Vanishing Roads And Other Essays
Richard Le Gallienne
ROBERT HOBART DAVIS
DEAR BOB: It is quite a long time now since you and I first caught sight of each other and became fellow wayfarers on this Vanishing Road of the world. O quite a lot of years now, Bob! Yet I control my tendency to shiver at their number from the fact that we have travelled them, always within hailing distance of each other, I with the comfortable knowledge that near by I had so good a comrade, so true a friend.
For this once, by your leave, we won't "can" the sentiment,—to use an idiom in which you are the master-artist on this continent,—but I, at least, will luxuriate in retrospect, as I write your name by way of dedication to this volume of essays, for some of which your quick-firing mind is somewhat more than editorially responsible. You were one of the first to make me welcome to a country of which, even as a boy, I used prophetically to dream as my "promised land," little knowing that it was indeed to be my home, the home of my spirit, as well as the final resting-place of my household gods; and, having you so early for my friend, is it to be wondered at if I soon came to regard the American humourist as the noblest work of God?
There is yet, I trust, much left of the Vanishing Road for us to travel together; and I hope that, when the time comes for us both to vanish over the horizon line, we may exit still within hail of each other,—so that we may have a reasonable chance of hitting the trail together on the next route, whatever it is going to be.
Always yours, RICHARD LE GALLIENNE.
Rowayton, December 25, 1914.
For their discernment in giving the following essays their first opportunity with the reader the writer desires to thank the editors of The North American Review, Harper's Magazine, The Century, The Smart Set, Munsey's, The Out-Door World, and The Forum.
CHAPTER I.—VANISHING ROADS II.—WOMAN AS A SUPERNATURAL BEING III.—THE LACK OF IMAGINATION AMONG MILLIONAIRES IV.—THE PASSING OF MRS. GRUNDY V.—MODERN AIDS TO ROMANCE VI.—THE LAST CALL VII.—THE PERSECUTIONS OF BEAUTY VIII.—THE MANY FACES—THE ONE DREAM IX.—THE SNOWS OF YESTER-YEAR X.—THE PSYCHOLOGY OF GOSSIP XI.—THE PASSING AWAY OF THE EDITOR XII.—THE SPIRIT OF THE OPEN XIII.—AN OLD AMERICAN TOW-PATH XIV.—A MODERN SAINT FRANCIS XV.—THE LITTLE GHOST IN THE GARDEN XVI.—THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE XVII.—LONDON—CHANGING AND UNCHANGING XVIII.—THE HAUNTED RESTAURANT XIX.—THE NEW PYRAMUS AND THISBE XX.—TWO WONDERFUL OLD LADIES XXI.—A CHRISTMAS MEDITATION XXII.—ON RE-READING WALTER PATER XXIII.—THE MYSTERY OF "FIONA MACLEOD" XXIV.—FORBES-ROBERTSON: AN APPRECIATION XXV.—A MEMORY OF FREDERIC MISTRAL XXVI.—IMPERISHABLE FICTION XXVII.—THE MAN BEHIND THE PEN XXVIII.—BULLS IN CHINA-SHOPS XXIX.—THE BIBLE AND THE BUTTERFLY
Though actually the work of man's hands—or, more properly speaking, the work of his travelling feet,—roads have long since come to seem so much a part of Nature that we have grown to think of them as a feature of the landscape no less natural than rocks and trees. Nature has adopted them among her own works, and the road that mounts the hill to meet the sky-line, or winds away into mystery through the woodland, seems to be veritably her own highway leading us to the stars, luring us to her secret places. And just as her rocks and trees, we know not how or why, have come to have for us a strange spiritual suggestiveness, so the vanishing road has gained a meaning for us beyond its use as the avenue of mortal wayfaring, the link of communication between village and village and city and city; and some roads indeed seem so lonely, and so beautiful in their loneliness, that one feels they were meant to be travelled only by the soul. All roads indeed lead to Rome, but theirs also is a more mystical destination, some bourne of which no traveller knows the name, some city, they all seem to hint, even more eternal.
Never more than when we tread some far-spreading solitude and mark the road stretching on and on into infinite space, or the eye loses it in some wistful curve behind the fateful foliage of lofty storm-stirred trees, or as it merely loiters in sunny indolence through leafy copses and ferny hollows, whatever its mood or its whim, by moonlight or at morning; never more than thus, eagerly afoot or idly contemplative, are we impressed by that something that Nature seems to have to tell us, that something of solemn, lovely import behind her visible face. If we could follow that vanishing road to its far mysterious end! Should we find that meaning there? Should we know why it stops at no mere market-town, nor comes to an end at any seaport? Should we come at last to the radiant door, and know at last the purpose of all our travel? Meanwhile the road beckons us on and on, and we walk we know not why or whither.
Vanishing roads do actually stir such thoughts, not merely by way of similitude, but just in the same way that everything in Nature similarly stirs thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls; as moonlit waters stir them, or the rising of the sun. As I have said, they have come to seem a part of natural phenomena, and, as such, may prove as suggestive a starting-point as any other for those speculations which Nature is all the time provoking in us as to why she affects us thus and thus. These mighty hills of multitudinous rock, piled confusedly against the sky—so much granite and iron and copper and crystal, says one. But to the soul, strangely something besides, so much more. These rolling shapes of cloud, so fantastically massed and moulded, moving in rhythmic change like painted music in the heaven, radiant with ineffable glories or monstrous with inconceivable doom. This sea of silver, "hushed and halcyon," or this sea of wrath and ravin, wild as Judgment Day. So much vapour and sunshine and wind and water, says one.
Yet to the soul how much more!
And why? Answer me that if you can. There, truly, we set our feet on the vanishing road.
Whatever reality, much or little, the personifications of Greek Nature-worship had for the ancient world, there is no doubt that for a certain modern temperament, more frequently met with every day, those personifications are becoming increasingly significant, and one might almost say veritably alive. Forgotten poets may, in the first instance, have been responsible for the particular forms they took, their names and stories, yet even so they but clothed with legend presences of wood and water, of earth and sea and sky, which man dimly felt to have a real existence; and these presences, forgotten or banished for a while in prosaic periods, or under Puritanic repression, are once more being felt as spiritual realities by a world coming more and more to evoke its divinities by individual meditation on, and responsiveness to, the mysterious so-called natural influences by which it feels itself surrounded. Thus the first religion of the world seems likely to be its last. In other words, the modern tendency, with spiritually sensitive folk, is for us to go direct to the fountain-head of all theologies, Nature herself, and, prostrating ourselves before her mystery, strive to interpret it according to our individual "intimations," listening, attent, for ourselves to her oracles, and making, to use the phrase of one of the profoundest of modern Nature-seers, our own "reading of earth." Such was Wordsworth's initiative, and, as some one has said, "we are all Wordsworthians today." That pagan creed, in which Wordsworth passionately wished himself suckled, is not "outworn." He himself, in his own austere way, has, more than any one man, verified it for us, so that indeed we do once more nowadays
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Nor have the dryads and the fauns been frighted away for good. All over the world they are trooping back to the woods, and whoso has eyes may catch sight, any summer day, of "the breast of the nymph in the brake." Imagery, of course; but imagery that is coming to have a profounder meaning, and a still greater expressive value, than it ever had for Greece and Rome. All myths that are something more than fancies gain rather than lose in value with time, by reason of the accretions of human experience. The mysteries of Eleusis would mean more for a modern man than for an ancient Greek, and in our modern groves of Dodona the voice of the god has meanings for us stranger than ever reached his ears. Maybe the meanings have a purport less definite, but they have at least the suggestiveness of a nobler mystery. But surely the Greeks were right, and we do but follow them as we listen to the murmur of the wind in the lofty oaks, convinced as they of the near presence of the divine.
The word by seers or sibyls told In groves of oak or fanes of gold, Still floats upon the morning wind, Still whispers to the willing mind.
Nor was it a vain thing to watch the flight of birds across the sky, and augur this or that of their strange ways. We too still watch them in a like mood, and, though we do not interpret them with a like exactitude, we are very sure that they mean something important to our souls, as they speed along their vanishing roads.
This modern feeling of ours is quite different from the outworn "pathetic fallacy," which was a purely sentimental attitude. We have, of course, long since ceased to think of Nature as the sympathetic mirror of our moods, or to imagine that she has any concern with the temporal affairs of man. We no longer seek to appease her in her terrible moods with prayer and sacrifice. We know that she is not thinking of us, but we do know that for all her moods there is in us an answering thrill of correspondence, which is not merely fanciful or imaginative, but of the very essence of our beings. It is not that we are reading our thoughts into her. Rather we feel that we are receiving her thoughts into ourselves, and that, in certain receptive hours, we are, by some avenue simpler and profounder than reason, made aware of certitudes we cannot formulate, but which nevertheless siderealize into a faith beyond the reach of common doubt—a faith, indeed, unelaborate, a faith, one might say, of one tenet: belief in the spiritual sublimity of all Nature, and, therefore, of our own being as a part thereof.
In such hours we feel too, with a singular lucidity of conviction, that those forces which thus give us that mystical assurance are all the time moulding us accordingly as we give up ourselves to their influence, and that we are literally and not fancifully what winds and waters make us; that the poetry, for instance, of Wordsworth was literally first somewhere in the universe, and thence transmitted to him by processes no less natural than those which produced his bodily frame, gave him form and feature, and coloured his eyes and hair.
It is not man that has "poetized" the world, it is the world that has made a poet out of man, by infinite processes of evolution, precisely in the same way that it has shaped a rose and filled it with perfume, or shaped a nightingale and filled it with song. One has often heard it said that man has endowed Nature with his own feelings, that the pathos or grandeur of the evening sky, for instance, are the illusions of his humanizing fancy, and have no real existence. The exact contrary is probably the truth—that man has no feelings of his own that were not Nature's first, and that all that stirs in him at such spectacles is but a translation into his own being of cosmic emotions which he shares in varying degrees with all created things. Into man's strange heart Nature has distilled her essences, as elsewhere she has distilled them in colour and perfume. He is, so to say, one of the nerve-centres of cosmic experience. In the process of the suns he has become a veritable microcosm of the universe. It was not man that placed that tenderness in the evening sky. It has been the evening skies of millions of years that have at length placed tenderness in the heart of man. It has passed into him as that "beauty born of murmuring sound" passed into the face of Wordsworth's maiden.
Perhaps we too seldom reflect how much the life of Nature is one with the life of man, how unimportant or indeed merely seeming, the difference between them. Who can set a seed in the ground, and watch it put up a green shoot, and blossom and fructify and wither and pass, without reflecting, not as imagery but as fact, that he has come into existence, run his course, and is going out of existence again, by precisely the same process? With so serious a correspondence between their vital experience, the fact of one being a tree and the other a man seems of comparatively small importance. The life process has but used different material for its expression. And as man and Nature are so like in such primal conditions, is it not to be supposed that they are alike too in other and subtler ways, and that, at all events, as it thus clearly appears that man is as much a natural growth as an apple-tree, alike dependent on sun and rain, may not, or rather must not, the thoughts that come to him strangely out of earth and sky, the sap-like stirrings of his spirit, the sudden inner music that streams through him before the beauty of the world, be no less authentically the working of Nature within him than his more obviously physical processes, and, say, a belief in God be as inevitable a blossom of the human tree as apple-blossom of the apple?
If this oracular office of Nature be indeed a truth, our contemplation of her beauty and marvel is seen to be a method of illumination, and her varied spectacle actually a sacred book in picture-writing, a revelation through the eye of the soul of the stupendous purport of the universe. The sun and the moon are the torches by which we study its splendid pages, turning diurnally for our perusal, and in star and flower alike dwells the lore which we cannot formulate into thought, but can only come indescribably to know by loving the pictures. "The meaning of all things that are" is there, if we can only find it. It flames in the sunset, or flits by us in the twilight moth, thunders or moans or whispers in the sea, unveils its bosom in the moonrise, affirms itself in mountain-range and rooted oak, sings to itself in solitary places, dreams in still waters, nods and beckons amid sunny foliage, and laughs its great green laugh in the wide sincerity of the grass.
As the pictures in this strange and lovely book are infinite, so endlessly varied are the ways in which they impress us. In our highest moments they seem to be definitely, almost consciously, sacerdotal, as though the symbolic acts of a solemn cosmic ritual, in which the universe is revealed visibly at worship. Were man to make a practice of rising at dawn and contemplating in silence and alone the rising of the sun, he would need no other religion. The rest of the day would be hallowed for him by that morning memory and his actions would partake of the largeness and chastity of that lustral hour. Moonlight, again, seems to be the very holiness of Nature, welling out ecstatically from fountains of ineffable purity and blessedness. Of some moonlight nights we feel that if we did what our spirits prompt us, we should pass them on our knees, as in some chapel of the Grail. To attempt to realize in thought the rapture and purification of such a vigil is to wonder that we so seldom pay heed to such inner promptings. So much we lose of the best kind of joy by spiritual inertia, or plain physical sloth; and some day it will be too late to get up and see the sunrise, or to follow the white feet of the moon as she treads her vanishing road of silver across the sea. This involuntary conscience that reproaches us with such laxity in our Nature-worship witnesses how instinctive that worship is, and how much we unconsciously depend on Nature for our impulses and our moods.
Another definitely religious operation of Nature within us is expressed in that immense gratitude which throws open the gates of the spirit as we contemplate some example of her loveliness or grandeur. Who that has stood by some still lake and watched a stretch of water-lilies opening in the dawn but has sent out somewhere into space a profound thankfulness to "whatever gods there be" that he has been allowed to gaze on so fair a sight. Whatever the struggle or sorrow of our lives, we feel in such moments our great good fortune at having been born into a world that contains such marvels. It is sufficient success in life, whatever our minor failures, to have beheld such beauty; and mankind at large witnesses to this feeling by the value it everywhere attaches to scenes in Nature exceptionally noble or exquisite. Though the American traveller does not so express it, his sentiment toward such natural spectacles as the Grand Canon or Niagara Falls is that of an intense reverence. Such places are veritable holy places, and man's heart instinctively acknowledges them as sacred. His repugnance to any violation of them by materialistic interests is precisely the same feeling as the horror with which Christendom regarded the Turkish violation of the Holy Sepulchre. And this feeling will increase rather than decrease in proportion as religion is recognized as having its shrines and oracles not only in Jerusalem, or in St. Peter's, but wherever Nature has erected her altars on the hills or wafted her incense through the woodlands.
After all, are not all religions but the theological symbolization of natural phenomena; and the sacraments, the festivals, and fasts of all the churches have their counterparts in the mysterious processes and manifestations of Nature? and is the contemplation of the resurrection of Adonis or Thammuz more edifying to the soul than to meditate the strange return of the spring which their legends but ecclesiastically celebrate? He who has watched and waited at the white grave of winter, and hears at last the first faint singing among the boughs, or the first strange "peeping" of frogs in the marshes; or watches the ghost-like return of insects, stealing, still half asleep, from one knows not where—the first butterfly suddenly fluttering helplessly on the window-pane, or the first mud-wasp crawling out into the sun in a dazed, bewildered way; or comes upon the violet in the woods, shining at the door of its wintry sepulchre: he who meditates these marvels, and all the magic processional of the months, as they march with pomp and pathos along their vanishing roads, will come to the end of the year with a lofty, illuminated sense of having assisted at a solemn religious service, and a realization that, in no mere fancy of the poets, but in very deed, "day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night sheweth knowledge."
Apart from this generally religious influence of Nature, she seems at times in certain of her aspects and moods specifically to illustrate or externalize states of the human soul. Sometimes in still, moonlit nights, standing, as it were, on the brink of the universe, we seem to be like one standing on the edge of a pool, who, gazing in, sees his own soul gazing back at him. Tiny creatures though we be, the whole solemn and majestic spectacle seems to be an extension of our own reverie, and we to enfold it all in some strange way within our own infinitesimal consciousness. So a self-conscious dewdrop might feel that it enfolded the morning sky, and such probably is the meaning of the Buddhist seer when he declares that "the universe grows I."
Such are some of the more august impressions made upon us by the pictures in the cosmic picture-book; but there are also times and places when Nature seems to wear a look less mystic than dramatic in its suggestiveness, as though she were a stage-setting for some portentous human happening past or to come—the fall of kings or the tragic clash of empires. As Whitman says, "Here a great personal deed has room." Some landscapes seem to prophesy, some to commemorate. In some places not marked by monuments, or otherwise definitely connected with history, we have a curious haunted sense of prodigious far-off events once enacted in this quiet grassy solitude—prehistoric battles or terrible sacrifices. About others hangs a fateful atmosphere of impending disaster, as though weighted with a gathering doom. Sometimes we seem conscious of sinister presences, as though veritably in the abode of evil spirits. The place seems somehow not quite friendly to humanity, not quite good to linger in, lest its genius should cast its perilous shadow over the heart. On the other hand, some places breathe an ineffable sense of blessedness, of unearthly promise. We feel as though some hushed and happy secret were about to be whispered to us out of the air, some wonderful piece of good fortune on the edge of happening. Some hand seems to beckon us, some voice to call, to mysterious paradises of inconceivable green freshness and supernaturally beautiful flowers, fairy fastnesses of fragrance and hidden castles of the dew. In such hours the Well at the World's End seems no mere poet's dream. It awaits us yonder in the forest glade, amid the brooding solitudes of silent fern, and the gate of the Earthly Paradise is surely there in yonder vale hidden among the violet hills.
Various as are these impressions, it is strange and worth thinking on that the dominant suggestion of Nature through all her changes, whether her mood be stormy or sunny, melancholy or jubilant, is one of presage and promise. She seems to be ever holding out to us an immortal invitation to follow and endure, to endure and to enjoy. She seems to say that what she brings us is but an earnest of what she holds for us out there along the vanishing road. There is nothing, indeed, she will not promise us, and no promise, we feel, she cannot keep. Even in her tragic and bodeful seasons, in her elegiac autumns and stern winters, there is an energy of sorrow and sacrifice that elevates and inspires, and in the darkest hours hints at immortal mornings. She may terrify, but she never deadens, the soul. In earthquake and eclipse she seems to be less busy with destruction than with renewed creation. She is but wrecking the old, that
... there shall be Beautiful things made new, for the surprise Of the sky-children.
As I have thus mused along with the reader, a reader I hope not too imaginary, the manner in which the phrase with which I began has recurred to my pen has been no mere accident, nor yet has it been a mere literary device. It seemed to wait for one at every turn of one's theme, inevitably presenting itself. For wherever in Nature we set our foot, she seems to be endlessly the centre of vanishing roads, radiating in every direction into space and time. Nature is forever arriving and forever departing, forever approaching, forever vanishing; but in her vanishings there seems to be ever the waving of a hand, in all her partings a promise of meetings farther along the road. She would seem to say not so much Ave atque vale, as Vale atque ave. In all this rhythmic drift of things, this perpetual flux of atoms flowing on and on into Infinity, we feel less the sense of loss than of a musical progression of which we too are notes.
We are all treading the vanishing road of a song in the air, the vanishing road of the spring flowers and the winter snows, the vanishing roads of the winds and the streams, the vanishing road of beloved faces. But in this great company of vanishing things there is a reassuring comradeship. We feel that we are units in a vast ever-moving army, the vanguard of which is in Eternity. The road still stretches ahead of us. For a little while yet we shall experience all the zest and bustle of marching feet. The swift-running seasons, like couriers bound for the front, shall still find us on the road, and shower on us in passing their blossoms and their snows. For a while the murmur of the running stream of Time shall be our fellow-wayfarer—till, at last, up there against the sky-line, we too turn and wave our hands, and know for ourselves where the road wends as it goes to meet the stars. And others will stand as we today and watch us reach the top of the ridge and disappear, and wonder how it seemed to us to turn that radiant corner and vanish with the rest along the vanishing road.
WOMAN AS A SUPERNATURAL BEING
The boy's first hushed enchantment, blent with a sort of religious awe, as in his earliest love affair he awakens to the delicious mystery we call woman, a being half fairy and half flower, made out of moonlight and water lilies, of elfin music and thrilling fragrance, of divine whiteness and softness and rustle as of dewy rose gardens, a being of unearthly eyes and terribly sweet marvel of hair; such, too, through life, and through the ages, however confused or overlaid by use and wont, is man's perpetual attitude of astonishment before the apparition woman.
Though she may work at his side, the comrade of his sublunary occupations, he never, deep down, thinks of her as quite real. Though his wife, she remains an apparition, a being of another element, an Undine. She is never quite credible, never quite loses that first nimbus of the supernatural.
This is true not merely for poets; it is true for all men, though, of course, all men may not be conscious of its truth, or realize the truth in just this way. Poets, being endowed with exceptional sensitiveness of feeling and expression, say the wonderful thing in the wonderful way, bring to it words more nearly adequate than others can bring; but it is an error to suppose that any beauty of expression can exaggerate, can indeed more than suggest, the beauty of its truth. Woman is all that poets have said of her, and all that poets can never say:
Always incredible hath seemed the rose, And inconceivable the nightingale—
and the poet's adoration of her is but the articulate voice of man's love since the beginning, a love which is as mysterious as she herself is a mystery.
However some may try to analyse man's love for woman, to explain it, or explain it away, belittle it, nay, even resent and befoul it, it remains an unaccountable phenomenon, a "mystery we make darker with a name." Biology, cynically pointing at certain of its processes, makes the miracle rather more miraculous than otherwise. Musical instruments are no explanation of music. "Is it not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of men's bodies?" says Benedick, in Much Ado About Nothing, commenting on Balthazar's music. But they do, for all that, though no one considers sheep's gut the explanation. To cry "sex" and to talk of nature's mad preoccupation with the species throws no light on the matter, and robs it of no whit of its magic. The rainbow remains a rainbow, for all the sciences. And woman, with or without the suffrage, stenographer or princess, is of the rainbow. She is beauty made flesh and dwelling amongst us, and whatever the meaning and message of beauty may be, such is the meaning of woman on the earth—her meaning, at all events, for men. That is, she is the embodiment, more than any other creature, of that divine something, whatever it may be, behind matter, that spiritual element out of which all proceeds, and which mysteriously gives its solemn, lovely and tragic significance to our mortal day.
If you tell some women this of themselves, they will smile at you. Men are such children. They are so simple. Dear innocents, how easily they are fooled! A little make-up, a touch of rouge, a dash of henna—and you are an angel. Some women seem really to think this; for, naturally, they know nothing of their own mystery, and imagine that it resides in a few feminine tricks, the superficial cleverness with which some of them know how to make the most of the strange something about them which they understand even less than men understand it.
Other women indeed resent man's religious attitude toward them as sentimental, old-fashioned. They prefer to be regarded merely as fellow-men. To show consciousness of their sex is to risk offence, and to busy one's eyes with their magnificent hair, instead of the magnificent brains beneath it, is to insult them. Yet when, in that old court of law, Phryne bared her bosom as her complete case for the defence, she proved herself a greater lawyer than will ever be made by law examinations and bachelor's degrees; and even when women become judges of the Supreme Court, a development easily within sight, they will still retain the greater importance of being merely women. Yes, and one can easily imagine some future woman President of the United States, for all the acknowledged brilliancy of her administration, being esteemed even more for her superb figure.
It is no use. Woman, if she would, "cannot shake off the god." She must make up her mind, whatever other distinctions she may achieve, to her inalienable distinction of being woman; nothing she can do will change man's eternal attitude toward her, as a being made to be worshipped and to be loved, a being of beauty and mystery, as strange and as lovely as the moon, the goddess and the mother of lunatics. What a wonderful destiny is hers! In addition to being the first of human beings, all that a man can be, to be so much else as well; to be, so to say, the president of a railroad and yet a priestess of nature's mysteries; a stenographer at so many dollars a week and yet a nymph of the forest pools—woman, "and yet a spirit still." Not without meaning has myth endowed woman with the power of metamorphosis, to change at will like the maidens in the legend into wild white swans, or like Syrinx, fleeing from the too ardent pursuit of Pan, into a flowering reed, or like Lamia, into a jewelled serpent—
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd; And full of silver moons.
Modern conditions are still more favourable than antique story for the exhibition of this protean quality of woman, providing her with opportunities of still more startling contrasts of transformation. Will it not be a wonderful sight in that near future to watch that woman judge of the Supreme Court, in the midst of some learned tangle of inter-state argument, turn aside for a moment, in response to a plaintive cry, and, unfastening her bodice, give the little clamourer the silver solace it demands! What a hush will fall upon the assembled court! To think of such a genius for jurisprudence, such a legal brain, working in harmony—with such a bosom! So august a pillar of the law, yet so divine a mother.
As it is, how piquant the contrast between woman inside and outside her office hours! As you take her out to dinner, and watch her there seated before you, a perfumed radiance, a dewy dazzling vision, an evening star swathed in gauzy convolutions of silk and lace—can it be the same creature who an hour or two ago sat primly with notebook and pencil at your desk side, and took down your specification for fireproofing that new steel-constructed building on Broadway? You, except for your evening clothes, are not changed; but she—well, your clients couldn't possibly recognize her. As with Browning's lover, you are on the other side of the moon, "side unseen" of office boy or of subway throng; you are in the presence of those "silent silver lights and darks undreamed of" by the gross members of your board of directors. By day—but ah! at evening under the electric lights, to the delicate strains of the palm-shaded orchestra! Man is incapable of these exquisite transformations. By day a gruff and hurried machine—at evening, at best, a rapt and laconic poker player. A change with no suggestion of the miraculous.
Do not let us for a moment imagine that because man is ceasing to remove his hat at her entrance into crowded elevators, or because he hustles her or allows her to hang by the straps in crowded cars, that he is tending to forget this supernaturalism of woman. Such change in his manners merely means his respect for her disguise, her disguise as a business woman. By day she desires to be regarded as just that, and she resents as untimely the recognition of her sex, her mystery, and her marvel during business hours. Man's apparent impoliteness, therefore, is actually a delicate modern form of chivalry. But of course his real feelings are only respectfully masked, and, let her be in any danger or real discomfort, or let any language be uttered unseemly for her ears, and we know what promptly happens. Barring such accidents, man tacitly understands that her incognito is to be respected—till the charming moment comes when she chooses to put it aside and take at his hands her immemorial tribute.
So, you see, she is able to go about the rough ways, taking part even in the rough work of the world, literally bearing what the fairy tales call a charmed life. And this, of course, gives her no small advantage in the human conflict. So protected, she is enabled, when need arises, to take the offensive, with a minimum of danger. Consider her recent campaign for suffrage, for example. Does any one suppose that, had she been anything but woman, a sacrosanct being, immune from clubs and bullets, that she would have been allowed to carry matters with such high victorious hand as in England—and more power to her!—she has of late been doing. Let men attempt such tactics, and their shrift is uncomplimentarily short. It may be said that woman enjoys this immunity with children and curates, but, even so, it may be held that these latter participate in a less degree in that divine nature with which woman is so completely armoured.
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
But there is indeed the mystery, for, though its "action is no stronger than a flower," the power wielded by beauty in this world, and therefore by woman as its most dynamic embodiment, is as undeniable as it is irresistible. "Terrible as an army with banners" was no mere figure of lovesick speech. It is as plain a truth as the properties of radium, and belongs to the same order of marvel. Such scientific discoveries are particularly welcome as demonstrating the power of the finer, as contrasted with the more brutally obvious, manifestations of force; for they thus illustrate the probable nature of those spiritual forces whose operations we can plainly see, without being able to account for them. A foolish phrase has it that "a woman's strength is in her helplessness." "Helplessness" is a curious term to use for a mysteriously concentrated or super-refined form of strength. "Whose action is no stronger than a flower." But is the action of a flower any less strong because it is not the action of a fist? As a motive force a flower may be, and indeed has time and again been, stronger than a thousand fists. And what then shall we say of the action of that flower of flowers that is woman—that flower that not only once or twice in history has
... launched a thousand ships And burned the topless towers of Ilium.
Woman's helplessness, forsooth! On the contrary, woman is the best equipped fighting machine that ever went to battle. And she is this, not from any sufferance on the part of man, not from any consideration on his part toward her "weakness," but merely because he cannot help himself, because nature has so made her.
No simple reasoning will account for her influence over man. It is not an influence he allows. It is an influence he cannot resist, and it is an influence which he cannot explain, though he may make believe to do so. That "protection," for example, which he extends to her from the common physical perils with which he is more muscularly constituted to cope—why is it extended? Merely out of pity to a weaker being than himself? Does other weakness always command his pity? We know that it does not. No, this "protection" is but a part of an instinctive reverence, for which he can give no reason, the same kind of reverence which he has always given to divine beings, to any manifestation or vessel of the mysteriously sacred something in human life. He respects and protects woman from the same instinct which makes him shrink from profaning an altar or robbing a church, or sends him on his knees before any apparition supposedly divine. Priests and women are often classed together, but not because the priests are regarded as effeminately "helpless"; rather because both are recognized as ministers of sacred mysteries, both belong to the spiritual sphere, and have commerce with the occult holiness of things. Also be it remarked that this "protection" is chiefly needed against the brutality and bestiality of man's own heart, which woman and religion alike rather hold in subjection by their mysterious influence than have to thank for any favours of self-control. Man "protects" woman because he first worships her, because, if she has for him not always the beauty of holiness, she at least always suggests the holiness of beauty.
Now when has man ever suggested holiness to the most adoring woman? I do not refer to the professional holiness of saints and ecclesiastics, but to that sense of hallowed strangeness, of mystic purity, of spiritual exquisiteness, which breathes from a beautiful woman and makes the touch of her hand a religious ecstasy, and her very garments a thrilling mystery. How impossible it is to imagine a woman writing the Vita Nuova, or a girl feeling toward a boy such feelings of awe and worship as set the boy Dante a-tremble at his first sight of the girl Beatrice.
At that moment [he writes], I say most truly that the spirit of life, which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulse of my body shook therewith; and in trembling it said these words: "Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi. (Here is a deity stronger than I, who, coming, shall rule over me.)"
And, loverlike, he records of "this youngest of the angels" that "her dress on that day was of a most noble colour, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited with her very tender age." Ah! that "little frock," that sacred little frock we first saw her in! Don't we all know it? And the little handkerchief, scented like the breath of heaven, we begged as a sacred relic! And—
Long after you are dead I will kiss the shoes of your feet....
Yes! anything she has worn or touched; for, as a modern writer has said:
Everything a woman wears or touches immediately incarnates something of herself. A handkerchief, a glove, a flower—with a breath she endows them with immortal souls.
Waller with his girdle, Donne with "that subtle wreath of hair about his arm," the mediaeval knight riding at tourney with his lady's sleeve at his helm, and all relic-worshipping lovers through the ages bear witness to that divine supernaturalism of woman. To touch the hem of that little frock, to kiss the mere imprint of those little feet, is to be purified and exalted. But when did man affect woman in that way? I am tolerably well read in the poetry of woman's emotions, but I recall no parallel expressions of feeling. No passionate apostrophes of his golf stockings come to my mind, nor wistful recollections of the trousers he wore on that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon. The immaculate collar that spanned his muscular throat finds no Waller to sing it:
A narrow compass—and yet there Dwelt all that's good, and all that's fair,
and probably the smartest negligee shirt that ever sported with the summer winds on a clothes-line has never caused the smallest flutter in feminine bosoms. The very suggestion is, of course, absurd—whereas with women, in very deed, it is as with the temple in Keats's lines:
... even as the trees That whisper round a temple become soon Dear as the temple's self.
Properly understood, therefore, the cult of the skirt-dancer has a religious significance, and man's preoccupation with petticoats is but the popular recognition of the divinity of woman. All that she is and does and wears has a ritualistic character, and she herself commands our reverence because we feel her to be the vessel of sacred mysteries, the earthly representative of unearthly powers, with which she enjoys an intimacy of communication denied to man. It is not a reasonable feeling, or one to be reasoned about; and that is why we very properly exempt woman from the necessity of being reasonable. She is not, we say, a reasonable being, and in so saying we pay her a profound compliment. For she transcends reason, and on that very account is mysteriously wise, the wisest of created things—mother-wise. When we say "mother-wit," we mean something deeper than we realize—for what in the universe is wiser than a mother, fed as she is through the strange channels of her being with that lore of the infinite which seems to enter her body by means of organs subtler than the brain?
A certain famous novelist meant well when recently he celebrated woman as "the mother of the male," but such celebration, while ludicrously masculine in its egotistic limitation, would have fallen short even if he had stopped to mention that she was the mother of the female, too; for not merely in the fact that she is the mother of the race resides the essential mystery of her motherhood. We do not value woman merely, if one may be permitted the expression, as a brood mare, an economic factor controlling the census returns. Her gift of motherhood is stranger than that, and includes spiritual affinities and significances not entirely represented by visible babes. Her motherhood is mysterious because it seems to be one with the universal motherhood of nature, one with the motherhood that guards and warms to life the eggs in the nest and the seeds in the hollows of the hills, the motherhood of the whole strange vital process, wherever and howsoever it moves and dreams and breaks into song and flower. And, as nature is something more than a mother, so is woman. She is a vision, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace and goodness at the heart of life; and her beauty is the sacred seal which the gods have set upon her in token of her supernatural meaning and mission; for all beauty is the message of the immortal to mortality. Always when man has been in doubt concerning his gods, or in despair amid the darkness of his destiny, his heart has been revived by some beatific vision;
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall From our dark spirits.
Woman is our permanent Beatific Vision in the darkness of the world.
THE LACK OF IMAGINATION AMONG MILLIONAIRES
Considering the truly magical power of money, it must often have struck the meditative mind—particularly that class of meditative mind whose wealth consists chiefly in meditation—to what thoroughly commonplace uses the modern millionaire applies the power that is his: in brief, with what little originality, with what a pitiful lack of imagination, he spends his money. One seldom hears of his doing a novel or striking thing with it.
On the contrary, he buys precisely the same things as his fellow-millionaires, the same stereotyped possessions—houses in Fifth Avenue and Newport, racehorses, automobiles, boxes at the opera, diamonds and dancing girls; and whether, as the phrase is, he makes good use of his wealth, or squanders it on his pleasures, the so-called good or bad uses are alike drearily devoid of individuality. Philanthropist or profligate, the modern millionaire is one and the same in his lack of initiative. Saint or sinner, he is one or the other in the same tame imitative way.
The rich men of the past, the splendid spendthrifts of antiquity, seem usually to have combined a gift of fancy with their wealth, often even something like poetry; and their extravagances, however extreme, had usually a saving grace of personal whim to recommend them to lovers of the picturesque. Sardanapalus and Heliogabalus may have been whatever else you please, but they were assuredly not commonplace; and the mere mention of their names vibrates with mankind's perennial gratitude for splendour and colossal display, however perverse, and even absurd. The princes of the Italian Renaissance were, of course, notable examples of the rich man as fantast, probably because they had the good sense to seek the skilled advice of poets and painters as to how best to make an artistic display of their possessions. Alas, no millionaire today asks a poet's or painter's assistance in spending his money; yet, were the modern millionaire to do so, the world might once more be delighted with such spectacles as Leonardo devised for the entertainments at the Villa Medici—those fanciful banquets, where, instead of a mere vulgar display of Medici money—"a hundred dollars a plate," so to say—whimsical wit and beauty entered into the creation of the very dishes. Leicester's famous welcoming of Elizabeth to Kenilworth was perhaps the last spectacular "revel" of its kind to strike the imagination; though we must not fail to remember with gratitude the magnificent Beckford, with his glorious "rich man's folly" of Fonthill Abbey, a lordly pleasure house which naturally sprang from the same Aladdin-like fancy which produced "Vathek."
I but mention one or two such typical examples at random to illustrate the difference between past and present. At present the rich man's paucity of originality is so painful that we even welcome a certain millionaire's penchant for collecting fleas—he, it is rumoured, having paid as much as a thousand dollars for specimens of a particularly rare species. It is a passion perhaps hard to understand, but, at least, as we say, it is "different." Mr. Carnegie's more comprehensible hobby for building libraries shows also no little originality in a man of a class which is not as a rule devoted to literature. Another millionaire I recently read of, who refused to pay the smallest account till it had run for five years, and would then gladly pay it, with compound interest at five per cent., has something refreshing about him; while still another rich eccentric, who has lived on his yacht anchored near the English coast for some fifteen years or so in order to avoid payment of his American taxes, and who occasionally amuses himself by having gold pieces heated white hot and thrown into the sea for diving boys to pick them up, shows a quaint ingenuity which deserves our gratitude. Another modern example of how to spend, or waste, one's money picturesquely was provided by the late Marquis of Anglesey, a young lord generally regarded as crazy by an ungrateful England. Perhaps it was a little crazy in him to spend so much money in the comparatively commonplace adventure of taking an amateur dramatic company through the English provinces, he himself, I believe, playing but minor roles; but lovers of Gautier's Le Capitaine Fracasse will see in that but a charmingly boyish desire to translate a beloved dream into a reality—though his creditors probably did not take that view. Neither, one can surmise, did those gentlemen sufficiently appreciate his passion for amassing amazing waistcoats, of which some seven hundred were found in his wardrobe at his lamented death; or strange and beautiful walking sticks, a like prodigious collection of which were among the fantastic assets which represented his originally large personal fortune on the winding up of his earthly affairs. Among these unimaginative creditors were, doubtless, many jewellers who found it hard to sympathize with his lordship's genial after-dinner habit, particularly when in the society of fair women, of plunging his hand into his trousers pocket and bringing it forth again brimming over with uncut precious stones of many colours, at the same time begging his companion to take her choice of the moonlit rainbowed things. The Marquis of Anglesey died at the early age of twenty-nine, much lamented, as I have hinted—by his creditors, but no less sincerely lamented, too, by those for whom his flamboyant personality and bizarre whims added to that gaiety of nations sadly in need today of such figures. A friend of mine owns two of the wonderful waistcoats. Sometimes he wears one as we lunch together, and on such occasions we always drink in silence to the memory of his fantastic lordship.
These examples of rich men of our own time who have known how to spend their money with whim and fancy and flourish are but exceptions to my argument, lights shining, so to say, in a great darkness. As a general rule, it is the poor or comparatively poor man, the man lacking the very necessary material of the art, who is an artist of this kind. It is the man with but little money who more often provides examples of the delightful way of spending it. I trust that Mr. Richard Harding Davis will not resent my recalling a charming feat of his in this connection. Of course Mr. Davis is by no means a poor man, as all we who admire his writings are glad to know. Still, successful writer as he is, he is not yet, I presume, on a Carnegie or Rockefeller rating; and, at the time which I am about to recall, while already famous and comparatively prosperous, he had not attained that security of position which is happily his today. Well, I suppose it was some twelve or fifteen years ago—and of course I am only recalling a story well known to all the world—that, chancing to be in London, and wishing to send a surprise message to a lady in Chicago who afterward became his wife, he conceived the idea of sending it by messenger boy from Charing Cross to Michigan Avenue; and so the little lad, in the well-known uniform of hurry, sped across the sea, as casually as though he were on an errand from Charing Cross to Chancery Lane, raced across nearly half the continent, as casually as though he were on an errand from Wall Street to Park Row, and finding the proper number in Michigan Avenue, placed the far travelled letter in the lady's hand, no doubt casually asking for a receipt. This I consider one of the most romantic compliments ever paid by a lover to his lady. What millionaire ever had a fancy like that?
Or what millionaire ever had a fancy like this? There was living in New York some ten years ago a charming actor, not unknown to the public and much loved by his friends for, among his other qualities, his quaint whims. Good actor as he was, like many other good actors he was usually out of an engagement, and he was invariably poor. It was always his poorest moment that he would choose for the indulgence of an odd, and surely kindly, eccentricity. He would half starve himself, go without drinks, forswear tobacco, deny himself car fares, till at last he had saved up five dollars. This by no means easy feat accomplished, he would have his five-dollar bill changed into five hundred pennies, filling his pockets with which, he would sally forth from his lodging, and, seeking neighbourhoods in which children most abound, he would scatter his arduously accumulated largess among the scrambling boys and girls, literally happy as a king to watch the glee on the young faces at the miraculous windfall. We often wondered that he was not arrested for creating a riot in the public streets, a disturber of the public traffic. Had some millionaire passed by on one of those ecstatic occasions, there is no question but that he would have been promptly removed to Bellevue as a dangerous lunatic.
Or what millionaire ever had a fancy like this? Passing along Forty-second Street one afternoon, I came upon a little crowd, and joining it I found that it was grouped in amused curiosity, and with a certain kindness, round an old hatless Irishman, who was leaning against a shop front, weeping bitterly, and, of course, grotesquely. The old man was very evidently drunk, but there was something in his weeping deeply pitiful for all that. He was drunk, for certain; but no less certainly he was very unhappy—unhappy over some mysterious something that one or two kindly questioners tried in vain to discover. As we all stood helplessly looking on and wondering, a tall, brisk young man, of the lean, rapid, few-worded American type, pushed in among us, took a swift look at the old man, thrust a dollar bill into his hand, said "Forget it"—no more—and was gone like a flash on his way. The old man fumbled the note in a daze, but what chiefly interested me was the amazed look on the faces of the little crowd. It was almost as if something supernatural had happened. All eyes turned quickly to catch sight of that strange young man; but he was already far off striding swiftly up the street. I have often regretted that I checked my impulse to catch up with him—for it seemed to me, too, that I had never seen a stranger thing. Pity or whim or whatever it was, did ever a millionaire do the like with a dollar, create such a sensation or have so much fun with so small a sum? No; millionaires never have fancies like that.
Another poor man's fancy is that of a friend of mine, a very poor young lawyer, whose custom it is to walk uptown from his office at evening, studying the faces of the passers-by. He is too poor to afford dollar bills. He must work his miracles with twenty-five-cent pieces, or even smaller coins; but it is with this art of spending money as with any other art: the greatness of the artist is shown by his command over an economy of material; and the amount of human happiness to be evoked by the dispensation of a quarter into the carefully selected hand, at the artistically chosen moment, almost passes belief. Suppose, for example, you were a sandwich man on a bleak winter day, an old weary man, with hope so long since faded out of your heart that you would hardly know what the word meant if you chanced to read it in print. Thought, too, is dead within you, and feeling even so numbed that you hardly suffer any more. Practically you are a man who ought to be in your coffin—at peace in Potter's field—who, by the mere mechanic habit of existence, mournfully parades the public streets, holding up a banner with some strange device, the scoff of the pitiless wayfarer—as like as not supporting against an empty stomach the savoury advertisement of some newly opened restaurant. Suppose you were that man, and suddenly through the thick hopelessness, muffling you around as with a spiritual deafness, there should penetrate a kind voice saying: "Try and keep up your heart, friend; there are better days ahead"; and with the voice a hand slipping into yours a coin, and with both a kind smile, a cheery "Good-bye," and a tall, broad-shouldered figure, striding with long, so to say, kindly legs up the street—gone almost before you knew he was there. I think it would hardly matter to you whether the coin were a quarter or a dime; but what would matter would be your amazement that there still was any kindness left on the earth; and perhaps you might almost be tempted to believe in God again. And then—well, what would it matter to any one what you did with your miraculous coin? This is my friend's favourite way of spending his money. To the extent of his poor means he has constituted himself the Haroun Al Raschid of the sandwich men.
After all, I suppose that most of us, if put into the possession of great wealth, would find our greatest satisfaction in the spending of it much after the fashion of my poor lawyer friend—that is, in the artistic distribution of human happiness. I do not, of course, for a moment include in that phrase those soulless systems of philanthropy by which a solid block of money on the one side is applied to the relief of a solid block of human misery on the other, useful and much to be appreciated as such mechanical charity of course is. It is not, indeed, the pious use of money that is my theme, but rather how to get the most fun, the most personal and original fun, out of it.
The mention of the great caliph suggests a role which is open to any rich man to play, the role of the Haroun Al Raschid of New York. What a wonderful part to play! Instead of loitering away one's evenings at the club, to doff one's magnificence and lose oneself in the great nightly multitude of the great city, wandering hither and thither, watching and listening, and, with one's cheque-book for a wand, play the magician of human destinies—bringing unhoped-for justice to the oppressed, succour as out of heaven to the outcast, and swift retribution, as of sudden lightning, to the oppressor. To play Providence in some tragic crisis of human lives; at the moment when all seemed lost to step out of the darkness and set all right with a touch of that magic wand. To walk by the side of lost and lonely men, an unexpected friend; to scribble a word on a card and say, "Present this tomorrow morning at such a number Broadway and see what will happen," and then to disappear once again into the darkness. To talk with sad, wandering girls, and arrange that wonderful new hats and other forms of feminine hope shall fall out of the sky into their lonely rooms on the morrow. To be the friend of weary workmen and all that toil by night while the world is asleep in soft beds. To come upon the hobo as he lies asleep on the park bench and slip a purse into his tattered coat, and perhaps be somewhere by to see him wake up in the dawn, and watch the strange antics of his joy—all unsuspected as its cause. To go up to the poor push-cart man, as he is being hurried from street corner to street corner by the police, and say: "Would you like to go back to Italy? Here is a steamer ticket. A boat sails for Genoa tomorrow. And here is a thousand dollars. It will buy you a vineyard in Sicily. Go home and bid the signora get ready." And then to disappear once more, like Harlequin, to flash your wand in some other corner of the human multitude. Oh, there would be fun for one's money, something worth while having money for!
I offer this suggestion to any rich man who may care to take it up, free of charge. It is a fascinating opportunity, and its rewards would be incalculable. At the end of the year how wise one would be in the human story—how filled to overflowing his heart with the thought of the joy he would thus have brought to so many lives—all, too, in pure fun, himself having had such a good time all the while!
THE PASSING OF MRS. GRUNDY
"Death of Mrs. Grundy!" Imagine opening one's newspaper some morning and finding in sensational headlines that welcome news. One recalls the beautiful old legend of the death of Pan, and how—false report though it happily was—there once ran echoing through the world a long heartbroken sigh, and a mysterious voice was heard wailing three times from land to land, "Great Pan is dead!" Similarly, on that happy morning I have imagined, one can imagine, too, another sigh passing from land to land, the sigh of a vast relief, of a great thankfulness for the lifting of an ineffable burden, as though the earth stretched its limbs and drew great draughts of a new freedom. How wildly the birds would sing that morning! And I believe that even the church bells would ring of themselves!
Such definite news is not mine to proclaim, but if it cannot be announced with certitude that Mrs. Grundy is no more, it may, at all events, be affirmed without hesitation that she is on her deathbed, and that surely, if slowly, she is breathing her last. Yes, that poisonous breath, which has so long pervaded like numbing miasma the free air of the world, will soon be out of her foolish, hypocritical old body; and though it may still linger on here and there in provincial backwoods and suburban fastnesses, from the great air centres of civilization it will have passed away forever.
The origin of Mrs. Grundy is shrouded in mystery. In fact, though one thus speaks of her as so potent a personification, she has of course never had any real existence. For that very reason she has been so hard to kill. Nothing is so long-lived as a chimera, nothing so difficult to lay as a ghost. From her first appearance, or rather mention, in literature, Mrs. Grundy has been a mere hearsay, a bugaboo being invented to frighten society, as "black men" and other goblins have been wickedly invented by nurses to frighten children. In the old play itself where we first find her mentioned by name, she herself never comes on the stage. She is only referred to in frightened whispers. "What will Mrs. Grundy say?" is the nervous catchword of one of the characters, much in the same way as Mrs. Gamp was wont to defer to the censorious standards of her invisible friend "Mrs. Harris." In the case of the last named chimera, it will be recalled that the awful moment came when Mrs. Gamp's boon companion, Batsey Prig, was sacrilegious enough to declare her belief that no such person as "Mrs. Harris" was, or ever had been, in existence. So the awful atheistic moment has come for Mrs. Grundy, too, and an oppressed world at last takes courage to say that no such being as Mrs. Grundy has ever really existed, or that, even if she has, she shall exist no more. What will Mrs. Grundy say? Who cares nowadays—and so long as nobody cares, the good lady is as dead as need be.
Mrs. Grundy, of course, is man's embodied fear of his neighbour, the creation of timid souls who are afraid of being themselves, and who, instead of living their lives after their own fashion and desires, choose to live them in hypocritical discomfort according to the standards of others, standards which in their turn may be held insincerely enough from fear of someone else, and so on without end—a vicious circle of insincere living being thus created, in which no man is or does anything real, or as he himself would naturally prefer to be and to do. It is evident that such a state of mutual intimidation can exist only in small communities, economically interdependent, and among people with narrow boundaries and no horizons. If you live in a village, for example, and are dependent on the good opinion of your neighbours for your means of existence, your morals and your religious belief must be those of the village, or you are liable to starve. It is only the rich man in a village who can do as he pleases. The only thing for the dependent individualist in a village to do is to go somewhere else, to some place where a man may at the same time hold his job and his opinions, a place too big to keep track of its units, too busy to ask irrelevant questions, and so diverse in its constituents as to have generated tolerance and free operation for all.
Now, in spite of its bigness, the world was till quite recently little more than a village, curiously held in subjection by village superstitions and village ethics, narrow conceptions of life and conduct; but the last twenty years have seen a remarkable enlargement of the human spirit, a reassertion of the natural rights of man as against the figments of prurient and emasculate conventions, to which there is no parallel since the Renaissance. Voices have been heard and truths told, and multitudes have listened gladly that aforetime must take shelter either in overawed silence or in utterance so private that they exerted no influence; and the literature of the day alone, literature of wide and greedy acceptance, is sufficient warrant for the obituary announcement which, if not yet, as I said, officially made, is already writing in the hearts, and even in the actions, of society. The popularity of such writers as Meredith and Hardy, Ibsen and Nietzsche, Maeterlinck and Walt Whitman, constitutes a writing on the wall the significance of which cannot be gainsaid. The vogue alone of Mr. Bernard Shaw, apostle to the Philistines, is a portent sufficiently conclusive. To regard Mr. Shaw either as a great dramatist or an original philosopher is, of course, absurd. He, of all men, must surely be the last to imagine such a vain thing about himself; but even should he be so self-deluded, his immense coarse usefulness to his day and generation remains, and the value of it can hardly be overestimated. What others have said for years as in a glass darkly, with noble seriousness of utterance, he proclaims again through his brazen megaphone, with all the imperturbable aplomb of an impudent showman, having as little self-respect as he has respect for his public; and, as a consequence, that vast herd of middle-class minds to whom finer spirits appeal in vain hear for the first time truths as old as philosophy, and answer to them with assenting instincts as old as humanity. Truth, like many another excellent commodity, needs a vulgar advertisement, if it is to become operative in the masses. Mr. Shaw is truth's vulgar advertisement. He is a brilliant, carrying noise on behalf of freedom of thought; and his special equipment for his peculiar revivalist mission comes of his gift for revealing to the common mind not merely the untruth of hypocrisy, but the laughableness of hypocrisy, first of all. He takes some popular convention, that of medicine or marriage or what you will, and shows you not merely how false it is but how ludicrously false. He purges the soul, not with the terror and pity of tragedy, but with the irresistible laughter of rough-and-tumble farce. To think wrongly is, first of all, so absurd. He proves it by putting wrong thinking on the stage, where you see it for yourself in action, and laugh immoderately. Perhaps you had never thought how droll wrong thinking or no thinking was before; and while you laugh with Shaw at your side-splitting discovery, the serious message glides in unostentatiously—wrong thinking is not merely laughable; it is also dangerous, and very uncomfortable. And so the showman has done his work, the advertiser has sold his goods, and there is so much more truth in circulation in unfamiliar areas of society.
That word "society" naturally claims some attention at the hands of one who would speak of Mrs. Grundy, particularly as she has owed her long existence to a general misconception as to what constitutes "society," and to a superstitious terror as to its powers over the individual. Society—using the word in its broad sense—has heretofore been regarded as a vague tremendous entity imposing a uniformity of opinion and action on the individual, under penalty of a like vague tremendous disapproval for insubordination. Independent minds, however, have from time to time, and in ever increasing numbers, ventured to do their own will and pleasure in disregard of this vague tremendous disapproval, and have, strange to say, found no sign of the terrible consequences threatened them, with the result that they, and the onlookers, have come to the conclusion that this fear of society is just one more bugaboo of timorous minds, with no power over the courageous spirit. From a multitude of such observations men and women have come more and more to draw the conclusion that the solidarity of society is nothing but a myth, and that so-called society is merely a loosely connected series of independent societies, formed by natural selection among their members, each with its own codes and satisfactions; and that a man not welcome in one society may readily find a home for himself in another, or indeed, if necessary, and if he be strong enough, rest content with his own society of one.
There was a time when a doubt as to the credibility of the book of Genesis or a belief in the book of Darwin made the heretic a lonely man, but nowadays he is hardly likely to go without friends. Besides, men and women of strong personal character are not usually indiscriminately gregarious. On the contrary, they are apt to welcome any disparity between them and their neighbours which tends to safeguard their leisure and protect them against the social inroads of irrelevant persons. I recall the case of a famous novelist, who, himself jealous of his own proper seclusion, permitted the amenities of his neighbours to pleasure his wife who was more sociably inclined, and smilingly allowed himself to be sacrificed once a week on the altar of a domestic "at home" day. It was amusing to see him in his drawing-room on Fridays, surrounded by every possible form of human irrelevancy—men and women well enough in their way, of course, but absolutely unrelated, if not antipathetic to him and all he stood for—heroically doing his best to seem really "at home." But there came a time when he published a book of decidedly "dangerous" tendencies, if not worse, and then it was a delight to see how those various nobodies fled his contact as they would the plague. His drawing-room suddenly became a desert, and when you dropped in on Fridays you found there—only the people he wanted. "Is not this," he would laughingly say, "a triumph of natural selection? See how simply, by one honest action, I have cut off the bores!"
To cut off the bores! Yes, that is the desperate attempt that any man or woman who would live their own lives rather than the lives of others is constantly engaged in making; and more and more all men and women are realizing that there is only one society that really counts, the society of people we want, rather than the people who want us or don't want us or whom we don't want. And nowadays the man or woman must be uncomfortable or undesirable, indeed, who cannot find all the society he or she can profitably or conveniently handle, be their opinions and actions never so anti-Grundy. Thus the one great fear that more than any other has kept Mrs. Grundy alive, the fear of being alone in the world, cut off from such intercourse with our fellows as most of us feel the need of at times, has been put an end to by the ever increasing subdivision of "society" into friendly seclusions and self-dependent communities of men and women with like ways and points of view, however disapproved in alien circles. What "shocks" one circle will seem perfectly natural in another; and one great truth should always be held firmly in mind—that the approval of one's neighbours has never yet paid a man's bills. So long as he can go on paying those, and retain the regard of the only society he values—that of himself and a few friends—he can tell Mrs. Grundy to go—where she belongs. And this happily is—almost—as true nowadays for woman as for man; which is the main consideration, for, it need hardly be said, that it has been on her own sex that the tyranny of Mrs. Grundy has weighed peculiarly hard.
Had that tyranny been based on a genuine moral ideal, one would have some respect for it, but, as the world has always known, it has been nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it has all along been an organized hypocrisy which condoned all it professed to censure on condition that it was done in unhealthy secrecy, behind the closed doors of a lying "respectability." All manner of uncleanness had been sanctioned so long as it wore a mask of "propriety," whereas essentially clean and wholesome expressions of human nature, undisguised manifestations of the joy and romance of life, have been suppressed and confounded with their base counterfeits merely because they have sought the sunlight of sincerity rather than the shade where evil does well to hide. Man's proper delight in the senses, the natural joy of men and women in each other, the love of beauty, naked and unashamed, the romantic emotions, and all that passionate vitality that dreams and builds and glorifies the human story: all this, forsooth, it has been deemed wrong even to speak of, save in colourless euphemisms, and their various drama has had to be carried on by evasion and subterfuge pitiably silly indeed in this robustly procreative world. Silly, but how preposterous, too, and no longer to be endured.
It was a gain indeed to drag these vital human interests into the arena of undaunted discussion, but things are clearly seen to have already passed beyond that stage. Discussion has already set free in the world braver and truer ideals, ideals no longer afraid of life, but, in the courage of their joyousness, feasibly close to all its breathing facts. Men and women refuse any longer to allow their most vital instincts to be branded with obloquy, and the fulness of their lives to be thwarted at the bidding of an impure and irrational fiction of propriety. On every hand we find the right to happiness asserted in deeds as well as words. The essential purity of actions and relations to which a merely technical or superstitious irregularity attaches is being more and more acknowledged, and the fanciful barriers to human happiness are everywhere giving way before the daylight of common sense. Love and youth and pleasure are asserting their sacred natural rights, rights as elemental as those forces of the universe by which the stars are preserved from wrong, and the merely legal and ecclesiastical fictions which have so long overawed them are fleeing like phantoms at cockcrow. It is no longer sinful to be happy—even in one's own way; and the extravagances of passion, the ebullitions of youth, and the vagaries of pleasure are no longer frowned down by a sour-visaged public opinion, but encouraged, or, if necessary, condoned, as the dramatic play of natural forces, and as welcome additions to the gaiety of nations. The true sins against humanity are, on the other hand, being exposed and pilloried with a scientific eye for their essential qualities.
... The cold heart, and the murderous tongue, The wintry soul that hates to hear a song, The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye, And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.
Man's virtues and vices are being subjected to a re-classification, in the course of which they are entertainingly seen, in no few instances, to be changing places. The standards of punishment applied by Dante to his inferno of lost souls is being, every year, more closely approximated; warm-blooded sins of instinct and impulse, as having usually some "relish of salvation" in them, are being judged lightly, when they are accounted sins at all, and the cold-hearted sins of essential selfishness, the sins of cruelty and calculation and cowardice, are being nailed up as the real crimes against God and man. The individual is being allowed more and more to be the judge of his own actions, and all actions are being estimated more in regard to their special relation and environment, as the relativity of right and wrong, that most just of modern conceptions, is becoming understood. The hidden sins of the pious and respectable are coming disastrously into the light, and it no longer avails for a man to be a pillar of orthodoxy on Sundays if he be a pillar of oppression all the rest of the week; while the negative virtues of abstinence from the common human pleasures go for less than nothing in a world that no longer regards the theatre, the race course, and the card table, or even a beautiful woman, as under the especial wrath of God. No, the Grundy "virtues" are fast disappearing, and piano legs are once more being worn in their natural nudity. The general trend is unmistakable and irresistible, and such apparent contradictions of it as occasionally get into the newspapers are of no general significance; as when, for example, some exquisitely refined Irish police officer suppresses a play of genius, or blushingly covers up the nakedness of a beautiful statue, or comes out strong on the question of woman's bathing dress when some sensible girl has the courage to go into the water with somewhat less than her entire walking costume; or, again, when some crank invokes the blue laws against Sunday golf or tennis; or some spinster association puts itself on record against woman's smoking: all these are merely provincial or parochial exceptions to the onward movement of morals and manners, mere spasmodic twitchings, so to say, of the poor old lady on her deathbed. We know well enough that she who would so sternly set her face against the feminine cigarette would have no objection to one of her votaries carrying on an affair with another woman's husband—not the least in the world, so long as she was careful to keep it out of the courts. And such is a sample of her morality in all her dealings. Humanity will lose no real sanctity or safeguard by her demise; only false shame and false morality will go—but true modesty, "the modesty of nature," true propriety, true religion—and incidentally true love and true marriage—will all be immeasurably the gainers by the death of this hypocritical, nasty-minded old lady.
MODERN AIDS TO ROMANCE
There have, of course, in all ages been those who made a business of running down the times in which they lived—tiresome people for whom everything had gone to the dogs—or was rapidly going—uncomfortable critics who could never make themselves at home in their own century, and whose weary shibboleth was that of some legendary perfect past.
In Rome this particular kind of bore went by the name of laudator temporis acti; and, if we have no such concise Anglo-Saxon phrase for the type, we still have the type no less ubiquitously with us. The bugbear of such is "modern science," or "modern thought," a monster which, we are frequently assured, is fast devouring all the beautiful and good in human life, a Moloch fed on the dreams and ideals and noble faiths of man. Modernity! For such "modernity" has taken the place of "Anti-Christ." These sad, nervous people have no eye for the beautiful patterns and fantasies of change, none of that faith which rejoices to watch "the roaring loom of time" weaving ever new garments for the unchanging eternal gods. In new temples, strangely enough, they see only atheism, instead of the vitality of spiritual evolution; in new affirmations they scent only dangerous denials. With the more grave misgivings of these folk of little faith this is not the place to deal, though actually, if there were any ground for belief in a modern decay of religion, we might seriously begin to believe in the alleged decay of romance.
Yes, romance, we not infrequently hear, is dead. Modern science has killed it. It is essentially a "thing of the past"—an affair presumably of stage-coaches, powdered wigs, and lace ruffles. It cannot breathe in what is spoken of as "this materialistic age."
The dullards who repeat these platitudes of the muddle-headed multitude are surely the only people for whom they are true. It is they alone who are the materialists, confusing as they do the spirit of romance with its worn-out garments of bygone fashions. Such people are so clearly out of court as not to be worth controverting, except for the opportunity they give one of confidently making the joyous affirmation that, far from romance being dead in our day, there never was a more romantic age than ours, and that never since the world began has it offered so many opportunities, so many facilities for romance as at the present time.
In fact, a very little thinking will show that of all those benefited by "the blessings of modern science," it is the lovers of the community who as a body have most to be thankful for. Indeed, so true is this that it might almost seem as though the modern laboratory has been run primarily from romantic motives, to the end that the old reproach should be removed and the course of true love run magically smooth. Valuable as the telephone may be in business affairs, it is simply invaluable in the affairs of love; and mechanicians the world over are absorbed in the problem of aerial flight, whether they know it or not, chiefly to provide Love with wings as swift as his desire.
Distance may lend enchantment to those whom we prefer to appreciate from afar, but nearness is the real enchantment to your true lover, and distance is his natural enemy. Distance and the slow-footedness of Time are his immemorial evils. Both of these modern science has all but annihilated. Consider for a moment the conditions under which love was carried on in those old days which some people find so romantic. Think what a comparatively short distance meant then, with snail-paced precarious mails, and the only means of communication horses by land, and sailing ships by sea. How men and women had the courage to go on long journeys at all away from each other in those days is hard to realize, knowing what an impenetrable curtain of silence and mystery immediately fell between them with the winding of the coach horn, or the last wave of the plumed hat as it disappeared behind the last turning of the road—leaving those at home with nothing for company but the yearning horizon and the aching, uncommunicative hours. Days, weeks, months, even years, must go by in waiting for a word—and when at last it came, brought on lumbering wheels or at best by some courier on his steaming mud-splashed mount, precious as it was, it was already grown old and cold and perhaps long since untrue.
Imagine perhaps being dependent for one's heart news on some chance soldier limping back from the wars, or some pilgrim from the Holy Land with scallop shell and staff!
Distance was indeed a form of death under such conditions—no wonder men made their wills as they set out on a journey—and when actual physical death did not intervene, how much of that slow death-in-life, that fading of the memory and that numbing of the affections which absence too often brings, was even still more to be feared. The loved face might indeed return, looking much the same as when it went away, but what of the heart that went a-journeying, too? What even of the hearts that remained at home?
The chances of death and disaster not even modern science can forestall, though even these it has considerably lessened; but that other death of the heart, which comes of the slow starvation of silence and absence, it may be held to have all but vanquished. Thanks to its weird magicians, you may be seas or continents away from her whom your soul loveth, yet "at her window bid good-morrow" as punctually as if you lived next door; or serenade her by electricity—at all hours of the night. If you sigh in New York, she can hear you and sigh back in San Francisco; and soon her very face will be carried to you at any moment of the day along the magic wires. Nor will you need to wait for the postman, but be able to read her flowerlike words as they write themselves out on the luminous slate before you, at the very moment as she leans her fragrant bosom upon her electric desk three thousand miles away. If this isn't romantic, one may well ask what is!
To take the telephone alone, surely the romance of Pyramus and Thisbe, with their primitive hole in the wall, was a tame affair compared with the possibilities of this magic toy, by means of which you can talk with your love not merely through a wall but through the Rocky Mountains. You can whisper sweet nothings to her across the sounding sea, and bid her "sleep well" over leagues of primeval forest, and through the stoniest-hearted city her soft voice will find its way. Even in mid-ocean the "wireless" will bring you news of her mal-de-mer. And more than that; should you wish to carry her voice with you from place to place, science is once more at your service with another magic toy—the phonograph—by which indeed she can still go on speaking to you, if you have the courage to listen, from beyond the grave.
The telegraph, the telephone, the "wireless," the phonograph, the electric letter writer—such are the modern "conveniences" of romance; and, should an elopement be on foot, what are the fastest post-chaise or the fleetest horses compared with a high-powered automobile? And when the airship really comes, what romance that has ever been will compare for excitement with an elopement through the sky?
Apart from the practical conveniences of these various new devices, there is a poetic quality about the mere devices themselves which is full of fascination and charm. Whether we call up our sweetheart or our stockbroker, what a thing of enchantment the telephone is merely in itself! Such devices turn the veriest prose of life into poetry; and, indeed, the more prosaic the uses to which we put them, the more marvellous by contrast their marvel seems. Even our businesses are carried on by agencies more mysterious and truly magical than anything in the Arabian Nights, and all day long we are playing with mysterious natural laws and exquisite natural forces as, in a small way, when boys we used to delight in our experiments with oxygen and hydrogen and Leyden jars. Science has thus brought an element of romantic "fun," so to speak, even into our stores and our counting-houses. I wonder if "Central" realizes what a truly romantic employment is hers?
But, pressed into the high service of love, one sees at once what a poetic fitness there is in their employ, and how our much-abused modern science has found at last for that fastidious god an appropriately dignified and beautiful ministrant. Coarse and vulgar indeed seem the ancient servitors and the uncouth machinery by which the divine business of the god was carried on of old. Today, through the skill of science, the august lightning has become his messenger, and the hidden gnomes of air and sea hasten to do his bidding.
Modern science, then, so far from being an enemy of romance, is seen on every hand to be its sympathetic and resourceful friend, its swift and irresistible helper in its serious need, and an indulgent minister to its lighter fancies. Be it whim or emergency, the modern laboratory is equally at the service of romance, equally ready to gratify mankind with a torpedo or a toy.
Not only, however, has modern science thus put itself at the service of romance, by supplying it with its various magic machinery of communication, but modern thought—that much maligned bugbear of timorous minds—has generated an atmosphere increasingly favourable to and sympathetic with the romantic expression of human nature in all its forms.
The world has unmistakably grown younger again during the last twenty years, as though—which, indeed, is the fact—it had thrown off an accumulation of mopishness, shaken itself free from imaginary middle-aged restrictions and preoccupations. All over the world there is a wind of youth blowing such as has not freshened the air of time since the days of Elizabeth. Once more the spring of a new Renaissance of Human Nature is upon us. It is the fashion to be young, and the age of romance both for men and women has been indefinitely extended. No one gives up the game, or is expected to, till he is genuinely tired of playing it. Mopish conventions are less and less allowed to restrict that free and joyous play of vitality dear to the modern heart, which is the essence of all romance. More and more the world is growing to love a lover, and one has only to read the newspapers to see how sympathetic are the times to any generous and adventurous display of the passions.
This more humane temper is the result of many causes. The disintegration of religious superstition, and the substitution in its stead of spiritual ideals closer to the facts of life, is one of these. All that was good in Puritanism has been retained by the modern spirit, while its narrowing and numbing features, its anti-human, self-mortifying, provincial side have passed or are passing in the regenerating sunlight of what one might call a spiritual paganism, which conceives of natural forces and natural laws as inherently pure and mysteriously sacred. Thus the way of a man with a maid is no longer a shamefaced affair, but it is more and more realized that in its romance and its multifarious refinements of development are the "law and the prophets," the "eternal meanings" of natural religion and social spirituality.
Then, too, the spread of democracy, resulting in the breaking down of caste barriers, is all to the good of romance. Swiftly and surely Guelph and Ghibelline and break-neck orchard walls are passing away. If Romeo and Juliet make a tragedy of it nowadays, they have only to blame their own mismanagement, for the world is with them as it has never been before, and all sensible fathers and mothers know it.
Again, the freer intercourse between the sexes tends incalculably to smooth that course of true love once so proverbially rough, but now indeed in danger of being made too unexcitingly smooth. Yet if, as a result, certain old combinations of romance are becoming obsolete, new ones, no less picturesque, and even more vital in their drama, are being evolved every day by the new conditions. Those very inroads being so rapidly and successfully made by woman into the immemorial business of man, which are superficially regarded by some as dangerous to the tenderer sentiments between men and women, are, on the contrary, merely widening the area of romance, and will eventually develop, as they can be seen already developing, a new chivalry and a new poetry of the sexes no less deep and far more many-sided than the old. The robuster comradeship between the two already resulting from the more active sharing of common interests cannot but tend to a deeper and more exhilarating union of man and woman, a completer, intenser marriage literally of true minds as well as bodies than was possible in the old regime, when the masculine and feminine "spheres" were kept so jealously distinct and only allowed to touch at the elementary points of relationship. There has always been a thrill of adventure when either has been admitted a little farther into the other's world than was customary. How thrilling, therefore, will it be when men and women entirely share in each other's lives, without fictitious reserves and mysteries, and face the whole adventure of life squarely and completely together, all the more husband and wife for being comrades as well—as many men and women of the new era are already joyously doing.
And, merely on the surface, what a new romantic element woman has introduced into the daily drudgery of men's lives by her mere presence in their offices! She cannot always be beautiful, poor dear, and she is not invariably gracious, it is true; yet, on the whole, how much the atmosphere of office life has gained in amenity by the coming of the stenographer, the typewriter, and the telephone girl, not to speak of her frequent decorative value in a world that has hitherto been uncompromisingly harsh and unadorned! Men may affect to ignore this, and cannot afford indeed to be too sensitive to these flowery presences that have so considerably supplanted those misbegotten young miscreants known as office-boys, a vanishing race of human terror; yet there she is, all the same, in spite of her businesslike airs and her prosaic tasks, silently diffusing about her that eternal mystery which she can never lose, be her occupations never so masculine.
There she is with her subtly wreathed hair and her absurd little lace handkerchiefs and her furtive powder puff and her bits of immemorial ornaments and the soft sound of her skirts and all the rest of it. Never mind how grimly and even brusquely you may be dictating to her specifications for steel rails or the like, little wafts of perfume cannot help floating across to your rolltop desk, and you are a man and she is a woman, for all that; and, instead of having her with you at fag ends of your days, you have her with you all day long now—and your sisters and your sweethearts are so much the nearer to you all day for her presence, and, whether you know it or not, you are so much the less a brute because she is there.
Where the loss to romance comes in in these admirable new arrangements of modern commerce it is hard to see. Of course a new element of danger is thus introduced into the routine of our daily lives, but when was danger an enemy to romance? The "bright face" of this particular "danger" who would be without? The beloved essayist from whom that last phrase is, of course, adapted, declared, as we all know, that to marry is "to domesticate the recording angel." One might say that the modern business man has officialized the ministering angel—perhaps some other forms of angel as well.
In their work, then, as in their play, men and women are more and more coming to share with each other as comrades, and really the fun of life seems in no wise diminished as a consequence. Rather the contrary, it would seem, if one is to judge from the "Decameron" of the newspapers. Yet it is not very long ago that man looked askance at woman's wistful plea to take part even in his play. He had the old boyish fear that she would spoil the game. However, it didn't take him long to find out his mistake and to know woman for the true "sport" that she can be. And in that discovery it was another invention of that wicked modern science that was the chief, if humble seeming, factor, no less than that eclipsed but inexpressibly useful instrument (of flirtation) in the hands of a kind providence, the bicycle.