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Vanishing Roads and Other Essays by Richard Le Gallienne

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Vanishing Roads
And Other Essays


Richard Le Gallienne




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,

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_.



Vanishing Roads



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

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

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.



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

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?

exclaims Shakespeare.

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.



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

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!



"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

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

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.



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

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

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.

The service of the bicycle to the "emancipation of woman" movements has
perhaps never been acknowledged by the philosopher; but a little thought
will make evident how far-reaching that service has been. When that near
day arrives on which woman shall call herself absolutely "free," should
she feel inclined to celebrate her freedom by some monument of her
gratitude, let the monument be neither to man nor woman, however valiant
in the fight, but simply let it take the form of an enthroned and
laurelled bicycle--for the moment woman mounted that apparently innocent
machine, it carried her on the high-road to freedom. On that she could
go not only where she pleased, but--what is even more to the point--with
whom she pleased. The free companionship of man and woman had begun.
Then and forever ended the old system of courtship, which seems so
laughable and even incredible today. One was no longer expected to pay
court to one's beloved, sitting stiffly on straight-backed chairs in a
chill drawing-room in the non-conducting, or non-conducive, presence of
still chillier maiden aunts. The doom of the _duenna_ was sounded; the
chill drawing-room was exchanged for "the open road" and the whispering
woodland; and soon it is to come about that a man shall propose to his
wife high up in the blue heavens, in an airship softly swaying at anchor
in the wake of the evening star.



I don't know whether or not the cry "Last call for the dining-car"
affects others as it affects me, but for me it always has a stern,
fateful sound, suggestive of momentous opportunity fast slipping away,
opportunity that can never come again; and, on the occasions when I have
disregarded it, I have been haunted with a sense of the neglected

Not, indeed, that the formless regret has been connected with any
illusions as to the mysterious quality of the dinner that I have thus
foregone. I have been well enough aware that the only actual opportunity
thus evaded has been most probably that of an unusually bad dinner,
exorbitantly paid for. The dinner itself has had nothing to do with my
feeling, which, indeed, has come of a suggestiveness in the cry beyond
the occasion, a sense conveyed by the words, in combination with the
swift speeding along of the train, of the inexorable swift passage and
gliding away of all things. Ah! so soon it will be the last call--for so
many pleasant things--that we would fain arrest and enjoy a little
longer in a world that with tragic velocity is flowing away from us,
each moment, "like the waters of the torrent." O yes, all too soon it
will be the "last call" in dead earnest--the last call for the joy of
life and the glory of the world. The grass is already withering, the
flower already fading; and that bird of time, with so short a way to
flutter, is relentlessly on the wing.

Now some natures hear this call from the beginning of their lives. Even
their opulent spendthrift youth is "made the more mindful that the sweet
days die," by every strain of music, by every gathered flower. All their
joy is haunted, like the poetry of William Morris, with the wistful
burden of mortality. Even the summer woodlands, with all their pomp and
riot of exuberant green and gold, are anything but safe from this low
sweet singing, and in the white arms of beauty, pressed desperately
close as if to imprison the divine fugitive moment, the song seems to
come nearest. Who has not held some loved face in his hands, and gazed
into it with an almost agonizing effort to realize its reality, to make
eternally sure of it, somehow to wrest possession of it and the
transfiguring moment for ever, all the time pierced with the melancholy
knowledge that tomorrow all will be as if this had never been, and life
once more its dull disenchanted self?

Too soon shall morning take the stars away,
And all the world be up and open-eyed,
This magic night be turned to common day--
Under the willows on the riverside.

Youth, however, can afford to enjoy even its melancholy; for the
ultimate fact of which that melancholy is a prophecy is a long way off.
If one enchanted moment runs to an end, it may be reasonably sure for a
long time yet of many more enchanted moments to come. It has as yet only
taken a bite or two into the wonderful cake. And, though its poets may
warn it that "youth's a stuff does not endure," it doesn't seriously
believe it. Others may have come to an end of their cake, but its cake
is going to last for ever. Alas, for the day when it is borne in upon us
with a tragic suddenness, like a miser who awakens to find that he has
been robbed of his hoard, that unaccountably the best part of the cake
has been eaten, that perhaps indeed only a few desperate crumbs remain.
A bleak laughter blends now with that once luxurious melancholy. There
is a song at our window, terribly like the mockery of Mephistopheles.
Our blood runs cold. We listen in sudden fear. It is life singing out
its last call.

The time of this call, the occasion and the manner of it, mercifully
vary with individuals. Some fortunate ones, indeed, never hear it till
they lie on their deathbeds. Such have either been gifted with such a
generous-sized cake of youth that it has lasted all their lives, or
they have possessed a great art in the eating of it. Though I may add
here that a cautious husbanding of your cake is no good way. That way
you are liable to find it grown mouldy on your hands. No, oddly enough,
it is often seen that those who all their lives have eaten their cake
most eagerly have quite a little of it left at the end. There are no
hard and fast rules for the eating of your cake. One can only find out
by eating it; and, as I have said, it may be your luck to disprove the
proverb and both eat your cake and have it.

For a dreary majority, however, the cake does come to an end, and for
them henceforth, as Stevenson grimly put it, the road lies long and
straight and dusty to the grave. For them that last call is apt to come
usually before sunset--and the great American question arises: What are
they going to do about it? That, of course, every one must decide for
himself, according to his inclinations and his opportunities. But a few
general considerations may be of comfort and even of greater value.

There is one thing of importance to know about this last call, that we
are apt to imagine we hear it before we actually do, from a nervous
sense that it is about time for it to sound. Our hair perhaps is growing
grey, and our years beginning to accumulate. We hypnotize ourselves with
our chronology, and say with Emerson:

It is time to grow old,
To take in sail.

Well and good, if it is and we feel like it; but may be it isn't, and we
don't. Youth is largely a habit. So is romance. And, unless we allow
ourselves to be influenced by musty conventions and superstitions, both
habits may be prolonged far beyond the moping limits of custom, and need
never be abandoned unless we become sincerely and unregretfully tired of
them. I can well conceive of an old age like that of Sophocles, as
reported by Plato, who likened the fading of the passions with the
advance of age to "being set free from service to a band of madmen."

When a man feels so, all is well and comfortable with him. He has
retired of his own free will from the banquet of life, having had his
fill, and is content. Our image of the last call does not apply to him,
but rather to those who, with appetites still keen, are sternly warned
that for them, willy-nilly, the banquet must soon end, and the prison
fare of prosaic middle age be henceforth their portion. No more ortolans
and transporting vintages for them. Nothing but Scotch oatmeal and
occasional sarsaparilla to the end of the chapter. No wonder that some,
hearing this dread sentence, go half crazy in a frenzied effort to
clutch at what remains, run amok, so to say, in their despairing
determination to have, if need be, a last "good time" and die. Their
efforts are apt to be either distasteful or pathetically comic, and the
world is apt to be cynically contemptuous of the "romantic" outbursts of
aging people. For myself, I always feel for them a deep and tender
sympathy. I know that they have heard that last fearful call to the
dining-car of life--and, poor souls, they have probably found it closed.
Their mistake has been in waiting so long for the call. From various
causes, they have mismanaged their lives. They have probably lived in a
numbing fear of their neighbours, who have told them that it is bad
manners to eat one's cake in public, and wicked to eat it in private;
and any one who is fool enough to allow his neighbours to live his life
for him instead of living it himself deserves what he gets, or rather
doesn't get.

A wholesome oblivion of one's neighbours is the beginning of wisdom.
Neighbours, at the best, are an impertinent encroachment on one's
privacy, and, at the worst, an unnatural hindrance to our development.
Generally speaking, it is the man or woman who has lived with least fear
of his neighbours, who is least likely to hear that last call. Nothing
in retrospect is so barren as a life lived in accordance with the
hypocrisies of society. For those who have never lived, and are now fain
to begin living when it is too late, that last call comes indeed with a
ghastly irony. But for those who have fearlessly lived their lives, as
they came along, with Catullus singing their _vivamus atque amemus_, and
practising it, too; for those, if indeed the last call must come, they
will be able to support it by the thought that, often as in the past
life has called to them, it has never called to them in vain. We are apt
sometimes to belittle our memories, but actually they are worth a good
deal; and should the time come when we have little to look forward to,
it will be no small comfort to have something to look back on. And it
won't be the days when we _didn't_ that we shall recall with a sense of
possession, but the days and nights when we most emphatically _did_.
Thank God, we did for once hold that face in our hands in the woodland!
Thank God, we did get divinely drunk that wild night of nights in the

Wilt thou yet take all, Galilean? But these thou
shalt not take,
The laurel, the palms and the paean, the breast of the
nymphs in the brake.

It is the fine excesses of life that make it worth living. The stalks of
the days are endurable only because they occasionally break into flower.
It is our sins of omission alone that we come in the end to regret. The
temptations we resisted in our youth make themselves rods to scourge our
middle age. I regret the paradoxical form these platitudes have
unconsciously taken, for that they are the simplest truth any honest
dying man would tell you. And that phrase recalls a beautiful poem by
"E. Nesbit" which has haunted me all my life, a poem I shall beg leave
to quote here, because, though it is to be found in that poet's volume,
it is not, I believe, as well known as it deserves to be by those who
need its lesson. I quote it, too, from memory, so I trust that the
length of time I have remembered it may be set to my credit against any
verbal mistakes I make.

"If, on some balmy summer night,
You rowed across the moon path white,
And saw the shining sea grow fair
With silver scales and golden hair,
What would you do?"

"I would be wise
And shut my ears and shut my eyes,
Lest I should leap into the tide
And clasp the seamaid as I died."

"But if you thus were strong to flee
From sweet spells woven of moon and sea,
Are you quite sure that you would reach,
Without one backward look, the beach?"

"I might look back, my dear, and then
Row straight into the snare again,
Or, if I safely got away--
Regret it to my dying day."

He who liveth his life shall live it. It is a grave error to give
ourselves grudgingly to our experiences. Only in a whole-hearted
surrender of ourselves to the heaven-sent moment do we receive back all
it has to give us, and by the active receptivity of our natures attract
toward us other such moments, as it were, out of the sky. An ever-ready
romantic attitude toward life is the best preservative against the
_ennui_ of the years. Adventures, as the proverb says, are to the
adventurous, and, as the old song goes:

He either fears his fate too much
Or his deserts are small,
That dares not put it to the touch
To gain or lose it all.

And the spirit of the times is happily growing more clement toward a
greater fulness and variety of life. The world is growing kinder toward
the fun and foolishness of existence, and the energetic pursuit of joy
is no longer frowned down by anaemic and hypocritical philosophies. The
old gods of energy and joy are coming to their own again, and the lives
of strong men and fair women are no longer ruled over by a hierarchy of
curates and maiden aunts; in fact, the maiden aunt has begun to find out
her mistake, and is out for her share of the fun and the foolishness
with the rest. Negative morality is fast becoming discredited, and many
an old "Thou shalt not" is coming to seem as absurd as the famous Blue
Laws of Connecticut. "Self-development, not self-sacrifice,"--a
favourite dictum of Grant Allen's,--is growing more and more to be the
formula of the modern world; and, if a certain amount of self-sacrifice
is of necessity included in a healthy self-development, the proportion
is being reduced to a rational limit. One form of self-sacrifice, at all
events, is no longer demanded of us--the wholesale sacrifice of our own
opinions. The possibility that there may be two opinions or a dozen or a
hundred on one matter, and that they may be all different, yet each one
of them right in its proper application, has dawned forcibly on the
world, with the conception of the relativity of experience and the
modification of conditions. Nowadays we recognize that there are as many
"rights" and as many "wrongs" as there are individuals; and to be happy
in our own way, instead of somebody else's, is one of the first laws of
nature, health, and virtue. Many an ancient restriction on personal
vitality is going the way of the old sumptuary laws. We have all of us
amusing memories of those severe old housekeepers who for no inclemency
of the weather would allow a fire in the grate before the first of
October, and who regarded a fire before that date as a positive breach
of the moral law. Such old wives are a type of certain old-fashioned
moralists whose icy clutch on our warm-blooded humanity we no longer
suffer. Nowadays we light our fires as we have a mind to, and if we
prefer to keep them going all the year round, it is no one's business
but our own. Happy is the man who, when the end comes, can say with

I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks and I am ready to depart.

Such a one will have little need to fear that last call of which I have
been writing. In Kipling's phrase, he has taken his fun where he found
it, and his barns are well stocked with the various harvests of the
years. Not his the wild regret for having "safely got away." Rather he
laughs to remember how often he was taken captive by the enchantments of
the world, how whenever there was any piece of wildness afoot he was
always found in the thick of it. When the bacchantes were out on Mount
Cithaeron, and the mad _Evoe! Evoe!_ rang through the moonstruck woods,
be sure he was up and away, with ardent hands clutched in the flying
tresses. Ah! the vine leaves and the tiger skins and the ivory bodies,
the clash of the cymbals and the dithyramb shrilling up to the stars!
"If I forget thee, O golden Aphrodite!" He is no hypocrite, no weary
"king ecclesiast," shaking his head over the orgies of sap and song in
which he can no longer share. He frankly acknowledges that then came in
the sweet o' the year, and he is still as young as the youngest by
virtue of having drunk deep of the only elixir, the Dionysiac cup of

At the same time, while he may not ungratefully rejoice with Sophocles
at being "set free from service to a band of madmen," that ripening of
his nature which comes most fruitfully of a generous exercise of
its powers will have instinctively taught him that secret of the
transmutation of the passions which is one of the most precious rewards
of experience. It is quite possible for a lifelong passion for fair
women to become insensibly and unregretfully transmuted into a passion
for first editions, and you may become quite sincerely content that a
younger fellow catch the flying maiden, if only you can catch yon
flitting butterfly for your collection. And, strangest of all, your
grand passion for your own remarkable self may suffer a miraculous
transformation into a warm appreciation for other people. It is true
that you may smile a little sadly to find them even more interesting
than yourself. But such passing sadness has the relish of salvation in
it. Self is a weary throne, and the abdication of the ego is to be free
of one of the burdens rather than the pleasures of existence.

But, to conclude, it is all too possible that you who read this may have
no such assets of a wilful well spent life to draw on as he whom I have
pictured. It may be that you have starved your emotions and fled your
opportunities, or you may simply have had bad luck. The golden moments
seldom came your way. The wilderness of life has seldom blossomed with a
rose. "The breast of the nymph in the brake" and "the chimes at
midnight" were not for you. And there is a menacing murmur of autumn in
the air. The days are shortening, and the twilight comes early, with a
chilly breath. The crickets have stopped singing, and the garden is sad
with elegiac blooms. The chrysanthemum is growing on the grave of the
rose. Perhaps already it is too late--too late for life and joy. You
must take to first editions and entomology and other people's interests
in good earnest. But no! Suddenly on the wind there comes a cry--a sound
of cymbals and flutes and dancing feet. It is life's last call. You have
one chance left. There is still Indian summer. It is better than
nothing. Hurry and join the music, ere it be too late. For this is the
last call!

When time lets slip a little perfect hour,
Take it, for it will not come again.



All religions have periods in their history which are looked back to
with retrospective fear and trembling as eras of persecution, and each
religion has its own book of martyrs. The religion of beauty is no
exception. Far from it. For most other religions, however they may have
differed among themselves, have agreed in fearing beauty, and even in
Greece there were stern sanctuaries and ascetic academes where the white
bosom of Phryne would have pleaded in vain. Christianity has not been
beauty's only enemy, by any means; though, when the Book of Martyrs of
Beauty comes to be written, it will, doubtless, be the Christian
persecutions of beauty that will bulk largest in the record--for the
Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty have been warring creeds
from the beginning.

At the present moment, there is reason to fear, or to rejoice--according
to one's individual leanings--that the Religion of Beauty is gaining
upon its ancient rival; for perhaps never since the Renaissance has
there been such a widespread impulse to assert Beauty and Joy as the
ideals of human life. As evidence one has but to turn one's eyes on the
youth of both sexes, as they rainbow the city thoroughfares with their
laughing, heartless faces, evident children of beauty and joy, "pagan"
to the core of them, however ostensibly Christian their homes and their
country. In our time, at all events, Beauty has never walked the streets
with so frank a radiance, so confident an air of security, and in her
eyes and in her carriage, as in her subtly shaped and subtly scented
garments, so conspicuous a challenge to the musty, outworn, proprieties
to frown upon her all they please. From the humblest shop-girl to the
greatest lady, there is apparent an intention to be beautiful, sweet
maid, and let who will be hum-drum, at whatever cost, by whatever means.
This, of course, at all periods, has been woman's chief thought, but
till recently, in our times, she has more or less affected a certain
secrecy in her intention. She has hinted rather than fully expressed it,
as though fearing a certain flagrancy in too public an exhibition of her
enchantments. It has hardly seemed proper to her heretofore to be as
beautiful in the public gaze as in the sanctuary of her boudoir. But
now, bless you, she has no such misgivings, and the flower-like effect
upon the city streets is as dazzling as if, some fine morning in
Constantinople, all the ladies of the various harems should suddenly
appear abroad without their yashmaks, setting fire to the hearts and
turning the heads of the unaccustomed male. Or, to make comparison
nearer home, it is almost as startling as if the ladies of the various
musical comedies in town should suddenly be let loose upon our senses in
broad daylight, in all the adorable sorceries of "make-up" and
diaphanous draperies. I swear that it can be no more thrilling to
penetrate into that mysterious paradise "behind the scenes," than to
walk up Fifth Avenue one of these summer afternoons, in the present year
of grace,--humming to one's self that wistful old song, which goes
something like this:

The girls that never can be mine!
In every lane and street
I hear the rustle of their gowns,
The whisper of their feet;
The sweetness of their passing by,
Their glances strong as wine,
Provoke the unpossessive sigh--
Ah! girls that never can be mine.

So audacious has Beauty become in these latter days, so proudly she
walks abroad, making so superb an appeal to the desire of the eye,
thighed like Artemis, and bosomed like Aphrodite, or at whiles a fairy
creature of ivory and gossamer and fragrance, with a look in her eyes of
secret gardens; and so much is the wide world at her feet, and one with
her in the vanity of her fairness--that I sometimes fear an impending
_dies irae_, when the dormant spirit of Puritanism will reassert itself,
and some stern priests thunder from the pulpit of worldly vanities and
the wrath to come. Indeed, I can well imagine in the near future some
modern Savonarola presiding over a new Bonfire of Vanities in Madison
Square, on which, to the droning of Moody and Sankey's hymns, shall be
cast all the fascinating Parisian creations, the puffs and rats, the
powder and the rouge, the darling stockings, and all such concomitant
bewitcheries that today make Manhattan a veritable Isle of Circe, all to
go up in savage sectarian flame, before the eyes of melancholy young
men, and filling all the city with the perfume of beauty's holocaust. At

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