mr. Pollingray praised my seat on
horseback. I know I can ride, or feel the 'blast of a horse like my own'
--as he calls it. Yet he never could have had a duller companion. My
conversation was all yes and no, as if it went on a pair of crutches like
a miserable cripple. I was humiliated and vexed. All the while I was
trying to lead up to the French lady, and I could not commence with a
single question. He appears to, have really cancelled the past in every
respect save his calling me his goddaughter. His talk was of the English
poor, and vegetation, and papa's goodness to his old dames in Ickleworth
parish, and defects in my education acknowledged by me, but not likely to
restore me in my depressed state. The ride was beautiful. We went the
length of a twelve-mile ridge between Ickleworth and Hillford, over high
commons, with immense views on both sides, and through beech-woods,
oakwoods, and furzy dells and downs spotted with juniper and yewtrees--
old picnic haunts of mine, but Mr. Pollingray's fresh delight in the
landscape made them seem new and strange. Home through the valley.
The next day Miss Pollingray joined us, wearing a feutre gris and green
plume, which looked exceedingly odd until you became accustomed to it.
Her hair has decided gray streaks, and that, and the Queen Elizabeth
nose, and the feutre gris!--but she is so kind, I could not even smile in
my heart. It is singular that Mr. Pollingray, who's but three years her
junior, should look at least twenty years younger--at the very least.
His moustache and beard are of the colour of a corn sheaf, and his blue
eyes shining over them remind me of summer. That describes him. He is
summer, and has not fallen into his autumn yet. Miss Pollingray helped
me to talk a little. She tried to check her brother's enthusiasm for our
scenery, and extolled the French paysage. He laughed at her, for when
they were in France it was she who used to say, 'There is nothing here
like England!' Miss Fool rode between them attentive to the jingling of
the bells in her cap: 'Yes' and 'No' at anybody's command, in and out of
Thank you, Charles, for your letter! I was beginning to think my
invitation to Dayton inexplicable, when that letter arrived. I cannot
but deem it an unworthy baseness to entrap a girl to study her without a
warning to her. I went up to my room after I had read it, and wrote in
reply till the breakfast-bell rang. I resumed my occupation an hour
later, and wrote till one o'clock. In all, fifteen pages of writing,
which I carefully folded and addressed to Charles; sealed the envelope,
stamped it, and destroyed it. I went to bed. 'No, I won't ride out to-
day, I have a headache!' I repeated this about half-a-dozen times to
nobody's knocking on the door, and when at last somebody knocked I tried
to repeat it once, but having the message that Mr. Pollingray
particularly wished to have my company in a ride, I rose submissively
and cried. This humiliation made my temper ferocious. Mr. Pollingray
observed my face, and put it down in his notebook. 'A savage
disposition,' or, no, 'An untamed little rebel'; for he has hopes of me.
He had the cruelty to say so.
'What I am, I shall remain,' said I.
He informed me that it was perfectly natural for me to think it; and on
my replying that persons ought to know themselves best: 'At my age,
perhaps,' he said, and added, 'I cannot speak very confidently of my
knowledge of myself.'
'Then you make us out to be nothing better than puppets, Mr. Pollingray.'
'If we have missed an early apprenticeship to the habit of self-command,
'Merci, mon parrain.'
He laughed. My French, I suppose.
I determined that, if he wanted to study me, I would help him.
'I can command myself when I choose, but it is only when I choose.'
This seemed to me quite a reasonable speech, until I found him looking
for something to follow, in explanation, and on coming to sift my
meaning, I saw that it was temper, and getting more angry, continued:
'The sort of young people who have such wonderful command of themselves
are not the pleasantest.'
'No,' he said; 'they disappoint us. We expect folly from the young.'
I shut my lips. Prince Leboo knew that he must go, and a good gallop
reconciled me to circumstances. Then I was put to jumping little furzes
and ditches, which one cannot pretend to do without a fair appearance of
gaiety; for, while you are running the risk of a tumble, you are
compelled to look cheerful and gay, at least, I am. To fall frowning
will never do. I had no fall. My gallant Leboo made my heart leap with
love of him, though mill-stones were tied to it. I may be vexed when I
begin, but I soon ride out a bad temper. And he is mine! I am certainly
inconstant to Charles, for I think of Leboo fifty times more. Besides,
there is no engagement as yet between Charles and me. I have first to be
approved worthy by Mr. and Miss Pollingray: two pairs of eyes and ears,
over which I see a solemnly downy owl sitting, conning their reports of
me. It is a very unkind ordeal to subject any inexperienced young woman
to. It was harshly conceived and it is being remorselessly executed.
I would complain more loudly--in shrieks--if I could say I was unhappy;
but every night I look out of my window before going to bed and see the
long falls of the infant river through the meadow, and the dark woods
seeming to enclose the house from harm: I dream of the old inhabitant,
his ancestors, and the numbers and numbers of springs when the
wildflowers have flourished in those woods and the nightingales have sung
there. And I feel there will never be a home to me like Dayton.
For twenty years of my life I have embraced the phantom of the fairest
woman that ever drew breath. I have submitted to her whims, I have
worshipped her feet, I have, I believe, strengthened her principle.
I have done all in my devotion but adopt her religious faith. And I
have, as I trusted some time since, awakened to perceive that those
twenty years were a period of mere sentimental pastime, perfectly
useless, fruitless, unless, as is possible, it has saved me from other
follies. But it was a folly in itself. Can one's nature be too
stedfast? The question whether a spice of frivolousness may not be a
safeguard has often risen before me. The truth, I must learn to think,
is, that my mental power is not the match for my ideal or sentimental
apprehension and native tenacity of attachment. I have fallen into one
of the pits of a well-meaning but idle man. The world discredits the
existence of pure platonism in love. I myself can barely look back on
those twenty years of amatory servility with a full comprehension of the
part I have been playing in them. And yet I would not willingly forfeit
the exalted admiration of Louise for my constancy: as little willingly as
I would have imperilled her purity. I cling to the past as to something
in which I have deserved well, though I am scarcely satisfied with it.
According to our English notions I know my name. English notions,
however, are not to be accepted in all matters, any more than the flat
declaration of a fact will develop it in alt its bearings. When our
English society shall have advanced to a high civilization, it will be
less expansive in denouncing the higher stupidities. Among us, much of
the social judgement of Bodge upon the relations of men to women is the
stereotyped opinion of the land. There is the dictum here for a man who
adores a woman who is possessed by a husband. If he has long adored her,
and known himself to be preferred by her in innocency of heart; if he has
solved the problem of being her bosom's lord, without basely seeking to
degrade her to being his mistress; the epithets to characterise him in
our vernacular will probably be all the less flattering. Politically we
are the most self-conscious people upon earth, and socially the frankest
animals. The terrorism of our social laws is eminently serviceable,
for without it such frank animals as we are might run into bad excesses.
I judge rather by the abstract evidence than by the examples our fair
matrons give to astounded foreigners when abroad.
Louise writes that her husband is paralysed. The Marquis de Mazardouin
is at last tasting of his mortality. I bear in mind the day when he
married her. She says that he has taken to priestly counsel, and, like
a woman, she praises him for that. It is the one thing which I have not
done to please her. She anticipates his decease. Should she be free--
what then? My heart does not beat the faster for the thought. There are
twenty years upon it, and they make a great load. But I have a desire
that she should come over to us. The old folly might rescue me from the
new one. Not that I am any further persecuted by the dread that I am in
imminent danger here. I have established a proper mastery over my young
lady. 'Nous avons change de role'. Alice is subdued; she laughs feebly,
is becoming conscious--a fact to be regretted, if I desired to check the
creature's growth. There is vast capacity in the girl. She has plainly
not centred her affections upon Charles, so that a man's conscience might
be at ease if--if he chose to disregard what is due to decency. But,
why, when I contest it, do I bow to the world's opinion concerning
disparity of years between husband and wife? I know innumerable cases of
an old husband making a young wife happy. My friend, Dr. Galliot,
married his ward, and he had the best wife of any man of my acquaintance.
She has been publishing his learned manuscripts ever since his death.
That is an extreme case, for he was forty-five years her senior, and
stood bald at the altar. Old General Althorpe married Julia Dahoop, and,
but for his preposterous jealousy of her, might be cited in proof that
the ordinary reckonings are not to be a yoke on the neck of one who
earnestly seeks to spouse a fitting mate, though late in life. But,
what are fifty years? They mark the prime of a healthy man's existence.
He has by that time seen the world, can decide, and settle, and is
virtually more eligible--to use the cant phrase of gossips--than a young
man, even for a young girl. And may not some fair and fresh reward be
justly claimed as the crown of a virtuous career?
I say all this, yet my real feeling is as if I were bald as Dr. Galliot
and jealous as General Althorpe. For, with my thorough knowledge of
myself, I, were I like either one of them, should not have offered myself
to the mercy of a young woman, or of the world. Nor, as I am and know
myself to be, would I offer myself to the mercy of Alice Amble. When my
filleule first drove into Dayton she had some singularly audacious ideas
of her own. Those vivid young feminine perceptions and untamed
imaginations are desperate things to encounter. There is nothing beyond
their reach. Our safety from them lies in the fact that they are always
seeing too much, and imagining too wildly; so that, with a little help
from us, they may be taught to distrust themselves; and when they have
once distrusted themselves, we need not afterwards fear them: their
supernatural vitality has vanished. I fancy my pretty Alice to be in
this state now. She leaves us to-morrow. In the autumn we shall have
her with us again, and Louise will scan her compassionately. I desire
that they should meet. It will be hardly fair to the English girl, but,
if I stand in the gap between them, I shall summon up no small quantity
of dormant compatriotic feeling. The contemplation of the contrast, too,
may save me from both: like the logic ass with the two trusses of hay on
either side of him.
I am at home. There was never anybody who felt so strange in her home.
It is not a month since I left my sisters, and I hardly remember that I
know them. They all, and even papa, appear to be thinking about such
petty things. They complain that I tell them nothing. What have I to
tell? My Prince! my own Leboo, if I might lie in the stall with you,
then I should feel thoroughly happy! That is, if I could fall asleep.
Evelina declares we are not eight miles from Dayton. It seems to me I
am eight millions of miles distant, and shall be all my life travelling
along a weary road to get there again just for one long sunny day. And
it might rain when I got there after all! My trouble nobody knows.
Nobody knows a thing!
The night before my departure, Miss Pollingray did me the honour to
accompany me up to my bedroom. She spoke to me searchingly about
Charles; but she did not demand compromising answers. She is not in
favour of early marriages, so she merely wishes to know the footing upon
which we stand: that of friends. I assured her we were simply friends.
'It is the firmest basis of an attachment,' she said; and I did not look
But I gained my end. I led her to talk of the beautiful Marquise. This
is the tale. Mr. Pollingray, when a very young man, and comparatively
poor, went over to France with good introductions, and there saw and fell
in love with Louise de Riverolles. She reciprocated his passion. If he
would have consented to abjure his religion and worship with her, Madame
de Riverolles, her mother, would have listened to her entreaties. But
Gilbert was firm. Mr. Pollingray, I mean, refused to abandon his faith.
Her mother, consequently, did not interfere, and Monsieur de Riverolles,
her father, gave her to the Marquis de Marzardouin, a roue young
nobleman, immensely rich, and shockingly dissipated. And she married
him. No, I cannot understand French girls. Do as I will, it is quite
incomprehensible to me how Louise, loving another, could suffer herself
to be decked out in bridal finery and go to the altar and take the
marriage oaths. Not if perdition had threatened would I have submitted.
I have a feeling that Mr. Pollingray should have shown at least one
year's resentment at such conduct; and yet I admire him for his immediate
generous forgiveness of her. It was fatherly. She was married at
sixteen. His forgiveness was the fruit of his few years' seniority,
said Miss Pollingray, whose opinion of the Marquise I cannot arrive at.
At any rate, they have been true and warm friends ever since, constantly
together interchangeing visits. That is why Mr. Pollingray has been more
French than English for those long years.
Miss Pollingray concluded by asking me what I thought of the story. I
said: 'It is very strange French habits are so different from ours. I
dare say . . . I hope . . , perhaps . . . indeed, Mr. Pollingray
seems happy now.' Her idea of my wits must be that they are of the
schoolgirl order--a perfect receptacle for indefinite impressions.
'Ah!' said she. 'Gilbert has burnt his heart to ashes by this time.'
I slept with that sentence in my brain. In the morning, I rose and
dressed, dreaming. As I was turning the handle of my door to go down to
breakfast, suddenly I swung round in a fit of tears. It was so piteous
to think that he should have waited by her twenty years in a slow
anguish, his heart burning out, without a reproach or a complaint. I saw
him, I still see him, like a martyr.
'Some people,' Miss Pollingray said, I permitted themselves to think evil
of my brother's assiduous devotion to a married woman. There is not a
spot on his character, or on that of the person whom Gilbert loved.'
I would believe it in the teeth of calumny. I would cling to my, belief
in him if I were drowning.
I consider that those twenty years are just nothing, if he chooses to
have them so. He has lived embalmed in a saintly affection. No wonder
he considers himself still youthful. He is entitled to feel that his
future is before him.
No amount of sponging would get the stains away from my horrid red
eyelids. I slunk into my seat at the breakfast-table, not knowing that
one of the maids had dropped a letter from Charles into my hand, and that
I had opened it and was holding it open. The letter, as I found
afterwards, told me that Charles has received an order from his uncle to
go over to Mr. Pollingray's estate in Dauphiny on business. I am not
sorry that they should have supposed I was silly enough to cry at the
thought of Charles's crossing the Channel. They did imagine it, I know;
for by and by Miss Pollingray whispered: 'Les absents n'auront pas tort,
cette fois, n'est-ce-pas? 'And Mr. Pollingray was cruelly gentle: an air
of 'I would not intrude on such emotions'; and I heightened their
delusions as much as I could: there was no other way of accounting for my
pantomime face. Why should he fancy I suffered so terribly? He talked
with an excited cheerfulness meant to relieve me, of course, but there
was no justification for his deeming me a love-sick kind of woe-begone
ballad girl. It caused him likewise to adopt a manner--what to call it,
I cannot think: tender respect, frigid regard, anything that accompanies
and belongs to the pressure of your hand with the finger-tips. He said
goodbye so tenderly that I would have kissed his sleeve. The effort to
restrain myself made me like an icicle. Oh! adieu, mon parrain!
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A wise man will not squander his laughter if he can help it
A woman is hurt if you do not confide to her your plans
Gentleman in a good state of preservation
Imparting the usual chorus of yesses to his own mind
In every difficulty, patience is a life-belt
Knew my friend to be one of the most absent-minded of men
Rapture of obliviousness
Telling her anything, she makes half a face in anticipation
When you have done laughing with her, you can laugh at her
AN UNFINISHED COMEDY
By George Meredith
ARDEN,............. In love with Astraea.
DAME DRESDEN,...... Sister to Homeware.
ASTRAEA,........... Niece to Dame Dresden and Homeware.
LYRA,.............. A Wife.
AN UNFINISHED COMEDY
The scene is a Surrey garden in early summer. The paths are shaded by
tall box-wood hedges. The--time is some sixty years ago.
PROFESSOR SPIRAL, DAME DRESDEN, LADY OLDLACE,
VIRGINIA, WINIFRED, SWITHIN, and OSIER
(As they slowly promenade the garden, the professor is delivering one of
his exquisite orations on Woman.)
SPIRAL: One husband! The woman consenting to marriage takes but one.
For her there is no widowhood. That punctuation of the sentence called
death is not the end of the chapter for her. It is the brilliant proof
of her having a soul. So she exalts her sex. Above the wrangle and
clamour of the passions she is a fixed star. After once recording her
obedience to the laws of our common nature--that is to say, by descending
once to wedlock--she passes on in sovereign disengagement--a dedicated
(By this time they have disappeared from view. HOMEWARE appears;
he craftily avoids joining their party, like one who is unworthy of
such noble oratory. He desires privacy and a book, but is disturbed
by the arrival of ARDEN, who is painfully anxious to be polite to
'her uncle Homeware.')
ARDEN: A glorious morning, sir.
HOMEWARE: The sun is out, sir.
ARDEN: I am happy in meeting you, Mr. Homeware.
HOMEWARE: I can direct you to the ladies, Mr. Arden. You will find them
up yonder avenue.
ARDEN: They are listening, I believe, to an oration from the mouth of
HOMEWARE: On an Alpine flower which has descended to flourish on English
soil. Professor Spiral calls it Nature's 'dedicated widow.'
ARDEN: 'Dedicated widow'?
HOMEWARE: The reference you will observe is to my niece Astraea.
ARDEN: She is dedicated to whom?
HOMEWARE: To her dead husband! You see the reverse of Astraea, says the
professor, in those world-infamous widows who marry again.
HOMEWARE: Astraea, it is decided, must remain solitary, virgin cold,
like the little Alpine flower. Professor Spiral has his theme.
ARDEN: He will make much of it. May I venture to say that I prefer my
HOMEWARE: It is a singular choice. I can supply you with no weapons for
the sort of stride in which young men are usually engaged. You belong to
the camp you are avoiding.
ARDEN: Achilles was not the worse warrior, sir, for his probation in
HOMEWARE: His deeds proclaim it. But Alexander was the better chieftain
until he drank with Lais.
ARDEN: No, I do not plead guilty to Bacchus.
HOMEWARE: You are confessing to the madder form of drunkenness.
ARDEN: How, sir, I beg?
HOMEWARE: How, when a young man sees the index to himself in everything
ARDEN: That might have the look. I did rightly in coming to you, sir.
HOMEWARE: 'Her uncle Homeware'?
ARDEN: You read through us all, sir.
HOMEWARE: It may interest you to learn that you are the third of the
gentlemen commissioned to consult the lady's uncle Homeware.
ARDEN: The third.
HOMEWARE: Yes, she is pursued. It could hardly be otherwise. Her
attractions are acknowledged, and the house is not a convent. Yet, Mr.
Arden, I must remind you that all of you are upon an enterprise held to
be profane by the laws of this region. Can you again forget that Astraea
is a widow?
ARDEN: She was a wife two months; she has been a widow two years.
HOMEWARE: The widow of the great and venerable Professor Towers is not
to measure her widowhood by years. His, from the altar to the tomb. As
it might be read, a one day's walk!
ARDEN: Is she, in the pride of her youth, to be sacrificed to a
whimsical feminine delicacy?
HOMEWARE: You have argued it with her?
ARDEN: I have presumed.
HOMEWARE: And still she refused her hand!
ARDEN: She commended me to you, sir. She has a sound judgement of
HOMEWARE: I should put it that she passes the Commissioners of Lunacy,
on the ground of her being a humorous damsel. Your predecessors had also
argued it with her; and they, too, discovered their enemy in a whimsical
feminine delicacy. Where is the difference between you? Evidently she
cannot perceive it, and I have to seek: You will have had many
conversations with Astraea?
ARDEN: I can say, that I am thrice the man I was before I had them.
HOMEWARE: You have gained in manhood from conversations with a widow in
her twenty-second year; and you want more of her.
ARDEN: As much as I want more wisdom.
HOMEWARE: You would call her your Muse?
ARDEN: So prosaic a creature as I would not dare to call her that.
HOMEWARE: You have the timely mantle of modesty, Mr. Arden. She has
prepared you for some of the tests with her uncle Homeware.
ARDEN: She warned me to be myself, without a spice of affectation.
HOMEWARE: No harder task could be set a young man in modern days. Oh,
the humorous damsel. You sketch me the dimple at her mouth.
ARDEN: Frankly, sir, I wish you to know me better; and I think I can
bear inspection. Astraea sent me to hear the reasons why she refuses me
HOMEWARE: Her reason, I repeat, is this; to her idea, a second wedlock
is unholy. Further, it passes me to explain. The young lady lands us
where we were at the beginning; such must have been her humorous
ARDEN: What can I do?
HOMEWARE: Love and war have been compared. Both require strategy and
tactics, according to my recollection of the campaign.
ARDEN: I will take to heart what you say, sir.
HOMEWARE: Take it to head. There must be occasional descent of lovers'
heads from the clouds. And Professor Spiral,--But here we have a belated
breeze of skirts.
(The reference is to the arrival of LYRA, breathless.)
HOMEWARE, ARDEN, LYRA
LYRA: My own dear uncle Homeware!
HOMEWARE: But where is Pluriel?
LYRA: Where is a woman's husband when she is away from him?
HOMEWARE: In Purgatory, by the proper reckoning. But hurry up the
avenue, or you will be late for Professor Spiral's address.
LYRA: I know it all without hearing. Their Spiral! Ah, Mr. Arden! You
have not chosen badly. The greater my experience, the more do I value my
uncle Homeware's company.
(She is affectionate to excess but has a roguish eye withal, as of
one who knows that uncle Homeware suspects all young men and most
HOMEWARE: Agree with the lady promptly, my friend.
ARDEN: I would gladly boast of so lengthened an experience, Lady
LYRA: I must have a talk with Astraea, my dear uncle. Her letters breed
suspicions. She writes feverishly. The last one hints at service on the
West Coast of Africa.
HOMEWARE: For the draining of a pestiferous land, or an enlightenment of
the benighted black, we could not despatch a missionary more effective
than the handsomest widow in Great Britain.
LYRA: Have you not seen signs of disturbance?
HOMEWARE: A great oration may be a sedative.
LYRA: I have my suspicions.
HOMEWARE: Mr. Arden, I could counsel you to throw yourself at Lady
Pluriel's feet, and institute her as your confessional priest.
ARDEN: Madam, I am at your feet. I am devoted to the lady.
LYRA: Devoted. There cannot be an objection. It signifies that a man
asks for nothing in return!
HOMEWARE: Have a thought upon your words with this lady, Mr. Arden!
ARDEN: Devoted, I said. I am. I would give my life for her.
LYRA: Expecting it to be taken to-morrow or next day? Accept my
encomiums. A male devotee is within an inch of a miracle. Women had
been looking for this model for ages, uncle.
HOMEWARE: You are the model, Mr Arden!
LYRA: Can you have intended to say that it is in view of marriage you
are devoted to the widow of Professor Towers?
ARDEN: My one view.
LYRA: It is a star you are beseeching to descend.
ARDEN: It is.
LYRA: You disappoint me hugely. You are of the ordinary tribe after
all; and your devotion craves an enormous exchange, infinitely surpassing
the amount you bestow.
ARDEN: It does. She is rich in gifts; I am poor. But I give all I
LYRA: These lovers, uncle Homeware!
HOMEWARE: A honey-bag is hung up and we have them about us. They would
persuade us that the chief business of the world is a march to the altar.
ARDEN: With the right partner, if the business of the world is to be
LYRA: Which right partner has been chosen on her part, by a veiled
woman, who marches back from the altar to discover that she has chained
herself to the skeleton of an idea, or is in charge of that devouring
tyrant, an uxorious husband. Is Mr. Arden in favour with the Dame,
HOMEWARE: My sister is an unsuspicious potentate, as you know.
Pretenders to the hand of an inviolate widow bite like waves at a rock.
LYRA: Professor Spiral advances rapidly.
HOMEWARE: Not, it would appear, when he has his audience of ladies and
LYRA: I am sure I hear a spring-tide of enthusiasm coming.
ARDEN: I will see.
(He goes up the path.)
LYRA: Now! my own dear uncle, save me from Pluriel. I have given him
the slip in sheer desperation; but the man is at his shrewdest when he is
left to guess at my heels. Tell him I am anywhere but here. Tell him I
ran away to get a sense of freshness in seeing him again. Let me have
one day of liberty, or, upon my word, I shall do deeds; I shall console
young Arden: I shall fly to Paris and set my cap at presidents and
foreign princes. Anything rather than be eaten up every minute, as I am.
May no woman of my acquaintance marry a man of twenty years her senior!
She marries a gigantic limpet. At that period of his life a man becomes
too voraciously constant.
HOMEWARE: Cupid clipped of wing is a destructive parasite.
LYRA: I am in dead earnest, uncle, and I will have a respite, or else
let decorum beware!
ARDEN: The ladies are on their way.
LYRA: I must get Astraea to myself.
HOMEWARE: My library is a virgin fortress, Mr. Arden. Its gates are
open to you on other topics than the coupling of inebriates.
(He enters the house--LYRA disappears in the garden--Spiral's
audience reappear without him.)
DAME DRESDEN, LADY OLDLACE, VIRGINIA, WINIFRED,
ARDEN, SWITHIN, OSIER
LADY OLDLACE: Such perfect rhythm!
WINIFRED: Such oratory!
LADY OLDLACE: A master hand. I was in a trance from the first sentence
to the impressive close.
OSIER: Such oratory is a whole orchestral symphony.
VIRGINIA: Such command of intonation and subject!
SWITHIN: That resonant voice!
LADY OLDLACE: Swithin, his flow of eloquence! He launched forth!
SWITHIN: Like an eagle from a cliff.
OSIER: The measure of the words was like a beat of wings.
SWITHIN: He makes poets of us.
DAME DRESDEN: Spiral achieved his pinnacle to-day!
VIRGINIA: How treacherous is our memory when we have most the longing to
recall great sayings!
OSIER: True, I conceive that my notes will be precious.
WINIFRED: You could take notes!
LADY OLDLACE: It seems a device for missing the quintessential.
SWITHIN: Scraps of the body to the loss of the soul of it. We can allow
that our friend performed good menial service.
WINIFRED: I could not have done the thing.
SWITHIN: In truth; it does remind one of the mess of pottage.
LADY OLDLACE: One hardly felt one breathed.
VIRGINIA: I confess it moved me to tears.
SWITHIN: There is a pathos for us in the display of perfection. Such
subtle contrast with our individual poverty affects us.
WINIFRED: Surely there were passages of a distinct and most exquisite
LADY OLDLACE: As in all great oratory! The key of it is the pathos.
VIRGINIA: In great oratory, great poetry, great fiction; you try it by
the pathos. All our critics agree in stipulating for the pathos. My
tears were no feminine weakness, I could not be a discordant instrument.
SWITHIN: I must make confession. He played on me too.
OSIER: We shall be sensible for long of that vibration from the touch of
a master hand.
ARDEN: An accomplished player can make a toy-shop fiddle sound you a
DAME DRESDEN: Have you a right to a remark, Mr. Arden? What could have
ARDEN: Ah, Dame. It may have been a warning that I am a discordant
instrument. I do not readily vibrate.
DAME DRESDEN: A discordant instrument is out of place in any civil
society. You have lost what cannot be recovered.
ARDEN: There are the notes.
OSIER: Yes, the notes.
SWITHIN: You can be satisfied with the dog's feast at the table, Mr.
VIRGINIA: Never have I seen Astraea look sublimer in her beauty than
with her eyes uplifted to the impassioned speaker, reflecting every
variation of his tones.
LADY OLDLACE: She was entranced when he spoke of woman descending from
her ideal to the gross reality of man.
OSIER: Yes, yes. I have the words [reads]: 'Woman is to the front of
man, holding the vestal flower of a purer civilization. I see,' he says.
'the little taper in her hands transparent round the light, against rough
DAME DRESDEN: And of Astraea herself, what were the words? 'Nature's
SWITHIN: Vestal widow, was it not?
VIRGINIA: Maiden widow, I think.
DAME DRESDEN: We decide for 'dedicated.'
WINIFRED: Spiral paid his most happy tribute to the memory of her late
husband, the renowned Professor Towers.
VIRGINIA: But his look was at dear Astraea.
ARDEN: At Astraea? Why?
VIRGINIA: For her sanction doubtless.
WINIFRED: He said his pride would ever be in his being received as the
successor of Professor Towers.
SWITHIN: Guardian was it not?
OSIER: Tutor. I think he said.
(The three gentlemen consult Osier's notes uneasily.)
DAME DRESDEN: Our professor must by this time have received in full
Astraea's congratulations, and Lyra is hearing from her what it is to be
too late. You will join us at the luncheon table, if you do not feel
yourself a discordant instrument there, Mr. Arden?
ARDEN (going to her): The allusion to knife and fork tunes my strings
DAME DRESDEN: You must help me to-day, for the professor will be tired,
though we dare not hint at it in his presence. No reference, ladies, to
the great speech we have been privileged to hear; we have expressed our
appreciation and he could hardly bear it.
ARDEN: Nothing is more distasteful to the orator!
VIRGINIA: As with every true genius, he is driven to feel humbly human
by the exultation of him.
SWITHIN: He breathes in a rarified air.
OSIER: I was thrilled, I caught at passing beauties. I see that here
and there I have jotted down incoherencies, lines have seduced me, so
that I missed the sequence--the precious part. Ladies, permit me to rank
him with Plato as to the equality of women and men.
WINIFRED: It is nobly said.
OSIER: And with the Stoics, in regard to celibacy.
(By this time all the ladies have gone into the house.)
ARDEN: Successor! Was the word successor?
(ARDEN, SWITHIN, and OSIER are excitedly searching the notes when
SPIRAL passes and strolls into the house. His air of self-
satisfaction increases their uneasiness they follow him. ASTRAEA
and LYRA come down the path.)
LYRA: Oh! Pluriel, ask me of him! I wish I were less sure he would not
be at the next corner I turn.
ASTRAEA: You speak of your husband strangely, Lyra.
LYRA: My head is out of a sack. I managed my escape from him this
morning by renouncing bath and breakfast; and what a relief, to be in the
railway carriage alone! that is, when the engine snorted. And if I set
eyes on him within a week, he will hear some truths. His idea of
marriage is, the taking of the woman into custody. My hat is on, and on
goes Pluriel's. My foot on the stairs; I hear his boot behind me. In my
boudoir I am alone one minute, and then the door opens to the inevitable.
I pay a visit, he is passing the house as I leave it. He will not even
affect surprise. I belong to him, I am cat's mouse. And he will look
doating on me in public. And when I speak to anybody, he is that fearful
picture of all smirks. Fling off a kid glove after a round of calls;
feel your hand--there you have me now that I am out of him for my half a
day, if for as long.
ASTRAEA: This is one of the world's happy marriages!
LYRA: This is one of the world's choice dishes! And I have it planted
under my nostrils eternally. Spare me the mention of Pluriel until he
appears; that's too certain this very day. Oh! good husband! good kind
of man! whatever you please; only some peace, I do pray, for the husband-
haunted wife. I like him, I like him, of course, but I want to breathe.
Why, an English boy perpetually bowled by a Christmas pudding would come
to loathe the mess.
ASTRAEA: His is surely the excess of a merit.
LYRA: Excess is a poison. Excess of a merit is a capital offence in
morality. It disgusts, us with virtue. And you are the cunningest of
fencers, tongue, or foils. You lead me to talk of myself, and I hate the
subject. By the way, you have practised with Mr. Arden.
ASTRAEA: A tiresome instructor, who lets you pass his guard to
compliment you on a hit.
LYRA: He rather wins me.
ASTRAEA: He does at first.
LYRA: Begins Plurielizing, without the law to back him, does he?
ASTRAEA: The fencing lessons are at an end.
LYRA: The duetts with Mr. Swithin's violoncello continue?
ASTRAEA: He broke through the melody.
LYRA: There were readings in poetry with Mr. Osier, I recollect.
ASTRAEA: His own compositions became obtrusive.
LYRA: No fencing, no music, no poetry! no West Coast of Africa either,
ASTRAEA: Very well! I am on my defence. You at least shall not
misunderstand me, Lyra. One intense regret I have; that I did not live
in the time of the Amazons. They were free from this question of
marriage; this babble of love. Why am I so persecuted? He will not take
a refusal. There are sacred reasons. I am supported by every woman
having the sense of her dignity. I am perverted, burlesqued by the fury
of wrath I feel at their incessant pursuit. And I despise Mr. Osier and
Mr. Swithin because they have an air of pious agreement with the Dame,
and are conspirators behind their mask.
LYRA: False, false men!
ASTRAEA: They come to me. I am complimented on being the vulnerable
LYRA: The object desired is usually addressed by suitors, my poor
ASTRAEA: With the assumption, that as I am feminine I must necessarily
be in the folds of the horrible constrictor they call Love, and that I
leap to the thoughts of their debasing marriage.
LYRA: One of them goes to Mr. Homeware.
ASTRAEA: All are sent to him in turn. He can dispose of them.
LYRA: Now that is really masterly fun, my dear; most creditable to you!
Love, marriage, a troop of suitors, and uncle Homeware. No, it would not
have occurred to me, and--I am considered to have some humour. Of
course, he disposes of them. He seemed to have a fairly favourable
opinion of Mr. Arden.
ASTRAEA: I do not share it. He is the least respectful of the
sentiments entertained by me. Pray, spare me the mention of him, as you
say of your husband. He has that pitiful conceit in men, which sets them
thinking that a woman must needs be susceptible to the declaration of the
mere existence of their passion. He is past argument. Impossible for
him to conceive a woman's having a mind above the conditions of her sex.
A woman, according to him, can have no ideal of life, except as a ball to
toss in the air and catch in a cup. Put him aside. . . . We creatures
are doomed to marriage, and if we shun it, we are a kind of cripple.
He is grossly earthy in his view of us. We are unable to move a step
in thought or act unless we submit to have a husband. That is his
reasoning. Nature! Nature! I have to hear of Nature! We must be above
Nature, I tell him, or, we shall be very much below. He is ranked among
our clever young men; and he can be amusing. So far he passes muster;
and he has a pleasant voice. I dare say he is an uncle Homeware's good
sort of boy. Girls like him. Why does he not fix his attention upon one
of them; Why upon me? We waste our time in talking of him . . . .
The secret of it is, that he has no reverence. The marriage he vaunts is
a mere convenient arrangement for two to live together under command of
nature. Reverence for the state of marriage is unknown to him. How
explain my feeling? I am driven into silence. Cease to speak of him
. . . . He is the dupe of his eloquence--his passion, he calls it.
I have only to trust myself to him, and--I shall be one of the world's
married women! Words are useless. How am I to make him see that it is
I who respect the state of marriage by refusing; not he by perpetually
soliciting. Once married, married for ever. Widow is but a term. When
women hold their own against him, as I have done, they will be more
esteemed. I have resisted and conquered. I am sorry I do not share in
the opinion of your favourite.
ASTRAEA: You spoke warmly of him.
LYRA: Warmly, was it?
ASTRAEA: You are not blamed, my dear: he has a winning manner.
LYRA: I take him to be a manly young fellow, smart enough; handsome too.
ASTRAEA: Oh, he has good looks.
LYRA: And a head, by repute.
ASTRAEA: For the world's work, yes.
LYRA: Not romantic.
ASTRAEA: Romantic ideas are for dreamy simperers.
LYRA: Amazons repudiate them.
ASTRAEA: Laugh at me. Half my time I am laughing at myself. I should
regain my pride if I could be resolved on a step. I am strong to resist;
I have not strength to move.
LYRA: I see the sphinx of Egypt!
ASTRAEA: And all the while I am a manufactory of gunpowder in this quiet
old-world Sabbath circle of dear good souls, with their stereotyped
interjections, and orchestra of enthusiasms; their tapering delicacies:
the rejoicing they have in their common agreement on all created things.
To them it is restful. It spurs me to fly from rooms and chairs and beds
and houses. I sleep hardly a couple of hours. Then into the early
morning air, out with the birds; I know no other pleasure.
LYRA: Hospital work for a variation: civil or military. The former
involves the house-surgeon: the latter the grateful lieutenant.
ASTRAEA: Not if a woman can resist . . . I go to it proof-armoured.
LYRA: What does the Dame say?
ASTRAEA: Sighs over me! Just a little maddening to hear.
LYRA: When we feel we have the strength of giants, and are bidden to sit
and smile! You should rap out some of our old sweet-innocent garden
oaths with her--'Carnation! Dame!' That used to make her dance on her
seat.--'But, dearest Dame, it is as natural an impulse for women to have
that relief as for men; and natural will out, begonia! it will!' We ran
through the book of Botany for devilish objurgations. I do believe our
misconduct caused us to be handed to the good man at the altar as the
right corrective. And you were the worst offender.
ASTRAEA: Was I? I could be now, though I am so changed a creature.
LYRA: You enjoy the studies with your Spiral, come!
ASTRAEA: Professor Spiral is the one honest gentleman here. He does
homage to my principles. I have never been troubled by him: no silly
hints or side-looks--you know, the dog at the forbidden bone.
LYRA: A grand orator.
ASTRAEA: He is. You fix on the smallest of his gifts. He is
intellectually and morally superior.
LYRA: Praise of that kind makes me rather incline to prefer his
inferiors. He fed gobble-gobble on your puffs of incense. I coughed
and scraped the gravel; quite in vain; he tapped for more and more.
ASTRAEA: Professor Spiral is a thinker; he is a sage. He gives women
LYRA: And he is a bachelor too--or consequently.
ASTRAEA: If you like you may be as playful with me as the Lyra of our
maiden days used to be. My dear, my dear, how glad I am to have you
here! You remind me that I once had a heart. It will beat again with
you beside me, and I shall look to you for protection. A novel request
from me. From annoyance, I mean. It has entirely altered my character.
Sometimes I am afraid to think of what I was, lest I should suddenly
romp, and perform pirouettes and cry 'Carnation!' There is the bell.
We must not be late when the professor condescends to sit for meals.
LYRA: That rings healthily in the professor.
ASTRAEA: Arm in arm, my Lyra.
LYRA: No Pluriel yet!
(They enter the house, and the time changes to evening of the same
day. The scene is still the garden.)
ASTRAEA: Pardon me if I do not hear you well.
ARDEN: I will not even think you barbarous.
ASTRAEA: I am. I am the object of the chase.
ARDEN: The huntsman draws the wood, then, and not you.
At any instant I am forced to run,
Or turn in my defence: how can I be
Other than barbarous? You are the cause.
ARDEN: No: heaven that made you beautiful's the cause.
Say, earth, that gave you instincts. Bring me down
To instincts! When by chance I speak awhile
With our professor, you appear in haste,
Full cry to sight again the missing hare.
Away ideas! All that's divinest flies!
I have to bear in mind how young you are.
You have only to look up to me four years,
Instead of forty!
There's my misfortune!
And worse that, young, I love as a young man.
Could I but quench the fire, I might conceal
The youthfulness offending you so much.
ASTRAEA: I wish you would. I wish it earnestly.
ARDEN: Impossible. I burn.
ASTRAEA: You should not burn.
'Tis more than I. 'Tis fire. It masters will.
You would not say I should not' if you knew fire.
It seizes. It devours.
ASTRAEA: Dry wood.
How cold you can be! But be cold, for sweet
You must be. And your eyes are mine: with them
I see myself: unworthy to usurp
The place I hold a moment. While I look
I have my happiness.
ASTRAEA: You should look higher.
Through you to the highest. Only through you!
The mark I may attain is visible,
And I have strength to dream of winning it.
You are the bow that speeds the arrow: you
The glass that brings the distance nigh. My world
Is luminous through you, pure heavenly,
But hangs upon the rose's outer leaf,
Not next her heart. Astraea! my own beloved!
ASTRAEA: We may be excellent friends. And I have faults.
ARDEN: Name them: I am hungering for more to love.
I waver very constantly: I have
No fixity of feeling or of sight.
I have no courage: I can often dream
Of daring: when I wake I am in dread.
I am inconstant as a butterfly,
And shallow as a brook with little fish!
Strange little fish, that tempt the small boy's net,
But at a touch straight dive! I am any one's,
And no one's! I am vain.
Praise of my beauty lodges in my ears.
The lark reels up with it; the nightingale
Sobs bleeding; the flowers nod; I could believe
A poet, though he praised me to my face.
Never had poet so divine a fount
To drink of!
Have I given you more to love
More! You have given me your inner mind,
Where conscience in the robes of Justice shoots
Light so serenely keen that in such light
Fair infants, I newly criminal of earth,'
As your friend Osier says, might show some blot.
Seraphs might! More to love? Oh! these dear faults
Lead you to me like troops of laughing girls
With garlands. All the fear is, that you trifle,
For what purpose?
Can I guess?
I think 'tis you who have the trifler's note.
My hearing is acute, and when you speak,
Two voices ring, though you speak fervidly.
Your Osier quotation jars. Beware!
Why were you absent from our meeting-place
I was on the way, and met
Your uncle Homeware
ARDEN: He loves you.
He loves me: he has never understood.
He loves me as a creature of the flock;
A little whiter than some others.
Yes; He loves me, as men love; not to uplift;
Not to have faith in; not to spiritualize.
For him I am a woman and a widow
One of the flock, unmarked save by a brand.
He said it!--You confess it! You have learnt
To share his error, erring fatally.
ARDEN: By whose advice went I to him?
Pursuit that seemed incessant: persecution.
Besides, I have changed since then: I change; I change;
It is too true I change. I could esteem
You better did you change. And had you heard
The noble words this morning from the mouth
Of our professor, changed were you, or raised
Above love-thoughts, love-talk, and flame and flutter,
High as eternal snows. What said he else,
My uncle Homeware?
That you were not free:
And that he counselled us to use our wits.
But I am free I free to be ever free!
My freedom keeps me free! He counselled us?
I am not one in a conspiracy.
I scheme no discord with my present life.
Who does, I cannot look on as my friend.
Not free? You know me little. Were I chained,
For liberty I would sell liberty
To him who helped me to an hour's release.
But having perfect freedom . . .
You check me?
ARDEN: Perfect freedom?
ASTRAEA: Am I awake? What blinds me?
The slenderest ever woven about a brain
From the brain's mists, by the little sprite called
A breath would scatter them; but that one breath
Must come of animation. When the heart
Is as, a frozen sea the brain spins webs.
'Tis very singular!
You translate cleverly. I hear in verse
My uncle Homeware's prose. He has these notions.
Old men presume to read us.
Young men may.
You gaze on an ideal reflecting you
Need I say beautiful? Yet it reflects
Less beauty than the lady whom I love
Breathes, radiates. Look on yourself in me.
What harm in gazing? You are this flower
You are that spirit. But the spirit fed
With substance of the flower takes all its bloom!
And where in spirits is the bloom of the flower?
'Tis very singular. You have a tone
You wished a change. To show you, how
I read you . . .
Oh! no, no. It means dissection.
I never heard of reading character
That did not mean dissection. Spare me that.
I am wilful, violent, capricious, weak,
Wound in a web of my own spinning-wheel,
A star-gazer, a riband in the wind . . .
A banner in the wind! and me you lead,
And shall! At least, I follow till I win.
Forbear, I do beseech you.
I have had
Your hand in mine.
Once! 'twas; once, was the heart alive,
Leaping to break the ice. Oh! once, was aye
That laughed at frosty May like spring's return.
Say you are terrorized: you dare not melt.
You like me; you might love me; but to dare,
Tasks more than courage. Veneration, friends,
Self-worship, which is often self-distrust,
Bar the good way to you, and make a dream
A fortress and a prison.
Changed! you have changed
Indeed. When you so boldly seized my hand
It seemed a boyish freak, done boyishly.
I wondered at Professor Spiral's choice
Of you for an example, and our hope.
Now you grow dangerous. You must have thought,
And some things true you speak-save 'terrorized.'
It may be flattering to sweet self-love
To deem me terrorized.--'Tis my own soul,
My heart, my mind, all that I hold most sacred,
Not fear of others, bids me walk aloof.
Who terrorizes me? Who could? Friends? Never!
The world? as little. Terrorized!
I might reply, Respect me. If I loved,
If I could be so faithless as to love,
Think you I would not rather noise abroad
My shame for penitence than let friends dwell
Deluded by an image of one vowed
To superhuman, who the common mock
Of things too human has at heart become.
You would declare your love?
I said, my shame.
The woman that's the widow is ensnared,
Caught in the toils! away with widows!--Oh!
I hear men shouting it.
But shame there's none
For me in loving: therefore I may take
Your friends to witness? tell them that my pride
Is in the love of you?
'Twill soon bring
The silence that should be between us two,
And sooner give me peace.
And you consent?
For the sake of peace and silence I consent,
You should be warned that you will cruelly
Disturb them. But 'tis best. You should be warned
Your pleading will be hopeless. But 'tis best.
You have my full consent. Weigh well your acts,
You cannot rest where you have cast this bolt
Lay that to heart, and you are cherished, prized,
Among them: they are estimable ladies,
Warmest of friends; though you may think they soar
Too loftily for your measure of strict sense
(And as my uncle Homeware's pupil, sir,
In worldliness, you do), just minds they have:
Once know them, and your banishment will fret.
I would not run such risks. You will offend,
Go near to outrage them; and perturbate
As they have not deserved of you. But I,
Considering I am nothing in the scales
You balance, quite and of necessity
Consent. When you have weighed it, let me hear.
My uncle Homeware steps this way in haste.
We have been talking long, and in full view !
ASTRAEA, ARDEN, HOMEWARE
Astraea, child! You, Arden, stand aside.
Ay, if she were a maid you might speak first,
But being a widow she must find her tongue.
Astraea, they await you. State the fact
As soon as you are questioned, fearlessly.
Open the battle with artillery.
What is the matter, uncle Homeware?
HOMEWARE (playing fox):
Why, we have watched your nice preliminaries
From the windows half the evening. Now run in.
Their patience has run out, and, as I said,
Unlimber and deliver fire at once.
Your aunts Virginia and Winifred,
With Lady Oldlace, are the senators,
The Dame for Dogs. They wear terrific brows,
But be not you affrighted, my sweet chick,
And tell them uncle Homeware backs your choice,
By lawyer and by priests! by altar, fount,
My choice! what have I chosen?
She asks? You hear her, Arden?--what and whom!
Surely, sir! . . . heavens! have you . . .
Surely the old fox,
In all I have read, is wiser than the young:
And if there is a game for fox to play,
Old fox plays cunningest.
Why fox? Oh! uncle,
You make my heart beat with your mystery;
I never did love riddles. Why sit they
Awaiting me, and looking terrible?
It is reported of an ancient folk
Which worshipped idols, that upon a day
Their idol pitched before them on the floor
Was ever so ridiculous a tale!
To call the attendant fires to account
Their elders forthwith sat . . .
Is there no prayer
Will move you, uncle Homeware?
This gentleman for you I have proposed
Arden! we are lost.
Support him! Though I knew not his design,
It plants me in mid-heaven. Would it were
Not you, but I to bear the shock. My love!
We lost, you cry; you join me with you lost!
The truth leaps from your heart: and let it shine
To light us on our brilliant battle day
Who betrayed me!
Your voice, your eyes, your veil, your knife and fork;
Your tenfold worship of your widowhood;
As he who sees he must yield up the flag,
Hugs it oath-swearingly! straw-drowningly.
To be reasonable: you sent this gentleman
Referring him to me . . . .
And that is false.
All's false. You have conspired. I am disgraced.
But you will learn you have judged erroneously.
I am not the frail creature you conceive.
Between your vision of life's aim, and theirs
Who presently will question me, I cling
To theirs as light: and yours I deem a den
Where souls can have no growth.
But when we touched
The point of hand-pressings, 'twas rightly time
To think of wedding ties?
(She rushes into house.)
Adieu! she said. With her that word is final.
Strange! how young people blowing words like clouds
On winds, now fair, now foul, and as they please
Should still attach the Fates to them.
Wounded to the quick!
The quicker our success: for short
Of that, these dames, who feel for everything,
Your intention has been kind,
Dear sir, but you have ruined me.
Yet she said, we are lost, in her surprise.
Good morning. (Returning.)
I suppose that I am bound
(If I could see for what I should be glad!)
To thank you, sir.
Look hard but give no thanks.
I found my girl descending on the road
Of breakneck coquetry, and barred her way.
Either she leaps the bar, or she must back.
That means she marries you, or says good-bye.
Now she's among them. (Looking at window.)
Now she sees her mind.
It is my destiny she now decides!
There's now suspense on earth and round the spheres.
She's mine now: mine! or I am doomed to go.
The marriage ring, or the portmanteau now!
Laugh as you like, air! I am not ashamed
To love and own it.
So the symptoms show.
Rightly, young man, and proving a good breed.
To further it's a duty to mankind
And I have lent my push, But recollect:
Old Ilion was not conquered in a day.
(He enters house.)
Ten years! If I may win her at the end!
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A great oration may be a sedative
A male devotee is within an inch of a miracle
Above Nature, I tell him, or, we shall be very much below
As in all great oratory! The key of it is the pathos
Back from the altar to discover that she has chained herself
Cupid clipped of wing is a destructive parasite
Excess of a merit is a capital offence in morality
His idea of marriage is, the taking of the woman into custody
I am a discordant instrument I do not readily vibrate
I like him, I like him, of course, but I want to breathe
I who respect the state of marriage by refusing
Love and war have been compared--Both require strategy
Peace, I do pray, for the husband-haunted wife
Period of his life a man becomes too voraciously constant
Pitiful conceit in men
Rejoicing they have in their common agreement
Self-worship, which is often self-distrust
Suspects all young men and most young women
Their idol pitched before them on the floor
Were I chained, For liberty I would sell liberty
Woman descending from her ideal to the gross reality of man
Your devotion craves an enormous exchange
By George Meredith
INTRODUCTION TO W. M. THACKERAY'S "THE FOUR GEORGES"
A PAUSE IN THE STRIFE.
CONCESSION TO THE CELT.
LETTERS WRITTEN TO THE 'MORNING POST' FROM THE SEAT OF WAR IN ITALY.
INTRODUCTION TO W. M. THACKERAY'S "THE FOUR GEORGES"
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY was born at Calcutta, July 18, 1811, the only
child of Richmond and Anne Thackeray. He received the main part of his
education at the Charterhouse, as we know to our profit. Thence he
passed to Cambridge, remaining there from February 1829 to sometime in
1830. To judge by quotations and allusions, his favourite of the
classics was Horace, the chosen of the eighteenth century, and generally
the voice of its philosophy in a prosperous country. His voyage from
India gave him sight of Napoleon on the rocky island. In his young
manhood he made his bow reverentially to Goethe of Weimar; which did not
check his hand from setting its mark on the sickliness of Werther.
He was built of an extremely impressionable nature and a commanding good
sense. He was in addition a calm observer, having 'the harvest of a
quiet eye.' Of this combination with the flood of subjects brought up to
judgement in his mind, came the prevalent humour, the enforced
disposition to satire, the singular critical drollery, notable in his
works. His parodies, even those pushed to burlesque, are an expression
of criticism and are more effective than the serious method, while they
rarely overstep the line of justness. The Novels by Eminent Hands do not
pervert the originals they exaggerate. 'Sieyes an abbe, now a ferocious
lifeguardsman,' stretches the face of the rollicking Irish novelist
without disfeaturing him; and the mysterious visitor to the palatial
mansion in Holywell Street indicates possibilities in the Oriental
imagination of the eminent statesman who stooped to conquer fact through
fiction. Thackeray's attitude in his great novels is that of the
composedly urbane lecturer, on a level with a select audience, assured of
interesting, above requirements to excite. The slow movement of the
narrative has a grace of style to charm like the dance of the Minuet de
la Cour: it is the limpidity of Addison flavoured with salt of a racy
vernacular; and such is the veri-similitude and the dialogue that they
might seem to be heard from the mouths of living speakers. When in this
way the characters of Vanity Fair had come to growth, their author was
rightly appreciated as one of the creators in our literature, he took at
once the place he will retain. With this great book and with Esmond and
The Newcomes, he gave a name eminent, singular, and beloved to English
Charges of cynicism are common against all satirists, Thackeray had to
bear with them. The social world he looked at did not show him heroes,
only here and there a plain good soul to whom he was affectionate in the
unhysterical way of an English father patting a son on the head. He
described his world as an accurate observer saw it, he could not be
dishonest. Not a page of his books reveals malevolence or a sneer at
humanity. He was driven to the satirical task by the scenes about him.
There must be the moralist in the satirist if satire is to strike. The
stroke is weakened and art violated when he comes to the front. But he
will always be pressing forward, and Thackeray restrained him as much as
could be done, in the manner of a good-humoured constable. Thackeray may
have appeared cynical to the devout by keeping him from a station in the
pulpit among congregations of the many convicted sinners. That the
moralist would have occupied it and thundered had he presented us with
the Fourth of the Georges we see when we read of his rejecting the
solicitations of so seductive a personage for the satiric rod.
Himself one of the manliest, the kindliest of human creatures, it was the
love of his art that exposed him to misinterpretation. He did stout
service in his day. If the bad manners he scourged are now lessened to
some degree we pay a debt in remembering that we owe much to him, and if
what appears incurable remains with us, a continued reading of his works
will at least help to combat it.
A PAUSE IN THE STRIFE--1886
Our 'Eriniad,' or ballad epic of the enfranchisement of the sister island
is closing its first fytte for the singer, and with such result as those
Englishmen who have some knowledge of their fellows foresaw. There are
sufficient reasons why the Tories should always be able to keep together,
but let them have the credit of cohesiveness and subordination to
control. Though working for their own ends, they won the esteem of their
allies, which will count for them in the struggles to follow. Their
leaders appear to have seen what has not been distinctly perceptible to
the opposite party--that the break up of the Liberals means the defection
of the old Whigs in permanence, heralding the establishment of a powerful
force against Radicalism, with a capital cry to the country. They have
tactical astuteness. If they seem rather too proud of their victory, it
is merely because, as becomes them, they do not look ahead. To rejoice
in the gaining of a day, without having clear views of the morrow, is
puerile enough. Any Tory victory, it may be said, is little more than a
pause in the strife, unless when the Radical game is played 'to dish the
Whigs,' and the Tories are now fast bound down by their incorporation of
the latter to abstain from the violent springs and right-about-facings of
the Derby-Disraeli period. They are so heavily weighted by the new
combination that their Jack-in-the-box, Lord Randolph, will have to stand
like an ordinary sentinel on duty, and take the measurement of his
natural size. They must, on the supposition of their entry into office,
even to satisfy their own constituents, produce a scheme. Their majority
in the House will command it.
To this extent, then, Mr. Gladstone has not been defeated. The question
set on fire by him will never be extinguished until the combustible
matter has gone to ashes. But personally he meets a sharp rebuff. The
Tories may well raise hurrahs over that. Radicals have to admit it, and
point to the grounds of it. Between a man's enemies and his friends
there comes out a rough painting of his character, not without a
resemblance to the final summary, albeit wanting in the justly delicate
historical touch to particular features. On the one side he is abused as
'the one-man power'; lauded on the other for his marvellous intuition of
the popular will. One can believe that he scarcely wishes to march
dictatorially, and full surely his Egyptian policy was from step to step
a misreading of the will of the English people. He went forth on this
campaign, with the finger of Egypt not ineffectively levelled against him
a second time. Nevertheless he does read his English; he has, too, the
fatal tendency to the bringing forth of Bills in the manner of Jove big
with Minerva. He perceived the necessity, and the issue of the
necessity; clearly defined what must come, and, with a higher motive than
the vanity with which his enemies charge him, though not with such high
counsel as Wisdom at his ear, fell to work on it alone, produced the
whole Bill alone, and then handed it to his Cabinet to digest, too much
in love with the thing he had laid and incubated to permit of any serious
dismemberment of its frame. Hence the disruption. He worked for the
future, produced a Bill for the future, and is wrecked in the present.
Probably he can work in no other way than from the impulse of his
enthusiasm, solitarily. It is a way of making men overweeningly in love
with their creations. The consequence is likely to be that Ireland will
get her full measure of justice to appease her cravings earlier than she
would have had as much from the United Liberal Cabinet, but at a cost
both to her and to England. Meanwhile we are to have a House of Commons
incapable of conducting public business; the tradesmen to whom the Times
addressed pathetic condolences on the loss of their season will lose more
than one; and we shall be made sensible that we have an enemy in our
midst, until a people, slow to think, have taken counsel of their native
generosity to put trust in the most generous race on earth.
CONCESSION TO THE CELT--1886
Things are quiet outside an ant-hill until the stick has been thrust into
it. Mr. Gladstone's Bill for helping to the wiser government of Ireland
has brought forth our busy citizens on the top-rubble in traversing
counterswarms, and whatever may be said against a Bill that deals roughly
with many sensitive interests, one asks whether anything less violently
impressive would have roused industrious England to take this question at
last into the mind, as a matter for settlement. The Liberal leader has
driven it home; and wantonly, in the way of a pedestrian demagogue, some
think; certainly to the discomposure of the comfortable and the myopely
busy, who prefer to live on with a disease in the frame rather than at
all be stirred. They can, we see, pronounce a positive electoral
negative; yet even they, after the eighty and odd years of our domestic
perplexity, in the presence of the eighty and odd members pledged for
Home Rule, have been moved to excited inquiries regarding measures--short
of the obnoxious Bill. How much we suffer from sniffing the vain incense
of that word practical, is contempt of prevision! Many of the measures
now being proposed responsively to the fretful cry for them, as a better
alternative to correction by force of arms, are sound and just. Ten
years back, or at a more recent period before Mr. Parnell's triumph in
the number of his followers, they would have formed a basis for the
appeasement of the troubled land. The institution of county boards,
the abolition of the detested Castle, something like the establishment of
a Royal residence in Dublin, would have begun the work well. Materially
and sentimentally, they were the right steps to take. They are now
proposed too late. They are regarded as petty concessions, insufficient
and vexatious. The lower and the higher elements in the population are
fused by the enthusiasm of men who find themselves marching in full body
on a road, under a flag, at the heels of a trusted leader; and they will
no longer be fed with sops. Petty concessions are signs of weakness to
the unsatisfied; they prick an appetite, they do not close breaches. If
our object is, as we hear it said, to appease the Irish, we shall have to
give them the Parliament their leader demands. It might once have been
much less; it may be worried into a raving, perhaps a desperate
wrestling, for still more. Nations pay Sibylline prices for want of
forethought. Mr. Parnell's terms are embodied in Mr. Gladstone's Bill,
to which he and his band have subscribed. The one point for him is the
statutory Parliament, so that Ireland may civilly govern herself; and
standing before the world as representative of his country, he addresses
an applausive audience when he cites the total failure of England to do
that business of government, as at least a logical reason for the claim.
England has confessedly failed; the world says it, the country admits it.
We have failed, and not because the so-called Saxon is incapable of
understanding the Celt, but owing to our system, suitable enough to us,
of rule by Party, which puts perpetually a shifting hand upon the reins,
and invites the clamour it has to allay. The Irish--the English too in
some degree--have been taught that roaring; in its various forms, is the
trick to open the ears of Ministers. We have encouraged by irritating
them to practise it, until it has become a habit, an hereditary
profession with them. Ministers in turn have defensively adopted the
arts of beguilement, varied by an exercise of the police. We grew
accustomed to periods of Irish fever. The exhaustion ensuing we named
tranquillity, and hoped that it would bear fruit. But we did not plant.
The Party in office directed its attention to what was uppermost and
urgent--to that which kicked them. Although we were living, by common
consent; with a disease in the frame, eruptive at intervals, a national
disfigurement always a danger, the Ministerial idea of arresting it for
the purpose of healing was confined, before the passing of Mr.
Gladstone's well-meant Land Bill, to the occasional despatch of
commissions; and, in fine, we behold through History the Irish malady
treated as a form of British constitutional gout. Parliament touched on
the Irish only when the Irish were active as a virus. Our later
alternations of cajolery and repression bear painful resemblance to the
nervous fit of rickety riders compounding with their destinations that
they may keep their seats. The cajolery was foolish, if an end was in
view; the repression inefficient. To repress efficiently we have to
stifle a conscience accusing us of old injustice, and forget that we are
sworn to freedom. The cries that we have been hearing for Cromwell or
for Bismarck prove the existence of an impatient faction in our midst
fitter to wear the collars of those masters whom they invoke than to drop
a vote into the ballot-box. As for the prominent politicians who have
displaced their rivals partly on the strength of an implied approbation
of those cries, we shall see how they illumine the councils of a
governing people. They are wiser than the barking dogs. Cromwell and
Bismarck are great names; but the harrying of Ireland did not settle it,
and to Germanize a Posen and call it peace will find echo only in the
German tongue. Posen is the error of a master-mind too much given to
hammer at obstacles. He has, however, the hammer. Can it be imagined in
English hands? The braver exemplar for grappling with monstrous
political tasks is Cavour, and he would not have hinted at the iron
method or the bayonet for a pacification. Cavour challenged debate; he
had faith in the active intellect, and that is the thing to be prayed for
by statesmen who would register permanent successes. The Irish, it is
true, do not conduct an argument coolly. Mr. Parnell and his eighty-five
have not met the Conservative leader and his following in the Commons
with the gravity of platonic disputants. But they have a logical
position, equivalent to the best of arguments. They are representatives,
they would say, of a country admittedly ill-governed by us; and they have
accepted the Bill of the defeated Minister as final. Its provisions are
their terms of peace. They offer in return for that boon to take the
burden we have groaned under off our hands. If we answer that we think
them insincere, we accuse these thrice accredited representatives of the
Irish people of being hypocrites and crafty conspirators; and numbers in
England, affected by the weapons they have used to get to their present
strength, do think it; forgetful that our obtuseness to their constant
appeals forced them into the extremer shifts of agitation. Yet it will
hardly be denied that these men love Ireland; and they have not shown
themselves by their acts to be insane. To suppose them conspiring for
separation indicates a suspicion that they have neither hearts nor heads.
For Ireland, separation is immediate ruin. It would prove a very short
sail for these conspirators before the ship went down. The vital
necessity of the Union for both, countries, obviously for the weaker of
the two, is known to them; and unless we resume our exasperation of the
wild fellow the Celt can be made by such a process, we have not rational
grounds for treating him, or treating with him, as a Bedlamite. He has
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