Virginibus Puerisque
Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 1 out of 3

Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Scanned and proofed by David Price, email


Virginibus Puerisque
Crabbed Age and Youth
An Apology For Idlers
Ordered South
Aes Triplex
El Dorado
The English Admirals
Some Portraits by Raeburn
Child's Play
Walking Tours
Pan's Pipes
A Plea For Gas Lamps


WITH the single exception of Falstaff, all Shakespeare's
characters are what we call marrying men. Mercutio, as he was
own cousin to Benedick and Biron, would have come to the same
end in the long run. Even Iago had a wife, and, what is far
stranger, he was jealous. People like Jacques and the Fool in
LEAR, although we can hardly imagine they would ever marry,
kept single out of a cynical humour or for a broken heart, and
not, as we do nowadays, from a spirit of incredulity and
preference for the single state. For that matter, if you turn
to George Sand's French version of AS YOU LIKE IT (and I think
I can promise you will like it but little), you will find
Jacques marries Celia just as Orlando marries Rosalind.

At least there seems to have been much less hesitation
over marriage in Shakespeare's days; and what hesitation there
was was of a laughing sort, and not much more serious, one way
or the other, than that of Panurge. In modern comedies the
heroes are mostly of Benedick's way of thinking, but twice as
much in earnest, and not one quarter so confident. And I take
this diffidence as a proof of how sincere their terror is.
They know they are only human after all; they know what gins
and pitfalls lie about their feet; and how the shadow of
matrimony waits, resolute and awful, at the cross-roads. They
would wish to keep their liberty; but if that may not be, why,
God's will be done! "What, are you afraid of marriage?" asks
Cecile, in MAITRE GUERIN. "Oh, mon Dieu, non!" replies
Arthur; "I should take chloroform." They look forward to
marriage much in the same way as they prepare themselves for
death: each seems inevitable; each is a great Perhaps, and a
leap into the dark, for which, when a man is in the blue
devils, he has specially to harden his heart. That splendid
scoundrel, Maxime de Trailles, took the news of marriages much
as an old man hears the deaths of his contemporaries. "C'est
desesperant," he cried, throwing himself down in the arm-chair
at Madame Schontz's; "c'est desesperant, nous nous marions
tous!" Every marriage was like another gray hair on his head;
and the jolly church bells seemed to taunt him with his fifty
years and fair round belly.

The fact is, we are much more afraid of life than our
ancestors, and cannot find it in our hearts either to marry or
not to marry. Marriage is terrifying, but so is a cold and
forlorn old age. The friendships of men are vastly agreeable,
but they are insecure. You know all the time that one friend
will marry and put you to the door; a second accept a
situation in China, and become no more to you than a name, a
reminiscence, and an occasional crossed letter, very laborious
to read; a third will take up with some religious crotchet and
treat you to sour looks thence-forward. So, in one way or
another, life forces men apart and breaks up the goodly
fellowships for ever. The very flexibility and ease which
make men's friendships so agreeable while they endure, make
them the easier to destroy and forget. And a man who has a
few friends, or one who has a dozen (if there be any one so
wealthy on this earth), cannot forget on how precarious a base
his happiness reposes; and how by a stroke or two of fate - a
death, a few light words, a piece of stamped paper, a woman's
bright eyes - he may be left, in a month, destitute of all.
Marriage is certainly a perilous remedy. Instead of on two or
three, you stake your happiness on one life only. But still,
as the bargain is more explicit and complete on your part, it
is more so on the other; and you have not to fear so many
contingencies; it is not every wind that can blow you from
your anchorage; and so long as Death withholds his sickle, you
will always have a friend at home. People who share a cell in
the Bastile, or are thrown together on an uninhabited isle, if
they do not immediately fall to fisticuffs, will find some
possible ground of compromise. They will learn each other's
ways and humours, so as to know where they must go warily, and
where they may lean their whole weight. The discretion of the
first years becomes the settled habit of the last; and so,
with wisdom and patience, two lives may grow indissolubly into

But marriage, if comfortable, is not at all heroic. It
certainly narrows and damps the spirits of generous men. In
marriage, a man becomes slack and selfish, and undergoes a
fatty degeneration of his moral being. It is not only when
Lydgate misallies himself with Rosamond Vincy, but when
Ladislaw marries above him with Dorothea, that this may be
exemplified. The air of the fireside withers out all the fine
wildings of the husband's heart. He is so comfortable and
happy that he begins to prefer comfort and happiness to
everything else on earth, his wife included. Yesterday he
would have shared his last shilling; to-day "his first duty is
to his family," and is fulfilled in large measure by laying
down vintages and husbanding the health of an invaluable
parent. Twenty years ago this man was equally capable of
crime or heroism; now he is fit for neither. His soul is
asleep, and you may speak without constraint; you will not
wake him. It is not for nothing that Don Quixote was a
bachelor and Marcus Aurelius married ill. For women, there is
less of this danger. Marriage is of so much use to a woman,
opens out to her so much more of life, and puts her in the way
of so much more freedom and usefulness, that, whether she
marry ill or well, she can hardly miss some benefit. It is
true, however, that some of the merriest and most genuine of
women are old maids; and that those old maids, and wives who
are unhappily married, have often most of the true motherly
touch. And this would seem to show, even for women, some
narrowing influence in comfortable married life. But the rule
is none the less certain: if you wish the pick of men and
women, take a good bachelor and a good wife.

I am often filled with wonder that so many marriages are
passably successful, and so few come to open failure, the more
so as I fail to understand the principle on which people
regulate their choice. I see women marrying indiscriminately
with staring burgesses and ferret-faced, white-eyed boys, and
men dwell in contentment with noisy scullions, or taking into
their lives acidulous vestals. It is a common answer to say
the good people marry because they fall in love; and of course
you may use and misuse a word as much as you please, if you
have the world along with you. But love is at least a
somewhat hyperbolical expression for such luke-warm
preference. It is not here, anyway, that Love employs his
golden shafts; he cannot be said, with any fitness of
language, to reign here and revel. Indeed, if this be love at
all, it is plain the poets have been fooling with mankind
since the foundation of the world. And you have only to look
these happy couples in the face, to see they have never been
in love, or in hate, or in any other high passion, all their
days. When you see a dish of fruit at dessert, you sometimes
set your affections upon one particular peach or nectarine,
watch it with some anxiety as it comes round the table, and
feel quite a sensible disappointment when it is taken by some
one else. I have used the phrase "high passion." Well, I
should say this was about as high a passion as generally leads
to marriage. One husband hears after marriage that some poor
fellow is dying of his wife's love. "What a pity!" he
exclaims; "you know I could so easily have got another!" And
yet that is a very happy union. Or again: A young man was
telling me the sweet story of his loves. "I like it well
enough as long as her sisters are there," said this amorous
swain; "but I don't know what to do when we're alone." Once
more: A married lady was debating the subject with another
lady. "You know, dear," said the first, "after ten years of
marriage, if he is nothing else, your husband is always an old
friend." "I have many old friends," returned the other, "but
I prefer them to be nothing more." "Oh, perhaps I might
PREFER that also!" There is a common note in these three
illustrations of the modern idyll; and it must be owned the
god goes among us with a limping gait and blear eyes. You
wonder whether it was so always; whether desire was always
equally dull and spiritless, and possession equally cold. I
cannot help fancying most people make, ere they marry, some
such table of recommendations as Hannah Godwin wrote to her
brother William anent her friend, Miss Gay. It is so
charmingly comical, and so pat to the occasion, that I must
quote a few phrases. "The young lady is in every sense formed
to make one of your disposition really happy. She has a
pleasing voice, with which she accompanies her musical
instrument with judgment. She has an easy politeness in her
manners, neither free nor reserved. She is a good housekeeper
and a good economist, and yet of a generous disposition. As
to her internal accomplishments, I have reason to speak still
more highly of them: good sense without vanity, a penetrating
judgment without a disposition to satire, with about as much
religion as my William likes, struck me with a wish that she
was my William's wife." That is about the tune: pleasing
voice, moderate good looks, unimpeachable internal
accomplishments after the style of the copy-book, with about
as much religion as my William likes; and then, with all
speed, to church.

To deal plainly, if they only married when they fell in
love, most people would die unwed; and among the others, there
would be not a few tumultuous households. The Lion is the
King of Beasts, but he is scarcely suitable for a domestic
pet. In the same way, I suspect love is rather too violent a
passion to make, in all cases, a good domestic sentiment.
Like other violent excitements, it throws up not only what is
best, but what is worst and smallest, in men's characters.
Just as some people are malicious in drink, or brawling and
virulent under the influence of religious feeling, some are
moody, jealous, and exacting when they are in love, who are
honest, downright, good-hearted fellows enough in the everyday
affairs and humours of the world.

How then, seeing we are driven to the hypothesis that
people choose in comparatively cold blood, how is it they
choose so well? One is almost tempted to hint that it does
not much matter whom you marry; that, in fact, marriage is a
subjective affection, and if you have made up your mind to it,
and once talked yourself fairly over, you could "pull it
through" with anybody. But even if we take matrimony at its
lowest, even if we regard it as no more than a sort of
friendship recognised by the police, there must be degrees in
the freedom and sympathy realised, and some principle to guide
simple folk in their selection. Now what should this
principle be? Are there no more definite rules than are to be
found in the Prayer-book? Law and religion forbid the bans on
the ground of propinquity or consanguinity; society steps in
to separate classes; and in all this most critical matter, has
common sense, has wisdom, never a word to say? In the absence
of more magisterial teaching, let us talk it over between
friends: even a few guesses may be of interest to youths and

In all that concerns eating and drinking, company,
climate, and ways of life, community of taste is to be sought
for. It would be trying, for instance, to keep bed and board
with an early riser or a vegetarian. In matters of art and
intellect, I believe it is of no consequence. Certainly it is
of none in the companionships of men, who will dine more
readily with one who has a good heart, a good cellar, and a
humorous tongue, than with another who shares all their
favourite hobbies and is melancholy withal. If your wife
likes Tupper, that is no reason why you should hang your head.
She thinks with the majority, and has the courage of her
opinions. I have always suspected public taste to be a
mongrel product, out of affectation by dogmatism; and felt
sure, if you could only find an honest man of no special
literary bent, he would tell you he thought much of
Shakespeare bombastic and most absurd, and all of him written
in very obscure English and wearisome to read. And not long
ago I was able to lay by my lantern in content, for I found
the honest man. He was a fellow of parts, quick, humorous, a
clever painter, and with an eye for certain poetical effects
of sea and ships. I am not much of a judge of that kind of
thing, but a sketch of his comes before me sometimes at night.
How strong, supple, and living the ship seems upon the
billows! With what a dip and rake she shears the flying sea!
I cannot fancy the man who saw this effect, and took it on the
wing with so much force and spirit, was what you call
commonplace in the last recesses of the heart. And yet he
thought, and was not ashamed to have it known of him, that
Ouida was better in every way than William Shakespeare. If
there were more people of his honesty, this would be about the
staple of lay criticism. It is not taste that is plentiful,
but courage that is rare. And what have we in place? How
many, who think no otherwise than the young painter, have we
not heard disbursing second-hand hyperboles? Have you never
turned sick at heart, O best of critics! when some of your own
sweet adjectives were returned on you before a gaping
audience? Enthusiasm about art is become a function of the
average female being, which she performs with precision and a
sort of haunting sprightliness, like an ingenious and well-
regulated machine. Sometimes, alas! the calmest man is
carried away in the torrent, bandies adjectives with the best,
and out-Herods Herod for some shameful moments. When you
remember that, you will be tempted to put things strongly, and
say you will marry no one who is not like George the Second,
and cannot state openly a distaste for poetry and painting.

The word "facts" is, in some ways, crucial. I have
spoken with Jesuits and Plymouth Brethren, mathematicians and
poets, dogmatic republicans and dear old gentlemen in bird's-
eye neckcloths; and each understood the word "facts" in an
occult sense of his own. Try as I might, I could get no
nearer the principle of their division. What was essential to
them, seemed to me trivial or untrue. We could come to no
compromise as to what was, or what was not, important in the
life of man. Turn as we pleased, we all stood back to back in
a big ring, and saw another quarter of the heavens, with
different mountain-tops along the sky-line and different
constellations overhead. We had each of us some whimsy in the
brain, which we believed more than anything else, and which
discoloured all experience to its own shade. How would you
have people agree, when one is deaf and the other blind? Now
this is where there should be community between man and wife.
They should be agreed on their catchword in "FACTS OF
without such an agreement all intercourse is a painful strain
upon the mind. "About as much religion as my William likes,"
in short, that is what is necessary to make a happy couple of
any William and his spouse. For there are differences which
no habit nor affection can reconcile, and the Bohemian must
not intermarry with the Pharisee. Imagine Consuelo as Mrs.
Samuel Budget, the wife of the successful merchant! The best
of men and the best of women may sometimes live together all
their lives, and, for want of some consent on fundamental
questions, hold each other lost spirits to the end.

A certain sort of talent is almost indispensable for
people who would spend years together and not bore themselves
to death. But the talent, like the agreement, must be for and
about life. To dwell happily together, they should be versed
in the niceties of the heart, and born with a faculty for
willing compromise. The woman must be talented as a woman,
and it will not much matter although she is talented in
nothing else. She must know her METIER DE FEMME, and have a
fine touch for the affections. And it is more important that
a person should be a good gossip, and talk pleasantly and
smartly of common friends and the thousand and one nothings of
the day and hour, than that she should speak with the tongues
of men and angels; for a while together by the fire, happens
more frequently in marriage than the presence of a
distinguished foreigner to dinner. That people should laugh
over the same sort of jests, and have many a story of "grouse
in the gun-room," many an old joke between them which time
cannot wither nor custom stale, is a better preparation for
life, by your leave, than many other things higher and better
sounding in the world's ears. You could read Kant by
yourself, if you wanted; but you must share a joke with some
one else. You can forgive people who do not follow you
through a philosophical disquisition; but to find your wife
laughing when you had tears in your eyes, or staring when you
were in a fit of laughter, would go some way towards a
dissolution of the marriage.

I know a woman who, from some distaste or disability,
could never so much as understand the meaning of the word
POLITICS, and has given up trying to distinguish Whigs from
Tories; but take her on her own politics, ask her about other
men or women and the chicanery of everyday existence - the
rubs, the tricks, the vanities on which life turns - and you
will not find many more shrewd, trenchant, and humorous. Nay,
to make plainer what I have in mind, this same woman has a
share of the higher and more poetical understanding, frank
interest in things for their own sake, and enduring
astonishment at the most common. She is not to be deceived by
custom, or made to think a mystery solved when it is repeated.
I have heard her say she could wonder herself crazy over the
human eyebrow. Now in a world where most of us walk very
contentedly in the little lit circle of their own reason, and
have to be reminded of what lies without by specious and
clamant exceptions - earthquakes, eruptions of Vesuvius,
banjos floating in mid-air at a SEANCE, and the like - a mind
so fresh and unsophisticated is no despicable gift. I will
own I think it a better sort of mind than goes necessarily
with the clearest views on public business. It will wash. It
will find something to say at an odd moment. It has in it the
spring of pleasant and quaint fancies. Whereas I can imagine
myself yawning all night long until my jaws ached and the
tears came into my eyes, although my companion on the other
side of the hearth held the most enlightened opinions on the
franchise or the ballot.

The question of professions, in as far as they regard
marriage, was only interesting to women until of late days,
but it touches all of us now. Certainly, if I could help it,
I would never marry a wife who wrote. The practice of letters
is miserably harassing to the mind; and after an hour or two's
work, all the more human portion of the author is extinct; he
will bully, backbite, and speak daggers. Music, I hear, is
not much better. But painting, on the contrary, is often
highly sedative; because so much of the labour, after your
picture is once begun, is almost entirely manual, and of that
skilled sort of manual labour which offers a continual series
of successes, and so tickles a man, through his vanity, into
good humour. Alas! in letters there is nothing of this sort.
You may write as beautiful a hand as you will, you have always
something else to think of, and cannot pause to notice your
loops and flourishes; they are beside the mark, and the first
law stationer could put you to the blush. Rousseau, indeed,
made some account of penmanship, even made it a source of
livelihood, when he copied out the HELOISE for DILETTANTE
ladies; and therein showed that strange eccentric prudence
which guided him among so many thousand follies and
insanities. It would be well for all of the GENUS IRRITABILE
thus to add something of skilled labour to intangible brain-
work. To find the right word is so doubtful a success and
lies so near to failure, that there is no satisfaction in a
year of it; but we all know when we have formed a letter
perfectly; and a stupid artist, right or wrong, is almost
equally certain he has found a right tone or a right colour,
or made a dexterous stroke with his brush. And, again,
painters may work out of doors; and the fresh air, the
deliberate seasons, and the "tranquillising influence" of the
green earth, counterbalance the fever of thought, and keep
them cool, placable, and prosaic.

A ship captain is a good man to marry if it is a marriage
of love, for absences are a good influence in love and keep it
bright and delicate; but he is just the worst man if the
feeling is more pedestrian, as habit is too frequently torn
open and the solder has never time to set. Men who fish,
botanise, work with the turning-lathe, or gather sea-weeds,
will make admirable husbands and a little amateur painting in
water-colour shows the innocent and quiet mind. Those who
have a few intimates are to be avoided; while those who swim
loose, who have their hat in their hand all along the street,
who can number an infinity of acquaintances and are not
chargeable with any one friend, promise an easy disposition
and no rival to the wife's influence. I will not say they are
the best of men, but they are the stuff out of which adroit
and capable women manufacture the best of husbands. It is to
be noticed that those who have loved once or twice already are
so much the better educated to a woman's hand; the bright boy
of fiction is an odd and most uncomfortable mixture of shyness
and coarseness, and needs a deal of civilising. Lastly (and
this is, perhaps, the golden rule), no woman should marry a
teetotaller, or a man who does not smoke. It is not for
nothing that this "ignoble tabagie," as Michelet calls it,
spreads over all the world. Michelet rails against it because
it renders you happy apart from thought or work; to provident
women this will seem no evil influence in married life.
Whatever keeps a man in the front garden, whatever checks
wandering fancy and all inordinate ambition, whatever makes
for lounging and contentment, makes just so surely for
domestic happiness.

These notes, if they amuse the reader at all, will
probably amuse him more when he differs than when he agrees
with them; at least they will do no harm, for nobody will
follow my advice. But the last word is of more concern.
Marriage is a step so grave and decisive that it attracts
light-headed, variable men by its very awfulness. They have
been so tried among the inconstant squalls and currents, so
often sailed for islands in the air or lain becalmed with
burning heart, that they will risk all for solid ground below
their feet. Desperate pilots, they run their sea-sick, weary
bark upon the dashing rocks. It seems as if marriage were the
royal road through life, and realised, on the instant, what we
have all dreamed on summer Sundays when the bells ring, or at
night when we cannot sleep for the desire of living. They
think it will sober and change them. Like those who join a
brotherhood, they fancy it needs but an act to be out of the
coil and clamour for ever. But this is a wile of the devil's.
To the end, spring winds will sow disquietude, passing faces
leave a regret behind them, and the whole world keep calling
and calling in their ears. For marriage is like life in this
- that it is a field of battle, and not a bed of roses.


HOPE, they say, deserts us at no period of our existence.
From first to last, and in the face of smarting disillusions,
we continue to expect good fortune, better health, and better
conduct; and that so confidently, that we judge it needless to
deserve them. I think it improbable that I shall ever write
like Shakespeare, conduct an army like Hannibal, or
distinguish myself like Marcus Aurelius in the paths of
virtue; and yet I have my by-days, hope prompting, when I am
very ready to believe that I shall combine all these various
excellences in my own person, and go marching down to
posterity with divine honours. There is nothing so monstrous
but we can believe it of ourselves. About ourselves, about
our aspirations and delinquencies, we have dwelt by choice in
a delicious vagueness from our boyhood up. No one will have
forgotten Tom Sawyer's aspiration: "Ah, if he could only die
TEMPORARILY!" Or, perhaps, better still, the inward
resolution of the two pirates, that "so long as they remained
in that business, their piracies should not again be sullied
with the crime of stealing." Here we recognise the thoughts
of our boyhood; and our boyhood ceased - well, when? - not, I
think, at twenty; nor, perhaps, altogether at twenty-five; nor
yet at thirty; and possibly, to be quite frank, we are still
in the thick of that arcadian period. For as the race of man,
after centuries of civilisation, still keeps some traits of
their barbarian fathers, so man the individual is not
altogether quit of youth, when he is already old and honoured,
and Lord Chancellor of England. We advance in years somewhat
in the manner of an invading army in a barren land; the age
that we have reached, as the phrase goes, we but hold with an
outpost, and still keep open our communications with the
extreme rear and first beginnings of the march. There is our
true base; that is not only the beginning, but the perennial
spring of our faculties; and grandfather William can retire
upon occasion into the green enchanted forest of his boyhood.

The unfading boyishness of hope and its vigorous
irrationality are nowhere better displayed than in questions
of conduct. There is a character in the PILGRIM'S PROGRESS,
one Mr. LINGER-AFTER-LUST with whom I fancy we are all on
speaking terms; one famous among the famous for ingenuity of
hope up to and beyond the moment of defeat; one who, after
eighty years of contrary experience, will believe it possible
to continue in the business of piracy and yet avoid the guilt
of theft. Every sin is our last; every 1st of January a
remarkable turning-point in our career. Any overt act, above
all, is felt to be alchemic in its power to change. A
drunkard takes the pledge; it will be strange if that does not
help him. For how many years did Mr. Pepys continue to make
and break his little vows? And yet I have not heard that he
was discouraged in the end. By such steps we think to fix a
momentary resolution; as a timid fellow hies him to the
dentist's while the tooth is stinging.

But, alas, by planting a stake at the top of flood, you
can neither prevent nor delay the inevitable ebb. There is no
hocus-pocus in morality; and even the "sanctimonious ceremony"
of marriage leaves the man unchanged. This is a hard saying,
and has an air of paradox. For there is something in marriage
so natural and inviting, that the step has an air of great
simplicity and ease; it offers to bury for ever many aching
preoccupations; it is to afford us unfailing and familiar
company through life; it opens up a smiling prospect of the
blest and passive kind of love, rather than the blessing and
active; it is approached not only through the delights of
courtship, but by a public performance and repeated legal
signatures. A man naturally thinks it will go hard with him
if he cannot be good and fortunate and happy within such
august circumvallations.

And yet there is probably no other act in a man's life so
hot-headed and foolhardy as this one of marriage. For years,
let us suppose, you have been making the most indifferent
business of your career. Your experience has not, we may dare
to say, been more encouraging than Paul's or Horace's; like
them, you have seen and desired the good that you were not
able to accomplish; like them, you have done the evil that you
loathed. You have waked at night in a hot or a cold sweat,
according to your habit of body, remembering with dismal
surprise, your own unpardonable acts and sayings. You have
been sometimes tempted to withdraw entirely from this game of
life; as a man who makes nothing but misses withdraws from
that less dangerous one of billiards. You have fallen back
upon the thought that you yourself most sharply smarted for
your misdemeanours, or, in the old, plaintive phrase, that you
were nobody's enemy but your own. And then you have been made
aware of what was beautiful and amiable, wise and kind, in the
other part of your behaviour; and it seemed as if nothing
could reconcile the contradiction, as indeed nothing can. If
you are a man, you have shut your mouth hard and said nothing;
and if you are only a man in the making, you have recognised
that yours was quite a special case, and you yourself not
guilty of your own pestiferous career.

Granted, and with all my heart. Let us accept these
apologies; let us agree that you are nobody's enemy but your
own; let us agree that you are a sort of moral cripple,
impotent for good; and let us regard you with the unmingled
pity due to such a fate. But there is one thing to which, on
these terms, we can never agree: - we can never agree to have
you marry. What! you have had one life to manage, and have
failed so strangely, and now can see nothing wiser than to
conjoin with it the management of some one else's? Because
you have been unfaithful in a very little, you propose
yourself to be a ruler over ten cities. You strip yourself by
such a step of all remaining consolations and excuses. You
are no longer content to be your own enemy; you must be your
wife's also. You have been hitherto in a mere subaltern
attitude; dealing cruel blows about you in life, yet only half
responsible, since you came there by no choice or movement of
your own. Now, it appears, you must take things on your own
authority: God made you, but you marry yourself; and for all
that your wife suffers, no one is responsible but you. A man
must be very certain of his knowledge ere he undertake to
guide a ticket-of-leave man through a dangerous pass; you have
eternally missed your way in life, with consequences that you
still deplore, and yet you masterfully seize your wife's hand,
and, blindfold, drag her after you to ruin. And it is your
wife, you observe, whom you select. She, whose happiness you
most desire, you choose to be your victim. You would
earnestly warn her from a tottering bridge or bad investment.
If she were to marry some one else, how you would tremble for
her fate! If she were only your sister, and you thought half
as much of her, how doubtfully would you entrust her future to
a man no better than yourself!

Times are changed with him who marries; there are no more
by-path meadows, where you may innocently linger, but the road
lies long and straight and dusty to the grave. Idleness,
which is often becoming and even wise in the bachelor, begins
to wear a different aspect when you have a wife to support.
Suppose, after you are married, one of those little slips were
to befall you. What happened last November might surely
happen February next. They may have annoyed you at the time,
because they were not what you had meant; but how will they
annoy you in the future, and how will they shake the fabric of
your wife's confidence and peace! A thousand things
unpleasing went on in the CHIAROSCURO of a life that you
shrank from too particularly realising; you did not care, in
those days, to make a fetish of your conscience; you would
recognise your failures with a nod, and so, good day. But the
time for these reserves is over. You have wilfully introduced
a witness into your life, the scene of these defeats, and can
no longer close the mind's eye upon uncomely passages, but
must stand up straight and put a name upon your actions. And
your witness is not only the judge, but the victim of your
sins; not only can she condemn you to the sharpest penalties,
but she must herself share feelingly in their endurance. And
observe, once more, with what temerity you have chosen
precisely HER to be your spy, whose esteem you value highest,
and whom you have already taught to think you better than you
are. You may think you had a conscience, and believed in God;
but what is a conscience to a wife? Wise men of yore erected
statues of their deities, and consciously performed their part
in life before those marble eyes. A god watched them at the
board, and stood by their bedside in the morning when they
woke; and all about their ancient cities, where they bought
and sold, or where they piped and wrestled, there would stand
some symbol of the things that are outside of man. These were
lessons, delivered in the quiet dialect of art, which told
their story faithfully, but gently. It is the same lesson, if
you will - but how harrowingly taught! - when the woman you
respect shall weep from your unkindness or blush with shame at
your misconduct. Poor girls in Italy turn their painted
Madonnas to the wall: you cannot set aside your wife. To
marry is to domesticate the Recording Angel. Once you are
married, there is nothing left for you, not even suicide, but
to be good.

And goodness in marriage is a more intricate problem than
mere single virtue; for in marriage there are two ideals to be
realised. A girl, it is true, has always lived in a glass
house among reproving relatives, whose word was law; she has
been bred up to sacrifice her judgments and take the key
submissively from dear papa; and it is wonderful how swiftly
she can change her tune into the husband's. Her morality has
been, too often, an affair of precept and conformity. But in
the case of a bachelor who has enjoyed some measure both of
privacy and freedom, his moral judgments have been passed in
some accordance with his nature. His sins were always sins in
his own sight; he could then only sin when he did some act
against his clear conviction; the light that he walked by was
obscure, but it was single. Now, when two people of any grit
and spirit put their fortunes into one, there succeeds to this
comparative certainty a huge welter of competing
jurisdictions. It no longer matters so much how life appears
to one; one must consult another: one, who may be strong, must
not offend the other, who is weak. The only weak brother I am
willing to consider is (to make a bull for once) my wife. For
her, and for her only, I must waive my righteous judgments,
and go crookedly about my life. How, then, in such an
atmosphere of compromise, to keep honour bright and abstain
from base capitulations? How are you to put aside love's
pleadings? How are you, the apostle of laxity, to turn
suddenly about into the rabbi of precision; and after these
years of ragged practice, pose for a hero to the lackey who
has found you out? In this temptation to mutual indulgence
lies the particular peril to morality in married life. Daily
they drop a little lower from the first ideal, and for a while
continue to accept these changelings with a gross complacency.
At last Love wakes and looks about him; finds his hero sunk
into a stout old brute, intent on brandy pawnee; finds his
heroine divested of her angel brightness; and in the flash of
that first disenchantment, flees for ever.

Again, the husband, in these unions, is usually a man,
and the wife commonly enough a woman; and when this is the
case, although it makes the firmer marriage, a thick
additional veil of misconception hangs above the doubtful
business. Women, I believe, are somewhat rarer than men; but
then, if I were a woman myself, I daresay I should hold the
reverse; and at least we all enter more or less wholly into
one or other of these camps. A man who delights women by his
feminine perceptions will often scatter his admirers by a
chance explosion of the under side of man; and the most
masculine and direct of women will some day, to your dire
surprise, draw out like a telescope into successive lengths of
personation. Alas! for the man, knowing her to be at heart
more candid than himself, who shall flounder, panting, through
these mazes in the quest for truth. The proper qualities of
each sex are, indeed, eternally surprising to the other.
Between the Latin and the Teuton races there are similar
divergences, not to be bridged by the most liberal sympathy.
And in the good, plain, cut-and-dry explanations of this life,
which pass current among us as the wisdom of the elders, this
difficulty has been turned with the aid of pious lies. Thus,
when a young lady has angelic features, eats nothing to speak
of, plays all day long on the piano, and sings ravishingly in
church, it requires a rough infidelity, falsely called
cynicism, to believe that she may be a little devil after all.
Yet so it is: she may be a tale-bearer, a liar, and a thief;
she may have a taste for brandy, and no heart. My compliments
to George Eliot for her Rosamond Vincy; the ugly work of
satire she has transmuted to the ends of art, by the companion
figure of Lydgate; and the satire was much wanted for the
education of young men. That doctrine of the excellence of
women, however chivalrous, is cowardly as well as false. It
is better to face the fact, and know, when you marry, that you
take into your life a creature of equal, if of unlike,
frailties; whose weak human heart beats no more tunefully than

But it is the object of a liberal education not only to
obscure the knowledge of one sex by another, but to magnify
the natural differences between the two. Man is a creature
who lives not upon bread alone, but principally by catchwords;
and the little rift between the sexes is astonishingly widened
by simply teaching one set of catchwords to the girls and
another to the boys. To the first, there is shown but a very
small field of experience, and taught a very trenchant
principle for judgment and action; to the other, the world of
life is more largely displayed, and their rule of conduct is
proportionally widened. They are taught to follow different
virtues, to hate different vices, to place their ideal, even
for each other, in different achievements. What should be the
result of such a course? When a horse has run away, and the
two flustered people in the gig have each possessed themselves
of a rein, we know the end of that conveyance will be in the
ditch. So, when I see a raw youth and a green girl, fluted
and fiddled in a dancing measure into that most serious
contract, and setting out upon life's journey with ideas so
monstrously divergent, I am not surprised that some make
shipwreck, but that any come to port. What the boy does
almost proudly, as a manly peccadillo, the girl will shudder
at as a debasing vice; what is to her the mere common sense of
tactics, he will spit out of his mouth as shameful. Through
such a sea of contrarieties must this green couple steer their
way; and contrive to love each other; and to respect,
forsooth; and be ready, when the time arrives, to educate the
little men and women who shall succeed to their places and

And yet, when all has been said, the man who should hold
back from marriage is in the same case with him who runs away
from battle. To avoid an occasion for our virtues is a worse
degree of failure than to push forward pluckily and make a
fall. It is lawful to pray God that we be not led into
temptation; but not lawful to skulk from those that come to
us. The noblest passage in one of the noblest books of this
century, is where the old pope glories in the trial, nay, in
the partial fall and but imperfect triumph, of the younger
hero. (1) Without some such manly note, it were perhaps
better to have no conscience at all. But there is a vast
difference between teaching flight, and showing points of
peril that a man may march the more warily. And the true
conclusion of this paper is to turn our back on apprehensions,
and embrace that shining and courageous virtue, Faith. Hope
is the boy, a blind, headlong, pleasant fellow, good to chase
swallows with the salt; Faith is the grave, experienced, yet
smiling man. Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is
built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of
circumstance and the frailty of human resolution. Hope looks
for unqualified success; but Faith counts certainly on
failure, and takes honourable defeat to be a form of victory.
Hope is a kind old pagan; but Faith grew up in Christian days,
and early learnt humility. In the one temper, a man is
indignant that he cannot spring up in a clap to heights of
elegance and virtue; in the other, out of a sense of his
infirmities, he is filled with confidence because a year has
come and gone, and he has still preserved some rags of honour.
In the first, he expects an angel for a wife; in the last, he
knows that she is like himself - erring, thoughtless, and
untrue; but like himself also, filled with a struggling
radiancy of better things, and adorned with ineffective
qualities. You may safely go to school with hope; but ere you
marry, should have learned the mingled lesson of the world:
that dolls are stuffed with sawdust, and yet are excellent
play-things; that hope and love address themselves to a
perfection never realised, and yet, firmly held, become the
salt and staff of life; that you yourself are compacted of
infirmities, perfect, you might say, in imperfection, and yet
you have a something in you lovable and worth preserving; and
that, while the mass of mankind lies under this scurvy
condemnation, you will scarce find one but, by some generous
reading, will become to you a lesson, a model, and a noble
spouse through life. So thinking, you will constantly support
your own unworthiness, and easily forgive the failings of your
friend. Nay, you will be I wisely glad that you retain the
sense of blemishes; for the faults of married people
continually spur up each of them, hour by hour, to do better
and to meet and love upon a higher ground. And ever, between
the failures, there will come glimpses of kind virtues to
encourage and console.

(1) Browning's RING AND BOOK.


"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

THERE is only one event in life which really astonishes a
man and startles him out of his prepared opinions. Everything
else befalls him very much as he expected. Event succeeds to
event, with an agreeable variety indeed, but with little that
is either startling or intense; they form together no more
than a sort of background, or running accompaniment to the
man's own reflections; and he falls naturally into a cool,
curious, and smiling habit of mind, and builds himself up in a
conception of life which expects to-morrow to be after the
pattern of to-day and yesterday. He may be accustomed to the
vagaries of his friends and acquaintances under the influence
of love. He may sometimes look forward to it for himself with
an incomprehensible expectation. But it is a subject in which
neither intuition nor the behaviour of others will help the
philosopher to the truth. There is probably nothing rightly
thought or rightly written on this matter of love that is not
a piece of the person's experience. I remember an anecdote of
a well-known French theorist, who was debating a point eagerly
in his CENACLE. It was objected against him that he had never
experienced love. Whereupon he arose, left the society, and
made it a point not to return to it until he considered that
he had supplied the defect. "Now," he remarked, on entering,
"now I am in a position to continue the discussion." Perhaps
he had not penetrated very deeply into the subject after all;
but the story indicates right thinking, and may serve as an
apologue to readers of this essay.

When at last the scales fall from his eyes, it is not
without something of the nature of dismay that the man finds
himself in such changed conditions. He has to deal with
commanding emotions instead of the easy dislikes and
preferences in which he has hitherto passed his days; and he
recognises capabilities for pain and pleasure of which he had
not yet suspected the existence. Falling in love is the one
illogical adventure, the one thing of which we are tempted to
think as supernatural, in our trite and reasonable world. The
effect is out of all proportion with the cause. Two persons,
neither of them, it may be, very amiable or very beautiful,
meet, speak a little, and look a little into each other's
eyes. That has been done a dozen or so of times in the
experience of either with no great result. But on this
occasion all is different. They fall at once into that state
in which another person becomes to us the very gist and
centrepoint of God's creation, and demolishes our laborious
theories with a smile; in which our ideas are so bound up with
the one master-thought that even the trivial cares of our own
person become so many acts of devotion, and the love of life
itself is translated into a wish to remain in the same world
with so precious and desirable a fellow-creature. And all the
while their acquaintances look on in stupor, and ask each
other, with almost passionate emphasis, what so-and-so can see
in that woman, or such-an-one in that man? I am sure,
gentlemen, I cannot tell you. For my part, I cannot think
what the women mean. It might be very well, if the Apollo
Belvedere should suddenly glow all over into life, and step
forward from the pedestal with that godlike air of his. But
of the misbegotten changelings who call themselves men, and
prate intolerably over dinner-tables, I never saw one who
seemed worthy to inspire love - no, nor read of any, except
Leonardo da Vinci, and perhaps Goethe in his youth. About
women I entertain a somewhat different opinion; but there, I
have the misfortune to be a man.

There are many matters in which you may waylay Destiny,
and bid him stand and deliver. Hard work, high thinking,
adventurous excitement, and a great deal more that forms a
part of this or the other person's spiritual bill of fare, are
within the reach of almost any one who can dare a little and
be patient. But it is by no means in the way of every one to
fall in love. You know the difficulty Shakespeare was put
into when Queen Elizabeth asked him to show Falstaff in love.
I do not believe that Henry Fielding was ever in love. Scott,
if it were not for a passage or two in ROB ROY, would give me
very much the same effect. These are great names and (what is
more to the purpose) strong, healthy, high-strung, and
generous natures, of whom the reverse might have been
expected. As for the innumerable army of anaemic and
tailorish persons who occupy the face of this planet with so
much propriety, it is palpably absurd to imagine them in any
such situation as a love-affair. A wet rag goes safely by the
fire; and if a man is blind, he cannot expect to be much
impressed by romantic scenery. Apart from all this, many
lovable people miss each other in the world, or meet under
some unfavourable star. There is the nice and critical moment
of declaration to be got over. From timidity or lack of
opportunity a good half of possible love cases never get so
far, and at least another quarter do there cease and
determine. A very adroit person, to be sure, manages to
prepare the way and out with his declaration in the nick of
time. And then there is a fine solid sort of man, who goes on
from snub to snub; and if he has to declare forty times, will
continue imperturbably declaring, amid the astonished
consideration of men and angels, until he has a favourable
answer. I daresay, if one were a woman, one would like to
marry a man who was capable of doing this, but not quite one
who had done so. It is just a little bit abject, and somehow
just a little bit gross; and marriages in which one of the
parties has been thus battered into consent scarcely form
agreeable subjects for meditation. Love should run out to
meet love with open arms. Indeed, the ideal story is that of
two people who go into love step for step, with a fluttered
consciousness, like a pair of children venturing together into
a dark room. From the first moment when they see each other,
with a pang of curiosity, through stage after stage of growing
pleasure and embarrassment, they can read the expression of
their own trouble in each other's eyes. There is here no
declaration properly so called; the feeling is so plainly
shared, that as soon as the man knows what it is in his own
heart, he is sure of what it is in the woman's.

This simple accident of falling in love is as beneficial
as it is astonishing. It arrests the petrifying influence of
years, disproves cold-blooded and cynical conclusions, and
awakens dormant sensibilities. Hitherto the man had found it
a good policy to disbelieve the existence of any enjoyment
which was out of his reach; and thus he turned his back upon
the strong sunny parts of nature, and accustomed himself to
look exclusively on what was common and dull. He accepted a
prose ideal, let himself go blind of many sympathies by
disuse; and if he were young and witty, or beautiful, wilfully
forewent these advantages. He joined himself to the following
of what, in the old mythology of love, was prettily called
NONCHALOIR; and in an odd mixture of feelings, a fling of
self-respect, a preference for selfish liberty, and a great
dash of that fear with which honest people regard serious
interests, kept himself back from the straightforward course
of life among certain selected activities. And now, all of a
sudden, he is unhorsed, like St. Paul, from his infidel
affectation. His heart, which has been ticking accurate
seconds for the last year, gives a bound and begins to beat
high and irregularly in his breast. It seems as if he had
never heard or felt or seen until that moment; and by the
report of his memory, he must have lived his past life between
sleep and waking, or with the preoccupied attention of a brown
study. He is practically incommoded by the generosity of his
feelings, smiles much when he is alone, and develops a habit
of looking rather blankly upon the moon and stars. But it is
not at all within the province of a prose essayist to give a
picture of this hyperbolical frame of mind; and the thing has
been done already, and that to admiration. In ADELAIDE, in
Tennyson's MAUD, and in some of Heine's songs, you get the
absolute expression of this midsummer spirit. Romeo and
Juliet were very much in love; although they tell me some
German critics are of a different opinion, probably the same
who would have us think Mercutio a dull fellow. Poor Antony
was in love, and no mistake. That lay figure Marius, in LES
MISERABLES, is also a genuine case in his own way, and worth
observation. A good many of George Sand's people are
thoroughly in love; and so are a good many of George
Meredith's. Altogether, there is plenty to read on the
subject. If the root of the matter be in him, and if he has
the requisite chords to set in vibration, a young man may
occasionally enter, with the key of art, into that land of
Beulah which is upon the borders of Heaven and within sight of
the City of Love. There let him sit awhile to hatch
delightful hopes and perilous illusions.

One thing that accompanies the passion in its first blush
is certainly difficult to explain. It comes (I do not quite
see how) that from having a very supreme sense of pleasure in
all parts of life - in lying down to sleep, in waking, in
motion, in breathing, in continuing to be - the lover begins
to regard his happiness as beneficial for the rest of the
world and highly meritorious in himself. Our race has never
been able contentedly to suppose that the noise of its wars,
conducted by a few young gentlemen in a corner of an
inconsiderable star, does not re-echo among the courts of
Heaven with quite a formidable effect. In much the same
taste, when people find a great to-do in their own breasts,
they imagine it must have some influence in their
neighbourhood. The presence of the two lovers is so
enchanting to each other that it seems as if it must be the
best thing possible for everybody else. They are half
inclined to fancy it is because of them and their love that
the sky is blue and the sun shines. And certainly the weather
is usually fine while people are courting. . . In point of
fact, although the happy man feels very kindly towards others
of his own sex, there is apt to be something too much of the
magnifico in his demeanour. If people grow presuming and
self-important over such matters as a dukedom or the Holy See,
they will scarcely support the dizziest elevation in life
without some suspicion of a strut; and the dizziest elevation
is to love and be loved in return. Consequently, accepted
lovers are a trifle condescending in their address to other
men. An overweening sense of the passion and importance of
life hardly conduces to simplicity of manner. To women, they
feel very nobly, very purely, and very generously, as if they
were so many Joan-of-Arc's; but this does not come out in
their behaviour; and they treat them to Grandisonian airs
marked with a suspicion of fatuity. I am not quite certain
that women do not like this sort of thing; but really, after
having bemused myself over DANIEL DERONDA, I have given up
trying to understand what they like.

If it did nothing else, this sublime and ridiculous
superstition, that the pleasure of the pair is somehow blessed
to others, and everybody is made happier in their happiness,
would serve at least to keep love generous and great-hearted.
Nor is it quite a baseless superstition after all. Other
lovers are hugely interested. They strike the nicest balance
between pity and approval, when they see people aping the
greatness of their own sentiments. It is an understood thing
in the play, that while the young gentlefolk are courting on
the terrace, a rough flirtation is being carried on, and a
light, trivial sort of love is growing up, between the footman
and the singing chambermaid. As people are generally cast for
the leading parts in their own imaginations, the reader can
apply the parallel to real life without much chance of going
wrong. In short, they are quite sure this other love-affair
is not so deep seated as their own, but they like dearly to
see it going forward. And love, considered as a spectacle,
must have attractions for many who are not of the
confraternity. The sentimental old maid is a commonplace of
the novelists; and he must be rather a poor sort of human
being, to be sure, who can look on at this pretty madness
without indulgence and sympathy. For nature commends itself
to people with a most insinuating art; the busiest is now and
again arrested by a great sunset; and you may be as pacific or
as cold-blooded as you will, but you cannot help some emotion
when you read of well-disputed battles, or meet a pair of
lovers in the lane.

Certainly, whatever it may be with regard to the world at
large, this idea of beneficent pleasure is true as between the
sweethearts. To do good and communicate is the lover's grand
intention. It is the happiness of the other that makes his
own most intense gratification. It is not possible to
disentangle the different emotions, the pride, humility, pity
and passion, which are excited by a look of happy love or an
unexpected caress. To make one's self beautiful, to dress the
hair, to excel in talk, to do anything and all things that
puff out the character and attributes and make them imposing
in the eyes of others, is not only to magnify one's self, but
to offer the most delicate homage at the same time. And it is
in this latter intention that they are done by lovers; for the
essence of love is kindness; and indeed it may be best defined
as passionate kindness: kindness, so to speak, run mad and
become importunate and violent. Vanity in a merely personal
sense exists no longer. The lover takes a perilous pleasure
in privately displaying his weak points and having them, one
after another, accepted and condoned. He wishes to be assured
that he is not loved for this or that good quality, but for
himself, or something as like himself as he can contrive to
set forward. For, although it may have been a very difficult
thing to paint the marriage of Cana, or write the fourth act
of Antony and Cleopatra, there is a more difficult piece of
art before every one in this world who cares to set about
explaining his own character to others. Words and acts are
easily wrenched from their true significance; and they are all
the language we have to come and go upon. A pitiful job we
make of it, as a rule. For better or worse, people mistake
our meaning and take our emotions at a wrong valuation. And
generally we rest pretty content with our failures; we are
content to be misapprehended by cackling flirts; but when once
a man is moonstruck with this affection of love, he makes it a
point of honour to clear such dubieties away. He cannot have
the Best of her Sex misled upon a point of this importance;
and his pride revolts at being loved in a mistake.

He discovers a great reluctance to return on former
periods of his life. To all that has not been shared with
her, rights and duties, bygone fortunes and dispositions, he
can look back only by a difficult and repugnant effort of the
will. That he should have wasted some years in ignorance of
what alone was really important, that he may have entertained
the thought of other women with any show of complacency, is a
burthen almost too heavy for his self-respect. But it is the
thought of another past that rankles in his spirit like a
poisoned wound. That he himself made a fashion of being alive
in the bald, beggarly days before a certain meeting, is
deplorable enough in all good conscience. But that She should
have permitted herself the same liberty seems inconsistent
with a Divine providence.

A great many people run down jealousy, on the score that
it is an artificial feeling, as well as practically
inconvenient. This is scarcely fair; for the feeling on which
it merely attends, like an ill-humoured courtier, is itself
artificial in exactly the same sense and to the same degree.
I suppose what is meant by that objection is that jealousy has
not always been a character of man; formed no part of that
very modest kit of sentiments with which he is supposed to
have begun the world: but waited to make its appearance in
better days and among richer natures. And this is equally
true of love, and friendship, and love of country, and delight
in what they call the beauties of nature, and most other
things worth having. Love, in particular, will not endure any
historical scrutiny: to all who have fallen across it, it is
one of the most incontestable facts in the world; but if you
begin to ask what it was in other periods and countries, in
Greece for instance, the strangest doubts begin to spring up,
and everything seems so vague and changing that a dream is
logical in comparison. Jealousy, at any rate, is one of the
consequences of love; you may like it or not, at pleasure; but
there it is.

It is not exactly jealousy, however, that we feel when we
reflect on the past of those we love. A bundle of letters
found after years of happy union creates no sense of
insecurity in the present; and yet it will pain a man sharply.
The two people entertain no vulgar doubt of each other: but
this pre-existence of both occurs to the mind as something
indelicate. To be altogether right, they should have had twin
birth together, at the same moment with the feeling that
unites them. Then indeed it would be simple and perfect and
without reserve or afterthought. Then they would understand
each other with a fulness impossible otherwise. There would
be no barrier between them of associations that cannot be
imparted. They would be led into none of those comparisons
that send the blood back to the heart. And they would know
that there had been no time lost, and they had been together
as much as was possible. For besides terror for the
separation that must follow some time or other in the future,
men feel anger, and something like remorse, when they think of
that other separation which endured until they met. Some one
has written that love makes people believe in immortality,
because there seems not to be room enough in life for so great
a tenderness, and it is inconceivable that the most masterful
of our emotions should have no more than the spare moments of
a few years. Indeed, it seems strange; but if we call to mind
analogies, we can hardly regard it as impossible.

"The blind bow-boy," who smiles upon us from the end of
terraces in old Dutch gardens, laughingly hails his bird-bolts
among a fleeting generation. But for as fast as ever he
shoots, the game dissolves and disappears into eternity from
under his falling arrows; this one is gone ere he is struck;
the other has but time to make one gesture and give one
passionate cry; and they are all the things of a moment. When
the generation is gone, when the play is over, when the thirty
years' panorama has been withdrawn in tatters from the stage
of the world, we may ask what has become of these great,
weighty, and undying loves, and the sweet-hearts who despised
mortal conditions in a fine credulity; and they can only show
us a few songs in a bygone taste, a few actions worth
remembering, and a few children who have retained some happy
stamp from the disposition of their parents.


AMONG sayings that have a currency in spite of being
wholly false upon the face of them for the sake of a half-
truth upon another subject which is accidentally combined with
the error, one of the grossest and broadest conveys the
monstrous proposition that it is easy to tell the truth and
hard to tell a lie. I wish heartily it were. But the truth
is one; it has first to be discovered, then justly and exactly
uttered. Even with instruments specially contrived for such a
purpose - with a foot rule, a level, or a theodolite - it is
not easy to be exact; it is easier, alas! to be inexact. From
those who mark the divisions on a scale to those who measure
the boundaries of empires or the distance of the heavenly
stars, it is by careful method and minute, unwearying
attention that men rise even to material exactness or to sure
knowledge even of external and constant things. But it is
easier to draw the outline of a mountain than the changing
appearance of a face; and truth in human relations is of this
more intangible and dubious order: hard to seize, harder to
communicate. Veracity to facts in a loose, colloquial sense -
not to say that I have been in Malabar when as a matter of
fact I was never out of England, not to say that I have read
Cervantes in the original when as a matter of fact I know not
one syllable of Spanish - this, indeed, is easy and to the
same degree unimportant in itself. Lies of this sort,
according to circumstances, may or may not be important; in a
certain sense even they may or may not be false. The habitual
liar may be a very honest fellow, and live truly with his wife
and friends; while another man who never told a formal
falsehood in his life may yet be himself one lie - heart and
face, from top to bottom. This is the kind of lie which
poisons intimacy. And, VICE VERSA, veracity to sentiment,
truth in a relation, truth to your own heart and your friends,
never to feign or falsify emotion - that is the truth which
makes love possible and mankind happy.

L'ART DE BIEN DIRE is but a drawing-room accomplishment
unless it be pressed into the service of the truth. The
difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what
you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him
precisely as you wish. This is commonly understood in the
case of books or set orations; even in making your will, or
writing an explicit letter, some difficulty is admitted by the
world. But one thing you can never make Philistine natures
understand; one thing, which yet lies on the surface, remains
as unseizable to their wits as a high flight of metaphysics -
namely, that the business of life is mainly carried on by
means of this difficult art of literature, and according to a
man's proficiency in that art shall be the freedom and the
fulness of his intercourse with other men. Anybody, it is
supposed, can say what he means; and, in spite of their
notorious experience to the contrary, people so continue to
suppose. Now, I simply open the last book I have been reading
- Mr. Leland's captivating ENGLISH GIPSIES. "It is said," I
find on p. 7, "that those who can converse with Irish peasants
in their own native tongue form far higher opinions of their
appreciation of the beautiful, and of THE ELEMENTS OF HUMOUR
AND PATHOS IN THEIR HEARTS, than do those who know their
thoughts only through the medium of English. I know from my
own observations that this is quite the case with the Indians
of North America, and it is unquestionably so with the gipsy."
In short, where a man has not a full possession of the
language, the most important, because the most amiable,
qualities of his nature have to lie buried and fallow; for the
pleasure of comradeship, and the intellectual part of love,
rest upon these very "elements of humour and pathos." Here is
a man opulent in both, and for lack of a medium he can put
none of it out to interest in the market of affection! But
what is thus made plain to our apprehensions in the case of a
foreign language is partially true even with the tongue we
learned in childhood. Indeed, we all speak different
dialects; one shall be copious and exact, another loose and
meagre; but the speech of the ideal talker shall correspond
and fit upon the truth of fact - not clumsily, obscuring
lineaments, like a mantle, but cleanly adhering, like an
athlete's skin. And what is the result? That the one can
open himself more clearly to his friends, and can enjoy more
of what makes life truly valuable - intimacy with those he
loves. An orator makes a false step; he employs some trivial,
some absurd, some vulgar phrase; in the turn of a sentence he
insults, by a side wind, those whom he is labouring to charm;
in speaking to one sentiment he unconsciously ruffles another
in parenthesis; and you are not surprised, for you know his
task to be delicate and filled with perils. "O frivolous mind
of man, light ignorance!" As if yourself, when you seek to
explain some misunderstanding or excuse some apparent fault,
speaking swiftly and addressing a mind still recently
incensed, were not harnessing for a more perilous adventure;
as if yourself required less tact and eloquence; as if an
angry friend or a suspicious lover were not more easy to
offend than a meeting of indifferent politicians! Nay, and
the orator treads in a beaten round; the matters he discusses
have been discussed a thousand times before; language is
ready-shaped to his purpose; he speaks out of a cut and dry
vocabulary. But you - may it not be that your defence reposes
on some subtlety of feeling, not so much as touched upon in
Shakespeare, to express which, like a pioneer, you must
venture forth into zones of thought still unsurveyed, and
become yourself a literary innovator? For even in love there
are unlovely humours; ambiguous acts, unpardonable words, may
yet have sprung from a kind sentiment. If the injured one
could read your heart, you may be sure that he would
understand and pardon; but, alas! the heart cannot be shown -
it has to be demonstrated in words. Do you think it is a hard
thing to write poetry? Why, that is to write poetry, and of a
high, if not the highest, order.

I should even more admire "the lifelong and heroic
literary labours" of my fellow-men, patiently clearing up in
words their loves and their contentions, and speaking their
autobiography daily to their wives, were it not for a
circumstance which lessens their difficulty and my admiration
by equal parts. For life, though largely, is not entirely
carried on by literature. We are subject to physical passions
and contortions; the voice breaks and changes, and speaks by
unconscious and winning inflections; we have legible
countenances, like an open book; things that cannot be said
look eloquently through the eyes; and the soul, not locked
into the body as a dungeon, dwells ever on the threshold with
appealing signals. Groans and tears, looks and gestures, a
flush or a paleness, are often the most clear reporters of the
heart, and speak more directly to the hearts of others. The
message flies by these interpreters in the least space of
time, and the misunderstanding is averted in the moment of its
birth. To explain in words takes time and a just and patient
hearing; and in the critical epochs of a close relation,
patience and justice are not qualities on which we can rely.
But the look or the gesture explains things in a breath; they
tell their message without ambiguity; unlike speech, they
cannot stumble, by the way, on a reproach or an allusion that
should steel your friend against the truth; and then they have
a higher authority, for they are the direct expression of the
heart, not yet transmitted through the unfaithful and
sophisticating brain. Not long ago I wrote a letter to a
friend which came near involving us in quarrel; but we met,
and in personal talk I repeated the worst of what I had
written, and added worse to that; and with the commentary of
the body it seemed not unfriendly either to hear or say.
Indeed, letters are in vain for the purposes of intimacy; an
absence is a dead break in the relation; yet two who know each
other fully and are bent on perpetuity in love, may so
preserve the attitude of their affections that they may meet
on the same terms as they had parted.

Pitiful is the case of the blind, who cannot read the
face; pitiful that of the deaf, who cannot follow the changes
of the voice. And there are others also to be pitied; for
there are some of an inert, uneloquent nature, who have been
denied all the symbols of communication, who have neither a
lively play of facial expression, nor speaking gestures, nor a
responsive voice, nor yet the gift of frank, explanatory
speech: people truly made of clay, people tied for life into a
bag which no one can undo. They are poorer than the gipsy,
for their heart can speak no language under heaven. Such
people we must learn slowly by the tenor of their acts, or
through yea and nay communications; or we take them on trust
on the strength of a general air, and now and again, when we
see the spirit breaking through in a flash, correct or change
our estimate. But these will be uphill intimacies, without
charm or freedom, to the end; and freedom is the chief
ingredient in confidence. Some minds, romantically dull,
despise physical endowments. That is a doctrine for a
misanthrope; to those who like their fellow-creatures it must
always be meaningless; and, for my part, I can see few things
more desirable, after the possession of such radical qualities
as honour and humour and pathos, than to have a lively and not
a stolid countenance; to have looks to correspond with every
feeling; to be elegant and delightful in person, so that we
shall please even in the intervals of active pleasing, and may
never discredit speech with uncouth manners or become
unconsciously our own burlesques. But of all unfortunates
there is one creature (for I will not call him man)
conspicuous in misfortune. This is he who has forfeited his
birthright of expression, who has cultivated artful
intonations, who has taught his face tricks, like a pet
monkey, and on every side perverted or cut off his means of
communication with his fellow-men. The body is a house of
many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying
on the passers-by to come and love us. But this fellow has
filled his windows with opaque glass, elegantly coloured. His
house may be admired for its design, the crowd may pause
before the stained windows, but meanwhile the poor proprietor
must lie languishing within, uncomforted, unchangeably alone.

Truth of intercourse is something more difficult than to
refrain from open lies. It is possible to avoid falsehood and
yet not tell the truth. It is not enough to answer formal
questions. To reach the truth by yea and nay communications
implies a questioner with a share of inspiration, such as is
often found in mutual love. YEA and NAY mean nothing; the
meaning must have been related in the question. Many words
are often necessary to convey a very simple statement; for in
this sort of exercise we never hit the gold; the most that we
can hope is by many arrows, more or less far off on different
sides, to indicate, in the course of time, for what target we
are aiming, and after an hour's talk, back and forward, to
convey the purport of a single principle or a single thought.
And yet while the curt, pithy speaker misses the point
entirely, a wordy, prolegomenous babbler will often add three
new offences in the process of excusing one. It is really a
most delicate affair. The world was made before the English
language, and seemingly upon a different design. Suppose we
held our converse not in words, but in music; those who have a
bad ear would find themselves cut off from all near commerce,
and no better than foreigners in this big world. But we do
not consider how many have "a bad ear" for words, nor how
often the most eloquent find nothing to reply. I hate
questioners and questions; there are so few that can be spoken
to without a lie. "DO YOU FORGIVE ME?" Madam and sweetheart,
so far as I have gone in life I have never yet been able to
discover what forgiveness means. "IS IT STILL THE SAME
BETWEEN US?" Why, how can it be? It is eternally different;
and yet you are still the friend of my heart. "DO YOU
UNDERSTAND ME?" God knows; I should think it highly

The cruellest lies are often told in silence. A man may
have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and yet
come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator.
And how many loves have perished because, from pride, or
spite, or diffidence, or that unmanly shame which withholds a
man from daring to betray emotion, a lover, at the critical
point of the relation, has but hung his head and held his
tongue? And, again, a lie may be told by a truth, or a truth
conveyed through a lie. Truth to facts is not always truth to
sentiment; and part of the truth, as often happens in answer
to a question, may be the foulest calumny. A fact may be an
exception; but the feeling is the law, and it is that which
you must neither garble nor belie. The whole tenor of a
conversation is a part of the meaning of each separate
statement; the beginning and the end define and travesty the
intermediate conversation. You never speak to God; you
address a fellow-man, full of his own tempers; and to tell
truth, rightly understood, is not to state the true facts, but
to convey a true impression; truth in spirit, not truth to
letter, is the true veracity. To reconcile averted friends a
Jesuitical discretion is often needful, not so much to gain a
kind hearing as to communicate sober truth. Women have an ill
name in this connection; yet they live in as true relations;
the lie of a good woman is the true index of her heart.

"It takes," says Thoreau, in the noblest and most useful
passage I remember to have read in any modern author, (1) "two
to speak truth - one to speak and another to hear." He must
be very little experienced, or have no great zeal for truth,
who does not recognise the fact. A grain of anger or a grain
of suspicion produces strange acoustical effects, and makes
the ear greedy to remark offence. Hence we find those who
have once quarrelled carry themselves distantly, and are ever
ready to break the truce. To speak truth there must be moral
equality or else no respect; and hence between parent and
child intercourse is apt to degenerate into a verbal fencing
bout, and misapprehensions to become ingrained. And there is
another side to this, for the parent begins with an imperfect
notion of the child's character, formed in early years or
during the equinoctial gales of youth; to this he adheres,
noting only the facts which suit with his preconception; and
wherever a person fancies himself unjustly judged, he at once
and finally gives up the effort to speak truth. With our
chosen friends, on the other hand, and still more between
lovers (for mutual understanding is love's essence), the truth
is easily indicated by the one and aptly comprehended by the
other. A hint taken, a look understood, conveys the gist of
long and delicate explanations; and where the life is known
even YEA and NAY become luminous. In the closest of all
relations - that of a love well founded and equally shared -
speech is half discarded, like a roundabout, infantile process
or a ceremony of formal etiquette; and the two communicate
directly by their presences, and with few looks and fewer
words contrive to share their good and evil and uphold each
other's hearts in joy. For love rests upon a physical basis;
it is a familiarity of nature's making and apart from
voluntary choice. Understanding has in some sort outrun
knowledge, for the affection perhaps began with the
acquaintance; and as it was not made like other relations, so
it is not, like them, to be perturbed or clouded. Each knows
more than can be uttered; each lives by faith, and believes by
a natural compulsion; and between man and wife the language of
the body is largely developed and grown strangely eloquent.
The thought that prompted and was conveyed in a caress would
only lose to be set down in words - ay, although Shakespeare
himself should be the scribe.

Wednesday, p. 283.

Yet it is in these dear intimacies, beyond all others,
that we must strive and do battle for the truth. Let but a
doubt arise, and alas! all the previous intimacy and
confidence is but another charge against the person doubted.
SO LONG AND SO COMPLETELY!" Let but that thought gain
entrance, and you plead before a deaf tribunal. Appeal to the
past; why, that is your crime! Make all clear, convince the
reason; alas! speciousness is but a proof against you. "IF

For a strong affection such moments are worth supporting,
and they will end well; for your advocate is in your lover's
heart and speaks her own language; it is not you but she
herself who can defend and clear you of the charge. But in
slighter intimacies, and for a less stringent union? Indeed,
is it worth while? We are all INCOMPRIS, only more or less
concerned for the mischance; all trying wrongly to do right;
all fawning at each other's feet like dumb, neglected lap-
dogs. Sometimes we catch an eye - this is our opportunity in
the ages - and we wag our tail with a poor smile. "IS THAT
ALL?" All? If you only knew! But how can they know? They
do not love us; the more fools we to squander life on the

But the morality of the thing, you will be glad to hear,
is excellent; for it is only by trying to understand others
that we can get our own hearts understood; and in matters of
human feeling the clement judge is the most successful


"You know my mother now and then argues very notably;
always very warmly at least. I happen often to differ from
her; and we both think so well of our own arguments, that we
very seldom are so happy as to convince one another. A pretty
common case, I believe, in all VEHEMENT debatings. She says,
I am TOO WITTY; Anglice, TOO PERT; I, that she is TOO WISE;
that is to say, being likewise put into English, NOT SO YOUNG
AS SHE HAS BEEN." - Miss Howe to Miss Harlowe, CLARISSA, vol.
ii. Letter xiii.

THERE is a strong feeling in favour of cowardly and
prudential proverbs. The sentiments of a man while he is full
of ardour and hope are to be received, it is supposed, with
some qualification. But when the same person has
ignominiously failed and begins to eat up his words, he should
be listened to like an oracle. Most of our pocket wisdom is
conceived for the use of mediocre people, to discourage them
from ambitious attempts, and generally console them in their
mediocrity. And since mediocre people constitute the bulk of
humanity, this is no doubt very properly so. But it does not
follow that the one sort of proposition is any less true than
the other, or that Icarus is not to be more praised, and
perhaps more envied, than Mr. Samuel Budgett the Successful
Merchant. The one is dead, to be sure, while the other is
still in his counting-house counting out his money; and
doubtless this is a consideration. But we have, on the other
hand, some bold and magnanimous sayings common to high races
and natures, which set forth the advantage of the losing side,
and proclaim it better to be a dead lion than a living dog.
It is difficult to fancy how the mediocrities reconcile such
sayings with their proverbs. According to the latter, every
lad who goes to sea is an egregious ass; never to forget your
umbrella through a long life would seem a higher and wiser
flight of achievement than to go smiling to the stake; and so
long as you are a bit of a coward and inflexible in money
matters, you fulfil the whole duty of man.

It is a still more difficult consideration for our
average men, that while all their teachers, from Solomon down
to Benjamin Franklin and the ungodly Binney, have inculcated
the same ideal of manners, caution, and respectability, those
characters in history who have most notoriously flown in the
face of such precepts are spoken of in hyperbolical terms of
praise, and honoured with public monuments in the streets of
our commercial centres. This is very bewildering to the moral
sense. You have Joan of Arc, who left a humble but honest and
reputable livelihood under the eyes of her parents, to go a-
colonelling, in the company of rowdy soldiers, against the
enemies of France; surely a melancholy example for one's
daughters! And then you have Columbus, who may have pioneered
America, but, when all is said, was a most imprudent
navigator. His life is not the kind of thing one would like
to put into the hands of young people; rather, one would do
one's utmost to keep it from their knowledge, as a red flag of
adventure and disintegrating influence in life. The time
would fail me if I were to recite all the big names in history
whose exploits are perfectly irrational and even shocking to
the business mind. The incongruity is speaking; and I imagine
it must engender among the mediocrities a very peculiar
attitude, towards the nobler and showier sides of national
life. They will read of the Charge of Balaclava in much the
same spirit as they assist at a performance of the LYONS MAIL.
Persons of substance take in the TIMES and sit composedly in
pit or boxes according to the degree of their prosperity in
business. As for the generals who go galloping up and down
among bomb-shells in absurd cocked hats - as for the actors
who raddle their faces and demean themselves for hire upon the
stage - they must belong, thank God! to a different order of
beings, whom we watch as we watch the clouds careering in the
windy, bottomless inane, or read about like characters in
ancient and rather fabulous annals. Our offspring would no
more think of copying their behaviour, let us hope, than of
doffing their clothes and painting themselves blue in
consequence of certain admissions in the first chapter of
their school history of England.

Discredited as they are in practice, the cowardly
proverbs hold their own in theory; and it is another instance
of the same spirit, that the opinions of old men about life
have been accepted as final. All sorts of allowances are made
for the illusions of youth; and none, or almost none, for the
disenchantments of age. It is held to be a good taunt, and
somehow or other to clinch the question logically, when an old
gentleman waggles his head and says: "Ah, so I thought when I
was your age." It is not thought an answer at all, if the
young man retorts: "My venerable sir, so I shall most probably
think when I am yours." And yet the one is as good as the
other: pass for pass, tit for tat, a Roland for an Oliver.

"Opinion in good men," says Milton, "is but knowledge in
the making." All opinions, properly so called, are stages on
the road to truth. It does not follow that a man will travel
any further; but if he has really considered the world and
drawn a conclusion, he has travelled as far. This does not
apply to formulae got by rote, which are stages on the road to
nowhere but second childhood and the grave. To have a
catchword in your mouth is not the same thing as to hold an
opinion; still less is it the same thing as to have made one
for yourself. There are too many of these catchwords in the
world for people to rap out upon you like an oath and by way
of an argument. They have a currency as intellectual
counters; and many respectable persons pay their way with
nothing else. They seem to stand for vague bodies of theory
in the background. The imputed virtue of folios full of
knockdown arguments is supposed to reside in them, just as
some of the majesty of the British Empire dwells in the
constable's truncheon. They are used in pure superstition, as
old clodhoppers spoil Latin by way of an exorcism. And yet
they are vastly serviceable for checking unprofitable
discussion and stopping the mouths of babes and sucklings.
And when a young man comes to a certain stage of intellectual
growth, the examination of these counters forms a gymnastic at
once amusing and fortifying to the mind.

Because I have reached Paris, I am not ashamed of having
passed through Newhaven and Dieppe. They were very good
places to pass through, and I am none the less at my
destination. All my old opinions were only stages on the way
to the one I now hold, as itself is only a stage on the way to
something else. I am no more abashed at having been a red-hot
Socialist with a panacea of my own than at having been a
sucking infant. Doubtless the world is quite right in a
million ways; but you have to be kicked about a little to
convince you of the fact. And in the meanwhile you must do
something, be something, believe something. It is not
possible to keep the mind in a state of accurate balance and
blank; and even if you could do so, instead of coming
ultimately to the right conclusion, you would be very apt to
remain in a state of balance and blank to perpetuity. Even in
quite intermediate stages, a dash of enthusiasm is not a thing
to be ashamed of in the retrospect: if St. Paul had not been a
very zealous Pharisee, he would have been a colder Christian.
For my part, I look back to the time when I was a Socialist
with something like regret. I have convinced myself (for the
moment) that we had better leave these great changes to what
we call great blind forces: their blindness being so much more
perspicacious than the little, peering, partial eyesight of
men. I seem to see that my own scheme would not answer; and
all the other schemes I ever heard propounded would depress
some elements of goodness just as much as they encouraged
others. Now I know that in thus turning Conservative with
years, I am going through the normal cycle of change and
travelling in the common orbit of men's opinions. I submit to
this, as I would submit to gout or gray hair, as a concomitant
of growing age or else of failing animal heat; but I do not
acknowledge that it is necessarily a change for the better - I
daresay it is deplorably for the worse. I have no choice in
the business, and can no more resist this tendency of my mind
than I could prevent my body from beginning to totter and
decay. If I am spared (as the phrase runs) I shall doubtless
outlive some troublesome desires; but I am in no hurry about
that; nor, when the time comes, shall I plume myself on the
immunity just in the same way, I do not greatly pride myself
on having outlived my belief in the fairy tales of Socialism.
Old people have faults of their own; they tend to become
cowardly, niggardly, and suspicious. Whether from the growth
of experience or the decline of animal heat, I see that age
leads to these and certain other faults; and it follows, of
course, that while in one sense I hope I am journeying towards
the truth, in another I am indubitably posting towards these
forms and sources of error.

As we go catching and catching at this or that corner of
knowledge, now getting a foresight of generous possibilities,
now chilled with a glimpse of prudence, we may compare the
headlong course of our years to a swift torrent in which a man
is carried away; now he is dashed against a boulder, now he
grapples for a moment to a trailing spray; at the end, he is
hurled out and overwhelmed in a dark and bottomless ocean. We
have no more than glimpses and touches; we are torn away from
our theories; we are spun round and round and shown this or
the other view of life, until only fools or knaves can hold to
their opinions. We take a sight at a condition in life, and
say we have studied it; our most elaborate view is no more
than an impression. If we had breathing space, we should take
the occasion to modify and adjust; but at this breakneck
hurry, we are no sooner boys than we are adult, no sooner in
love than married or jilted, no sooner one age than we begin
to be another, and no sooner in the fulness of our manhood
than we begin to decline towards the grave. It is in vain to
seek for consistency or expect clear and stable views in a
medium so perturbed and fleeting. This is no cabinet science,
in which things are tested to a scruple; we theorise with a
pistol to our head; we are confronted with a new set of
conditions on which we have not only to pass a judgment, but
to take action, before the hour is at an end. And we cannot
even regard ourselves as a constant; in this flux of things,
our identity itself seems in a perpetual variation; and not
infrequently we find our own disguise the strangest in the
masquerade. In the course of time, we grow to love things we
hated and hate things we loved. Milton is not so dull as he
once was, nor perhaps Ainsworth so amusing. It is decidedly
harder to climb trees, and not nearly so hard to sit still.
There is no use pretending; even the thrice royal game of hide
and seek has somehow lost in zest. All our attributes are
modified or chanced and it will be a poor account of us if our
views do not modify and change in a proportion. To hold the
same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been
stupefied for a score of years, and take rank, not as a
prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well birched and none the
wiser. It is as if a ship captain should sail to India from
the Port of London; and having brought a chart of the Thames
on deck at his first setting out, should obstinately use no
other for the whole voyage.

And mark you, it would be no less foolish to begin at
Gravesend with a chart of the Red Sea. SI JEUNESSE SAVAIT, SI
VIEILLESSE POUVAIT, is a very pretty sentiment, but not
necessarily right. In five cases out of ten, it is not so
much that the young people do not know, as that they do not
choose. There is something irreverent in the speculation, but
perhaps the want of power has more to do with the wise
resolutions of age than we are always willing to admit. It
would be an instructive experiment to make an old man young
again and leave him all his SAVOIR. I scarcely think he would
put his money in the Savings Bank after all; I doubt if he
would be such an admirable son as we are led to expect; and as
for his conduct in love, I believe firmly he would out-Herod
Herod, and put the whole of his new compeers to the blush.
Prudence is a wooden juggernaut, before whom Benjamin Franklin
walks with the portly air of a high priest, and after whom
dances many a successful merchant in the character of Atys.
But it is not a deity to cultivate in youth. If a man lives
to any considerable age, it cannot be denied that he laments
his imprudences, but I notice he often laments his youth a
deal more bitterly and with a more genuine intonation.

It is customary to say that age should be considered,
because it comes last. It seems just as much to the point,
that youth comes first. And the scale fairly kicks the beam,
if you go on to add that age, in a majority of cases, never
comes at all. Disease and accident make short work of even
the most prosperous persons; death costs nothing, and the
expense of a headstone is an inconsiderable trifle to the
happy heir. To be suddenly snuffed out in the middle of
ambitious schemes, is tragical enough at best; but when a man
has been grudging himself his own life in the meanwhile, and
saving up everything for the festival that was never to be, it
becomes that hysterically moving sort of tragedy which lies on
the confines of farce. The victim is dead - and he has
cunningly overreached himself: a combination of calamities
none the less absurd for being grim. To husband a favourite
claret until the batch turns sour, is not at all an artful
stroke of policy; and how much more with a whole cellar - a
whole bodily existence! People may lay down their lives with
cheerfulness in the sure expectation of a blessed immortality;
but that is a different affair from giving up youth with all
its admirable pleasures, in the hope of a better quality of
gruel in a more than problematical, nay, more than improbable,
old age. We should not compliment a hungry man, who should
refuse a whole dinner and reserve all his appetite for the
dessert, before he knew whether there was to be any dessert or
not. If there be such a thing as imprudence in the world, we
surely have it here. We sail in leaky bottoms and on great
and perilous waters; and to take a cue from the dolorous old
naval ballad, we have heard the mer-maidens singing, and know
that we shall never see dry land any more. Old and young, we
are all on our last cruise. If there is a fill of tobacco
among the crew, for God's sake pass it round, and let us have
a pipe before we go!

Indeed, by the report of our elders, this nervous
preparation for old age is only trouble thrown away. We fall
on guard, and after all it is a friend who comes to meet us.
After the sun is down and the west faded, the heavens begin to
fill with shining stars. So, as we grow old, a sort of
equable jog-trot of feeling is substituted for the violent ups
and downs of passion and disgust; the same influence that
restrains our hopes, quiets our apprehensions; if the
pleasures are less intense, the troubles are milder and more
tolerable; and in a word, this period for which we are asked
to hoard up everything as for a time of famine, is, in its own
right, the richest, easiest, and happiest of life. Nay, by
managing its own work and following its own happy inspiration,
youth is doing the best it can to endow the leisure of age. A
full, busy youth is your only prelude to a self-contained and
independent age; and the muff inevitably develops into the
bore. There are not many Doctor Johnsons, to set forth upon
their first romantic voyage at sixty-four. If we wish to
scale Mont Blanc or visit a thieves' kitchen in the East End,
to go down in a diving dress or up in a balloon, we must be
about it while we are still young. It will not do to delay
until we are clogged with prudence and limping with
rheumatism, and people begin to ask us: "What does Gravity out
of bed?" Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the
world to the other both in mind and body; to try the manners
of different nations; to hear the chimes at midnight; to see
sunrise in town and country; to be converted at a revival; to
circumnavigate the metaphysics, write halting verses, run a
mile to see a fire, and wait all day long in the theatre to
applaud HERNANI. There is some meaning in the old theory
about wild oats; and a man who has not had his green-sickness
and got done with it for good, is as little to be depended on
as an unvaccinated infant. "It is extraordinary," says Lord
Beaconsfield, one of the brightest and best preserved of
youths up to the date of his last novel, (1) "it is
extraordinary how hourly and how violently change the feelings
of an inexperienced young man." And this mobility is a
special talent entrusted to his care; a sort of indestructible
virginity; a magic armour, with which he can pass unhurt
through great dangers and come unbedaubed out of the miriest
passages. Let him voyage, speculate, see all that he can, do
all that he may; his soul has as many lives as a cat; he will
live in all weathers, and never be a halfpenny the worse.
Those who go to the devil in youth, with anything like a fair
chance, were probably little worth saving from the first; they
must have been feeble fellows - creatures made of putty and
pack-thread, without steel or fire, anger or true joyfulness,
in their composition; we may sympathise with their parents,
but there is not much cause to go into mourning for
themselves; for to be quite honest, the weak brother is the
worst of mankind.


When the old man waggles his head and says, "Ah, so I
thought when I was your age," he has proved the youth's case.
Doubtless, whether from growth of experience or decline of
animal heat, he thinks so no longer; but he thought so while
he was young; and all men have thought so while they were
young, since there was dew in the morning or hawthorn in May;
and here is another young man adding his vote to those of
previous generations and rivetting another link to the chain
of testimony. It is as natural and as right for a young man
to be imprudent and exaggerated, to live in swoops and
circles, and beat about his cage like any other wild thing
newly captured, as it is for old men to turn gray, or mothers
to love their offspring, or heroes to die for something
worthier than their lives.

By way of an apologue for the aged, when they feel more
than usually tempted to offer their advice, let me recommend
the following little tale. A child who had been remarkably
fond of toys (and in particular of lead soldiers) found
himself growing to the level of acknowledged boyhood without
any abatement of this childish taste. He was thirteen;
already he had been taunted for dallying overlong about the
playbox; he had to blush if he was found among his lead
soldiers; the shades of the prison-house were closing about
him with a vengeance. There is nothing more difficult than to
put the thoughts of children into the language of their
elders; but this is the effect of his meditations at this
juncture: "Plainly," he said, "I must give up my playthings,
in the meanwhile, since I am not in a position to secure
myself against idle jeers. At the same time, I am sure that
playthings are the very pick of life; all people give them up
out of the same pusillanimous respect for those who are a
little older; and if they do not return to them as soon as
they can, it is only because they grow stupid and forget. I
shall be wiser; I shall conform for a little to the ways of
their foolish world; but so soon as I have made enough money,
I shall retire and shut myself up among my playthings until
the day I die." Nay, as he was passing in the train along the
Esterel mountains between Cannes and Frejus, he remarked a
pretty house in an orange garden at the angle of a bay, and
decided that this should be his Happy Valley. Astrea Redux;
childhood was to come again! The idea has an air of simple
nobility to me, not unworthy of Cincinnatus. And yet, as the
reader has probably anticipated, it is never likely to be
carried into effect. There was a worm i' the bud, a fatal
error in the premises. Childhood must pass away, and then
youth, as surely as age approaches. The true wisdom is to be
always seasonable, and to change with a good grace in changing
circumstances. To love playthings well as a child, to lead an
adventurous and honourable youth, and to settle when the time
arrives, into a green and smiling age, is to be a good artist
in life and deserve well of yourself and your neighbour.

You need repent none of your youthful vagaries. They may
have been over the score on one side, just as those of age are
probably over the score on the other. But they had a point;
they not only befitted your age and expressed its attitude and
passions, but they had a relation to what was outside of you,
and implied criticisms on the existing state of things, which
you need not allow to have been undeserved, because you now
see that they were partial. All error, not merely verbal, is
a strong way of stating that the current truth is incomplete.
The follies of youth have a basis in sound reason, just as
much as the embarrassing questions put by babes and sucklings.
Their most antisocial acts indicate the defects of our
society. When the torrent sweeps the man against a boulder,
you must expect him to scream, and you need not be surprised
if the scream is sometimes a theory. Shelley, chafing at the
Church of England, discovered the cure of all evils in
universal atheism. Generous lads irritated at the injustices
of society, see nothing for it but the abolishment of
everything and Kingdom Come of anarchy. Shelley was a young
fool; so are these cocksparrow revolutionaries. But it is
better to be a fool than to be dead. It is better to emit a
scream in the shape of a theory than to be entirely insensible
to the jars and incongruities of life and take everything as
it comes in a forlorn stupidity. Some people swallow the
universe like a pill; they travel on through the world, like
smiling images pushed from behind. For God's sake give me the
young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself! As
for the others, the irony of facts shall take it out of their
hands, and make fools of them in downright earnest, ere the
farce be over. There shall be such a mopping and a mowing at
the last day, and such blushing and confusion of countenance
for all those who have been wise in their own esteem, and have
not learnt the rough lessons that youth hands on to age. If
we are indeed here to perfect and complete our own natures,
and grow larger, stronger, and more sympathetic against some
nobler career in the future, we had all best bestir ourselves
to the utmost while we have the time. To equip a dull,
respectable person with wings would be but to make a parody of
an angel.

In short, if youth is not quite right in its opinions,
there is a strong probability that age is not much more so.
Undying hope is co-ruler of the human bosom with infallible
credulity. A man finds he has been wrong at every preceding
stage of his career, only to deduce the astonishing conclusion
that he is at last entirely right. Mankind, after centuries
of failure, are still upon the eve of a thoroughly
constitutional millennium. Since we have explored the maze so
long without result, it follows, for poor human reason, that
we cannot have to explore much longer; close by must be the
centre, with a champagne luncheon and a piece of ornamental
water. How if there were no centre at all, but just one alley
after another, and the whole world a labyrinth without end or

I overheard the other day a scrap of conversation, which
I take the liberty to reproduce. "What I advance is true,"
said one. "But not the whole truth," answered the other.
"Sir," returned the first (and it seemed to me there was a
smack of Dr. Johnson in the speech), "Sir, there is no such
thing as the whole truth!" Indeed, there is nothing so
evident in life as that there are two sides to a question.
History is one long illustration. The forces of nature are
engaged, day by day, in cudgelling it into our backward
intelligences. We never pause for a moment's consideration
but we admit it as an axiom. An enthusiast sways humanity
exactly by disregarding this great truth, and dinning it into
our ears that this or that question has only one possible
solution; and your enthusiast is a fine florid fellow,
dominates things for a while and shakes the world out of a
doze; but when once he is gone, an army of quiet and
uninfluential people set to work to remind us of the other
side and demolish the generous imposture. While Calvin is
putting everybody exactly right in his INSTITUTES, and hot-
headed Knox is thundering in the pulpit, Montaigne is already
looking at the other side in his library in Perigord, and
predicting that they will find as much to quarrel about in the
Bible as they had found already in the Church. Age may have
one side, but assuredly Youth has the other. There is nothing
more certain than that both are right, except perhaps that
both are wrong. Let them agree to differ; for who knows but
what agreeing to differ may not be a form of agreement rather
than a form of difference?

I suppose it is written that any one who sets up for a
bit of a philosopher, must contradict himself to his very
face. For here have I fairly talked myself into thinking that
we have the whole thing before us at last; that there is no
answer to the mystery, except that there are as many as you
please; that there is no centre to the maze because, like the
famous sphere, its centre is everywhere; and that agreeing to
differ with every ceremony of politeness, is the only "one
undisturbed song of pure concent" to which we are ever likely
to lend our musical voices.


"BOSWELL: We grow weary when idle."
"JOHNSON: That is, sir, because others being busy, we
want company; but if we were idle, there would be no growing
weary; we should all entertain one another."

JUST now, when every one is bound, under pain of a decree
in absence convicting them of LESE-respectability, to enter on
some lucrative profession, and labour therein with something
not far short of enthusiasm, a cry from the opposite party who
are content when they have enough, and like to look on and
enjoy in the meanwhile, savours a little of bravado and
gasconade. And yet this should not be. Idleness so called,
which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great
deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling
class, has as good a right to state its position as industry
itself. It is admitted that the presence of people who refuse
to enter in the great handicap race for sixpenny pieces, is at
once an insult and a disenchantment for those who do. A fine
fellow (as we see so many) takes his determination, votes for
the sixpences, and in the emphatic Americanism, it "goes for"
them. And while such an one is ploughing distressfully up the
road, it is not hard to understand his resentment, when he
perceives cool persons in the meadows by the wayside, lying
with a handkerchief over their ears and a glass at their
elbow. Alexander is touched in a very delicate place by the
disregard of Diogenes. Where was the glory of having taken
Rome for these tumultuous barbarians, who poured into the
Senate house, and found the Fathers sitting silent and unmoved
by their success? It is a sore thing to have laboured along
and scaled the arduous hilltops, and when all is done, find
humanity indifferent to your achievement. Hence physicists
condemn the unphysical; financiers have only a superficial
toleration for those who know little of stocks; literary
persons despise the unlettered; and people of all pursuits
combine to disparage those who have none.

But though this is one difficulty of the subject, it is
not the greatest. You could not be put in prison for speaking
against industry, but you can be sent to Coventry for speaking
like a fool. The greatest difficulty with most subjects is to
do them well; therefore, please to remember this is an
apology. It is certain that much may be judiciously argued in
favour of diligence; only there is something to be said
against it, and that is what, on the present occasion, I have
to say. To state one argument is not necessarily to be deaf
to all others, and that a man has written a book of travels in
Montenegro, is no reason why he should never have been to

It is surely beyond a doubt that people should be a good
deal idle in youth. For though here and there a Lord Macaulay
may escape from school honours with all his wits about him,
most boys pay so dear for their medals that they never
afterwards have a shot in their locker, and begin the world
bankrupt. And the same holds true during all the time a lad
is educating himself, or suffering others to educate him. It
must have been a very foolish old gentleman who addressed
Johnson at Oxford in these words: "Young man, ply your book
diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when
years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will
be but an irksome task." The old gentleman seems to have been
unaware that many other things besides reading grow irksome,
and not a few become impossible, by the time a man has to use
spectacles and cannot walk without a stick. Books are good
enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless
substitute for life. It seems a pity to sit, like the Lady of
Shalott, peering into a mirror, with your back turned on all
the bustle and glamour of reality. And if a man reads very
hard, as the old anecdote reminds us, he will have little time
for thought.

If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will
not be the full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you
regret; you would rather cancel some lack-lustre periods
between sleep and waking in the class. For my own part, I
have attended a good many lectures in my time. I still
remember that the spinning of a top is a case of Kinetic
Stability. I still remember that Emphyteusis is not a


Back to Full Books