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Title: Tea-Table Talk
Author: Jerome, Jerome K. (Jerome Klapka)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tea-Table Talk" ***

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Transcribed from the 1903 Hutchinson & Co. edition by David Price, email

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                   [Picture: Who would be a chaperone?]

                              TEA-TABLE TALK

                           BY JEROME K. JEROME
                     Author of “Paul Kelver” . . . .
                    “Three Men in a Boat,” etc., etc.

                                * * * * *

                            WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
                            ON PLATE PAPER BY
                            FRED PEGRAM . . .

                                * * * * *

                             HUTCHINSON & CO.
                            PATERNOSTER SQUARE

                                * * * * *

                                PRINTED BY
                      HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
                          LONDON AND AYLESBURY.

                                * * * * *


WHO WOULD BE A CHAPERONE?                               _Frontispiece_
I LEFT THEM AT IT                                                   16
WHY SHOULD WE SEEK TO EXPLAIN AWAY ALL THE                          26
ARE WE SO SURE THAT ART DOES ELEVATE?                               38
A MAN’S WORK ’TIS TILL SET OF SUN, BUT A WOMAN’S                    52
IT IS THE FOOL WHO IMAGINES HER INHUMAN                            100


“THEY are very pretty, some of them,” said the Woman of the World; “not
the sort of letters I should have written myself.”

“I should like to see a love-letter of yours,” interrupted the Minor

“It is very kind of you to say so,” replied the Woman of the World.  “It
never occurred to me that you would care for one.”

“It is what I have always maintained,” retorted the Minor Poet; “you have
never really understood me.”

“I believe a volume of assorted love-letters would sell well,” said the
Girton Girl; “written by the same hand, if you like, but to different
correspondents at different periods.  To the same person one is bound,
more or less, to repeat oneself.”

“Or from different lovers to the same correspondent,” suggested the
Philosopher.  “It would be interesting to observe the response of various
temperaments exposed to an unvaried influence.  It would throw light on
the vexed question whether the qualities that adorn our beloved are her
own, or ours lent to her for the occasion.  Would the same woman be
addressed as ‘My Queen!’ by one correspondent, and as ‘Dear Popsy Wopsy!’
by another, or would she to all her lovers be herself?”

“You might try it,” I suggested to the Woman of the World, “selecting, of
course, only the more interesting.”

“It would cause so much unpleasantness, don’t you think?” replied the
Woman of the World.  “Those I left out would never forgive me.  It is
always so with people you forget to invite to a funeral—they think it is
done with deliberate intention to slight them.”

“The first love-letter I ever wrote,” said the Minor Poet, “was when I
was sixteen.  Her name was Monica; she was the left-hand girl in the
third joint of the crocodile.  I have never known a creature so
ethereally beautiful.  I wrote the letter and sealed it, but I could not
make up my mind whether to slip it into her hand when we passed them, as
we usually did on Thursday afternoons, or to wait for Sunday.”

“There can be no question,” murmured the Girton Girl abstractedly, “the
best time is just as one is coming out of church.  There is so much
confusion; besides, one has one’s Prayer-book—I beg your pardon.”

“I was saved the trouble of deciding,” continued the Minor Poet.  “On
Thursday her place was occupied by a fat, red-headed girl, who replied to
my look of inquiry with an idiotic laugh, and on Sunday I searched the
Hypatia House pews for her in vain.  I learnt subsequently that she had
been sent home on the previous Wednesday, suddenly.  It appeared that I
was not the only one.  I left the letter where I had placed it, at the
bottom of my desk, and in course of time forgot it.  Years later I fell
in love really.  I sat down to write her a love-letter that should
imprison her as by some subtle spell.  I would weave into it the love of
all the ages.  When I had finished it, I read it through and was pleased
with it.  Then by an accident, as I was going to seal it, I overturned my
desk, and on to the floor fell that other love-letter I had written seven
years before, when a boy.  Out of idle curiosity I tore it open; I
thought it would afford me amusement.  I ended by posting it instead of
the letter I had just completed.  It carried precisely the same meaning;
but it was better expressed, with greater sincerity, with more artistic

“After all,” said the Philosopher, “what can a man do more than tell a
woman that he loves her?  All the rest is mere picturesque amplification,
on a par with the ‘Full and descriptive report from our Special
Correspondent,’ elaborated out of a three-line telegram of Reuter’s.”

“Following that argument,” said the Minor Poet, “you could reduce ‘Romeo
and Juliet’ to a two-line tragedy—

    Lass and lad, loved like mad;
    Silly muddle, very sad.”

“To be told that you are loved,” said the Girton Girl, “is only the
beginning of the theorem—its proposition, so to speak.”

“Or the argument of the poem,” murmured the Old Maid.

“The interest,” continued the Girton Girl, “lies in proving it—why does
he love me?”

“I asked a man that once,” said the Woman of the World.  “He said it was
because he couldn’t help it.  It seemed such a foolish answer—the sort of
thing your housemaid always tells you when she breaks your favourite
teapot.  And yet, I suppose it was as sensible as any other.”

“More so,” commented the Philosopher.  “It is the only possible

“I wish,” said the Minor Poet, “it were a question one could ask of
people without offence; I so often long to put it.  Why do men marry
viragoes, pimply girls with incipient moustaches?  Why do beautiful
heiresses choose thick-lipped, little men who bully them?  Why are old
bachelors, generally speaking, sympathetic, kind-hearted men; and old
maids, so many of them, sweet-looking and amiable?”

“I think,” said the Old Maid, “that perhaps—”  But there she stopped.

“Pray go on,” said the Philosopher.  “I shall be so interested to have
your views.”

“It was nothing, really,” said the Old Maid; “I have forgotten.”

“If only one could obtain truthful answers,” the Minor Poet, “what a
flood of light they might let fall on the hidden half of life!”

“It seems to me,” said the Philosopher, “that, if anything, Love is being
exposed to too much light.  The subject is becoming vulgarised.  Every
year a thousand problem plays and novels, poems and essays, tear the
curtain from Love’s Temple, drag it naked into the market-place for
grinning crowds to gape at.  In a million short stories, would-be comic,
would-be serious, it is handled more or less coarsely, more or less
unintelligently, gushed over, gibed and jeered at.  Not a shred of
self-respect is left to it.  It is made the central figure of every
farce, danced and sung round in every music-hall, yelled at by gallery,
guffawed at by stalls.  It is the stock-in-trade of every comic journal.
Could any god, even a Mumbo Jumbo, so treated, hold its place among its
votaries?  Every term of endearment has become a catchword, every caress
mocks us from the hoardings.  Every tender speech we make recalls to us
even while we are uttering it a hundred parodies.  Every possible
situation has been spoilt for us in advance by the American humorist.”

“I have sat out a good many parodies of ‘Hamlet,’” said the Minor Poet,
“but the play still interests me.  I remember a walking tour I once took
in Bavaria.  In some places the waysides are lined with crucifixes that
are either comic or repulsive.  There is a firm that turns them out by
machinery.  Yet, to the peasants who pass by, the Christ is still
beautiful.  You can belittle only what is already contemptible.”

“Patriotism is a great virtue,” replied the Philosopher: “the Jingoes
have made it ridiculous.”

“On the contrary,” said the Minor Poet, “they have taught us to
distinguish between the true and the false.  So it is with love.  The
more it is cheapened, ridiculed, employed for market purposes, the less
the inclination to affect it—to be in love with love, as Heine admitted
he was, for its own sake.”

“Is the necessity to love born in us,” said the Girton Girl, “or do we
practise to acquire it because it is the fashion—make up our mind to
love, as boys learn to smoke, because every other fellow does it, and we
do not like to be peculiar?”

“The majority of men and women,” said the Minor Poet, “are incapable of
love.  With most it is a mere animal passion, with others a mild

“We talk about love,” said the Philosopher, “as though it were a known
quantity.  After all, to say that a man loves is like saying that he
paints or plays the violin; it conveys no meaning until we have witnessed
his performance.  Yet to hear the subject discussed, one might imagine
the love of a Dante or a society Johnny, of a Cleopatra or a Georges
Sand, to be precisely the same thing.”

“It was always poor Susan’s trouble,” said the Woman of the World; “she
could never be persuaded that Jim really loved her.  It was very sad,
because I am sure he was devoted to her, in his way.  But he could not do
the sort of things she wanted him to do; she was so romantic.  He did
try.  He used to go to all the poetical plays and study them.  But he
hadn’t the knack of it and he was naturally clumsy.  He would rush into
the room and fling himself on his knees before her, never noticing the
dog, so that, instead of pouring out his heart as he had intended, he
would have to start off with, ‘So awfully sorry!  Hope I haven’t hurt the
little beast?’  Which was enough to put anybody out.”

 [Picture: He would fling himself on his knees before her, never noticing
                                 the dog]

“Young girls are so foolish,” said the Old Maid; “they run after what
glitters, and do not see the gold until it is too late.  At first they
are all eyes and no heart.”

“I knew a girl,” I said, “or, rather, a young married woman, who was
cured of folly by the homoeopathic method.  Her great trouble was that
her husband had ceased to be her lover.”

“It seems to me so sad,” said the Old Maid.  “Sometimes it is the woman’s
fault, sometimes the man’s; more often both.  The little courtesies, the
fond words, the tender nothings that mean so much to those that love—it
would cost so little not to forget them, and they would make life so much
more beautiful.”

“There is a line of common sense running through all things,” I replied;
“the secret of life consists in not diverging far from it on either side.
He had been the most devoted wooer, never happy out of her eyes; but
before they had been married a year she found to her astonishment that he
could be content even away from her skirts, that he actually took pains
to render himself agreeable to other women.  He would spend whole
afternoons at his club, slip out for a walk occasionally by himself, shut
himself up now and again in his study.  It went so far that one day he
expressed a distinct desire to leave her for a week and go a-fishing with
some other men.  She never complained—at least, not to him.”

“That is where she was foolish,” said the Girton Girl.  “Silence in such
cases is a mistake.  The other party does not know what is the matter
with you, and you yourself—your temper bottled up within—become more
disagreeable every day.”

“She confided her trouble to a friend,” I explained.

“I so dislike people who do that,” said the Woman of the World.  “Emily
never would speak to George; she would come and complain about him to me,
as if I were responsible for him: I wasn’t even his mother.  When she had
finished, George would come along, and I had to listen to the whole thing
over again from his point of view.  I got so tired of it at last that I
determined to stop it.”

“How did you succeed?” asked the Old Maid, who appeared to be interested
in the recipe.

“I knew George was coming one afternoon,” explained the Woman of the
World, “so I persuaded Emily to wait in the conservatory.  She thought I
was going to give him good advice; instead of that I sympathised with him
and encouraged him to speak his mind freely, which he did.  It made her
so mad that she came out and told him what she thought of him.  I left
them at it.  They were both of them the better for it; and so was I.”

                       [Picture: I left them at it]

“In my case,” I said, “it came about differently.  Her friend explained
to him just what was happening.  She pointed out to him how his neglect
and indifference were slowly alienating his wife’s affections from him.
He argued the subject.

“‘But a lover and a husband are not the same,’ he contended; ‘the
situation is entirely different.  You run after somebody you want to
overtake; but when you have caught him up, you settle down quietly and
walk beside him; you don’t continue shouting and waving your handkerchief
after you have gained him.’

“Their mutual friend presented the problem differently.”

“‘You must hold what you have won,’ she said, ‘or it will slip away from
you.  By a certain course of conduct and behaviour you gained a sweet
girl’s regard; show yourself other than you were, how can you expect her
to think the same of you?’

“‘You mean,’ he inquired, ‘that I should talk and act as her husband
exactly as I did when her lover?’

“‘Precisely,’ said the friend; ‘why not?’

“‘It seems to me a mistake,’ he grumbled.

“‘Try it and see,’ said the friend.

“‘All right,’ he said, ‘I will.’  And he went straight home and set to

“Was it too late,” asked the Old Maid, “or did they come together again?”

“For the next mouth,” I answered, “they were together twenty-four hours
of the day.  And then it was the wife who suggested, like the poet in
Gilbert’s _Patience_, the delight with which she would welcome an
occasional afternoon off.”

“He hung about her while she was dressing in the morning.  Just as she
had got her hair fixed he would kiss it passionately and it would come
down again.  All meal-time he would hold her hand under the table and
insist on feeding her with a fork.  Before marriage he had behaved once
or twice in this sort of way at picnics; and after marriage, when at
breakfast-time he had sat at the other end of the table reading the paper
or his letters, she had reminded him of it reproachfully.  The entire day
he never left her side.  She could never read a book; instead, he would
read to her aloud, generally Browning’ poems or translations from Goethe.
Reading aloud was not an accomplishment of his, but in their courting
days she had expressed herself pleased at his attempts, and of this he
took care, in his turn, to remind her.  It was his idea that if the game
were played at all, she should take a hand also.  If he was to blither,
it was only fair that she should bleat back.  As he explained, for the
future they would both be lovers all their life long; and no logical
argument in reply could she think of.  If she tried to write a letter, he
would snatch away the paper her dear hands were pressing and fall to
kissing it—and, of course, smearing it.  When he wasn’t giving her pins
and needles by sitting on her feet he was balancing himself on the arm of
her chair and occasionally falling over on top of her.  If she went
shopping, he went with her and made himself ridiculous at the
dressmaker’s.  In society he took no notice of anybody but of her, and
was hurt if she spoke to anybody but to him.  Not that it was often,
during that month, that they did see any society; most invitations he
refused for them both, reminding her how once upon a time she had
regarded an evening alone with him as an entertainment superior to all
others.  He called her ridiculous names, talked to her in baby language;
while a dozen times a day it became necessary for her to take down her
back hair and do it up afresh.  At the end of a month, as I have said, it
was she who suggested a slight cessation of affection.”

      [Picture: He went with her and made himself ridiculous at the

“Had I been in her place,” said the Girton Girl, “it would have been a
separation I should have suggested.  I should have hated him for the rest
of my life.”

“For merely trying to agree with you?” I said.

“For showing me I was a fool for ever having wanted his affection,”
replied the Girton Girl.

“You can generally,” said the Philosopher, “make people ridiculous by
taking them at their word.”

“Especially women,” murmured the Minor Poet.

“I wonder,” said the Philosopher, “is there really so much difference
between men and women as we think?  What there is, may it not be the
result of Civilisation rather than of Nature, of training rather than of

“Deny the contest between male and female, and you deprive life of half
its poetry,” urged the Minor Poet.

“Poetry,” returned the Philosopher, “was made for man, not man for
poetry.  I am inclined to think that the contest you speak of is somewhat
in the nature of a ‘put-up job’ on the part of you poets.  In the same
way newspapers will always advocate war; it gives them something to write
about, and is not altogether unconnected with sales.  To test Nature’s
original intentions, it is always safe to study our cousins the animals.
There we see no sign of this fundamental variation; the difference is
merely one of degree.”

“I quite agree with you,” said the Girton Girl.  “Man, acquiring cunning,
saw the advantage of using his one superiority, brute strength, to make
woman his slave.  In all other respects she is undoubtedly his superior.”

“In a woman’s argument,” I observed, “equality of the sexes invariably
does mean the superiority of woman.”

“That is very curious,” added the Philosopher.  “As you say, a woman
never can be logical.”

“Are all men logical?” demanded the Girton Girl.

“As a class,” replied the Minor Poet, “yes.”


“WHAT woman suffers from,” said the Philosopher, “is over-praise.  It has
turned her head.”

“You admit, then, that she has a head?” demanded the Girton Girl.

“It has always been a theory of mine,” returned the Philosopher, “that by
Nature she was intended to possess one.  It is her admirers who have
always represented her as brainless.”

“Why is it that the brainy girl invariably has straight hair?” asked the
Woman of the World.

“Because she doesn’t curl it,” explained the Girton Girl.  She spoke
somewhat snappishly, it seemed to me.

“I never thought of that,” murmured the Woman of the World.

“It is to be noted in connection with the argument,” I ventured to
remark, “that we hear but little concerning the wives of intellectual
men.  When we do, as in the case of the Carlyles, it is to wish we did

“When I was younger even than I am now,” said the Minor Poet, “I thought
a good deal of marriage—very young men do.  My wife, I told myself, must
be a woman of mind.  Yet, curiously, of all the women I have ever loved,
no single one has been remarkable for intellect—present company, as
usual, of course excepted.”

“Why is it,” sighed the Philosopher, “that in the most serious business
of our life, marriage, serious considerations count for next to nothing?
A dimpled chin can, and often does, secure for a girl the best of
husbands; while virtue and understanding combined cannot be relied upon
to obtain her even one of the worst.”

“I think the explanation is,” replied the Minor Poet, “that as regards,
let us say, the most natural business of our life, marriage, our natural
instincts alone are brought into play.  Marriage—clothe the naked fact in
what flowers of rhetoric we will—has to do with the purely animal part of
our being.  The man is drawn towards it by his primeval desires; the
woman by her inborn craving towards motherhood.”

The thin, white hands of the Old Maid fluttered, troubled, where they lay
upon her lap.  “Why should we seek to explain away all the beautiful
things of life?” she said.  She spoke with a heat unusual to her.  “The
blushing lad, so timid, so devotional, worshipping as at the shrine of
some mystic saint; the young girl moving spell-bound among dreams!  They
think of nothing but of one another.”

 [Picture: Why should we seek to explain away all the beautiful things of

“Tracing a mountain stream to its sombre source need not mar its music
for us as it murmurs through the valley,” expounded the Philosopher.
“The hidden law of our being feeds each leaf of our life as sap runs
through the tree.  The transient blossom, the ripened fruit, is but its
changing outward form.”

“I hate going to the roots of things,” said the Woman of the World.
“Poor, dear papa was so fond of doing that.  He would explain to us the
genesis of oysters just when we were enjoying them.  Poor mamma could
never bring herself to touch them after that.  While in the middle of
dessert he would stop to argue with my Uncle Paul whether pig’s blood or
bullock’s was the best for grape vines.  I remember the year before Emily
came out her favourite pony died; I have never known her so cut up about
anything before or since.  She asked papa if he would mind her having the
poor creature buried in the garden.  Her idea was that she would visit
now and then its grave and weep awhile.  Papa was awfully nice about it
and stroked her hair.  ‘Certainly, my dear,’ he said, ‘we will have him
laid to rest in the new strawberry bed.’  Just then old Pardoe, the head
gardener, came up to us and touched his hat.  ‘Well, I was just going to
inquire of Miss Emily,’ he said, ‘if she wouldn’t rather have the poor
thing buried under one of the nectarine-trees.  They ain’t been doing
very well of late.’  He said it was a pretty spot, and that he would put
up a sort of stone.  Poor Emily didn’t seem to care much where the animal
was buried by that time, so we left them arguing the question.  I forget
how it was settled; but I know we neither of us ate either strawberries
or nectarines for the next two years.”

“There is a time for everything,” agreed the Philosopher.  “With the
lover, penning poetry to the wondrous red and white upon his mistress’
cheek, we do not discuss the subject of pigment in the blood, its cause
and probable duration.  Nevertheless, the subject is interesting.”

“We men and women,” continued the Minor Poet, “we are Nature’s
favourites, her hope, for whom she has made sacrifice, putting aside so
many of her own convictions, telling herself she is old-fashioned.  She
has let us go from her to the strange school where they laugh at all her
notions.  We have learnt new, strange ideas that bewilder the good dame.
Yet, returning home it is curious to notice how little, in the few
essential things of life, we differ from her other children, who have
never wandered from her side.  Our vocabulary has been extended and
elaborated, yet face to face with the realities of existence it is
unavailing.  Clasping the living, standing beside the dead, our language
still is but a cry.  Our wants have grown more complicated; the
ten-course banquet, with all that it involves, has substituted itself for
the handful of fruits and nuts gathered without labour; the stalled ox
and a world of trouble for the dinner of herbs and leisure therewith.
Are we so far removed thereby above our little brother, who, having
swallowed his simple, succulent worm, mounts a neighbouring twig and with
easy digestion carols thanks to God?  The square brick box about which we
move, hampered at every step by wooden lumber, decked with many rags and
strips of coloured paper, cumbered with odds and ends of melted flint and
moulded clay, has replaced the cheap, convenient cave.  We clothe
ourselves in the skins of other animals instead of allowing our own to
develop into a natural protection.  We hang about us bits of stone and
metal, but underneath it all we are little two-legged animals, struggling
with the rest to live and breed.  Beneath each hedgerow in the springtime
we can read our own romances in the making—the first faint stirring of
the blood, the roving eye, the sudden marvellous discovery of the
indispensable She, the wooing, the denial, hope, coquetry, despair,
contention, rivalry, hate, jealousy, love, bitterness, victory, and
death.  Our comedies, our tragedies, are being played upon each blade of
grass.  In fur and feather we run epitomised.”

“I know,” said the Woman of the World; “I have heard it all so often.  It
is nonsense; I can prove it to you.”

“That is easy,” observed the Philosopher.  “The Sermon on the Mount
itself has been proved nonsense—among others, by a bishop.  Nonsense is
the reverse side of the pattern—the tangled ends of the thread that
Wisdom weaves.”

“There was a Miss Askew at the College,” said the Girton Girl.  “She
agreed with every one.  With Marx she was a Socialist, with Carlyle a
believer in benevolent despotism, with Spinoza a materialist, with Newman
a fanatic.  I had a long talk with her before she left, and tried to
understand her; she was an interesting girl.  ‘I think,’ she said, ‘I
could choose among them if only they would answer one another.  But they
don’t.  They won’t listen to one another.  They only repeat their own

“There never is an answer,” explained the Philosopher.  “The kernel of
every sincere opinion is truth.  This life contains only the
questions—the solutions to be published in a future issue.”

“She was a curious sort of young woman,” smiled the Girton Girl; “we used
to laugh at her.”

“I can quite believe it,” commented the Philosopher.

“It is so like shopping,” said the Old Maid.

“Like shopping!” exclaimed the Girton Girl.

The Old Maid blushed.  “I was merely thinking,” she said.  “It sounds
foolish.  The idea occurred to me.”

“You were thinking of the difficulty of choosing?” I suggested.

“Yes,” answered the Old Maid.  “They will show you so many different
things, one is quite unable—at least, I know it is so in my own case.  I
get quite angry with myself.  It seems so weak-minded, but I cannot help
it.  This very dress I have on now—”

“It is very charming,” said the Woman of the World, “in itself.  I have
been admiring it.  Though I confess I think you look even better in dark

“You are quite right,” replied the Old Maid; “myself, I hate it.  But you
know how it is.  I seemed to have been all the morning in the shop.  I
felt so tired.  If only—”

The Old Maid stopped abruptly.  “I beg your pardon,” she said, “I am
afraid I’ve interrupted.”

“I am so glad you told us,” said the Philosopher.  “Do you know that
seems to me an explanation?”

“Of what?” asked the Girton Girl.

“Of how so many of us choose our views,” returned the Philosopher; “we
don’t like to come out of the shop without something.”

“But you were about to explain,” continued the Philosopher, turning to
the Woman of the World, “—to prove a point.”

“That I had been talking nonsense,” reminded her the Minor Poet; “if you
are sure it will not weary you.”

“Not at all,” answered the Woman of the World; “it is quite simple.  The
gifts of civilisation cannot be the meaningless rubbish you advocates of
barbarism would make out.  I remember Uncle Paul’s bringing us home a
young monkey he had caught in Africa.  With the aid of a few logs we
fitted up a sort of stage-tree for this little brother of mine, as I
suppose you would call him, in the gun-room.  It was an admirable
imitation of the thing to which he and his ancestors must have been for
thousands of years accustomed; and for the first two nights he slept
perched among its branches.  On the third the little brute turned the
poor cat out of its basket and slept on the eiderdown, after which no
more tree for him, real or imitation.  At the end of the three months, if
we offered him monkey-nuts, he would snatch them from our hand and throw
them at our head.  He much preferred gingerbread and weak tea with plenty
of sugar; and when we wanted him to leave the kitchen fire and enjoy a
run in the garden, we had to carry him out swearing—I mean he was
swearing, of course.  I quite agree with him.  I much prefer this chair
on which I am sitting—this ‘wooden lumber,’ as you term it—to the most
comfortable lump of old red sandstone that the best furnished cave could
possibly afford; and I am degenerate enough to fancy that I look very
nice in this frock—much nicer than my brothers or sisters to whom it
originally belonged: they didn’t know how to make the best of it.”

“You would look charming anyhow,” I murmured with conviction, “even—”

“I know what you are going to say,” interrupted the Woman of the World;
“please don’t.  It’s very shocking, and, besides, I don’t agree with you.
I should have had a thick, coarse skin, with hair all over me and nothing
by way of a change.”

“I am contending,” said the Minor Poet, “that what we choose to call
civilisation has done little beyond pandering to our animal desires.
Your argument confirms my theory.  Your evidence in support of
civilisation comes to this—that it can succeed in tickling the appetites
of a monkey.  You need not have gone back so far.  The noble savage of
today flings aside his clear spring water to snatch at the missionary’s
gin.  He will even discard his feathers, which at least were picturesque,
for a chimney-pot hat innocent of nap.  Plaid trousers and cheap
champagne follow in due course.  Where is the advancement?  Civilisation
provides us with more luxuries for our bodies.  That I grant you.  Has it
brought us any real improvement that could not have been arrived at
sooner by other roads?”

“It has given us Art,” said the Girton Girl.

“When you say ‘us,’” replied the Minor Poet, “I presume you are referring
to the one person in half a million to whom Art is anything more than a
name.  Dismissing the countless hordes who have absolutely never heard
the word, and confining attention to the few thousands scattered about
Europe and America who prate of it, how many of even these do you think
it really influences, entering into their lives, refining, broadening
them?  Watch the faces of the thin but conscientious crowd streaming
wearily through our miles of picture galleries and art museums; gaping,
with guide-book in hand, at ruined temple or cathedral tower; striving,
with the spirit of the martyr, to feel enthusiasm for Old Masters at
which, left to themselves, they would enjoy a good laugh—for chipped
statues which, uninstructed, they would have mistaken for the damaged
stock of a suburban tea-garden.  Not more than one in twelve enjoys what
he is looking at, and he by no means is bound to be the best of the
dozen.  Nero was a genuine lover of Art; and in modern times August the
Strong, of Saxony, ‘the man of sin,’ as Carlyle calls him, has left
undeniable proof behind him that he was a connoisseur of the first water.
One recalls names even still more recent.  Are we so sure that Art does

             [Picture: Are we so sure that Art does elevate?]

“You are talking for the sake of talking,” told him the Girton Girl.

“One can talk for the sake of thinking also,” reminded her the Minor
Poet.  “The argument is one that has to be faced.  But admitting that Art
has been of service to mankind on the whole, that it possesses one-tenth
of the soul-forming properties claimed for it in the advertisement—which
I take to be a generous estimate—its effect upon the world at large still
remains infinitesimal.”

“It works down,” maintained the Girton Girl.  “From the few it spreads to
the many.”

“The process appears to be somewhat slow,” answered the Minor Poet.  “The
result, for whatever it may be worth, we might have obtained sooner by
doing away with the middleman.”

“What middleman?” demanded the Girton Girl.

“The artist,” explained the Minor Poet; “the man who has turned the whole
thing into a business, the shopman who sells emotions over the counter.
A Corot, a Turner is, after all, but a poor apology compared with a walk
in spring through the Black Forest or the view from Hampstead Heath on a
November afternoon.  Had we been less occupied acquiring ‘the advantages
of civilisation,’ working upward through the weary centuries to the city
slum, the corrugated-iron-roofed farm, we might have found time to learn
to love the beauty of the world.  As it is, we have been so busy
‘civilising’ ourselves that we have forgotten to live.  We are like an
old lady I once shared a carriage with across the Simplon Pass.”

“By the way,” I remarked, “one is going to be saved all that bother in
the future.  They have nearly completed the new railway line.  One will
be able to go from Domo d’Orsola to Brieg in a little over the two hours.
They tell me the tunnelling is wonderful.”

“It will be very charming,” sighed the Minor Poet.  “I am looking forward
to a future when, thanks to ‘civilisation,’ travel will be done away with
altogether.  We shall be sewn up in a sack and shot there.  At the time I
speak of we still had to be content with the road winding through some of
the most magnificent scenery in Switzerland.  I rather enjoyed the drive
myself, but my companion was quite unable to appreciate it.  Not because
she did not care for scenery.  As she explained to me, she was
passionately fond of it.  But her luggage claimed all her attention.
There were seventeen pieces of it altogether, and every time the ancient
vehicle lurched or swayed, which on an average was once every thirty
seconds, she was in terror lest one or more of them should be jerked out.
Half her day was taken up in counting them and re-arranging them, and the
only view in which she was interested was the cloud of dust behind us.
One bonnet-box did contrive during the course of the journey to make its
escape, after which she sat with her arms round as many of the remaining
sixteen articles as she could encompass, and sighed.”

“I knew an Italian countess,” said the Woman of the World; “she had been
at school with mamma.  She never would go half a mile out of her way for
scenery.  ‘Why should I?’ she would say.  ‘What are the painters for?  If
there is anything good, let them bring it to me and I will look at it.
She said she preferred the picture to the real thing, it was so much more
artistic.  In the landscape itself, she complained, there was sure to be
a chimney in the distance, or a restaurant in the foreground, that spoilt
the whole effect.  The artist left it out.  If necessary, he could put in
a cow or a pretty girl to help the thing.  The actual cow, if it happened
to be there at all, would probably be standing the wrong way round; the
girl, in all likelihood, would be fat and plain, or be wearing the wrong
hat.  The artist knew precisely the sort of girl that ought to be there,
and saw to it that she was there, with just the right sort of hat.  She
said she had found it so all through life—the poster was always an
improvement on the play.”

  [Picture: The artist knew precisely the sort of girl that ought to be

“It is rapidly coming to that,” answered the Minor Poet.  “Nature, as a
well known painter once put it, is not ‘creeping up’ fast enough to keep
pace with our ideals.  In advanced Germany they improve the waterfalls
and ornament the rocks.  In Paris they paint the babies’ faces.”

“You can hardly lay the blame for that upon civilisation,” pleaded the
Girton Girl.  “The ancient Briton had a pretty taste in woads.”

“Man’s first feeble steps upon the upward path of Art,” assented the
Minor Poet, “culminating in the rouge-pot and the hair-dye.”

“Come!” laughed the Old Maid, “you are narrow-minded.  Civilisation has
given us music.  Surely you will admit that has been of help to us?”

“My dear lady,” replied the Minor Poet, “you speak of the one
accomplishment with which Civilisation has had little or nothing to do,
the one art that Nature has bestowed upon man in common with the birds
and insects, the one intellectual enjoyment we share with the entire
animal creation, excepting only the canines; and even the howling of the
dog—one cannot be sure—may be an honest, however unsatisfactory, attempt
towards a music of his own.  I had a fox terrier once who invariably
howled in tune.  Jubal hampered, not helped us.  He it was who stifled
music with the curse of professionalism; so that now, like shivering
shop-boys paying gate-money to watch games they cannot play, we sit mute
in our stalls listening to the paid performer.  But for the musician,
music might have been universal.  The human voice is still the finest
instrument that we possess.  We have allowed it to rust, the better to
hear clever manipulators blow through tubes and twang wires.  The musical
world might have been a literal expression.  Civilisation has contracted
it to designate a coterie.”

“By the way,” said the Woman of the World, “talking of music, have you
heard that last symphony of Grieg’s?  It came in the last parcel.  I have
been practising it.”

“Oh! do let us hear it,” urged the Old Maid.  “I love Grieg.”

The Woman of the World rose and opened the piano.

“Myself, I have always been of opinion—” I remarked.

“Please don’t chatter,” said the Minor Poet.


“I NEVER liked her,” said the Old Maid; “I always knew she was

“To my thinking,” said the Minor Poet, “she has shown herself a true

“Really,” said the Woman of the World, laughing, “I shall have to
nickname you Dr. Johnson Redivivus.  I believe, were the subject under
discussion, you would admire the coiffure of the Furies.  It would occur
to you that it must have been naturally curly.”

“It is the Irish blood flowing in his veins,” I told them.  “He must
always be ‘agin the Government.’”

“We ought to be grateful to him,” remarked the Philosopher.  “What can be
more uninteresting than an agreeable conversation I mean, a
conversation—where everybody is in agreement?  Disagreement, on the other
hand, is stimulating.”

“Maybe that is the reason,” I suggested, “why modern society is so
tiresome an affair.  By tabooing all difference of opinion we have
eliminated all zest from our intercourse.  Religion, sex, politics—any
subject on which man really thinks, is scrupulously excluded from all
polite gatherings.  Conversation has become a chorus; or, as a writer
wittily expressed it, the pursuit of the obvious to no conclusion.  When
not occupied with mumbling, ‘I quite agree with you’—‘As you say’—‘That
is precisely my opinion’—we sit about and ask each other riddles: ‘What
did the Pro-Boer?’  ‘Why did Julius Cæsar?’”

“Fashion has succeeded where Force for centuries has failed,” added the
Philosopher.  “One notices the tendency even in public affairs.  It is
bad form nowadays to belong to the Opposition.  The chief aim of the
Church is to bring itself into line with worldly opinion.  The
Nonconformist Conscience grows every day a still smaller voice.”

“I believe,” said the Woman of the World, “that was the reason why Emily
never got on with poor dear George.  He agreed with her in everything.
She used to say it made her feel such a fool.”

“Man is a fighting animal,” explained the Philosopher.  “An officer who
had been through the South African War was telling me only the other day:
he was with a column, and news came in that a small commando was moving
in the neighbourhood.  The column set off in the highest of spirits, and
after three days’ trying work through a difficult country came up with,
as they thought, the enemy.  As a matter of fact, it was not the enemy,
but a troop of Imperial Yeomanry that had lost its way.  My friend
informs me that the language with which his column greeted those
unfortunate Yeomen—their fellow countrymen, men of their own blood—was
most unsympathetic.”

“Myself, I should hate a man who agreed with me,” said the Girton Girl.

“My dear,” replied the Woman of the World, “I don’t think any would.”

“Why not?” demanded the Girton Girl.

“I was thinking more of you, dear,” replied the Woman of the World.

“I am glad you all concur with me,” murmured the Minor Poet.  “I have
always myself regarded the Devil’s Advocate as the most useful officer in
the Court of Truth.”

“I remember being present one evening,” I observed, “at a dinner-party
where an eminent judge met an equally eminent K. C.; whose client the
judge that very afternoon had condemned to be hanged.  ‘It is always a
satisfaction,’ remarked to him genially the judge, ‘condemning any
prisoner defended by you.  One feels so absolutely certain he was
guilty.’  The K. C. responded that he should always remember the judge’s
words with pride.”

“Who was it,” asked the Philosopher, “who said: ‘Before you can attack a
lie, you must strip it of its truth’?”

“It sounds like Emerson,” I ventured.

“Very possibly,” assented the Philosopher; “very possibly not.  There is
much in reputation.  Most poetry gets attributed to Shakespeare.”

“I entered a certain drawing-room about a week ago,” I said.  “‘We were
just speaking about you,’ exclaimed my hostess.  ‘Is not this yours?’
She pointed to an article in a certain magazine lying open on the table.
‘No,’ I replied; ‘one or two people have asked me that same question.  It
seems to me rather an absurd article,’ I added.  ‘I cannot say I thought
very much of it,’ agreed my hostess.”

“I can’t help it,” said the Old Maid.  “I shall always dislike a girl who
deliberately sells herself for money.”

“But what else is there to sell herself for?” asked the Minor Poet.

“She should not sell herself at all,” retorted the Old Maid, with warmth.
“She should give herself, for love.”

“Are we not in danger of drifting into a difference of opinion concerning
the meaning of words merely?” replied the Minor Poet.  “We have all of
us, I suppose, heard the story of the Jew clothier remonstrated with by
the Rabbi for doing business on the Sabbath.  ‘Doing bithness!’ retorted
the accused with indignation; ‘you call thelling a thuit like that for
eighteen shillings doing bithness!  By, ith’s tharity!’  This ‘love’ for
which the maiden gives herself—let us be a little more exact—does it not
include, as a matter of course, material more tangible?  Would not the
adored one look somewhat astonished on discovering that, having given
herself for ‘love,’ love was all that her lover proposed to give for her.
Would she not naturally exclaim: ‘But where’s the house, to say nothing
of the fittings?  And what are we to live on’?”

“It is you now who are playing with words,” asserted the Old Maid.  “The
greater includes the less.  Loving her, he would naturally desire—”

“With all his worldly goods her to endow,” completed for her the Minor
Poet.  “In other words, he pays a price for her.  So far as love is
concerned, they are quits.  In marriage, the man gives himself to the
woman as the woman gives herself to the man.  Man has claimed, I am
aware, greater liberty for himself; but the claim has always been
vehemently repudiated by woman.  She has won her case.  Legally and
morally now husband and wife are bound by the same laws.  This being so,
her contention that she gives herself falls to the ground.  She exchanges
herself.  Over and above, she alone of the twain claims a price.”

“Say a living wage,” corrected the Philosopher.  “Lazy rubbish lolls in
petticoats, and idle stupidity struts in trousers.  But, class for class,
woman does her share of the world’s work.  Among the poor, of the two it
is she who labours the longer.  There is a many-versed ballad popular in
country districts.  Often I have heard it sung in shrill, piping voice at
harvest supper or barn dance.  The chorus runs—

   A man’s work ’tis till set of sun,
   But a woman’s work is never done!

            [Picture: A man’s work ’tis till set of sun . . .]

“My housekeeper came to me a few months ago,” said the Woman of the
World, “to tell me that my cook had given notice.  ‘I am sorry to hear
it,’ I answered; ‘has she found a better place?’  ‘I am not so sure about
that,’ answered Markham; ‘she’s going as general servant.’  ‘As general
servant!’ I exclaimed.  ‘To old Hudson, at the coal wharf,’ answered
Markham.  ‘His wife died last year, if you remember.  He’s got seven
children, poor man, and no one to look after them.’  ‘I suppose you
mean,’ I said, ‘that she’s marrying him.’  ‘Well, that’s the way she puts
it,’ laughed Markham.  ‘What I tell her is, she’s giving up a good home
and fifty pounds a year, to be a general servant on nothing a week.  But
they never see it.’”

“I recollect her,” answered the Minor Poet, “a somewhat depressing lady.
Let me take another case.  You possess a remarkably pretty
housemaid—Edith, if I have it rightly.”

“I have noticed her,” remarked the Philosopher.  “Her manners strike me
as really quite exceptional.”

“I never could stand any one about me with carroty hair,” remarked the
Girton Girl.

“I should hardly call it carroty,” contended the Philosopher.  “There is
a golden tint of much richness underlying, when you look closely.”

“She is a very good girl,” agreed the Woman of the World; “but I am
afraid I shall have to get rid of her.  The other woman servants don’t
get on with her.”

“Do you know whether she is engaged or not?” demanded the Minor Poet.

“At the present moment,” answered the Woman of the World, “she is walking
out, I believe, with the eldest son of the ‘Blue Lion.’  But she is never
adverse to a change.  If you are really in earnest about the matter—”

“I was not thinking of myself,” said the Minor Poet.  “But suppose some
young gentleman of personal attractions equal to those of the ‘Blue
Lion,’ or even not quite equal, possessed of two or three thousand a
year, were to enter the lists, do you think the ‘Blue Lion’ would stand
much chance?”

“Among the Upper Classes,” continued the Minor Poet, “opportunity for
observing female instinct hardly exists.  The girl’s choice is confined
to lovers able to pay the price demanded, if not by the beloved herself,
by those acting on her behalf.  But would a daughter of the Working
Classes ever hesitate, other things being equal, between Mayfair and
Seven Dials?”

“Let me ask you one,” chimed in the Girton Girl.  “Would a bricklayer
hesitate any longer between a duchess and a scullery-maid?”

“But duchesses don’t fall in love with bricklayers,” returned the Minor
Poet.  “Now, why not?  The stockbroker flirts with the barmaid—cases have
been known; often he marries her.  Does the lady out shopping ever fall
in love with the waiter at the bun-shop?  Hardly ever.  Lordlings marry
ballet girls, but ladies rarely put their heart and fortune at the feet
of the Lion Comique.  Manly beauty and virtue are not confined to the
House of Lords and its dependencies.  How do you account for the fact
that while it is common enough for the man to look beneath him, the woman
will almost invariably prefer her social superior, and certainly never
tolerate her inferior?  Why should King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid
appear to us a beautiful legend, while Queen Cophetua and the Tramp would
be ridiculous?”

[Picture: Does the lady out shopping ever fall in love with the waiter at
                              the bun-shop?]

“The simple explanation is,” expounded the Girton Girl, “woman is so
immeasurably man’s superior that only by weighting him more or less
heavily with worldly advantages can any semblance of balance be

“Then,” answered the Minor Poet, “you surely agree with me that woman is
justified in demanding this ‘make-weight.’  The woman gives her love, if
you will.  It is the art treasure, the gilded vase thrown in with the
pound of tea; but the tea has to be paid for.”

“It all sounds very clever,” commented the Old Maid; “yet I fail to see
what good comes of ridiculing a thing one’s heart tells one is sacred.”

“Do not be so sure I am wishful to ridicule,” answered the Minor Poet.
“Love is a wondrous statue God carved with His own hands and placed in
the Garden of Life, long ago.  And man, knowing not sin, worshipped her,
seeing her beautiful.  Till the time came when man learnt evil; then saw
that the statue was naked, and was ashamed of it.  Since when he has been
busy, draping it, now in the fashion of this age, now in the fashion of
that.  We have shod her in dainty bottines, regretting the size of her
feet.  We employ the best artistes to design for her cunning robes that
shall disguise her shape.  Each season we fix fresh millinery upon her
changeless head.  We hang around her robes of woven words.  Only the
promise of her ample breasts we cannot altogether hide, shocking us not a
little; only that remains to tell us that beneath the tawdry tissues
still stands the changeless statue God carved with His own hands.”

“I like you better when you talk like that,” said the Old Maid; “but I
never feel quite sure of you.  All I mean, of course, is that money
should not be her first consideration.  Marriage for money—it is not
marriage; one cannot speak of it.  Of course, one must be reasonable.”

“You mean,” persisted the Minor Poet, “you would have her think also of
her dinner, of her clothes, her necessities, luxuries.”

“It is not only for herself,” answered the Old Maid.

“For whom?” demanded the Minor Poet.

The white hands of the Old Maid fluttered on her lap, revealing her
trouble; for of the old school is this sweet friend of mine.

“There are the children to be considered,” I explained.  “A woman feels
it even without knowing.  It is her instinct.”

The Old Maid smiled on me her thanks.

“It is where I was leading,” said the Minor Poet.  “Woman has been
appointed by Nature the trustee of the children.  It is her duty to think
of them, to plan for them.  If in marriage she does not take the future
into consideration, she is untrue to her trust.”

[Picture: Woman has been appointed by Nature the trustee of the children]

“Before you go further,” interrupted the Philosopher, “there is an
important point to be considered.  Are children better or worse for a
pampered upbringing?  Is not poverty often the best school?”

“It is what I always tell George,” remarked the Woman of the World, “when
he grumbles at the tradesmen’s books.  If Papa could only have seen his
way to being a poor man, I feel I should have been a better wife.”

“Please don’t suggest the possibility,” I begged the Woman of the World;
“the thought is too bewildering.”

“You were never imaginative,” replied the Woman of the World.

“Not to that extent,” I admitted.

“‘The best mothers make the worst children,’” quoted the Girton Girl.  “I
intend to bear that in mind.”

“Your mother was a very beautiful character—one of the most beautiful I
ever knew,” remarked the Old Maid.

“There is some truth in the saying,” agreed the Minor Poet, “but only
because it is the exception; and Nature invariably puts forth all her
powers to counteract the result of deviation from her laws.  Were it the
rule, then the bad mother would be the good mother and the good mother
the bad mother.  And—”

“Please don’t go on,” said the Woman of the World.  “I was up late last

“I was merely going to show,” explained the Minor Poet, “that all roads
lead to the law that the good mother is the best mother.  Her duty is to
her children, to guard their infancy, to take thought for their

“Do you seriously ask us to believe,” demanded the Old Maid, “that the
type of woman who does marry for money considers for a single moment any
human being but herself?”

“Not consciously, perhaps,” admitted the Minor Poet.  “Our instincts,
that they may guide us easily, are purposely made selfish.  The flower
secretes honey for its own purposes, not with any sense of charity
towards the bee.  Man works, as he thinks, for beer and baccy; in
reality, for the benefit of unborn generations.  The woman, in acting
selfishly, is assisting Nature’s plans.  In olden days she chose her mate
for his strength.  She, possibly enough, thought only of herself; he
could best provide for her then simple wants, best guard her from the
disagreeable accidents of nomadic life.  But Nature, unseen, directing
her, was thinking of the savage brood needing still more a bold
protector.  Wealth now is the substitute for strength.  The rich man is
the strong man.  The woman’s heart unconsciously goes out to him.”

“Do men never marry for money?” inquired the Girton Girl.  “I ask merely
for information.  Maybe I have been misinformed, but I have heard of
countries where the _dot_ is considered of almost more importance than
the bride.”

“The German officer,” I ventured to strike in, “is literally on sale.
Young lieutenants are most expensive, and even an elderly colonel costs a
girl a hundred thousand marks.”

“You mean,” corrected the Minor Poet, “costs her father.  The Continental
husband demands a dowry with his wife, and sees that he gets it.  He in
his turn has to save and scrape for years to provide each of his
daughters with the necessary _dot_.  It comes to the same thing
precisely.  Your argument could only apply were woman equally with man a
wealth producer.  As it is, a woman’s wealth is invariably the result of
a marriage, either her own or that of some shrewd ancestress.  And as
regards the heiress, the principle of sale and purchase, if I may be
forgiven the employment of common terms, is still more religiously
enforced.  It is not often that the heiress is given away; stolen she may
be occasionally, much to the indignation of Lord Chancellors and other
guardians of such property; the thief is very properly
punished—imprisoned, if need be.  If handed over legitimately, her price
is strictly exacted, not always in money—that she possesses herself,
maybe in sufficiency; it enables her to bargain for other advantages no
less serviceable to her children—for title, place, position.  In the same
way the Neolithic woman, herself of exceptional strength and ferocity,
may have been enabled to bestow a thought upon her savage lover’s beauty,
his prehistoric charm of manner; thus in other directions no less
necessary assisting the development of the race.”

“I cannot argue with you,” said the Old Maid.  “I know one case.  They
were both poor; it would have made no difference to her, but it did to
him.  Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that, as you say, our
instincts are given us to guide us.  I do not know.  The future is not in
our hands; it does not belong to us.  Perhaps it were wiser to listen to
the voices that are sent to us.”

“I remember a case, also,” said the Woman of the World.  She had risen to
prepare the tea, and was standing with her back to us.  “Like the woman
you speak of, she was poor, but one of the sweetest creatures I have ever
known.  I cannot help thinking it would have been good for the world had
she been a mother.”

“My dear lady,” cried the Minor Poet, “you help me!”

“I always do, according to you,” laughed the Woman of the World.  “I
appear to resemble the bull that tossed the small boy high into the
apple-tree he had been trying all the afternoon to climb.”

“It is very kind of you,” answered the Minor Poet.  “My argument is that
woman is justified in regarding marriage as the end of her existence, the
particular man as but a means.  The woman you speak of acted selfishly,
rejecting the crown of womanhood because not tendered to her by hands she
had chosen.”

“You would have us marry without love?” asked the Girton Girl.

“With love, if possible,” answered the Minor Poet; “without, rather than
not at all.  It is the fulfilment of the woman’s law.”

“You would make of us goods and chattels,” cried the Girton Girl.

“I would make of you what you are,” returned the Minor Poet, “the
priestesses of Nature’s temple, leading man to the worship of her
mysteries.  An American humorist has described marriage as the craving of
some young man to pay for some young woman’s board and lodging.  There is
no escaping from this definition; let us accept it.  It is beautiful—so
far as the young man is concerned.  He sacrifices himself, deprives
himself, that he may give.  That is love.  But from the woman’s point of
view?  If she accept thinking only of herself, then it is a sordid
bargain on her part.  To understand her, to be just to her, we must look
deeper.  Not sexual, but maternal love is her kingdom.  She gives herself
not to her lover, but through her lover to the great Goddess of the
Myriad Breasts that shadows ever with her guardian wings Life from the
outstretched hand of Death.”

“She may be a nice enough girl from Nature’s point of view,” said the Old
Maid; “personally, I shall never like her.”


“WHAT is the time?” asked the Girton Girl.

I looked at my watch.  “Twenty past four,” I answered.

“Exactly?” demanded the Girton Girl.

“Precisely,” I replied.

“Strange,” murmured the Girton Girl.  “There is no accounting for it, yet
it always is so.”

“What is there no accounting for?” I inquired.  “What is strange?”

“It is a German superstition,” explained the Girton Girl, “I learnt it at
school.  Whenever complete silence falls upon any company, it is always
twenty minutes past the hour.”

“Why do we talk so much?” demanded the Minor Poet.

“As a matter of fact,” observed the Woman of the World, “I don’t think we
do—not we, personally, not much.  Most of our time we appear to be
listening to you.”

“Then why do I talk so much, if you prefer to put it that way?” continued
the Minor Poet.  “If I talked less, one of you others would have to talk

“There would be that advantage about it,” agreed the Philosopher.

“In all probability, you,” returned to him the Minor Poet.  “Whether as a
happy party we should gain or lose by the exchange, it is not for me to
say, though I have my own opinion.  The essential remains—that the stream
of chatter must be kept perpetually flowing.  Why?”

“There is a man I know,” I said; “you may have met him, a man named
Longrush.  He is not exactly a bore.  A bore expects you to listen to
him.  This man is apparently unaware whether you are listening to him or
not.  He is not a fool.  A fool is occasionally amusing—Longrush never.
No subject comes amiss to him.  Whatever the topic, he has something
uninteresting to say about it.  He talks as a piano-organ grinds out
music steadily, strenuously, tirelessly.  The moment you stand or sit him
down he begins, to continue ceaselessly till wheeled away in cab or
omnibus to his next halting-place.  As in the case of his prototype, his
rollers are changed about once a month to suit the popular taste.  In
January he repeats to you Dan Leno’s jokes, and gives you other people’s
opinions concerning the Old Masters at the Guild-hall.  In June he
recounts at length what is generally thought concerning the Academy, and
agrees with most people on most points connected with the Opera.  If
forgetful for a moment—as an Englishman may be excused for being—whether
it be summer or winter, one may assure oneself by waiting to see whether
Longrush is enthusing over cricket or football.  He is always up-to-date.
The last new Shakespeare, the latest scandal, the man of the hour, the
next nine days’ wonder—by the evening Longrush has his roller ready.  In
my early days of journalism I had to write each evening a column for a
provincial daily, headed ‘What People are Saying.’  The editor was
precise in his instructions.  ‘I don’t want your opinions; I don’t want
you to be funny; never mind whether the thing appears to you to be
interesting or not.  I want it to be real, the things people _are_
saying.’  I tried to be conscientious.  Each paragraph began with ‘That.’
I wrote the column because I wanted the thirty shillings.  Why anybody
ever read it, I fail to understand to this day; but I believe it was one
of the popular features of the paper.  Longrush invariably brings back to
my mind the dreary hours I spent penning that fatuous record.”

“I think I know the man you mean,” said the Philosopher.  “I had
forgotten his name.”

“I thought it possible you might have met him,” I replied.  “Well, my
cousin Edith was arranging a dinner-party the other day, and, as usual,
she did me the honour to ask my advice.  Generally speaking, I do not
give advice nowadays.  As a very young man I was generous with it.  I
have since come to the conclusion that responsibility for my own muddles
and mistakes is sufficient.  However, I make an exception in Edith’s
case, knowing that never by any chance will she follow it.”

“Speaking of editors,” said the Philosopher, “Bates told me at the club
the other night that he had given up writing the ‘Answers to
Correspondents’ personally, since discovery of the fact that he had been
discussing at some length the attractive topic, ‘Duties of a Father,’
with his own wife, who is somewhat of a humorist.”

“There was the wife of a clergyman my mother used to tell of,” said the
Woman of the World, “who kept copies of her husband’s sermons.  She would
read him extracts from them in bed, in place of curtain lectures.  She
explained it saved her trouble.  Everything she felt she wanted to say to
him he had said himself so much more forcibly.”

“The argument always appears to me weak,” said the Philosopher.  “If only
the perfect may preach, our pulpits would remain empty.  Am I to ignore
the peace that slips into my soul when perusing the Psalms, to deny
myself all benefit from the wisdom of the Proverbs, because neither David
nor Solomon was a worthy casket of the jewels that God had placed in
them?  Is a temperance lecturer never to quote the self-reproaches of
poor Cassio because Master Will Shakespeare, there is evidence to prove,
was a gentleman, alas! much too fond of the bottle?  The man that beats
the drum may be himself a coward.  It is the drum that is the important
thing to us, not the drummer.”

“Of all my friends,” said the Woman of the World, “the one who has the
most trouble with her servants is poor Jane Meredith.”

“I am exceedingly sorry to hear it,” observed the Philosopher, after a
slight pause.  “But forgive me, I really do not see—”

“I beg your pardon,” answered the Woman of the World.  “I thought
everybody knew ‘Jane Meredith.’  She writes ‘The Perfect Home’ column for
_The Woman’s World_.”

“It will always remain a riddle, one supposes,” said the Minor Poet.
“Which is the real ego—I, the author of ‘The Simple Life,’ fourteenth
edition, three and sixpence net—”

“Don’t,” pleaded the Old Maid, with a smile; “please don’t.”

“Don’t what?” demanded the Minor Poet.

“Don’t ridicule it—make fun of it, even though it may happen to be your
own.  There are parts of it I know by heart.  I say them over to myself
when—  Don’t spoil it for me.”  The Old Maid laughed, but nervously.

“My dear lady,” reassured her the Minor Poet, “do not be afraid.  No one
regards that poem with more reverence than do I.  You can have but small
conception what a help it is to me also.  I, too, so often read it to
myself; and when—  We understand.  As one who turns his back on scenes of
riot to drink the moonlight in quiet ways, I go to it for sweetness and
for peace.  So much do I admire the poem, I naturally feel desire and
curiosity to meet its author, to know him.  I should delight, drawing him
aside from the crowded room, to grasp him by the hand, to say to him: ‘My
dear—my very dear Mr. Minor Poet, I am so glad to meet you!  I would I
could tell you how much your beautiful work has helped me.  This, my dear
sir—this is indeed privilege!’  But I can picture so vividly the bored
look with which he would receive my gush.  I can imagine the contempt
with which he, the pure liver, would regard me did he know me—me, the
liver of the fool’s hot days.”

“A short French story I once read somewhere,” I said, “rather impressed
me.  A poet or dramatist—I am not sure which—had married the daughter of
a provincial notary.  There was nothing particularly attractive about her
except her _dot_.  He had run through his own small fortune and was in
some need.  She worshipped him and was, as he used to boast to his
friends, the ideal wife for a poet.  She cooked admirably—a useful
accomplishment during the first half-dozen years of their married life;
and afterwards, when fortune came to him, managed his affairs to
perfection, by her care and economy keeping all worldly troubles away
from his study door.  An ideal _Hausfrau_, undoubtedly, but of course no
companion for our poet.  So they went their ways; till, choosing as in
all things the right moment, when she could best be spared, the good lady
died and was buried.

“And here begins the interest of the story, somewhat late.  One article
of furniture, curiously out of place among the rich appointments of their
fine _hôtel_, the woman had insisted on retaining, a heavy, clumsily
carved oak desk her father had once used in his office, and which he had
given to her for her own as a birthday present back in the days of her

“You must read the story for yourselves if you would enjoy the subtle
sadness that surrounds it, the delicate aroma of regret through which it
moves.  The husband finding after some little difficulty the right key,
fits it into the lock of the bureau.  As a piece of furniture, plain,
solid, squat, it has always jarred upon his artistic sense.  She too, his
good, affectionate Sara, had been plain, solid, a trifle squat.  Perhaps
that was why the poor woman had clung so obstinately to the one thing in
the otherwise perfect house that was quite out of place there.  Ah, well!
she is gone now, the good creature.  And the bureau—no, the bureau shall
remain.  Nobody will need to come into this room, no one ever did come
there but the woman herself.  Perhaps she had not been altogether so
happy as she might have been.  A husband less intellectual—one from whom
she would not have lived so far apart—one who could have entered into her
simple, commonplace life! it might have been better for both of them.  He
draws down the lid, pulls out the largest drawer.  It is full of
manuscripts, folded and tied neatly with ribbons once gay, now faded.  He
thinks at first they are his own writings—things begun and discarded,
reserved by her with fondness.  She thought so much of him, the good
soul! Really, she could not have been so dull as he had deemed her.  The
power to appreciate rightly—this, at least, she must have possessed.  He
unties the ribbon.  No, the writing is her own, corrected, altered,
underlined.  He opens a second, a third.  Then with a smile he sits down
to read.  What can they be like, these poems, these stories?  He laughs,
smoothing the crumpled paper, foreseeing the trite commonness, the
shallow sentiment.  The poor child!  So she likewise would have been a
_littérateure_.  Even she had her ambition, her dream.

“The sunshine climbs the wall behind him, creeps stealthily across the
ceiling of the room, slips out softly by the window, leaving him alone.
All these years he had been living with a fellow poet.  They should have
been comrades, and they had never spoken.  Why had she hidden herself?
Why had she left him, never revealing herself?  Years ago, when they were
first married—he remembers now—she had slipped little blue-bound
copy-books into his pocket, laughing, blushing, asking him to read them.
How could he have guessed?  Of course, he had forgotten them.  Later,
they had disappeared again; it had never occurred to him to think.  Often
in the earlier days she had tried to talk to him about his work.  Had he
but looked into her eyes, he might have understood.  But she had always
been so homely-seeming, so good.  Who would have suspected?  Then
suddenly the blood rushes into his face.  What must have been her opinion
of his work?  All these years he had imagined her the amazed devotee,
uncomprehending but admiring.  He had read to her at times, comparing
himself the while with Molière reading to his cook.  What right had she
to play this trick upon him?  The folly of it!  The pity of it!  He would
have been so glad of her.”

 [Picture: Comparing himself the while with Molière reading to his cook]

“What becomes, I wonder,” mused the Philosopher, “of the thoughts that
are never spoken?  We know that in Nature nothing is wasted; the very
cabbage is immortal, living again in altered form.  A thought published
or spoken we can trace, but such must only be a small percentage.  It
often occurs to me walking down the street.  Each man and woman that I
pass by, each silently spinning his silken thought, short or long, fine
or coarse.  What becomes of it?”

“I heard you say once,” remarked the Old Maid to the Minor Poet, “that
‘thoughts are in the air,’ that the poet but gathers them as a child
plucks wayside blossoms to shape them into nosegays.”

“It was in confidence,” replied the Minor Poet.  “Please do not let it
get about, or my publisher will use it as an argument for cutting down my

“I have always remembered it,” answered the Old Maid.  “It seemed so
true.  A thought suddenly comes to you.  I think of them sometimes, as of
little motherless babes creeping into our brains for shelter.”

“It is a pretty idea,” mused the Minor Poet.  “I shall see them in the
twilight: pathetic little round-eyed things of goblin shape, dimly
luminous against the darkening air.  Whence come you, little tender
Thought, tapping at my brain?  From the lonely forest, where the peasant
mother croons above the cradle while she knits?  Thought of Love and
Longing: lies your gallant father with his boyish eyes unblinking
underneath some tropic sun?  Thought of Life and Thought of Death: are
you of patrician birth, cradled by some high-born maiden, pacing slowly
some sweet garden?  Or did you spring to life amid the din of loom or
factory?  Poor little nameless foundlings!  I shall feel myself in future
quite a philanthropist, taking them in, adopting them.”

“You have not yet decided,” reminded him the Woman of the World, “which
you really are: the gentleman we get for three and sixpence net, or the
one we are familiar with, the one we get for nothing.”

“Please don’t think I am suggesting any comparison,” continued the Woman
of the World, “but I have been interested in the question since George
joined a Bohemian club and has taken to bringing down minor celebrities
from Saturday to Monday.  I hope I am not narrow-minded, but there is one
gentleman I have been compelled to put my foot down on.”

“I really do not think he will complain,” I interrupted.  The Woman of
the World possesses, I should explain, the daintiest of feet.

“It is heavier than you think,” replied the Woman of the World.  “George
persists I ought to put up with him because he is a true poet.  I cannot
admit the argument.  The poet I honestly admire.  I like to have him
about the place.  He lies on my drawing-room table in white vellum, and
helps to give tone to the room.  For the poet I am quite prepared to pay
the four-and-six demanded; the man I don’t want.  To be candid, he is not
worth his own discount.”

“It is hardly fair,” urged the Minor Poet, “to confine the discussion to
poets.  A friend of mine some years ago married one of the most charming
women in New York, and that is saying a good deal.  Everybody
congratulated him, and at the outset he was pleased enough with himself.
I met him two years later in Geneva, and we travelled together as far as
Rome.  He and his wife scarcely spoke to one another the whole journey,
and before I left him he was good enough to give me advice which to
another man might be useful.  ‘Never marry a charming woman,’ he
counselled me.  ‘Anything more unutterably dull than “the charming woman”
outside business hours you cannot conceive.’”

“I think we must agree to regard the preacher,” concluded the
Philosopher, “merely as a brother artist.  The singer may be a heavy,
fleshy man with a taste for beer, but his voice stirs our souls.  The
preacher holds aloft his banner of purity.  He waves it over his own head
as much as over the heads of those around him.  He does not cry with the
Master, ‘Come to Me,’ but ‘Come with me, and be saved.’  The prayer
‘Forgive them’ was the prayer not of the Priest, but of the God.  The
prayer dictated to the Disciples was ‘Forgive us,’ ‘Deliver us.’  Not
that he should be braver, not that he should be stronger than they that
press behind him, is needed of the leader, but that he should know the
way.  He, too, may faint, he, too, may fall; only he alone must never
turn his back.”

  [Picture: The singer may be a heavy, fleshy man with a taste for beer]

“It is quite comprehensible, looked at from one point of view,” remarked
the Minor Poet, “that he who gives most to others should himself be weak.
The professional athlete pays, I believe, the price of central weakness.
It is a theory of mine that the charming, delightful people one meets
with in society are people who have dishonestly kept to themselves gifts
entrusted to them by Nature for the benefit of the whole community.  Your
conscientious, hard-working humorist is in private life a dull dog.  The
dishonest trustee of laughter, on the other hand, robbing the world of
wit bestowed upon him for public purposes, becomes a brilliant

“But,” added the Minor Poet, turning to me, “you were speaking of a man
named Longrush, a great talker.”

“A long talker,” I corrected.  “My cousin mentioned him third in her list
of invitations.  ‘Longrush,’ she said with conviction, ‘we must have
Longrush.’  ‘Isn’t he rather tiresome?’ I suggested.  ‘He is tiresome,’
she agreed, ‘but then he’s so useful.  He never lets the conversation

“Why is it?” asked the Minor Poet.  “Why, when we meet together, must we
chatter like a mob of sparrows?  Why must every assembly to be successful
sound like the parrot-house of a zoological garden?”

“I remember a parrot story,” I said, “but I forget who told it to me.”

“Maybe one of us will remember as you go on,” suggested the Philosopher.

“A man,” I said—“an old farmer, if I remember rightly—had read a lot of
parrot stories, or had heard them at the club.  As a result he thought he
would like himself to be the owner of a parrot, so journeyed to a dealer
and, according to his own account, paid rather a long price for a choice
specimen.  A week later he re-entered the shop, the parrot borne behind
him by a boy.  ‘This bird,’ said the farmer, ‘this bird you sold me last
week ain’t worth a sovereign!’  ‘What’s the matter with it?’ demanded the
dealer.  ‘How do I know what’s the matter with the bird?’ answered the
farmer.  ‘What I tell you is that it ain’t worth a sovereign—’tain’t
worth a half a sovereign!’  ‘Why not?’ persisted the dealer; ‘it talks
all right, don’t it?’  ‘Talks!’ retorted the indignant farmer, ‘the damn
thing talks all day, but it never says anything funny!’”

“A friend of mine,” said the Philosopher, “once had a parrot—”

“Won’t you come into the garden?” said the Woman of the World, rising and
leading the way.


“MYSELF,” said the Minor Poet, “I read the book with the most intense
enjoyment.  I found it inspiring—so inspiring, I fear I did not give it
sufficient attention.  I must read it again.”

“I understand you,” said the Philosopher.  “A book that really interests
us makes us forget that we are reading.  Just as the most delightful
conversation is when nobody in particular appears to be talking.”

“Do you remember meeting that Russian man George brought down here about
three months ago?” asked the Woman of the World, turning to the Minor
Poet.  “I forget his name.  As a matter of fact, I never knew it.  It was
quite unpronounceable and, except that it ended, of course, with a double
f, equally impossible to spell.  I told him frankly at the beginning I
should call him by his Christian name, which fortunately was Nicholas.
He was very nice about it.”

“I remember him distinctly,” said the Minor Poet.  “A charming man.”

“He was equally charmed with you,” replied the Woman of the World.

“I can credit it easily,” murmured the Minor Poet.  “One of the most
intelligent men I ever met.”

“You talked together for two hours in a corner,” said the Woman of the
World.  “I asked him when you had gone what he thought of you.  ‘Ah! what
a talker!’ he exclaimed, making a gesture of admiration with his hands.
‘I thought maybe you would notice it,’ I answered him.  ‘Tell me, what
did he talk about?’  I was curious to know; you had been so absorbed in
yourselves and so oblivious to the rest of us.  ‘Upon my word,’ he
replied, ‘I really cannot tell you.  Do you know, I am afraid, now I come
to think of it, that I must have monopolised the conversation.’  I was
glad to be able to ease his mind on that point.  ‘I really don’t think
you did,’ I assured him.  I should have felt equally confident had I not
been present.”

“You were quite correct,” returned the Minor Poet.  “I have a distinct
recollection of having made one or two observations myself.  Indeed, if I
may say so, I talked rather well.”

“You may also recollect,” continued the Woman of the World, “that the
next time we met I asked you what he had said, and that your mind was
equally a blank on the subject.  You admitted you had found him
interesting.  I was puzzled at the time, but now I begin to understand.
Both of you, no doubt, found the conversation so brilliant, each of you
felt it must have been your own.”

“A good book,” I added—“a good talk is like a good dinner: one
assimilates it.  The best dinner is the dinner you do not know you have

“A thing will often suggest interesting thought,” observed the Old Maid,
“without being interesting.  Often I find the tears coming into my eyes
as I witness some stupid melodrama—something said, something hinted at,
will stir a memory, start a train of thought.”

“I once,” I said, “sat next to a country-man in the pit of a music-hall
some years ago.  He enjoyed himself thoroughly up to half-past ten.
Songs about mothers-in-law, drunken wives, and wooden legs he roared at
heartily.  At ten-thirty entered a well-known _artiste_ who was then
giving a series of what he called ‘Condensed Tragedies in Verse.’  At the
first two my country friend chuckled hugely.  The third ran: ‘Little boy;
pair of skates: broken ice; heaven’s gates.’  My friend turned white,
rose hurriedly, and pushed his way impatiently out of the house.  I left
myself some ten minutes later, and by chance ran against him again in the
bar of the ‘Criterion,’ where he was drinking whisky rather copiously.
‘I couldn’t stand that fool,’ he explained to me in a husky voice.
‘Truth is, my youngest kid got drowned last winter skating.  Don’t see
any sense making fun of real trouble.’”

“I can cap your story with another,” said the Philosopher.  “Jim sent me
a couple of seats for one of his first nights a month or two ago.  They
did not reach me till four o’clock in the afternoon.  I went down to the
club to see if I could pick up anybody.  The only man there I knew at all
was a rather quiet young fellow, a new member.  He had just taken Bates’s
chambers in Staple Inn—you have met him, I think.  He didn’t know many
people then and was grateful for my invitation.  The play was one of
those Palais Royal farces—it cannot matter which, they are all exactly
alike.  The fun consists of somebody’s trying to sin without being found
out.  It always goes well.  The British public invariably welcomes the
theme, provided it be dealt with in a merry fashion.  It is only the
serious discussion of evil that shocks us.  There was the usual banging
of doors and the usual screaming.  Everybody was laughing around us.  My
young friend sat with rather a curious fixed smile upon his face.
‘Fairly well constructed,’ I said to him, as the second curtain fell amid
yells of delight.  ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘I suppose it’s very funny.’  I
looked at him; he was little more than a boy.  ‘You are rather young,’ I
said, ‘to be a moralist.’  He gave a short laugh.  ‘Oh! I shall grow out
of it in time,’ he said.  He told me his story later, when I came to know
him better.  He had played the farce himself over in Melbourne—he was an
Australian.  Only the third act had ended differently.  His girl wife, of
whom he was passionately fond, had taken it quite seriously and had
committed suicide.  A foolish thing to do.”

“Man is a beast!” said the Girton Girl, who was prone to strong

“I thought so myself when I was younger,” said the Woman of the World.

“And don’t you now, when you hear a thing like that?” suggested the
Girton Girl.

“Certainly, my dear,” replied the Woman of the World; “there is a deal of
the animal in man; but—well, I was myself expressing that same particular
view of him, the brute, to a very old lady with whom I was spending a
winter in Brussels, many years ago now, when I was quite a girl.  She had
been a friend of my father’s, and was one of the sweetest and kindest—I
was almost going to say the most perfect woman I have ever met; though as
a celebrated beauty, stories, dating from the early Victorian era, were
told about her.  But myself I never believed them.  Her calm, gentle,
passionless face, crowned with its soft, silver hair—I remember my first
sight of the Matterhorn on a summer’s evening; somehow it at once
reminded me of her.”

“My dear,” laughed the Old Maid, “your anecdotal method is becoming as
jerky as a cinematograph.”

“I have noticed it myself,” replied the Woman of the World; “I try to get
in too much.”

“The art of the _raconteur_,” observed the Philosopher, “consists in
avoiding the unessential.  I have a friend who never yet to my knowledge
reached the end of a story.  It is intensely unimportant whether the name
of the man who said the thing or did the deed be Brown or Jones or
Robinson.  But she will worry herself into a fever trying to recollect.
‘Dear, dear me!’ she will leave off to exclaim; ‘I know his name so well.
How stupid of me!’  She will tell you why she ought to recollect his
name, how she always has recollected his name till this precise moment.
She will appeal to half the people in the room to help her.  It is
hopeless to try and induce her to proceed, the idea has taken possession
of her mind.  After a world of unnecessary trouble she recollects that it
was Tomkins, and is delighted; only to be plunged again into despair on
discovery that she has forgotten his address.  This makes her so ashamed
of herself she declines to continue, and full of self-reproach she
retires to her own room.  Later she re-enters, beaming, with the street
and number pat.  But by that time she has forgotten the anecdote.”

“Well, tell us about your old lady, and what it was you said to her,”
spoke impatiently the Girton Girl, who is always eager when the subject
under discussion happens to be the imbecility or criminal tendency of the
opposite sex.

“I was at the age,” continued the Woman of the World, “when a young girl
tiring of fairy stories puts down the book and looks round her at the
world, and naturally feels indignant at what she notices.  I was very
severe upon both the shortcomings and the overgoings of man—our natural
enemy.  My old friend used to laugh, and that made me think her callous
and foolish.  One day our _bonne_—like all servants, a lover of
gossip—came to us delighted with a story which proved to me how just had
been my estimate of the male animal.  The grocer at the corner of our
_rue_, married only four years to a charming and devoted little wife, had
run away and left her.

“‘He never gave her even a hint, the pretty angel!’ so Jeanne informed
us.  ‘Had had his box containing his clothes and everything he wanted
ready packed for a week, waiting for him at the railway station—just told
her he was going to play a game of dominoes, and that she was not to sit
up for him; kissed her and the child good-night, and—well, that was the
last she ever saw of him.  Did Madame ever hear the like of it?’
concluded Jeanne, throwing up her hands to heaven.  ‘I am sorry to say,
Jeanne, that I have,’ replied my sweet Madame with a sigh, and led the
conversation by slow degrees back to the subject of dinner.  I turned to
her when Jeanne had left the room.  I can remember still the burning
indignation of my face.  I had often spoken to the man myself, and had
thought what a delightful husband he was—so kind, so attentive, so proud,
seemingly, of his dainty _femme_.  ‘Doesn’t that prove what I say,’ I
cried, ‘that men are beasts?’  ‘I am afraid it helps in that direction,’
replied my old friend.  ‘And yet you defend them,’ I answered.  ‘At my
age, my dear,’ she replied, ‘one neither defends nor blames; one tries to
understand.’  She put her thin white hand upon my head.  ‘Shall we hear a
little more of the story?’ she said.  ‘It is not a pleasant one, but it
may be useful to us.’  ‘I don’t want to hear any more of it,’ I answered;
‘I have heard enough.’  ‘It is sometimes well,’ she persisted, ‘to hear
the whole of a case before forming our judgment.’  And she rang the bell
for Jeanne.  ‘That story about our little grocer friend,’ she said—‘it is
rather interesting to me.  Why did he leave her and run away—do you
know?’  Jeanne shrugged her ample shoulders.  ‘Oh! the old story,
Madame,’ she answered, with a short laugh.  ‘Who was she?’ asked my
friend.  ‘The wife of Monsieur Savary, the wheelwright, as good a husband
as ever a woman had.  It’s been going on for months, the hussy!’  ‘Thank
you, that will do, Jeanne.’  She turned again to me so soon as Jeanne had
left the room.  ‘My dear,’ she said, ‘whenever I see a bad man, I peep
round the corner for the woman.  Whenever I see a bad woman, I follow her
eyes; I know she is looking for her mate.  Nature never makes odd

“I cannot help thinking,” said the Philosopher, “that a good deal of harm
is being done to the race as a whole by the overpraise of women.”

“Who overpraises them?” demanded the Girton Girl.  “Men may talk nonsense
to us—I don’t know whether any of us are foolish enough to believe it—but
I feel perfectly sure that when they are alone most of their time is
occupied in abusing us.”

“That is hardly fair,” interrupted the Old Maid.  “I doubt if they do
talk about us among themselves as much as we think.  Besides, it is
always unwise to go behind the verdict.  Some very beautiful things have
been said about women by men.”

“Well, ask them,” said the Girton Girl.  “Here are three of them present.
Now, honestly, when you talk about us among yourselves, do you gush about
our virtue, and goodness, and wisdom?”

“‘Gush,’” said the Philosopher, reflecting, “‘gush’ would hardly be the
correct word.”

“In justice to the truth,” I said, “I must admit our Girton friend is to
a certain extent correct.  Every man at some time of his life esteems to
excess some one particular woman.  Very young men, lacking in experience,
admire perhaps indiscriminately.  To them, anything in a petticoat is
adorable: the milliner makes the angel.  And very old men, so I am told,
return to the delusions of their youth; but as to this I cannot as yet
speak positively.  The rest of us—well, when we are alone, it must be
confessed, as our Philosopher says, that ‘gush’ is not the correct word.”

“I told you so,” chortled the Girton Girl.

“Maybe,” I added, “it is merely the result of reaction.  Convention
insists that to her face we show her a somewhat exaggerated deference.
Her very follies we have to regard as added charms—the poets have decreed
it.  Maybe it comes as a relief to let the pendulum swing back.”

“But is it not a fact,” asked the Old Maid, “that the best men and even
the wisest are those who have held women in most esteem?  Do we not gauge
civilization by the position a nation accords to its women?”

“In the same way as we judge them by the mildness of their laws, their
tenderness for the weak.  Uncivilised man killed off the useless numbers
of the tribe; we provide for them hospitals, almshouses.  Man’s attitude
towards woman proves the extent to which he has conquered his own
selfishness, the distance he has travelled from the law of the ape: might
is right.

“Please don’t misunderstand me,” pleaded the Philosopher, with a nervous
glance towards the lowering eyebrows of the Girton Girl.  “I am not
saying for a moment woman is not the equal of man; indeed, it is my
belief that she is.  I am merely maintaining she is not his superior.
The wise man honours woman as his friend, his fellow-labourer, his
complement.  It is the fool who imagines her unhuman.”

            [Picture: It is the fool who imagines her inhuman]

“But are we not better,” persisted the Old Maid, “for our ideals?  I
don’t say we women are perfect—please don’t think that.  You are not more
alive to our faults than we are.  Read the women novelists from George
Eliot downwards.  But for your own sake—is it not well man should have
something to look up to, and failing anything better—?”

“I draw a very wide line,” answered the Philosopher, “between ideals and
delusions.  The ideal has always helped man; but that belongs to the land
of his dreams, his most important kingdom, the kingdom of his future.
Delusions are earthly structures, that sooner or later fall about his
ears, blinding him with dust and dirt.  The petticoat-governed country
has always paid dearly for its folly.”

“Elizabeth!” cried the Girton Girl.  “Queen Victoria!”

“Were ideal sovereigns,” returned the Philosopher, “leaving the
government of the country to its ablest men.  France under its
Pompadours, the Byzantine Empire under its Theodoras, are truer examples
of my argument.  I am speaking of the unwisdom of assuming all women to
be perfect.  Belisarius ruined himself and his people by believing his
own wife to be an honest woman.”

“But chivalry,” I argued, “has surely been of service to mankind?”

“To an immense extent,” agreed the Philosopher.  “It seized a natural
human passion and turned it to good uses.  Then it was a reality.  So
once was the divine right of kings, the infallibility of the Church, for
cumbering the ground with the lifeless bodies of which mankind has paid
somewhat dearly.  Not its upstanding lies—they can be faced and
defeated—but its dead truths are the world’s stumbling-blocks.  To the
man of war and rapine, trained in cruelty and injustice, the woman was
the one thing that spoke of the joy of yielding.  Woman, as compared with
man, was then an angel: it was no mere form of words.  All the tender
offices of life were in her hands.  To the warrior, his life divided
between fighting and debauchery, his womenfolk tending the sick, helping
the weak, comforting the sorrowing, must have moved with white feet
across a world his vices had made dark.  Her mere subjection to the
priesthood, her inborn feminine delight in form and ceremony—now an
influence narrowing her charity—must then, to his dim eyes, trained to
look upon dogma as the living soul of his religion, have seemed a halo,
deifying her.  Woman was then the servant.  It was naturally to her
advantage to excite tenderness and mercy in man.  Since she has become
the mistress of the world.  It is no longer her interested mission to
soften his savage instincts.  Nowadays, it is the women who make war, the
women who exalt brute force.  Today, it is the woman who, happy herself,
turns a deaf ear to the world’s low cry of pain; holding that man
honoured who would ignore the good of the species to augment the comforts
of his own particular family; holding in despite as a bad husband and
father the man whose sense of duty extends beyond the circle of the home.
One recalls Lady Nelson’s reproach to her lord after the battle of the
Nile.  ‘I have married a wife, and therefore cannot come,’ is the answer
to his God that many a woman has prompted to her lover’s tongue.  I was
speaking to a woman only the other day about the cruelty of skinning
seals alive.  ‘I feel so sorry for the poor creatures,’ she murmured;
‘but they say it gives so much more depth of colour to the fur.’  Her own
jacket was certainly a very beautiful specimen.”

 [Picture: It seized a natural human passion and turned it to good uses]

“When I was editing a paper,” I said, “I opened my columns to a
correspondence on this very subject.  Many letters were sent to me—most
of them trite, many of them foolish.  One, a genuine document, I
remember.  It came from a girl who for six years had been assistant to a
fashionable dressmaker.  She was rather tired of the axiom that all
women, at all times, are perfection.  She suggested that poets and
novelists should take service for a year in any large drapery or
millinery establishment where they would have an opportunity of studying
woman in her natural state, so to speak.”

 [Picture: She suggested that poets and novelists should take service for
         a year in any large drapery or millinery establishment]

“It is unfair to judge us by what, I confess, is our chief weakness,”
argued the Woman of the World.  “Woman in pursuit of clothes ceases to be
human—she reverts to the original brute.  Besides, dressmakers can be
very trying.  The fault is not entirely on one side.”

“I still fail to be convinced,” remarked the Girton Girl, “that woman is
over-praised.  Not even the present conversation, so far as it has gone,
altogether proves your point.”

“I am not saying it is the case among intelligent thinkers,” explained
the Philosopher, “but in popular literature the convention still lingers.
To woman’s face no man cares to protest against it; and woman, to her
harm, has come to accept it as a truism.  ‘What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all that’s nice.’  In more or less varied form the
idea has entered into her blood, shutting out from her hope of
improvement.  The girl is discouraged from asking herself the
occasionally needful question: Am I on the way to becoming a sound,
useful member of society?  Or am I in danger of degenerating into a vain,
selfish, lazy piece of good-for-nothing rubbish?  She is quite content so
long as she can detect in herself no tendency to male vices, forgetful
that there are also feminine vices.  Woman is the spoilt child of the
age.  No one tells her of her faults.  The World with its thousand voices
flatters her.  Sulks, bad temper, and pig-headed obstinacy are translated
as ‘pretty Fanny’s wilful ways.’  Cowardice, contemptible in man or
woman, she is encouraged to cultivate as a charm.  Incompetence to pack
her own bag or find her own way across a square and round a corner is
deemed an attraction.  Abnormal ignorance and dense stupidity entitle her
to pose as the poetical ideal.  If she give a penny to a street beggar,
selecting generally the fraud, or kiss a puppy’s nose, we exhaust the
language of eulogy, proclaiming her a saint.  The marvel to me is that,
in spite of the folly upon which they are fed, so many of them grow to be
sensible women.”

“Myself,” remarked the Minor Poet, “I find much comfort in the conviction
that talk, as talk, is responsible for much less good and much less harm
in the world than we who talk are apt to imagine.  Words to grow and bear
fruit must fall upon the earth of fact.”

“But you hold it right to fight against folly?” demanded the Philosopher.

“Heavens, yes!” cried the Minor Poet.  “That is how one knows it is
Folly—if we can kill it.  Against the Truth our arrows rattle


“BUT what is her reason?” demanded the Old Maid.

“Reason!  I don’t believe any of them have any reason.”  The Woman of the
World showed sign of being short of temper, a condition of affairs
startlingly unusual to her.  “Says she hasn’t enough work to do.”

“She must be an extraordinary woman,” commented the Old Maid.

“The trouble I have put myself to in order to keep that woman, just
because George likes her savouries, no one would believe,” continued
indignantly the Woman of the World.  “We have had a dinner party
regularly once a week for the last six months, entirely for her benefit.
Now she wants me to give two.  I won’t do it!”

“If I could be of any service?” offered the Minor Poet.  “My digestion is
not what it once was, but I could make up in quality—a _recherché_ little
banquet twice a week, say on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I would make a
point of eating with you.  If you think that would content her!”

“It is really thoughtful of you,” replied the Woman of the World, “but I
cannot permit it.  Why should you be dragged from the simple repast
suitable to a poet merely to oblige my cook?  It is not reason.”

“I was thinking rather of you,” continued the Minor Poet.

“I’ve half a mind,” said the Woman of the World, “to give up housekeeping
altogether and go into an hotel.  I don’t like the idea, but really
servants are becoming impossible.”

“It is very interesting,” said the Minor Poet.

“I am glad you find it so!” snapped the Woman of the World.

“What is interesting?” I asked the Minor Poet.

“That the tendency of the age,” he replied, “should be slowly but surely
driving us into the practical adoption of a social state that for years
we have been denouncing the Socialists for merely suggesting.  Everywhere
the public-houses are multiplying, the private dwellings diminishing.”

“Can you wonder at it?” commented the Woman of the World.  “You men talk
about ‘the joys of home.’  Some of you write poetry—generally speaking,
one of you who lives in chambers, and spends two-thirds of his day at a
club.”  We were sitting in the garden.  The attention of the Minor Poet
became riveted upon the sunset.  “‘Ethel and I by the fire.’  Ethel never
gets a chance of sitting by the fire.  So long as you are there,
comfortable, you do not notice that she has left the room to demand
explanation why the drawing-room scuttle is always filled with slack, and
the best coal burnt in the kitchen range.  Home to us women is our place
of business that we never get away from.”

“I suppose,” said the Girton Girl—to my surprise she spoke with entire
absence of indignation.  As a rule, the Girton Girl stands for what has
been termed “divine discontent” with things in general.  In the course of
time she will outlive her surprise at finding the world so much less
satisfactory an abode than she had been led to suppose—also her present
firm conviction that, given a free hand, she could put the whole thing
right in a quarter of an hour.  There are times even now when her tone
suggests less certainty of her being the first person who has ever
thought seriously about the matter.  “I suppose,” said the Girton Girl,
“it comes of education.  Our grandmothers were content to fill their
lives with these small household duties.  They rose early, worked with
their servants, saw to everything with their own eyes.  Nowadays we
demand time for self-development, for reading, for thinking, for
pleasure.  Household drudgery, instead of being the object of our life,
has become an interference to it.  We resent it.”

“The present revolt of woman,” continued the Minor Poet, “will be looked
back upon by the historian of the future as one of the chief factors in
our social evolution.  The ‘home’—the praises of which we still sing, but
with gathering misgiving—depended on her willingness to live a life of
practical slavery.  When Adam delved and Eve span—Adam confining his
delving to the space within his own fence, Eve staying her spinning-wheel
the instant the family hosiery was complete—then the home rested upon the
solid basis of an actual fact.  Its foundations were shaken when the man
became a citizen and his interests expanded beyond the domestic circle.
Since that moment woman alone has supported the institution.  Now she, in
her turn, is claiming the right to enter the community, to escape from
the solitary confinement of the lover’s castle.  The ‘mansions,’ with
common dining-rooms, reading-rooms, their system of common service, are
springing up in every quarter; the house, the villa, is disappearing.
The story is the same in every country.  The separate dwelling, where it
remains, is being absorbed into a system.  In America, the experimental
laboratory of the future, the houses are warmed from a common furnace.
You do not light the fire, you turn on the hot air.  Your dinner is
brought round to you in a travelling oven.  You subscribe for your valet
or your lady’s maid.  Very soon the private establishment, with its staff
of unorganised, quarrelling servants, of necessity either over or
underworked, will be as extinct as the lake dwelling or the sandstone

“I hope,” said the Woman of the World, “that I may live to see it.”

“In all probability,” replied the Minor Poet, “you will.  I would I could
feel as hopeful for myself.”

“If your prophecy be likely of fulfilment,” remarked the Philosopher, “I
console myself with the reflection that I am the oldest of the party.
Myself; I never read these full and exhaustive reports of the next
century without revelling in the reflection that before they can be
achieved I shall be dead and buried.  It may be a selfish attitude, but I
should be quite unable to face any of the machine-made futures our
growing guild of seers prognosticate.  You appear to me, most of you, to
ignore a somewhat important consideration—namely, that mankind is alive.
You work out your answers as if he were a sum in rule-of-three: ‘If man
in so many thousands of years has done so much in such a direction at
this or that rate of speed, what will he be doing—?’ and so on.  You
forget he is swayed by impulses that can enter into no calculation—drawn
hither and thither by powers that can never be represented in your
algebra.  In one generation Christianity reduced Plato’s republic to an
absurdity.  The printing-press has upset the unanswerable conclusions of

“I disagree with you,” said the Minor Poet.

“The fact does not convince me of my error,” retorted the Philosopher.

“Christianity,” continued the Minor Poet, “gave merely an added force to
impulses the germs of which were present in the infant race.  The
printing-press, teaching us to think in communities, has nonplussed to a
certain extent the aims of the individual as opposed to those of
humanity.  Without prejudice, without sentiment, cast your eye back over
the panorama of the human race.  What is the picture that presents
itself?  Scattered here and there over the wild, voiceless desert, first
the holes and caves, next the rude-built huts, the wigwams, the lake
dwellings of primitive man.  Lonely, solitary, followed by his dam and
brood, he creeps through the tall grass, ever with watchful,
terror-haunted eyes; satisfies his few desires; communicates, by means of
a few grunts and signs, his tiny store of knowledge to his offspring;
then, crawling beneath a stone, or into some tangled corner of the
jungle, dies and disappears.  We look again.  A thousand centuries have
flashed and faded.  The surface of the earth is flecked with strange
quivering patches: here, where the sun shines on the wood and sea, close
together, almost touching one another; there, among the shadows, far
apart.  The Tribe has formed itself.  The whole tiny mass moves forward,
halts, runs backwards, stirred always by one common impulse.  Man has
learnt the secret of combination, of mutual help.  The City rises.  From
its stone centre spreads its power; the Nation leaps to life;
civilisation springs from leisure; no longer is each man’s life devoted
to his mere animal necessities.  The artificer, the thinker—his fellows
shall protect him.  Socrates dreams, Phidias carves the marble, while
Pericles maintains the law and Leonidas holds the Barbarian at bay.
Europe annexes piece by piece the dark places of the earth, gives to them
her laws.  The Empire swallows the small State; Russia stretches her arm
round Asia.  In London we toast the union of the English-speaking
peoples; in Berlin and Vienna we rub a salamander to the _deutscher
Bund_; in Paris we whisper of a communion of the Latin races.  In great
things so in small.  The stores, the huge Emporium displaces the small
shopkeeper; the Trust amalgamates a hundred firms; the Union speaks for
the worker.  The limits of country, of language, are found too narrow for
the new Ideas.  German, American, or English—let what yard of coloured
cotton you choose float from the mizzenmast, the business of the human
race is their captain.  One hundred and fifty years ago old Sam Johnson
waited in a patron’s anteroom; today the entire world invites him to
growl his table talk the while it takes its dish of tea.  The poet, the
novelist, speak in twenty languages.  Nationality—it is the County
Council of the future.  The world’s high roads run turnpike-free from
pole to pole.  One would be blind not to see the goal towards which we
are rushing.  At the outside it is but a generation or two off.  It is
one huge murmuring Hive—one universal Hive just the size of the round
earth.  The bees have been before us; they have solved the riddle towards
which we in darkness have been groping.”

The Old Maid shuddered visibly.  “What a terrible idea!” she said.

“To us,” replied the Minor Poet; “not to those who will come after us.
The child dreads manhood.  To Abraham, roaming the world with his flocks,
the life of your modern City man, chained to his office from ten to four,
would have seemed little better than penal servitude.”

“My sympathies are with the Abrahamitical ideal,” observed the

“Mine also,” agreed the Minor Poet.  “But neither you nor I represent the
tendency of the age.  We are its curiosities.  We, and such as we, serve
as the brake regulating the rate of progress.  The genius of species
shows itself moving in the direction of the organised community—all life
welded together, controlled by one central idea.  The individual worker
is drawn into the factory.  Chippendale today would have been employed
sketching designs; the chair would have been put together by fifty
workers, each one trained to perfection in his own particular department.
Why does the hotel, with its five hundred servants, its catering for
three thousand mouths, work smoothly, while the desirable family
residence, with its two or three domestics, remains the scene of waste,
confusion, and dispute?  We are losing the talent of living alone; the
instinct of living in communities is driving it out.”

“So much the worse for the community,” was the comment of the
Philosopher.  “Man, as Ibsen has said, will always be at his greatest
when he stands alone.  To return to our friend Abraham, surely he,
wandering in the wilderness, talking with his God, was nearer the ideal
than the modern citizen, thinking with his morning paper, applauding
silly shibboleths from a theatre pit, guffawing at coarse jests, one of a
music-hall crowd?  In the community it is the lowest always leads.  You
spoke just now of all the world inviting Samuel Johnson to its dish of
tea.  How many read him as compared to the number of subscribers to the
_Ha’penny Joker_?  This ‘thinking in communities,’ as it is termed, to
what does it lead?  To mafficking and Dreyfus scandals.  What crowd ever
evolved a noble idea?  If Socrates and Galileo, Confucius and Christ had
‘thought in communities,’ the world would indeed be the ant-hill you
appear to regard as its destiny.”

“In balancing the books of life one must have regard to both sides of the
ledger,” responded the Minor Poet.  “A crowd, I admit, of itself creates
nothing; on the other hand, it receives ideals into its bosom and gives
them needful shelter.  It responds more readily to good than to evil.
What greater stronghold of virtue than your sixpenny gallery?  Your
burglar, arrived fresh from jumping on his mother, finds himself
applauding with the rest stirring appeals to the inborn chivalry of man.
Suggestion that it was right or proper under any circumstances to jump
upon one’s mother he would at such moment reject with horror.  ‘Thinking
in communities’ is good for him.  The hooligan, whose patriotism finds
expression in squirting dirty water into the face of his coster
sweetheart: the _boulevardière_, primed with absinth, shouting ‘_Conspuez
les Juifs_!’—the motive force stirring them in its origin was an ideal.
Even into making a fool of itself, a crowd can be moved only by
incitement of its finer instincts.  The service of Prometheus to mankind
must not be judged by the statistics of the insurance office.  The world
as a whole has gained by community, will attain its goal only through
community.  From the nomadic savage by the winding road of citizenship we
have advanced far.  The way winds upward still, hidden from us by the
mists, but along its tortuous course lies our track into the Promised
Land.  Not the development of the individual—that is his own concern—but
the uplifting of the race would appear to be the law.  The lonely great
ones, they are the shepherds of the flock—the servants, not the masters
of the world.  Moses shall die and be buried in the wilderness, seeing
only from afar the resting-place of man’s tired feet.  It is unfortunate
that the _Ha’penny Joker_ and its kind should have so many readers.
Maybe it teaches those to read who otherwise would never read at all.  We
are impatient, forgetting that the coming and going of our generations
are but as the swinging of the pendulum of Nature’s clock.  Yesterday we
booked our seats for gladiatorial shows, for the burning of Christians,
our windows for Newgate hangings.  Even the musical farce is an
improvement upon that—at least, from the humanitarian point of view.”

“In the Southern States of America,” observed the Philosopher, sticking
to his guns, “they run excursion trains to lynching exhibitions.  The
bull-fight is spreading to France, and English newspapers are advocating
the reintroduction of bear-baiting and cock-fighting.  Are we not moving
in a circle?”

“The road winds, as I have allowed,” returned the Minor Poet; “the
gradient is somewhat steep.  Just now, maybe, we are traversing a
backward curve.  I gain my faith by pausing now and then to look behind.
I see the weary way with many a downward sweep.  But we are climbing, my
friend, we are climbing.”

“But to such a very dismal goal, according to your theory,” grumbled the
Old Maid.  “I should hate to feel myself an insect in a hive, my little
round of duties apportioned to me, my every action regulated by a fixed
law, my place assigned to me, my very food and drink, I suppose,
apportioned to me.  Do think of something more cheerful.”

The Minor Poet laughed.  “My dear lady,” he replied, “it is too late.
The thing is already done.  The hive already covers us, the cells are in
building.  Who leads his own life?  Who is master of himself?  What can
you do but live according to your income in, I am sure, a very charming
little cell; buzz about your little world with your cheerful, kindly
song, helping these your fellow insects here, doing day by day the useful
offices apportioned to you by your temperament and means, seeing the same
faces, treading ever the same narrow circle?  Why do I write poetry?  I
am not to blame.  I must live.  It is the only thing I can do.  Why does
one man live and die upon the treeless rocks of Iceland, another labour
in the vineyards of the Apennines?  Why does one woman make matches, ride
in a van to Epping Forest, drink gin, and change hats with her lover on
the homeward journey; another pant through a dinner-party and half a
dozen receptions every night from March to June, rush from country house
to fashionable Continental resort from July to February, dress as she is
instructed by her milliner, say the smart things that are expected of
her?  Who would be a sweep or a chaperon, were all roads free?  Who is it
succeeds in escaping the law of the hive?  The loafer, the tramp.  On the
other hand, who is the man we respect and envy?  The man who works for
the community, the public-spirited man, as we call him; the unselfish
man, the man who labours for the labour’s sake and not for the profit,
devoting his days and nights to learning Nature’s secrets, to acquiring
knowledge useful to the race.  Is he not the happiest, the man who has
conquered his own sordid desires, who gives himself to the public good?
The hive was founded in dark days before man knew; it has been built
according to false laws.  This man will have a cell bigger than any other
cell; all the other little men shall envy him; a thousand fellow-crawling
mites shall slave for him, wear out their lives in wretchedness for him
and him alone; all their honey they shall bring to him; he shall gorge
while they shall starve.  Of what use?  He has slept no sounder in his
foolishly fanciful cell.  Sleep is to tired eyes, not to silken
coverlets.  We dream in Seven Dials as in Park Lane.  His stomach,
distend it as he will—it is very small—resents being distended.  The
store of honey rots.  The hive was conceived in the dark days of
ignorance, stupidity, brutality.  A new hive shall arise.”

      [Picture: Who is it succeeds in escaping the law of the hive?]

“I had no idea,” said the Woman of the World, “you were a Socialist.”

“Nor had I,” agreed the Minor Poet, “before I began talking.”

“And next Wednesday,” laughed the Woman of the World; “you will be
arguing in favour of individualism.”

“Very likely,” agreed the Minor Poet.  “‘The deep moans round with many

“I’ll take another cup of tea,” said the Philosopher.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

  _Printed by Hazell_, _Watson & Viney_, _Ld._, _London and Aylesbury_.

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