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Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks at the World Author: Baroness Orczy * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000441h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2020 Most recent update: May 2020 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - Sir Percy Blakeney Puts up His Quizzing-Glass
Chapter 2. - Romantic Britons
Chapter 3. - But Romance Does Not Come Unsought
Chapter 4. - Let Modern Youth Have Its Head
Chapter 5. - But Do Not Allow Progress to Become a Steamroller
Chapter 6. - Where Are Your Corinthians To-day?
Chapter 7. - Success? A Practical Talk to the Ambitious
Chapter 8. - Your Lives Are as Colourful To-day as Ever They Were
Chapter 9. - And Romance Still Pays
Chapter 10. - But You Must Live Dangerously
Chapter 11. - Romantic Radio
Chapter 12. - Away to El Dorado
Chapter 13. - The Romance of Patriotism
Chapter 14. - The Worst Blot on Your Civilization
Chapter 15. - The Glamour of Old Things
Chapter 16. - One Word on the Importance of Universal Goodwill
Chapter 17. - To the Ladies — God Bless ’Em!
Chapter 18. - Is Love a Dry Business Nowadays?
Chapter 19. - Has Progress Got Ahead of You?
Chapter 20. - Give Your Children a Chance
Chapter 21. - The Unimportance of Wealth for its Own Sake
Chapter 22. - Who Said That Petticoat Government No Longer Exists?
Chapter 23. - Two Heads Are Better Than One
Chapter 24. - Are Women Really Selfish?
Chapter 25. - Love is Still Life’s Most Romantic Adventure
Chapter 26. - What is the Price of Love?
Chapter 27. - Perfect Lover, Perfect Husband?
Chapter 28. - Leaving You at the Altar
There is no doubt that Sir Percy Blakeney, ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, is the most outstanding, as he certainly is the most popular character of Baroness Orczy’s creations. This really is very astonishing because Sir Percy, besides being the perfect type of an English gentleman, is nothing if not British, whilst the Baroness herself, who created him, is Hungarian.
She was born at Tarna-Eörs, in the county of Heves, some fifty miles from Budapest. Tarna-Eörs lies in the centre of the Great Plain of Hungary, which is as flat as a tabletop and is almost exclusively devoted to corn-growing. The Orczy family have owned considerable property there for many generations, and do still, but the Baroness’ father, Baron Felix Orczy, started life in the diplomatic service of his country: he married Emma, daughter of Count Wass of Czege in Transylvania — the Eastern part of Hungary, and our authoress — Emmuska, which means little Emma — is their only child.
All this seems so remote from her subsequent life and work in the world of English letters that it requires explanation. After his father’s death, Baron Felix Orczy came back from abroad and took up the farming of his property. But in the course of his diplomatic career he had picked up certain modern notions which were not at all suited to the archaic ideas prevailing in Hungary, and these he tried to introduce into the management of his estates. Into a country in which hitherto every kind of agricultural work had been done by hand he introduced the latest type of machinery and even set up a steam-mill.
The peasants — very much like our own men in Lancanshire when the steam-loom was first brought to Manchester — were terrified at first, then enraged. They looked upon all machinery, which they did not understand, as the invention of the devil, and when the smoke emerged out of the factory chimney, they looked upon it as coming from the fires of hell. The end of it all was that when, after harvest time, the entire crop of wheat stood in stacks on the fields, the poor people in their ignorance set fire to the whole thing — the mill, the corn, the maize, the machinery — and ruined not only the property but also its unfortunate owner.
The whole circumstances of this disastrous affair, which occurred when our Baroness was three years old, she has incorporated in her novel, A Son of the People.
Baron Orczy, thoroughly discouraged and disappointed with his attempts at farming, then settled down in Budapest, where he was able to devote himself to music of which he had always been passionately fond. The Abbé Liszt became his friend and dedicated one of the great Hungarian rhapsodies to him. The Baron was considered in those days one of the finest amateur musicians of his time, and was presently appointed director of the National Opera of Budapest — a position he held for several years. Meanwhile, his little daughter’s education was in the hands of a governess, and she learned to speak French and German. Her father resigned the directorship of the opera and took his wife and child to Brussels — partly to give little Emmuska a more modern education and partly because the then Queen of the Belgians was a Hungarian Princess, and very musical, so he felt sure of a welcome in the Belgian capital. He had met with some financial reverses and was no longer very well off, so when he met some English friends who suggested that he should settle in London, where his music would be appreciated, he crossed the sea and with his wife and daughter — now almost sixteen years old — settled down in London. Here he conducted some of his own compositions at the Philharmonic Concerts, and sometimes conducted the Royal Amateur Orchestral Society — and his opera, Il Rinnegato, was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Meanwhile his little daughter went to a dame school to learn English, which language she picked up wonderfully quickly; then she entered Queen’s College, and soon passed the Higher Examination for women — always taking prizes for languages. Her artistic temperament urged her to take up painting — to her father’s disappointment, she showed no particular talent for music — and she entered Heatherley’s studios as an art student and worked there for five or six years. She had quite considerable success, and exhibited several of her pictures at the Royal Academy, one of them, ‘The Jolly Young Waterman’, being hung on the line. It was at Heatherley’s that I met her. I was working there, and we became art student chums. Baron Orczy died very suddenly of heart failure, and his widow, the Baroness’ mother, decided to return to Hungary, but his daughter did not want to leave London, her many friends, and her Art, so she stayed on in England. Shortly afterwards we got married and set up a studio together. I took up ‘black and white’ work as a readier means of making money than picture painting, and it was at this time, when I had often to sit up late into the night at my easel to get some work done, that my wife fell into the habit of reading aloud to me, mostly French detective novels, Gaboriau and others, and I think it was originally from these — that are classics in their way — that she learnt how to set out and construct a story.
Later on we happened to come across a family consisting of father, mother, and two daughters. The latter wrote short stories for the magazines — we did not think very highly of them, but sometimes passed an evening listening to one or other of them reading her ‘latest’ aloud. One night after such a reading my wife said to me, “I could write better stories than those girls,” and I said, “Well! why not have a try?” No sooner said than done; the very next day I found her armed with pen, ink and paper scribbling for all she was worth! Soon she had written two stories — both of the thrilling kind, and when she’d read them to me I ejaculated, ‘Damned good!’
I happened to be doing work for Pearson’s Magazine at the time, and said I’d take her stories and show them to the editor. I did so, and he promised to read them the next day — which was Sunday. On Monday morning a telegram was handed in — not for me, but for my wife, from the Editor, and it said, ‘Come to the office and lunch with me.’ Off she went, and I stayed in the studio working and wondering what was happening at Pearson’s office.
In the afternoon my wife turned up, fearfully excited. The Editor had not only accepted the stories, but commissioned her to write several more to make a series. These stories are known now, almost the world over, as The Old Man in the Corner series, and are selling in book form to this day!
Now I come to the Scarlet Pimpernel. It really is almost unbelievable, but this is just what happened. A magazine editor — not Pearson’s this time, but the Baroness’ stories had by now found their way into other publications as well — asked her to call at his office. She went off. It was a regular London day, foggy and damp, and I didn’t like her going off by herself, but she would go. The Editor told her he had an opening for a long serial story, but it must be of a very exciting and ‘romantic’ character. My poor wife came away from the interview feeling despondent — she had done nothing but detective fiction so far and said she hadn’t a romantic idea in her head. As she paced up and down the platform at the Temple underground station — waiting for a train — the place wrapped in fog and mist, she suddenly looked up and saw The Scarlet Pimpernel! She stood rooted to the spot and simply stared — he came towards her and laughed and looked at her through his quizzing glass — he was dressed in his caped coat and wore breeches and hessian boots: he passed her and she turned to watch him, but he had disappeared! She came home nearly frantic with excitement. All she could say was, ‘I’ve found him — my Hero!’
So you see the Scarlet Pimpernel does, in all reality, take a quiz sometimes at our world of to-day. Our author has often seen him since, for to her eyes he takes visible shape — in fact, he sometimes ‘barges in’ when she is writing on quite different subjects, nothing to do with him at all. She looks up and finds him sitting against the angle of her desk, looking at her and smiling and she says to him, ‘I’m not writing about you now, my dear man.’ And she sees him smile and say, ‘Oh, you think not—but I’m not demmed sure of it!’
And sometimes when she is dozing in a chair in front of the fire after her day’s work, she feels he is there and looks up and finds him laughing quietly and looking at her through his quizzing-glass — and he begins without any preamble:
‘Now, m’dear, I must tell you what happened on the 3rd Brumaire in 179— I was in Paris, you know, by the Seine, and it was a demmed disagreeable sort of day.’
And he just tells her the whole story so that she is compelled to write it down — and that’s how it happens.
You may believe it or not—but it’s a fact!
Good-bye, and God bless you all.
Odd’s fish! but I am already beginning to wonder whether my visit to your modern world is going to be depressing or exhilarating. Lud love you, m’dears, think on it! To be compelled to be serious — really serious, mind you — through the whole length of a book; to say what I think of your modern culture; to make you see the romance of an era which you yourselves deem unbearably prosaic — la! the task would be impossible were it not for the fact that after taking a preliminary look round I have found that these modern times of yours are quite as romantic as were those in which I lived: they are just as full of adventure, of love and of laughter as when I and Sir Andrew and Lord Tony wore rapiers and ruffles, and Lady Blakeney danced the minuet and sang ‘Eldorado’ to the accompaniment of the spinet.
It would in very truth be an impossible task were it not for the delight in store for me of scoring off all those demmed dull Chauvelins, or Chambertins, of your twentieth century and of proving to them that with all their Committees of Pussyfoots and Boards of Public Morals they cannot manacle a certain little blind god we all wot of, nor can they destroy that lure of adventure and of danger which beckons to you modern young people with just as much insistence as it did to us.
Therefore am I here now in your midst — an eighteenth-century dandy, seemingly out of place amid your plus-fours and swallow-tailed coats, but nevertheless prepared to prove my argument up to the hilt. It is demmed embarassing, believe me, to speak to you in the pages of a book and to remain invisible and inaudible the while, even though in the days of my friends Robespierre, Fouquier-Tinville and their like my capacities in that direction were mightily embarassing to them. But even after the first page or two I already have scored off your arrant pessimists: one hundred and fifty years ago the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel was made up of nineteen gallant English gentlemen, but now, by contrast, I can enroll under my banner hundreds of thousands — nay, millions — of men and women of every nation; all those, in fact, who worship beauty, who dream romantic dreams, who love every kind of adventure, so be it that adventure is spiced with danger. Every soldier of fortune — and your modern world counts these by the million — is really a member of this new League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
You don’t believe me? You smile? You scoff? You shrug your shoulders? By gad! if I do not succeed in proving my case within the space allotted to me in this book then I will take a ticket — not a return ticket, mind you — for old Charon’s boat and never utter a word of complaint.
Now let me confess at once that yours is a strange world, even though it be not strange to me. I see changes — a power of changes, from our wigs and ruffles and rapiers, our coaches and gigs, our leisurely ways, our inconsequent aristocracy and, for the most part, contented, easy-going working-classes. You live in a rush in this twentieth century; grim earnestness pervades your whole existence; you make and accept great and marvellous wonders — miracles, I would call them — as a matter of course, simply because in your impatience and your restlessness you are always eager to get on — to get on, on, on, inventing and making things greater and more marvellous still.
But this is where the strangeness comes in: you — or, rather, the pessimistic Chauvelins amongst you — vow that romance is dead in this modern world; they speak regretfully of the good old days when Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney were the stars of London society, when a romantic love-affair or quixotic adventure met you at every turn. You find your century a dull one, and I marvelled at first whether I, too, would find it so, or would deem it necessary to tint my quizzing-glass with a roseate hue.
As a matter of fact, what do I find?
I find an age so racked with boredom, so surfeited with pleasure and novelty, that it cannot recognize the incomparable adventure of living in the midst of the most marvellous inventions devised by the ingenious brain of man; of living at a time when a man can speak to wife or friend across the width of the world; when he can put a girdle round the earth by flying through space, or listen to voices that speak hundreds of miles away.
It was the fashion in my day to cultivate an air of boredom that one did not feel, but, bless me! your detachment and boredom to-day in the midst of all your modern marvels are neither a fad nor a pose. I see that they are very real indeed.
Strange, did I say? La! it is astounding.
I reckon to have enjoyed a pretty turn now and again in France with those demmed dirty fellows of the Committee of Public Safety. But what a record of heroic deeds you established in France less than a score of years ago when you transformed a matter of blood and mud and hate and horror into an epic of nobility and self-sacrifice and splendid comradeship to which mere words cannot attempt to do justice! My League and I were ready to take our lives in our hands when it came to spiriting an aristo from under the guillotine, but there is not a man among us who would hesitate to take off his hat in sincere respect and boundless admiration for the greater courage of that band of miners who recently, in a pit disaster in Yorkshire, went down unhesitatingly into the bowels of the earth to risk flame and poison-gas, death by explosion or drowning, in order to try and save their comrades, even though these were, perhaps, already beyond the hope of human aid.
You declare that romance to-day is dead? What, then, but romance is the story of the young nurse who a few weeks ago saved the life of her lover by drawing with her own breath and through her mouth the diphtheria poison from his throat when nothing but this difficult and dangerous method could save him from death? What, indeed, is the whole life of the great Italian inventor, Signor Marconi, but a living romance?
Nay, ’tis not romance you lack in this twentieth century. Had but one quarter as much of it come our way in the days when I frequented Richmond and Vauxhall, my faith! we should have been staggered by it. We had to seek Romance; for you it flaunts its magic before your eyes every day and in a hundred different ways. By gad! when the last word of this book is written and the last tale told, I shall feel happy in the thought that I had a sight of all that is roseate and silver in the midst of the drab existence you complain of.
Cupid, my friends, is not dead. He will never die while eyes are bright and cheeks as fair as I see them to-day. Mars is in durance vile for the moment — thank God for that! — and I hope soon to see you devoting his courage, his audacity and defiance of danger to the service of humanity instead of to its destruction. The steep slopes of Parnassus are still there for those who dare to climb; the golden apples of the Hesperides still grow in the enchanted garden for those who have the spirit to gather them
Look wide, you moderns! your feet may be plodding in clay, but your eyes can be raised to the eternal hills, and let the memory of the Scarlet Pimpernel show you the way along the silvery paths of Romance which wind their way as deftly through your crowded city streets of to-day as ever they did when I followed them to Paris; for I can hear the clarion sound of high adventure as clearly now as when it called to me in the rattle of the tumbrils.
La! I find myself almost serious, and I see myself in this small book becoming more serious still; but at least, my friends, give me the credit of throwing off my cloak of badinage for the sole purpose of making you see the world or romance in which you live. For this I am ready for the time being to sacrifice my reputation, which I may modestly assure you is that of a lover of adventure, of joy and of laughter — the immortal spirit of the gay and gallant Scarlet Pimpernel.
I have just chanced upon a story — the story of a mongrel dog — which interested me vastly. This dog was the friend of a group of soldiers in a dug-out during the late War, and on one occasion his opportune waking and growling warned his company of a heavy German attack which was pending, and which otherwise might have broken through a vital part of the British defensive lines. In return his name was inscribed on the roll of the company, and he was entitled thereafter to draw one man’s rations daily.
A year later, in the heat of a furious enemy attack, this dog’s master fell seriously wounded in the bottom of a trench, and a German attacking force poured along, past the place where he lay. In their haste they would certainly have trampled the man to death, but for the fact that Mike, one ear torn by a bullet, stood growling over his master’s prostrate body; so threatening was his attitude that the hurrying Germans made shift to avoid him.
So the two were found an hour later when the trench was recaptured by a British unit; and it was all the ambulance men could do to persuade the dog, faint from loss of blood as he was, to relinquish his guard. For that episode Mike was awarded the privilege of marching on parade in front of the regiment, even before its officers and colour-sergeants. And I pray you, my friends, in what country save in romantic, sentimental England would that great honour be given even to the noblest of animals?
For England to-day, no less than in my own time or during the centuries that preceded me, is incurably romantic. The legend so rife in Europe of the stolid, immovable, unfeeling, bacon-and-eggs John Bull Englishman is false.
There is more real romance hidden beneath the formal Anglo-Saxon exterior than is possessed by the effervescent Gaul or the polished Roman. The reserve, the coolness, the marked difference between casual acquaintance and friendship, the adherence to convention, the general old-fashioned quiet which the Briton adopts, is an artificial wall which he builds around his inner self.
The careless observer, seeing this artificial wall, never imagines for one moment that there may be something undreamed-of behind it. It is only the serious psychologist who realizes that right within those defences which guard the average Briton against being stared at more than he likes, he keeps his romantic ideals as carefully tended as a gardener does a rare and delicate plant. From his infancy he has been taught by parents and teachers how to build up his wall of reserve, how to fashion therein the gate of unbreakable self-control with the key so hidden that none may chance upon it.
At school — and, by my faith, I am happy to see how these magnificent public schools have spread and increased in number since my time — he is furthered impressed with the vital necessity of keeping every emotion and every ideal strictly concealed behind that artificial wall. And this attitude of mind soon becomes a cult — a kind of fetish. The average British schoolboy is taught that feeling and emotions are things to be ashamed of, so he keeps them carefully hidden away within himself. Whereupon thoughtless people jump to the conclusion that he hasn’t any, and should they, perchance, find out their mistake, they talk at once and with bitterness of the ‘perfidious, hypocritical Islanders’.
Actually your ordinary man in the street prefers not to talk about romance because he takes it very seriously. I am sure you have often seen, say, a Frenchman or a German fall on another’s neck and kiss him in public; but this is not a sure indication that the two will be on speaking terms the next day. Indeed they may not be friends at all, they may not even know each other: the act may be a mere spontaneous expression of joy engendered by the occasion of some patriotic demonstration or public rejoicing.
On our side of the Channel, on the other hand, a handshake and a few quiet words may be the outward manifestation of a lifelong friendship, or the last farewell to a friend whom one may never hope to see again. And there is one other fact, m’dears, which I must mention here because it goes further than any other in refuting the fallacy that our tight little island is an old, unromantic Sobersides, and that is that in no other country in the world are there so many happy marriages. Now, why is that, I ask you?
It is because when so vital a matter as matrimony is at stake your average Briton brings out the key to that walled garden of his emotions, which he has guarded so jealously from prying eyes since his boyhood, and throws open wide the gates of his secret soul; because, in short, he is incurably romantic, and looks upon marriage as the most romantic event of his life.
I could quote you instances of British romanticism by the yard, of heroic deeds which put to shame the legendary prowess of a Bayard. Think of that lion-hearted piper, not so long ago, whose regiment was ambushed by the enemy in the Afghan hill country. The men were surrounded by a hostile tribe, their ranks were breaking under a deadly fusillade, but the gallant piper just marched up and down between the ranks and continued to play one pibroch after another encouraging the wearied fighters with the skirl of his pipes; and when after a time he fell, shot in both legs, he dragged himself up to a sitting posture and continued to rally his comrades by playing steadily on, the pibroch which they loved.
There is an outcry among some of you these days that modern England and its people have become more severely practical since my time, more sternly materialistic, and that life has become, in consequence, dull and colourless. La, my friends, you have only to look at a pair of lovers wandering arm-in-arm along a country lane, or through the meadows at eventide, to realize that side by side with all that materialism there still remains in the heart of your people the old ideal of romantic love.
And to our more emotional neighbours I would say: “See how the romanticism of our people rises when occasion demands to a sublimity which, I venture to assert, has never been surpassed by any other nation. Think, my friends, of Greater Britain, the World Empire on which the sun never sets. Does it not in itself prove to you that a handful of romantic, close-tongued Islanders can and does accomplish deeds of which any people would be justly proud?
‘Think of the valour of this nation which you are wont to call unimaginative, setting up on arid, sun-baked or ice-bound shores its glorious Flag, the precursor and emblem of its equitable laws, ready to face a hundred perils, starvation, hostility, sometimes even torture and death, for the sake of adding a few square miles to its vast Empire, though the very names of these pioneers often remain unrecorded and forgotten.’
That is what I would say to our neighbours, my friends — even I, your very own Scarlet Pimpernel. And it is the same to-day as it has been in the past: your true Anglo-Saxon has the love of romance buried deeply and firmly within his soul. What, think you, made Drake insist on finishing his game of bowls when the Armada was in sight, or caused that officer of Wellington’s army to say grace after receiving the first French fire at Waterloo? What else can account for the thousand and one quixotic, selfless and splendid deeds which are accomplished by the average Briton every day all over the world — deeds that have caused the romantically-minded Continental peoples to speak of us in tones made up of admiration and awe as ‘those mad Englishmen’?
Gadzooks! I have been spoken of as a romanticist myself; but, by my faith, in comparison with you moderns of to-day I begin to think that I was nothing but a practical, stolid, average Briton, or bacon-and-eggs John bull.
Ask my friend Chauvelin — he knows!
Take my own case, m’dears! Do you know what used to be my greatest trouble in the past, that is, before I embarked on those adventures which you like to read about these days? I had wealth, good companions, a lovely home, the most charming woman in the world for a wife; nevertheless, I felt the lack of a certain savour, the spice of danger and of the unexpected in my life.
It was then that I made a discovery. I found that Romance does not come unsought, but like a capricious woman she begins by eluding her seekers and gives them no more than a few provocative glances in order to whet their appetite for more of her company. If, then, they turn from her with a shrug and a sigh and resume with but a faint murmur their daily round and common task, she will pass them scornfully by, perhaps never coming their way again. But if she encounters courage, eagerness, ambition, the desire to put fate to the touch and win or lose everything on the stake, then she will smile, beckon more insistently, and even whisper of rewards.
Now let me humbly admit that having made that discovery, I decided that the spice of life which I lacked might perchance be found in the misery, the squalor, the hatred and heroism of that great social upheaval we call the French Revolution. I went to seek romance for myself, and found her so enchanting a mistress that I vow Lady Blakeney herself had often cause to complain of my new devotion!
Why should not you do the same? As I have already said in these pages, romance is as omnipresent to-day as she was in the world of my own time. But now, as then, she needs a manly wooing. Go out to seek her! Keep your soul for ever on the qui vive for adventure and novelty! Live like a knight of old, ever ready to rescue beauty in distress or to turn your weapons against the Giants Despair, Oppression, Discourtesy, and all the other thousand ogres that exist in the midst of your vaunted civilization.
Do not be content with the tabloid romance provided for you in your cinemas and theatres. You can make a better love story than the best the films can show you if only you wait till you meet your true mate and then woo her like a man. There is no stage adventure which can equal the thrill of a close competition either in work or in sport, or that of a bold and fearless move towards a longed-for goal.
Why, m’dears, in most things save in real life, whether in books, plays, films, or what you will, you can pretty well forecast in the beginning what the end of the story will be — that right will triumph over wrong, or else wrong over right; that vice will be punished in some form or other through the agency of virtue, or that virtue will find its reward in the sublimity of sacrifice. But in real life it is impossible to forecast events. If we knew beforehand with any certainty what the end of an adventure would be, where would be the zest of embarking on it? All of you who are the workers of the world and who desire to succeed have got to wage war against all manner of forces that are arraigned against you, and you have got to begin the fight, knowing well that in all probability it will be wrong — not right — that will triumph in the end unless you muster all your energy, your courage and your determination, to help you to win through. You are no mere puppets of an author’s imagination, fenced round against the attacks of trouble, care, sorrow, disappointment or fatigue. You’ve got to hold your own against dozens of such insidious enemies and often have to suffer smaller, though vastly more provoking pin-pricks such as no hero of romance has ever been called upon to endure. I mean the irritating fads of your neighbours, family tempers, bad colds, chilblains, rheumatism, or tumbles off ladders.
But luckily you are made of sterner stuff than are the fictitious creatures whose antics are invented for your entertainment. You can, if you will, make the whole of your life one glorious adventure, one ideal romance, by fighting bravely against bodily ills, by struggling patiently against adverse fate. You, too, may become a hero of romance more wonderful than the knights of old who slew fiery dragons and conquered giants by the mere act of doing an unselfish action of helping some lame dog over a stile, or merely by winning the love and faith of one who is dear to you.
To much of life’s romance we deliberately shut our eyes, even though it be spread in lavish abundance all around us. Take, for instance, the romance of your breakfast cup of coffee, or of the tea which you sip quite indifferently in your parlour or your office. Now I can remember the time when coffee and tea were luxuries that were purchased with the blood of our fellow-men. I remember when coffee was cultivated by wretched convicts who had been condemned to banishment for life, and when tea was brought over to England in fast-sailing clippers whose captain and crew would risk their lives and jeopardize their chances of a fortune in order to gain a few hours’ time in the terrible journeys they undertook across the ocean. And if you care to look a little deeper than the mere surface of things you will soon see that a thousand objects of use in everyday life have in their production been the embodiment, the very essence of romance.
As it is with inanimate things, so it is with people. Your fellow-men, m’dears, are prosaic or romantic, just as you choose to make them. Beneath the most arid surface gold may be hidden; round the most unpromising corner romance may lie in wait for you. But you must look beneath that surface; you must venture fearlessly round the turn ahead. In knightly days adventures did not come to the man who stayed at home and mourned in solitude the demise of chivalry and the passing of courage; but they did come to him who rode forth into the highways of life, stout of heart and ready of hand; and believe me, m’dears, adventures to-day are not found either by your grumbler, or your slacker, by the cynic or the supine; they are found by those who have the courage to seek for romance and to recognize it when they see it. In this matter, as in many others, it is faith that moveth mountains, and if you believe in romance it will surely come your way in the end.
Allow me, my dear friends, to congratulate you on your young bloods of to-day. Self-deprecation seems to have become an art with you, for everywhere I hear an outcry about modern youth’s decadence. Yet when I look round me I perceive quite as much courage and as jealous a sense of honour beneath your young men’s nonchalance now as was wont to hide itself with becoming modesty beneath the wigs and laces of my own hair-brained young acquaintances — Hastings, Ffoulkes, Tony, and the rest of that pleasant company. And your women are no different, either. They may not altogether despise the privilege of their sex to play havoc with our impressionable hearts, nevertheless, when occasion demands, they will rise to-day to heights of courage and of efficiency which surpass anything that I can remember, demmed ungallant though it be for me to say this!
Never before in the world’s history has youth had such opportunities for self-expression and the attainment of success and happiness as are present to-day. And never before, certainly, has youth made so determined a claim to play its rightful part in contemporary affairs and to bring its boldness, initiative and enterprise to enliven and aid the caution and stability of age.
And looking at you young things of this twentieth century through my quizzing-glass, I make note of several things. You marry young nowadays, you take risks — as indeed you should — while you are still young enough to make a fresh start if perchance your first effort happen to end in failure. If you are lucky you win through while you are still young enough to enjoy the thrill of success, its power; its happiness and its responsibilities.
And, mind you, it is that horrible War that made you realize the importance of youth in the present-day scheme of life.
With a shock of surprise you suddenly become aware that the essential sign of manliness was neither a beard nor a bald pate, but rather a virile idealism and a determination to go through with a job once started, and both of these might be the attributes of a child with hardly a bit of down showing on his upper-lip! That abysmal catastrophe was so much an affair into which youth stepped with a smile and a shrug, that since then you have come to believe in youth as a magic power, the existence of which you had not previously suspected.
I am all for giving youth its chance. Youth is the time when ideals are not yet dimmed by cynicism and bitterness. Youth dares to longer flights of vision than age’s doubting sight can follow. Youth gaily takes risks which make crabbed age shake a warning head. And the amazing thing is that youth, in general, is right!
What is it that has made the American nation so remarkable? Merely its childish readiness to believe in and try out new ideas — to experiment, in fact. It did not laugh at Edison’s astonishing theories. It wrinkled its brows, puzzled a little, and then decided to back him up with money and influence. It believed in him, and thus it can now boast of having counted among its sons one of the greatest inventors the world has ever known. That is an example the older world to-day might do worse than follow, by ridding itself of its prejudices, its doubts and its fears, and having the courage to take every step which might lead to the development of the great forces of this world.
Yes, indeed I agree with those who so constantly assert that youth must have its chance. Life in the past might have been compared to a forest wherein tall pines reared their stately heads upwards to the light, whilst youth, like the stunted undergrowth, was stifled for want of the sunlight of chance. It was forced to spend its precious years striving to reach up to the level of its elders, and to reap the fruits of success when it was too weary to enjoy their savour.
I know that some of your modern idealists have talked of passing a law which would make retirement from business compulsory, say, at sixty years of age; they have even suggested that such compulsion should apply also to professional labours. That, of course, is carrying the argument to an absurd finish, because in a business undertaking experience is the most valuable asset, and in the artistic and professional worlds striving genius has no concern with age limit. It is true, perhaps, that in a good many instances your great new business concerns would, by this suggested law, be cleared of the incubus of aged and useless directors but in others they would lose the invaluable advice and assistance which experience alone can give.
Besides, age and experience themselves are necessary to the wise guiding of the headstrong spirit of youth. What pitfalls could be avoided, what obstacles overcome, what heartbreaks saved if only age would put its hard-gained knowledge at the disposal of the next generation! Of course, I know the demmed young hotheads do not suffer guidance gladly. They will not always listen to counsels of prudence, indeed, they would be spiritless enough if they did; but there is such a thing as showing them tactfully the possibilities of trouble ahead, and helping them to develop their own experimental ideas, however crude they might seem to older and wiser heads. Youth is a force that no power on earth can drive, but which a silken thread can often lead — all the more easily when the thread is in the hands of a pretty woman.
Far too often in this cautious age of yours do I see well-meaning parents compelling a lad to take up a career which is not congenial to him, and in which therefore he will never succeed. Why not let him take his own risks and be content to guide him adroitly so that those risks be not too great? And heavens above! why should parents insist on having their say and more than their say in their children’s choice of husband or wife? Even in my day we had come to realize that to cross the temper of a young lover is the surest way to drive him (or her) into the very embraces one fears.
Guide youth by all means, but do not seek to drive it. Give youth its chance, but do not stir it to revolt by holding the guiding-reins too tight. As with a mettlesome horse so it is with youth. Suggestion and love will in most cases call forth the very last effort of its strength, but the use of injudicious force will only result in a heartbreaking clash of opposing wills.
There is in your world of to-day a young and eager spirit of endeavour and of ambition; that spirit is a gift from the more general spread of education which you have brought about and developed since my time. It is for you to guide it, your task to stimulate it when it droops, to revive it should it show signs of decline. If you are content to do this the result will repay you a hundredfold.
And, egad! When in the course of the years that lie before you your men and women will have acquired not only the right to choose their own path in life, but also the strength to march boldly along it, to step over the rocks and thorns, to put a brave face after every stumble or fall, striving only to reach the summit of their ideal, then I say there will rise from out the ashes of the years of our failures the Phoenix of unconquered and unconquerable youth, with the torch of real progress in its hand, a torch that will lead this tough old world of ours to enduring happiness and peace.
And now, my friends, for a good old grumble. You will not, I hope, deny me the privilege, seeing that you have always considered grumbling the prerogative of your race.
I mean to have a doughty passage of arms with your giant machine Progress. It has served you well so far. Its very name is stimulating, inspiring — anything you like. But I foresee that soon, very soon, with all its high-sounding name and its inspiration, it will become unwieldy like a Titanic steamroller over which you will have lost control.
So long as your wonderful modern inventions, your machinery, your labour-saving devices are your obedient servants you will certainly enjoy a delightful and lazy existence; but as soon as these things become indispensable to you — that is, so soon as they dominate your life — they will rob you of your strength, of your manliness and your independence. Progress, the steamroller, will have become the master and you, his slave.
Let me, I pray, make my meaning clear. I have looked about me since the beginning of my visit to you and it strikes me pretty forcibly that the spirit of enterprise and initiative which used in my time to distinguish an Englishman — or a Scotsman or a Welshman for that matter — is fast disappearing. Education, you tell me, is spreading and brain power increasing. Faith, yes! that may well be. But what does it profit a man if he gain all the book-learning in the world and lose his power to put that knowledge to such practical use as will benefit his country first and the rest of the world as well? And what does a woman gain, even though she may know the insides of all the books ever printed, if she loses her zest in life, her joy in her home-surroundings, above all if she misses the greatest gift in the world — the gift of love.
Again you will tell me that in no time since the beginning of things has there been such systematic cultivation of bodily health. Our young athletes of to-day, you say — both male and female — would put to shame the gladiators, wrestlers and Amazons of the past. And I am quite ready to admit that. I admit the importance of physical culture, of the camaraderie engendered by games, the better understanding between nations aroused by Olympic contests — but only as a means to an end.
Tell me now, m’dears, what in itself is the use of hard sinews, of prowess at tennis or football, if tough muscles and keen eyes are not going to benefit anyone else but just yourself? You certainly will feel very well in health, you will stretch your scarcely tired limbs out in front of the fire and think what a demmed fine fellow you are. Your friends will gather round you, chair you after your more signal triumphs, pat you on the back and write columns about you in the newspapers. But in what way has humanity, the great teeming millions of the world, benefited by your winning that bicycle race? What, for a matter of that, did your country gain by it?
Empires, my friends, are doomed to fall as soon as their people become followers and not leaders of men. Initiative and enterprise are the bulwarks of a nation. It is they that built up your Empire — an Empire on which the sun never sets. Be proud of it, for God’s sake. Be proud of it! Do not allow it to rush to its fall while you stand in your thousands watching a football match or an automobile race. Watch these by all means, delight in them, get as excited over them as you like, join in where you can, train your muscles and your bones and your eyes, but with a greater object in view than momentary pleasure.
It was because of this seeking after physical pleasure that the great Roman Empire crumbled and was laid in the dust; it was because of this striving after pleasure only that Spain sank into insignificance; neither of these mighty nations was physically effete; the Roman gladiators were second to none, the Spaniards of the day were unequalled at games with foils or ball. But life was gradually made easy and smooth for all but a very few. Initiative and enterprise were stifled in this scramble after pleasure. It was so much easier to loll about and watch a few playing or fighting than to venture forth as one’s ancestors had done over uncharted seas or unknown lands to discover new, enchanted worlds. Nature’s mountain heights of success and her chasms of failure were gradually levelled to a smooth, safe, unbroken plain, and the mirage of equality spread its feeble rays around instead of the glorious torch of enterprise.
Above all, m’dears, beware of that false goddess Equality. She is so insidious; her voice is so alluring, it sounds so noble, we may even say so Christian. But beware!
There has never been, there is not, and there never can be such a thing as equality, and every attempt to establish so false an axiom is doomed to tragedy or farce. Nature herself has set her face against it: brains, talent, beauty, imagination, every gift physical and mental she has dealt with a lavish hand to some and parsimoniously to others. And therefore the attempt to equalize these gifts by means of the steamroller of Progress can only result in levelling them down to the lowest faculties of man. A steamroller cannot build up; it can only crush.
During the late War would France have wished her Foch and her Clemenceau to be no more than the equal in talent and initiative to her Jacques Bonhomme? And in Russia shall simple peasant and saintly priest be moulded after the pattern of Stalin the murderer? Yet even Revolution, terrible and dangerous as it is, will do less permanent harm than this cushioned, soft soporific we term Progress. For did not France after her great revolution rise through blood and tears to a glorious resurrection, and who shall say that one day — soon, perhaps — Russia will not do the same, while all of you over here in this modern world of yours are letting yourselves go to sleep, lulled into false security by that insidious goddess, Equality and that other fetish, Progress.
Modern progress is fast outgrowing its strength. Equal education for a genius or a dunce, the taxation of the worker so that the idler may loaf, pleasures and entertainments in gaol so that the criminal might have equal opportunities for relaxation as the honest man, these and other factors in the so-called advance of civilization are like a two-edged sword.
Education should be the means of spurring the slow-witted and the unfit; taxes should never be a handicap great enough to impede success. Nevertheless, modern progress sets out to drive her steamroller relentlessly over every individual effort to do a little better than one’s neighbour, to achieve or, at any rate, attempt something in life different from other people. It tries to educate the most unfit soldier in life’s army into considering himself equal to a Field-Marshal; it penalizes thrift to aid the improvident, helps to foster the selfish feeling that so long as I’m all right the rest of the world can go hang!
By my faith, is not our British Empire strong enough to give a lead to other nations in trying to get this steamroller of progress into control again? Yet even whilst I go wandering through my beloved country I find that the gospel of self and egoism has spread with alarming rapidity since my day. You, my friends, have taken the mirage of equality to be a real and shining light. In your twentieth century, taxes on hard work and thrift have ruthlessly increased, and many of you have resorted to juggling and guile in place of our old policy of outspoken truth. It is time that Britain took charge of her affairs, internal and external, with a stronger, a more firm hand.
In the times of your fathers and grandfathers which you are so fond of deriding, nearly all the great inventions, the great initiatives in the world had their origin in their brains. Great Britain led the way in science, in industry, in commerce, in the management of her Colonies. To-day half the time when something new, something of world utility in science or in pleasure comes to light, it has its origin in America or in Germany, in Czecho-Slovakia, or Timbuctoo. Your fathers and grandfathers led the way to progress. Are you content to follow meekly in the wake of the steamroller? They worked, they slaved, they saved for the glory of their country and your future prosperity. Do you mean to tell me that you will go on sitting still, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for other nations to feed you with a silver spoon?
Wake up, John Bull! Look around you. Don’t go lolling along the paths of life which the workers of the world have made smooth for you. Step out boldly as you did in the past on the rough road of high adventure, and keep your steamroller of progress to its job of strengthening — not merely of smoothing — the trails which your gallant pioneers blazed for you at cost of their own ease and contentment, often at cost of their lives.
Do you recollect how the hero of a recent an-Arctic expedition, in order not to delay the advance of his comrades when sickness prevented him from keeping in step with them, fell out of line voluntarily and was left to perish alone in the ice? Faith! if you do not wake up there is danger that you will be lost in the drifts of obscurity. But to this falling out there will not be attached the glory of self-sacrifice, for your fame as one of the mightiest Empires the world has ever known will flicker out and die. But the world will roll on just the same.
Your shoulders are broad, friend John Bull, and you have your burden to bear in proportion to your strength. The last few years have seen many changes in the world, shifting of power and of responsibilities, and shirking of tasks. Because of the great traditions built up by your forebears, the world has looked to you more than once to put things right, to take a hand at the guiding helm, to direct the destinies of the world rather than stand by and see the reins taken out of your nerveless hands. Can you do it? Is the spirit of your race dead in you? I say it is not. Your hearts are as brave as they were in ages past, and now as then you scorn fear.
You have a responsibility towards the other weaker nations of the earth, a responsibility which tradition has placed upon you. Do not, in Heaven’s name, allow that burden to slip off your shoulders. Remember, that if you do there are other nations ready to pick it up, to take your place in the new scheme of this world, your place in the sun, leaving you in the penumbra of oblivion.
Believe me, there’s truth in what I say. Your fathers and grandfathers spent their brains and their lives freely for your country’s sake. They were never content to see a rival nation usurp its place as the leader of progress and initiative. I’ll never believe that you in your generation will let her down.
Lord love me! when I think of the chances that a man has in your twentieth century, opportunities for amusement, for adventure and romance, I feel that the Raleighs, the Hudsons or the Cooks of the past have great cause to envy you.
Just look at your aeroplanes! What delightful surprises I could have devised in my time for my amiable friend Monsieur Chauvelin (or was it Chambertin?) could I but have equiped my beautiful ‘Day-Dream’ with a pair of silver wings! And what about your radio, your express trains, your motor cars and great liners, not to mention your trusty friends, the telephone, electricity. Ye gods above, what an array!
At a casual glance it seems to me that ideas and ideals have changed, and that the vast number of people who complain that life to-day is dull and that it has none of the savour of romance which made it so joyous a thing in the time of rapiers and ruffles, are making it dull for themselves. Surely, if they would but look around they could find romance enough and to spare in the thousand new wonders of this busy modern world. But the demmed dull dogs, the croakers and the kill-joys are having it all their own way, it seems to me. They appear to be in the fashion, and Fashion’s rule was always autocratic. Which— as things have turned out with you—is a vast pity.
Why have you no ‘real slap-up Corinthians’ now that progress is offering you new and exciting adventures every day? In my time most young men of fashion or spirit could show a neat hand and foot in the boxing-ring against the doughtiest opponent; they could ride anything ever foaled and drive against the Devil himself; and they were never backward, either, with a witty word or a gallant action.
Nor was this prowess confined to those whom Mammon had blessed. The ’prentice could sing a song or try a fall with anybody; the shopkeeper could tot up faults and virtues as well as ledgers; your tailor had a tongue as sharp in trenchant wit as his scissors were in cutting cloth.
And now, despite the fact that you possess all these new, romantic, exciting, delightful gifts from modern inventiveness, those of you who do not keep your nose close to the grindstone of money-grubbing adopt a silly air of blasé ignorance on the ground that knowledge is really a bore.
Now do not taunt me with the fact that I myself in my own time did ape the inanities and drolleries which were then the fashion, and no one ever wore a more vacant face or yawned more persistently than I did. I admit the soft impeachment, while reminding you that I only adopted my inane pose as a cloak in order to throw dust in the eyes of my friends at home and my enemies abroad. Whereas you young men of to-day seem to make a point of knowing very little more than you pretend, and of being bored with the little you do know.
If I were advising a young man of to-day on the way to make the most of his life—and, after all, it is the beauty of living that counts far more than the mere accumulation of riches—I would tell him to look wide, to be always ready and never afraid. The world is wider now than heretofore—a man can go adventuring and fortune-making across the seas. Modern business is so inter-related now among all the nations of the world that there is not a trade or profession which does not need foreign representatives.
I would tell him to learn, as far as lies in his power, to speak other languages besides his own. There is plenty of romantic thrill to be got out of a cheap trip across the Channel or the North Sea, and the thrill becomes greater still if you can understand what they say over there, catch their snatches of conversation, put in a word or two for yourself. It’s no use saying: ‘Oh, I’m not a linguist. I never could speak a word of French.’ You never know what you can do till you try. Besides, you need not be a linguist to exchange a few words with pretty Mamzelle at Ostend or Boulogne, or the kind hostess who has made you comfortable in your holiday lodgings.
And don’t forget that in life’s adventure the man or woman who can speak a language or two besides his own is sure of good money. So put up your fists, m’dears, not to meet a prize-fighter, but to tackle those few words of French or German which you can assimilate quite easily if you put your mind to it.
Take your chance in that as in everything else. Don’t be afraid. So long as you are doing a clean, honourable, wholesome thing take your chance of success and face boldly the possibility of failure. There is a marvellous feeling of satisfaction and pride in having striven after something that is worth while, ever if that something is only your increased self-respect or your joy in having accomplished a task that at first seemed beyond your strength.
I would also advise your modern young man to spend a few moments every day in self-communion. Self-examination is so good for one. Let him ask himself the question: ‘Am I a man? Can I, if opportunity arises, go out into the world? Am I brave enough to take risks? Is my heart stout enough not to flinch should danger of failure threaten me?’
At first probably your little self-satisfied ego will reply affirmatively and complacently to all the questions, and will add with a sigh the usual rider: ‘But, of course, luck never does come my way. Look at So-and-So! The luck he had. No wonder he got on.’
But, believe me, those feeble arguments will gradually give place to more searching self-examination. The queries: ‘Am I a man? Am I brave and self-reliant?’ will be followed by a more insistent: ‘Am I?’ And out of a true understanding of self, will come that very self-reliance, that grit, that pluck which is the one and only road to success, and which will as surely as you live lead you to the romantic heights of content, of joy, and above all of love. You will find that you have in your life to-day a hundred per cent more romance than ever came my way, even though your romance wears a sombre coat and wields a fountain-pen where we wore ruffles and buckled shoes, and for the most part were compelled to sit at home, for we had neither cars nor aeroplanes to take us about the world, nor means to learn all its wonders.
I can’t think what it is about your modern world, but something certainly makes me more serious than I should have dreamed of being in the days of long ago. Maybe it is your air of ardent business activity, your restless and faster moving civilization, or the world’s spreading financial gloom. At least it is making me a demmed earnest critic, full of gravity and heavy words.
I stood a while ago at the exit of one of the great London railway stations, watching the faces of those who passed. And do you know, in the space of an hour, I saw—apart from those who were in conversation with friends—three smiling faces! All the rest, and there must have been many thousands, were either drawn or tense or worried or frowning. And oh! my friends, so many of them looked inconspicuous. Now I cannot bear a man to lack some sort of an air, some soupçon of dare-devilry, some outward manifestation of courage and success.
And this makes me ask you whether you individually are content to be one of the weak, ineffectual, inconspicuous little people who look with envy on those others at whose careless feet Fortune has thrown her manifold gifts? Are you content to be numbered among those who murmur dejectedly: ‘Some people get all the luck! I’ve always been an unlucky sort’? Do you confine your share of success and happiness and efficieny to wondering how others achieve it, because if so it is entirely your own fault.
Get rid of that fallacy that ‘luck’ accounts for the victories won by the more forceful of your competitors. Do not deceive your better self with the false argument that all the chances go to other folk.
Get out in the cold, unflattering light of truth, m’dears; a failure stripped of comforting illusions may not cut a very pretty figure there. But the very act of shedding the cloak of self-deception will be the first step along the path which will lead you to the sunlit kingdom of success.
There is one essential key to success—sincerity. There are many other minor keys; for the gate which guards success from those that seek it may be compared to one of your new patent safes, the lock of which will only open with the aid of a certain combination of letters. But emphatically, without sincerity, no lasting success can be won in any walk of life.
Very little work that is worth while can be done with your tongue in your cheek, nor can it be done supinely or carelessly. We should not expect, say, a carpenter, an artist, or an instrument-maker to produce fine work while he was busy gossiping with a pal or gazing up at the skies. A consummate artist or craftsman must concentrate every energy on his task, or his work will not be worth looking at.
And the same with the rest of us. Those splendid fellows who constituted the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel did not, believe me, approach with a superior smile the serious tasks which I had the honour to set them, nor did they dally contemptuously with them. Faith! M. Chauvelin would assure you of that. Nor did any of us try to beat a retreat before our task was neatly rounded off. Gadzooks! our heads would have paid the penalty for our supineness, and your success will pay the score if you shirk.
Your splendid modern poet, Rudyard Kipling, said a very true thing when he wrote that ‘Half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees.’ The spirit of that applies to all good work. You must get down to it, take off your coat, and not be afraid of hurting your hands. You must take a pride in what you do, and put heart and soul into it. The attainment of success is the hardest task ever known.
Keep a smiling face before the world, have a gay laugh always ready to help you over the stony paths of life, and a joke at your command wherewith to hearten those who feel that their burdens are heavier than they can bear. La! my friends—I fear me I’m but a poor example, yet I contrived to get through the task of living without ever pulling a long face, even though there were at times devilish unpleasant duties to perform. When I remember the number of times that those demned unpleasant fellows over in France spoiled the set of my cravat or made me exchange my ruffle for a coal-heaver’s sack—why! I declare that I feel ready to lead the members of my League down to the nether pits for the mere pleasure of another bout with them!
Courage is the keystone of success, m’dears, and so are persistence, an intense and unflagging capacity for work, and yet more work, the strength of mind to carry on in face of failure and defeat, the gift of learning wisdom from mistakes, and lastly the power of extracting every ounce of romance and idealism out of life. The demmed fellow who said that success was one-tenth inspiration and nine-tenths perspiration was more than a wit—he was a prophet; though I am inclined to hate him for speaking such an unpalatable truth!
It is just as bad to allow reverses to discourage you as it is to allow success to go to your head. Success should never make you forget that even while you are still indulging in a transport or untimely bragging, you might find yourself dislodged from that particular rung of the ladder of fame which you happen to have attained. No game or battle is ever wong till it has been fought for, nor is it won till the opponent is finally crushed.
This, at least, I see in your world of to-day; that it grants the guerdon of success only to those who by concentration, hard work and perseverance deserve to win it. And the surest way to win, m’dears, is to act up to the motto of one of your modern captains of industry: ‘Always do even the commonest thing uncommonly well.’
One of the most amazingly romantic things about your twentieth century is the way in which the women of to-day have dared to proclaim their independence. I don’t say that every manifestation of it is altogether good—faith! there will always be hotheads who go too far in any new venture, so long as women are the demmed delightful creatures they insist on being—but I do feel that the general trend is in the right direction.
Well I remember how urgently Lady Blakeney used to plead that what a man could do a woman would dare, and how hard I found it to keep her from joining my League whether I would or no! And I shall never forget the trouble we had in spiriting the grandes dames out of France because their voluminous petticoats made it so hard to hide them under a cartload of potatoes. But, by my faith! those were happy days.
To be serious, though, modern dress for women is certainly more fitting to this era of feminine courage and enterprise than were the hoops and crinolines of old; and it certainly is more suitable for the female adventurers who range themselves in comradeship or competition with men. And it contrives to be amazingly pretty, too. To my old-fashioned mind perhaps a little more softness and femininity would add eighteenth-century charm to twentieth-century efficiency, but it isn’t for an ardent admirer of the sex to grumble!
The curious thing to me is that it is women who chiefly complain that this new age is unromantic. Gadzooks! they should have sampled French Revolution times in England, when a woman dared hardly look at a man lest heads and tongues started wagging over her name in all the clubs of London. This age unromantic for women? When women can go out into the wide world as freely as did the members of my League in the olden days!
A couple of days ago I ventured—invisibly, of course—to take a chair in the lounge of a women’s club in London, where a number of the pretty creatures sat drinking tea and gossiping. You must forgive the liberty, but ’twas mine own name on their lips that first aroused my curiosity.
‘What a humdrum world it is nowadays!’ pouted one of the speakers — a sleek-headed girl still in her twenties but who had already won for herself an important position in the world of business. ‘There’s no adventure, no colour left in this rotten civilization of ours. It’s just an age of standardization; personal enterprise never has a chance. If a man so much as flicks another in the face forty policemen spring up out of the ground; if one gets a scratch, it’s forty doctors; if one dares to be candid one is rushed off to the Law Courts to answer a charge of slander. All civilization is in league to rob us of our emotions.’
‘Quite right, my dear!’ replied her companion. ‘If the Scarlet Pimpernel were alive to-day, poor man, he would probably be clapped into lunatic asylum. That’s how it is now, if one shows a hunger for adventure or a mere wanderlust one is no longer hailed as a pioneer or a leader of men. No—one is just bundled off to the nearest psycho-analyst!’
How mistaken they were, those two very youthful critics! And how bitter in their complaints that the world had grown drearier since my time and that the modern man and woman aimed at nothing but the commonplace, rejoicing in the fact that millions and millions more of them were cut after the same pattern as themselves, with no greater ambition than to earn a ‘lived respected, died lamented’ epitaph from the other pigmies around! And, la! how blind must their bright eyes have been not to see that the restful, picturesque divinity we called ‘Romance’ yesterday is not dead but just transformed into a shingled, matter-of-fact, but rather startling young thing, whose claim to be thought prosaic and blasé has almost made us forget her divine unexpectedness!
Surely even the most sophisticated of all you moderns could not fail to be thrilled by Miss Amy Johnson’s adventure, when that young woman calmly climbed into the cockpit of her aeroplane in England and set out, a young girl alone, in a flimsy affair of wood and metal and canvas, to fly half-round the world to Australia?
Were you blind to the tragic romance in the world such as a little while ago, when the youth of a dozen nations marched, laughing and singing, towards the inferno of the world’s greatest battlefield—yea, and returned to it again when its wounds had been patched up, not quite laughing, perhaps, after having seen Hell and lived, but still with a smile and a song and an unfailing readiness to help a comrade?
No, m’dears, I am not talking nationally now; the same spirit was evident in all the belligerent countries—the spirit of eternal youth and romance facing the most terrible Spectre that has ever sought to bring disillusionment and hopelessness upon earth. My League was gallant, but that immortal league of the adventurers of the War years, with its just as gallant sisterhood who carried on at home, makes our brilliance seem no more than that of a candle compared to the sun.
You may not find a Drake or a Columbus nowadays, or a Clive or a Brooke, because all the seas are charted and there are no fresh worlds to conquer. But I read lately of an unknown postman saving enough in his life-time from his weekly wage to found a leper hospital in India. Is that the task of a pigmy? And I see rusty tramp-steamers lying in a dozen ports around our coast, waiting their turn to venture out across the ocean, ready to sail from continent to continent whilst facing storms and gales which seem beyond the bounds of possibility for men to live through and conquer.
More can be done still, no doubt, to foster the spirit of chivalry and adventure, for only a day or two ago I read a published extract from the diary of the late Tsar of Russia, concerning myself, too. La! how famous one becomes through a slight appetite for amusement. ‘I have been reading,’ so ran the extract, ‘an interesting new book—The Elusive Pimpernel,’ and one became conscious of a wave of pity that there was no young gallant of to-day ready to attempt the rescue of that unfortunate man.
Be that as it may, I am still determined to champion the vital romance of your twentieth century. The colour of the picturesqueness are there; adventure calls insistently to you all; the trouble is that you will not open your eyes and see; you will not step aside from the straight and narrow road which you have traced for yourselves. But do not count me boastful, I pray, when I say that I could find just as much excitement, joy and zest in life in 1933 as ever I did in the days when I sat on a window-sill in Boulogne and scared my friend Chauvelin out of his wits.
In my own time romance was appreciated and sought after because it was colourful, charming, and added savour to the dullness of life. Lud! we could hardly be said to have lived at all were it not for the romance with which we filled our days. One is apt to think, however, that in this more practical era it is a thing of the past, but I’ll have you know it for a fact that romance is anything but dead. Indeed, it is very much alive, and for the simple reason that—to put it bluntly—there’s money in it!
Is not the growth of a gigantic modern business the most romantic thing in the world? Lookers-on at the thrilling event are apt to think that it is all an affair of ledgers and accountants, and of ‘two-three a yard’ cheaper than the rival establishment opposite. Egad, no! it is an epic of courage, an Odyssey of endurance, an all-conquering hope brought to triumphant success.
Names that are writ large in the book of the world’s great captains of industry are not those of slow, steady-going, conservative, over-careful plodders, but rather those of men who have faced obstacles, defeats and disappointments with a stout heart, a gallant smile and easy jest; of men who have known how to encourage the timorous and cheer the despondent, and who have kept up their own spirit of determination and endurance until the height of their ambition has been attained.
And such men have found that there’s money in romance, since without it they would have been too deeply engrossed in counting up the risks to seize opportunity when it came. Without their own romanticism they would in their youth have been far too prosaic and careful ever to dare to step forward without once looking back, or to leave security and ease behind and take the big risk for the sake of the big risk for the sake of the larger gain. They would, in fact, have kept their mind’s eye on safety first, and would never have dared to carry on boldly and gallantly, ignoring the cautious warnings of age, in order to gain the great victories which fate holds in store for inspired youth.
Now that type of man, m’dears, once his feet are firmly planted on the road to success, will still retain all the romanticism which has brought him where he is. You will see him building swimming-baths and laying out playing fields for his workers so that they may indulge in the romantic struggle for sports supremancy; you will see him holding out golden inducements to his employees to work hard for promotion, or to invent something that will increase the firm’s prosperity; and in your wonderful days of mechanical marvels a motor car is as good a prize for a winner in the race for success as were laurel wreaths or silken banners in the olden days, besides being far more useful.
And now tell me, do you deem the combine of two great businesses into one as anything but romance? Is not each side taking a big risk—the chance that the other concern might impair its own high credit, or involve it in some unforeseen financial disaster? Such things have happened. Such risks have to be run; and are not risks the very element of romance? And so is success in partnership when it comes; when W. S. Gilbert met A. S. Sullivan they set their brains to work together, and the result was a series of some of the finest operas the world has ever known.
True! but it is equally true that when Horrock’s firm joined up with Crewdson’s all the bedrooms of the word gained promise of finer sheets, and when Mr. Salmon and Mr. Gluckstein got together work was found for thousands of men and women and cheaper tobacco for millions. And though I hardly like to admit it, sheets and tobacco are quite as romantic as operas—most households could do without music, but not without beds, nor could they spare comforting, pleasant, delightful pipes, or good cigarettes which that romantic combine placed within reach of all.
I very much doubt if there is a single business man of any importance to-day whose career would not outshine in romance that of a good many fiction heroes. The late Sir Thomas Lipton was once an errand boy in Glasgow; Charles Levine, who recently flew the Atlantic to advertise his own aeroplanes, was selling newspapers at fifteen and was a millionaire before thirty; Mr. Woolworth and Mr. Selfridge, working along different lines, built up two of the world’s biggest businesses from practically nothing; forty years ago the Joel family were quite unknown. Between the obscure beginnings of these men and their present eminence runs in each case a story of almost incredible initiative, hair-raising adventures, and grim, dogged determination such as would win our thundering applause if Mr. Fairbanks showed it to us on the screen.
There is yet another way in which romance still pays in business. Men, women and love have not changed one atom in essentials since my day when powdered wigs and rapiers were Dame Fashion’s decree or, if you like, since the days of cavemen. To-day, as in that vague past so often called the Golden Age, the man works hardest who can win fond glances of gratitude for his pains—love glances from the woman who is his chosen mate. Love is and will ever be the greatest stimulant to a big output, to enterprising salesmanship, to brilliant engineering, or to the million unknown deeds of chivalry that are scattered throughout men’s lives like the stars in the firmament.
The man of to-day cannot wield sword or lance, or enter the lists in honour of his lady’s eyebrow; but it is up to him to compete in life’s list so that he may be able to give her pleasure with the gift of luxuries, however simple or small. Therefore romance still pays, and will always pay while bright eyes are there to inspire courage. For courage makes for boldness and initiative, and these in their turn make for successful business.
To-day a man cannot do as he did in the days of the Stone Age. His worth is no longer counted by the number of skins and tusks and scalps piled up outside the door of his beloved’s cave. But the man who succeeds now has lost nothing in romantic glamour; in your days it is just as thrilling to earn money honestly as it used to be to kill reindeer and bears; and furs, after all, can be purchased, provided that the cost of them has been earned first.
Romance is still king in the world to-day — it is only his regal garb that is changed. Beauty and bravery, love and courage, are the mainsprings that drive great enterprises even now. So do not, I pray you, bemoan the glories of the past when romance, like his votaries, wore a somewhat cumbersome attire, but adjust your outlook to suit your wonderful modern world and, believe me, you will find as much that is romantic in the thudding mill or the teeming thoroughfare of to-day as ever strengthened the arm of the great knights of old, or inspired the Crusaders to conquer the Holy Land.
I have just come across a vastly intriguing little statement—no less than this: that scientists who know how to estimate these things have stated that there are nearly twice as many people living in the world to-day as there were a hundred years ago. And that, surely, means that the chances of adventure and excitement are nearly twice what they were in my day. For every man, woman and child in the world may be the possible centre of romance for you. Each may be a good friend or a bitter enemy, or may give you an opportunity for a generous action, for the saving of a life or the better shaping of a character.
And meanwhile you grumble because, in this age of mechanical supply, coloured portions of thrilling life are not served up to you with your breakfast coffee or trundled along in a little barrow and left at your back door while you are busy adjusting your tie and choosing a handkerchief to match your shirt. Can you wonder that I am filled with amazement?
For you have the right spirit in you still. Everywhere I wander I see a sneaking admiration for the villain in plays, films or books, and even for the clever scoundrels of real life. And I know the cause of this sneaking admiration. It is because the villain or the cinema vamp, unlike so many of the timid productions of modernity, has chosen to break through those bonds of convention, which most of you wear so patiently and so persistently that they have hardened into massive and unbreakable chains.
Free of these bonds, those others—whom we term villains and vamps—have jumped out of life’s rut with almost ludicrous ease; they have taken their chance, they have filled their lungs with the intoxicating air of adventure and when luck turned against them they paid the penalty with a certain glamorous courage.
I don’t mean by that, bless you, that it is a fine thing to be a villain or a scoundrel. Between ourselves, such rascals are usually demmed unpleasant and dirty. But what I do mean is that this twentieth century of yours sadly needs waking up from its lethargic sleep, and its people made to breathe again, to stretch and to live. Yes, live! not as puppets, but as men and women ready to grasp at the opportunities offered to them by fate—opportunities of fame, of fortune and adventure.
A legend was told me once, my friends, by a Hungarian lady whom I had the honour to escort out of France under the very long nose of my friend Chauvelin in the roistering days when he and his like were turning that beautiful country into shambles. This quaint little legend had its origin among the Hungarian gipsies, who vow that Fortune is a bald-headed old dame with but a single hair on her head. She flits to and fro, they declare, in and about the atmosphere where human beings dwell. But only once or at most twice does she pass close enough to any one person to allow him or her to grasp her by her single hair and to hold her till success is achieved.
That legend may seem somewhat unchivalrous, but there’s common sense in it none the less. For the goddess Fortune, capricious like all her distracting sex, chooses to come within our reach at odd, unexpected moments, when perhaps we happen to be afraid or uncertain, or merely looking the other way. A stare, a doubt, a fumble, and the chance is gone. Others get there first, seize in turn that solitary hair and hold on till fame and fortune come to them instead of to us, and in an access of self-pity we are left to envy the more fortunate!
The only way, believe me, m’dears, to eliminate that chance—or rather loss of chance—is to live all the time dangerously and fully. You must, all of you, young and old, make up your minds to spurn the weak, shuffling, apologetic murmur of ‘Safety first’. Do you think for one moment that your vast Empire could have thrown its boundaries beyond the setting sun if your pioneer ancestors had used that slogan as their watchword?
I see too much anxiety in the world of to-day on the part of parents to find sons nice safe places in banks and offices and drapers’ shops, and daughters jobs behind counters and on office stools. There must needs be clerks and secretaries, of course, and men who say ‘Modom’ and girls who say nothing at all that’s worth recording. But, in the name of all that you have held great and dear and noble in the past, do not try to mould all your children after that one pattern!
All over the world to-day fathers and mothers sit anxiously planning careers for their offspring. Maybe the youngsters want to be artists or soldiers or engineers. But, says mother or father, art is ‘hardly respectable’ (though it is lauded up to the skies if it achieves fame!); soldiers, they argue, have to sleep out under nasty wet canvas; and engineering is such a dirty job. So the unhappy child, instead of turning dreams into great realities, is sent to Mr. Blobb’s office stool for a life sentence.
It is really neither clever nor effective to sneer at the more dangerous walks of life. They may be risky or dirty, but hands can get dirtier and risk can be greater in many an office than in barracks or engineering shops. The safe, dull professions are overcrowded—filled to overflowing with smooth, little, purring people who are content and happy in their guarded lives. Meanwhile the world calls aloud for real men and real women who are fearless enough to leave the beaten track and to strike out on their own, even though their daring venture be made in the heart of a crowded city. It is the stout heart, m’dears, that matters, not the place where destiny has set you or the manner of task to which you have been called.
England is still the land of Drake, or Raleigh, of Nelson and a hundred other heroes and leaders of men. The spirit of progress still lives in her, the high endeavour, the love of adventure! Do not, in Heaven’s name, allow these noble attributes of your glorious nation to be smothered beneath the pall of a deadening lethargy.
Lud, ’tis marvellous! I vow I never dreamed of such an amazing thing! You may say it is all an affair of valves and grids, of coils and earths and aerials, of oscillation and interference. But to me it is no mere dull prosaic mechanical thing, but the most romantic invention in the world.
It keeps you at home? Nothing romantic in that, you say? Ah, but you are wrong! Home is the most romantic place in existence. Your cinema will show you magnificent hotels, glorious flats, garish night-clubs. Interesting, yes; but they pale to insignificance beside a cottage kitchen warmly lighted by a lamp, the snowy cloth set for tea, a baby sleeping in its cot, and a wife welcoming her man home after the day’s work. And in the corner that wonderful little box which can bring the colour and brightness of the great world into this simple, remote workingman’s home.
In times gone by, when there was no wireless, that same man would probably have gone out after his meal to a sociable evening at the village inn. No harm in that, of course, since the type of Englishman of whom I speak does not drink more than is good for him; but not much fun in it for his wife and the youngsters at home, was there?
But since the advent of these romantic days of the wireless, that same man takes his glass of beer in his own arm-chair at home. He listens to beautiful music, clever drama, or even an interesting lecture. Between whiles he talks with his wife, plays with the baby or, perhaps, if he is a handy man, he will be able to explain to his son details about the set and how to get more perfect reception. Somehow a closer intimacy now exists between that man and his family than used to be the case. Probably, too, the money which formerly went on various kinds of gambling and betting will now go to the improvement of the wireless set and the beautifying of the home. The father of the family has become a home bird. Prosaic, you say? Romantic, says his wife and the happiness in her eyes shows which of you is right.
If it is like this in the country how much more romantic is it in the big towns! The city clerk cannot afford to take his young wife to expensive musical recitals, and only rarely to the theatre or opera. But he can, and does afford to purchase a wireless set for her and then adds to it until it becomes a decorative and perfect mechanism by whose means she may listen, in the comfort of her own little home or flat, to Kreisler or Galli-Curci, or Chaliapin or Paderewski. These are gifts, indeed, and she knows it and loves him the more for it.
In these modern times there has been an alarming tendency towards taking meals and amusements outisde the home, and it is this unfortunate custom which has largely been responsible for the great increase in divorce proceedings in recent years, and given ground for the statement that the British nation is no longer comfortable, happy and home-loving as it used to be. But since the romantic advent of radio, men and women alike, the very young as well as those of mature years, have acquired a real incentive to look on their homes as the place where they can find all the amusement they require as well as that true happiness for which we all crave on this earth.
Can anyone doubt the very great romance that lies behind Senator Marconi’s marvellous invention? Surely, no one who has visited one of the modern hospitals equipped with the latest receiving sets? Is there, indeed, anything more romantic than this new power of giving to the blind visions of the crowded stages of life, or artists’ triumphs, or gentle pastoral scenes? What greater romance than the soothing of pain by recalling to the sufferer’s mind through the dreamy notes of a favourite song happy moments of the past and hopes of a brighter future to come? What is there finer than the power to banish the weariness from a sick bed through the stirring scenes of a gripping radio drama?
Then think of a vessel in mid-ocean, battling against perdition, making a last gallant stand against the angry waves, and sending her appeal for help crackling through the storm-ridden air. Then think of her message being picked up by one ship after another, each one of which at once turns in her course and speeds like a grey wolf to the help of a wounded mate. The unfortunate sailors and passengers, slipping on sharply sloping decks, and clinging in agonizing despair to life, realize the romance of the radio, for without it the greater romance of living would for them soon come to an end.
One more instance and I have done. Have you never heard of an S.O.S. message calling, perhaps to a son who has been out of touch with home for years—calling to him to come to the bedside of a sick mother or father? And having heard such a message and hearing subsequently that the son did come home, a still loved prodigal, to make a pillow of his strong arms for his dying mother, and did receive the kiss of forgiveness before Death closed those loving eyes in the last long sleep—having heard all that, I say you surely will not deny that one of the greatest romances of all times is the modern wireless.
There never was such a romantic thing as this, the one and only medium that can offer you in your own home, without any exertion on your part, and for an expense so trifling as to be negligible, the music, the arts, the knowledge of the entire civilized world, together with the voices of the greatest artists and scientists to interpret them for you. A waltz from Vienna, a song from Coven Garden, an opera from Milan, a recitation from Berlin, or a fox-trot from New York—you can have which you like for a few shillings yearly and the turning of a knob. It is more than romantic: it is the greatest of all the wonders of the world.
Where are your adventures to-day? Where are your pioneers, your explorers, your Hudsons, your Raleighs, your Cooks? Has the love of danger and the spirit of daring died away altogether in this twentieth century, like a grand old oak dies when choked by ivy, leaving only a gnarled and naked memory of its former beauty? Have the clinging tendrils of the money-hunger crushed all the dare-devil spirit from men’s souls, so that now the most thrilling risk they dare to take is a mild flutter on the 3:30 winner at half-a-crown each way?
If it is not so, why is it that at this moment when the Colonies are crying out for men, and at home in England you have three million of them out of work, the driblet of emigrants to the El Dorado overseas is so shamefully meagre?
I know that on reading this hundreds of statisticians will frantically rush to their pens and ink with the purpose of proving me hopelessly wrong. They will bombard me with columns of figures, produce a barrage of information to the effect that the Colonies just now do now want immigrants, that they have no room for their own people, in fact, and generally demolish me with final proofs that the thing for young men and women to do who are jobless and hopeless in England is to sit down at home, draw the dole comfortably, and wait for something to turn up. Which is nonsense!
The thing these figure-wizards forget is that they are dealing with little cyphers in black on white sheets of paper. Whereas, I am arguing about men and women, flesh and blood and spirit, courage, high endeavour, fearlessness, enterprise and brawn. My emigrants—the kind the Colonies do want and make no secret of wanting—are what our vivid friends the Americans call ‘go-getters’. They are prepared to meet difficulties and even hardships, they are clear-sighted visionaries with a definite goal ahead, and they intend to get to it if human muscle and sinew and human ingenuity can get them there. They are the spiritual descendants of the old pioneer who blazed the trail in the olden days across Africa, Australia and America.
Never before has the wider world offered such a variety of opportunities. Of course it does not want wastrels, won’t-works and failures—it is not just a vast office, warming up comfortable seats for the folk the Old Country has no use for. But it does want men—real men and real women—and for them it holds out the most glittering rewards in money, fame and happiness.
Moreover, jobs to-day are easier than they were even a few years ago. Hewing of wood and drawing of water are no longer the beginning and end of a pioneer’s life. There is room for professional men in their thousands, for traders, for business men, for manufacturers, for policemen, for porters, in fact, for every possible branch of labour. But these men must be the best of their kind and, unless they are still young enough and willing to learn, they must be efficient craftsmen or practitioners before they think of going overseas.
But once out there they can go ahead and achieve all the success they can possibly wish for. At home every trade and profession is so overcrowded that only men of exceptional ability can make (say) a thousand pounds a year. But one man I read of recently went from a little west country town to Australia four years ago, at the age of eighteen, took up a small Government concession of land on the usual condition that he cleared it in a specified time, cut and sold the timber from it, ploughed and sowed the fields, took in more land, began employing others, and now after these four years he has built himself a homestead and is not only very prosperous, but well on the road to becoming a rich man. But then he is a man—the sort of man to whom in the old days my League was always open. Despite the recent Australian financial and labour troubles, he made his way surely and steadily and gave the lie to the Dismal Jimmies who are always telling modern young people to stay at home and do nothing.
Take that other great country—Canada. Faith! there must be something very stimulating in the air of the great prairies, for I have met young men and women out there who came from the Old Country, but who had suddenly shed, as if by magic, the cloak of supineness and discontent which some of you are so fond of wrapping round you. You go over the great lakes in one of the luxurious C.P.R. boats, and I’ll vow that you’ll be struck at once with the smartness and the quiet, elegant manners of the young men and women who wait upon you in the dining-hall, the tea-room and your cabin. Unless you feel exceptionally morose you will enter into conversation with that fair-haired young steward who has such shapely hands and wears such nice clean linen. And he will tell you that he is a University student at Toronto, that his father is a barrister or doctor or parson in the Old Country with not enough money to spend on University education for his sons; so he—the eldest of the bunch—came out to Canada with a few pounds in his pocket, and pays his ’Varsity fees himself with money which he earns during vacation time at any job that comes his way.’
Then when you land from the boat, as likely as not, the porter who carries your bag and to whom you give a fifty cents’ tip, is the son of an archdeacon or the grandson of an Earl; and the chambermaid at your hotel will turn out to be the daughter of that Lady Alice Something or the Hon. Mrs. Something-else whom you met in London society. These young people out there do not consider for a moment that by their work they have come down in the social world. In the rarefied atmosphere of the Rockies work of any sort or kind is just the means of earning money—money that can be expended in education or amusement or lightening the burdens of the old people at home.
I have been vastly amused recently by reading in your newspapers various letters of protest on the subject of domestic servants. They themselves—some of them—call their occupation degrading, and I am sorry to see that in this ridiculous attitude they are backed by educated women who should know better. Degrading? Heavens above! no work efficiently done for wage loyally earned can possibly be degrading. Whether you wear a becoming white cap or whether you don’t, you are doing the one thing that ennobles every character and heightens self-respect—work. You might as well argue that there is degradation in wearing the King’s uniform.
It is the spirit that enters a man’s or woman’s soul out there in the great primitive countries that we who love our tight little Island would like to see at home.
Suppose I—even I, your old friend the Scarlet Pimpernel—had to carve my fortune to-day. Suppose I was still very young, but without the wealth which enabled me to satisfy my craving for adventure by pitting my wits against the tigers of the French Revolution, what would I do to save myself from dying of ennui? Would I, do you suppose, sit down and draw my dole, making no effort to gain more from life than ease and two square meals a day? Would I be content never to risk my precious self a yard away from the apron-strings of my Mother Country? Faith! I trust not.
I’ll tell you where I’d be. I’d pack myself off steerage on one of those emigrant ships which I have seen gliding so smoothly down the Clyde or the Thames; I’d crave leave to join that gallant company of youth who, when chances look unpromising over here, set their faces boldly towards the East, the West, the North or the South, to go out (as bravely as ever my friends Tony and Ffoulkes went out to France with me) to meet high adventure wherever it may be found, and to carry the pioneer spirit—the old spirit of Mother England—to the most distant corners of the earth.
Your ancestors—those sturdy soldiers of fortune of past centuries—must look with pride on their children’s children, I’ll warrant, when an emigrant ship sets off so gaily from the quayside. Maybe she is only a rusty old tramp, but to the ghosts of the trapper and trader of old she is as gallant as the Mayflower or the Revenge. Her passengers seem to you and to me no more than raw youths and disappointed men, but the spirit of Hawkins and Grenville call a welcome to the blood-brothers of their long-dead shipmates, to those who sought with them in the days that are gone the land of El Dorado that lay beyond the uncharted seas.
And at least the emigrants are better adventurers than many of their critics, who shiver and draw closer to their fireside at home, and shake doleful heads wisely over the chances and risks which those emigrants are ready to dare, but which the critics themselves are too supine and fearful to face.
This is a critical moment, m’dears, in the history of the country we all love so well; indeed, it is a time of danger, or doubt and difficulty for all the world. And for this evil there is only one cure—a great and ennobling patriotism which will stimulate the citizens of every nation into serving their own country bravely and selflessly, and will inspire every country throughout the world to encourage and to be of help to its neighbour.
Above all, it is imperative that England shall stand firm in the midst of this world of gloom and of doubt. For three hundred years and more all the nations have looked upon England as a small boy does on his big brother—sometimes with anger, sometimes with enmity, even with envy, but always with a certain sense of hero-worship. Spain straddled the world like a Colossus till the roll of Drake’s drum sounded her death-knell; the shadow of Bonaparte darkened all Europe till a little one-armed sailor with a copybook maxim knocked out the keystone of the bogey-man’s edifice of power; Germany’s irresistable might, marshalled for the destruction of her rivals, was broken by the Old Bills of ‘Frenches’ contemptible little army’!
But England, m’dears, has a chink in her armour, an Achilles heel into which Fate will plant a poisoned dart one day. It is her strength as well as her weakness—the thing that beat the Kaiser as well as that which may presently rend the Union Jack to shreds. England’s foreign friends are wont to say to her: ‘You English, you must always have your grumble. In war it was your plum-and-apple jam; in peace it is your Government. And now when the world is staggering, will you just go on grumbling and waiting for things to come right in the end? Because that way lies ruin for England,’ they say, ‘and ruin for England would be a deadly blow for the rest of the world.’ But remember, my friends, that there is still one thing which in this terrible and grave crisis can and will save our beloved country from utter collapse. It is the romance of patriotism. The sailor may forget the sea, the wooer may forget his love, but is there a Frenchman to this day who does not thrill at the sound of the name of Napolean, or an American whose eyes do not flash when he listens to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’? And, believe me, that there is no Briton worthy of the name whose heart fails to beat a little faster while he hears around him, or joins in intoning, the lusty strains of ‘God Save our King’!
Other nations are apt to say that there is very little real patriotism in England; that her peoples are nothing but a community of huckstering shopkeepers whose only thought is for their tills. In answer to this lying statement I would ask this question: ‘Who were those who marched singing and jesting into the inferno of Flanders mud in 1914?’ Were they mere money-grubbers? And was it the worship of Mammon that caused the glorious names of Ramillies or Blenheim, of Corunna, Trafalgar or Rorke’s Drift and a score of others—names now almost illegible through the dust of ages—to be recorded on the tattered regimental banners which hang in St. Paul’s Cathedral or at Windsor?
Abroad one often hears the remark—’As safe as the Bank of England.’ Is not that the finest tribute that could be paid to the patriotism of our people to the trustworthiness and reliability which characterize our race? Wherever you may go you will find that English credit stands high. Even to-day, when England is fighting a grim battle to uphold her financial predominance in the world, her commercial good name has never once been questioned.
Facing the greatest crisis in her history—one which is in many ways more strenuous than that of 1914—Britain astounds the emotional Frenchman and the stern German by her sang-froid, by making light of what she calls unncessary fuss, and by declaring that everything will come out all right in the end. That is her usual attitude. Her patriotism during this crisis takes the same form of fearlessness as it did whenever she was called to arms, of reluctance to talk heroics, of indulging neither in lamentations nor in boastful tirades, only in an occasional grumble before turning resolutely to the task of reconstruction.
So far so good. But in this world of interdependent relationships and interwoven commerce, credit, m’dears, and international trust are essential to the safety of every country. And I am afraid that your apparent indifference to the imminence of the peril, your casual grumbles and scornful pooh-poohs are shaking foreign confidence in Britain, and engendering the fear that such an easy-going nation as you are will never have the energy to pull through so serious a crisis as the present one appears to be.
The time has come, my friends, for your patriotism to take on a new form: that of showing a more determined, aye, a graver face to the world, and of indicating by word as well as by action that Britain is able to stand firm and erect even in her present trouble. Paris, New York, Berlin, are all of them watching you anxiously. On their impressions of you much of Britain’s immediate prosperity depends. World credit is a thing which rests entirely on that elusive factor—confidence. So now I ask you is this not the time for John Bull to take off his coat and give the whole world proof of his ability to face trouble?
It is no use just indulging in a drowsy grumble; the citizens of Pompeii doubtless grumbled when they were first warned that their city was threatened by a volcanic eruption, for excavations have proved that they were taken wholly unaware. England to-day is far more seriously threatened than they were. Then why should we not give to the rest of the world proof of what we know well in our heart of hearts: that our country is well able to take care of herself and ready to meet her troubles and to face hard facts? Not only is this attitude vital to our own existence, but to the safety and comfort of the whole world. For if England falls she would not go down alone, but would drag half the world with her in a Titanic collapse. Never truer than to-day were the words of the poet:
‘Who stands if England fall?
Who dies if England live?’
And yet, side by side with the sublime romance of true patriotism—and what I have said applies to other countries as well as to England—there is the danger of fanatical enthusiasm. Patriotism in its best and truest sense means putting the interests of one’s country before one’s own, doing one’s utmost to make its name synonymous with peace, justice, courtesy and power, and upholding its dignity before all other nations. It is not, and never was, a sort of excuse for trumpet-blowing and sabre-rattling; it does not condone that awful and inexcusable thing—war. But of this more anon. Faith! I cannot bear even to breathe the words of romance and patriotism in connexion with that hideous blot on your civilization of to-day.
Can you doubt for a moment what it is? Does not every thoughtful man and woman cry out against war, that hydra-headed monster which has dragged on its hated existence for centuries after other outrages and brutalities have been banished from the earth? War, the suicide of weak nations and the poisoner of strong ones; war the useless, costly incubus for the fattening and training of which hundred of millions of pounds are wasted annually, while the poor and the diseased in every great city in Europe are clamouring, often unavailingly, for food or medical care!
In my day we thought war a romantic thing. Men hastened to don picturesque uniforms, to take sword and march in the wake of their country’s banner. We took up arms in defence of other nations, for war to us meant a game, and a game in which there were definite rules to be observed. It was a game that had to be played fairly and, like any other game, it was usually enjoyed by the players.
The rival armies fought in the age-old method, hand to hand. The battle went to the strong, to those who could best endure the physical strain, or who possessed enough cunning to outwit the enemy. Let me recall to your mind the history of the capture of Quebec. It was not bloodshed and slaughter that won that glorious day. It was sheer recklessness and mother wit. Wolfe’s men rowed with muffled oars over the wide St. Lawrence, silently they scaled the well-nigh inaccessible Heights of Abraham and, taking the French garrison wholly by surprise, they forced the citadel to surrender.
But modern warfare is a demmed unpleasant thing, my friends, and it is one of the few things in your twentieth-century civilization that I heartily dislike. Private quarrels are no longer settled by poisoned daggers or mailed fists. Why, then, do nations—presumably led by the keenest brains amongst them—rush to blows like quarrelsome navvies whenever their complacency is slightly disturbed?
Wars would cease to be if the man in the street had real control of affairs, such as democratic governments fatuously pretend that he has! Ask any man you meet whether he wants to get into uniform and go out into the muddy, bloody trenches, or patrol the seas, waiting to be blown to pieces by a mine or a torpedo! Not he! He is patriot enough to do it without a murmur when his country calls, but what he wants is peace. Ask any woman what she thinks of war: it is more manifestly cruel to women, perhaps, than it is to men. Watch her agony of mind and heart when she thinks of her husband or sons in hourly danger of death by shell-fire or poison gas, of her young children dying, perhaps, for want of food. Watch the women’s agony, and know then the hideous blot of your otherwise wonderful civilization.
It is all so wasteful nowadays! A great battleship is built to-day, champagne wets her bows, she slides down the slipway amid thunderous cheers, and the crowd who the pageant gives a sigh of appreciation at the grandeur and beauty of it all. To-morrow, or in a couple of years, what is she? In peace an out-of-date scrap heap, superseded by vessels of newer design and carrying millions of the nation’s money with her to the breaker’s yard; in war a shell-torn, twisted, burning Hell, in which wounded and dying cry out in their last agony.
The guns, the tanks, the cases of rifles, the gay or sober uniforms—what happens to them? Progress, unable to sweep away war, ruthlessly casts them from her as she has cast aside the bow and the muzzle-loader and the pike; and once again vast fortunes are dribbled away which might have been used for furthering the welfare of mankind.
You call your ministers by such obsolete titles as ‘The Secretary of State for War’, the ‘Lords of the Admirality’, and so on. When will a generation arise that has the sense to elect a Government which will appoint a ‘Secretary of State for Peace’ and a ‘Lord of the Merchant Service’?
You still speak of war as if it were a glorious thing. It is not! The men who saw their friends smashed and poisoned in Flanders mud, diseased in prison camps, and freezing in the North Sea—they saw this so-called noble thing at first hand, and somehow the death’s head that it really is, was, for them, stripped of the bunting in which it wraps itself, and stood out in all its horror and bestiality. Civilization has made of the old, clean fighting between man and man a horrible struggle in which millions of men are sacrificed to the monster of mechanical death and mutilation, and that monster is the product of this otherwise wonderful age.
At all times there have been scoffers, and I make no doubt that they would say to-day that a world in which war would never find a place would no doubt be ideal, but that there are at least two objections to permanent compulsory peace. One is that army men who are trained to fighting would have nothing to do; and the second that peace-loving nations would have no protection against aggressive or greedy ones if their armed forces were entirely disbanded. Now I would contend that neither objection is worth a moment’s consideration. Could not the same organization now employed for the training of armies and the equipment of navies be turned to civil uses as state organizations for providing work instead of state weapons for purposes of butchery? Millions of money would thus be saved every year which are now spent on battleships, fighting equipment, and all the rest of the arms’ departments which would then be no longer needed. As for the insecurity of nations, why not further strengthen the hands and increase the power of the League of Nations so as to make it really an International clearing court for the settling of International disputes? And this could be easily done by organizing an international police, or gendarmerie, a combined force whose duty would be the same as that of the usual police force in every country, only on a grand scale; namely, to see that the dictates of the clearing court are acted upon and, if necessary, to enforce obedience to the laws.
If this could be done peace would be assured for all time. And let it be the task of your generation to see that it comes about now that the world is so heartily sick of wars. A great statesman said recently that it is a ‘far more difficult thing to make peace than to make war’! Egad! it is. But civilization must have peace if all your modern progress, of which you are so justly proud, is not to end in chaos. Emphatically, the greatest blot on your marvellous advancement towards perfection is that war is still possible. And yet it means blood, tears, hatred, murder, robbery, whole-sale destruction and unappeasable sorrow...
Egad! you will write me down a croaker if I continue in the same strain. So, by your leave, we’ll turn our backs on the horrors of war now and look once more on the beauty, the gentleness, the romance in which your twentieth century is so rich.
So let us begin by talking about old things and old places: pictures, furniture, Queen Anne houses, Jacobean mantelpieces and Grinling-Gibbons carvings. What is there in them that lends them such glamour and a witchery more alluring than diamonds or pearls or a heavy banking account? I forget who wrote the lines:—
‘Laces and ivory, silks and gold,
Need not be new.
And there is healing in old trees;
Old roads a glamour hold.’
but they are strikingly true. It is just this inexplicable glamour of age which turns your quiet and respectable citizen into a fierce collector of pictures, first editions, furniture, armour, and all manner of things that are of no practical use to him. You will see him in the sale-room with eyes flashing wrath when he sees some dusty treasure pass into the hands of a rival collector; and this in defiance of the commandment which enjoins him not to covet his neighbour’s goods.
His eyes flash, did I say? Faith! but your fanatical collector of antiques can look as grim and as bloodthirsty as did those collectors of ‘aristos’ ’ heads in the troubled Paris of my day.
What is it that gives old things a charm far beyond that of the glittering gew-gaws of to-day? You may as well ask why the sunlight surpasses in splendour this demmed new flood-lighting of yours. Is it not a fact, m’dears, that when you stand in an ancient cathedral or look on the canvas of a long-dead masterhand you feel a thrill of wonder—almost of awe—which is absent when, for instance, you gaze on modern London or Paris, on the new luxury hotels and palaces and the new dwellings on the river where Hammersmith was lovely long ago?
There are certain qualities which undoubtedly lend enchantment to old things, be they works of art, buildings or what you will.
Firstly, there is the impression of loving care with which those ancient works of art were fashioned. The canvases, statuary or buildings which you treasure to-day as supreme examples of your predecessor’s art are instinct with life and feeling because the artists who created them made each one of a definite and worthy part of his life’s works. They were great men, those craftsmen of old, who understood that it is more blessed to give than to receive; and so they caught and imprisoned for posterity impressions of beauty, of strength and of wonder while the world about them clamoured for more material, quicker, more ephemeral things. By gad! I remember in the old days how the dandies of my time collected lovely objects. We filled our houses with beautiful things, Tudor and Jacobean silver, delicate, fragile china from Worcester or from France, and filmy lace from Mechlin. And now you collect my snuff-boxes and Tony’s wine-glasses. The world has not changed over-much since then!
Partly, this longing to collect beautiful or rare old things is due to hero-worship, which causes you moderns to feel that the possession of, say, an authentic manuscript of Shakespeare or some other great writer of the past is worth striving for, even though this may mean a financial sacrifice, the expenditure of money which took years, perhaps, of patient toil to save. But deep down in the bottom of your hearts you are ready to admit that these mighty geniuses understood not only their own age, but, prophetically, mine also and yours. They penned the words, faded now, which you are willing to purchase just as we purchased them in our days—because you know that those words were written by them with an inspired pen and that they were written not only for their contemporaries but for you who are living now.
In the same way you are conscious of a desire to own the wares for which the artists and potters of their day had perhaps failed to find a market; you want to own them because their creators call to you over the gulf of centuries, and do so in the immortal and universal language of art—a language which education is helping the world to understand more fully every day.
And then again, old things emphasize the value of leisure and of peace. You moderns are far too apt to glory in the fact that you can, by dint of turmoil and unease, crowd more action into one day than your fathers could into two. It is a passing phase, for you gain nothing by losing your appreciation of leisure. Old things, by their very contrast, recall you to the fact that while work may be a very good thing, the sense of peace which they bring is equally good.
Lastly, there is your appreciation of the value of detail in the great works of art of the past and the influence of minute factors. If you study a picture by Vermeer or a book by Chaucer you constantly come upon fresh evidence of the loving care with which the artist or the writer conveyed to the insensate vehicle of his thought the vivid sensitiveness of his own master-touch. You learn to appreciate the thoroughness which brought about the exquisite results.
And so you love old things because they possess qualities which are not of your age, and are therefore but rarely met with. In spite of the modern wonders of your era, in spite of the beauty of the world to-day, you love the old beauty still, the beauty of Shakespeare and of Keats, of Sir Peter Lely and Gainsborough. Accustomed as you may be to the varying contours and charms of the ladies of to-day, you still love to feast your eyes on the types of feminine beauty which Reynolds used to paint, and the vagaries of the naughty Lady Hamilton are forgotten beneath the magic of Romney’s immortal brush.
You have your cinema to-day, which shows you on the same evening events that happened but a few hours ago and even goes so far as to reproduce the sound that accompanied them; but all the same, you are not averse to lingering over the beautiful word-pictures which Addison and Swift drew of their slow-moving contemporary life.
All things are welcome by contrast with others, and you hustling, bustling people of to-day enjoy the constrast afforded by ancient calm and perfect craftsmanship. And in my own time it was just the same; never did I enjoy the peace and sweetness of my Richmond gardens so keenly as I did after I had been shouting: ‘A la Lanterne!’ with the worst of them, clad in a grimy coal-heaver’s rags in the cobbled streets of old Paris.
And yet . . . Oddsfish! ’tis a curious reflection, my friends, that we never appreciate beauty to the full until it is beyond our reach. Looking back on the England of my own times, it seems to me a dream of Paradise; and yet see how I used to skip across the Channel in search of adventure which would whet my appetite for the joys of home.
To me your modern England is every whit as beautiful as was mine in its day. But you, my faith! find it unbeautiful and dull. You prefer to sit in a Hepplewhite chair, turn your toes to an Adam mantlepiece and, forgetting all the marvels of to-day, peruse the record of my adventures among that howling Paris mob.
Gadzooks, my friends, what fools we mortals be!
Of course, modern war is intolerable. Had we in mine own time ever visualized such a nightmare we should have spent days and weeks in sack-cloth and ashes trying to think out a means by which it could be averted; certainly we would never have tolerated it. That you moderns, boastful of your progress, should do so is almost unbelievable, all the more so when one remembers how interdependent you nations are in the world of to-day.
A century ago it mattered little to England, as far at least as comforts were concerned, whether she fought with the Frenchman or the Spaniard or the Russian. Cognac, cigars, snuff and caviare were no less plentiful because of a battle or two. Faith! we’d have thought demmed unkindly of a war that robbed us of these pleasant necessities of life. But your modern wars—gadzooks, my friends! ye tighten your belts at the very outset and by the time the armistice is sounded you’re scarce more than miserable shadows of your former comely selves. Hunger, privation, sickness, sorrow, starving children, your wives deprived of every comfort that makes life and them charming—all these horrors can be avoided if half the world lived in amity with the other half.
For the interdependence of the world of to-day has become a serious question. In my day Great Britain was, if not absolutely self-supporting, at least well able to provide for all her children at a pinch without suffering the miseries of food shortage or the intolerable discomforts of margarine and cotten stockings. But to-day matters are very different. When you get your cotten from America, your wood from Norway, your meat from the Argentine, your fruit and vegetables from France, your flour from Russia, your butter and eggs from Denmark, you are in a demmed awkward fix, my friends, when you are fighting. Even if your scattered Empire was able to provide you with all the food you need you would scarce be better off when half the seas are closed to your ships.
Therefore the only wise thing to do is to be good friends with your neighbours; not only by word of mouth and in the columns of newspapers, but in reality. And to attain this happy object you must try and understand one another better. In the past mutual understanding was very difficult. There were no such things as travelling facilities. Your rich young bloods were the only ones who were able to make what was known as the Grand Tour; they would go to France, to Italy perhaps, to Spain hardly ever; but as they spoke no language but their own and travelled with a retinue of lackeys and horses and carriages so that they never were forced to look after themselves, it was but little they ever understood of the countries which they visited. As for the rest of the social world in England, the average Briton of his day, the man in the street, in fact, looked upon himself as the salt of the earth and upon all foreigners as its scum, to be despised if England was at peace with their outlandish country, or thrashed if they dared to go to war.
And, mind you, this attitude of mind in your tight little Island persisted well into the Victorian, the Edwardian, even the Georgian era. Shall I not be stating a truism when I say that but for it you would never have been dragged into that abominable war? With sound understanding of all the nations who started that abysmal quarrel you would have exerted your diplomacy and your tact to better effect, and brought about reconciliation. But I must not talk to you about politics which have always been outside my province. My propaganda is only for love and peace.
Now that you have shaken off the more recent nightmare of national bankruptcy and once more feel hope for your country’s future and determination to aid her where you can, do not in Heaven’s name fall back into the archaic attitude of despising your neighbours. Think yourselves the salt of the earth by all means, but remember that there is salt in other countries besides your own.
No nation to-day can exist without purchasing or borrowing something from its neighbours; be it articles of food or of commerce, or the product of the brains of its great men and great artists. In all the sciences and in all the arts you are interdependent and obviously you must be good friends with the man from whom you borrow. It has been said more than once that if a man is sick he should go to Germany to be diagnosed, to France to be operated on, to England to be nursed. For the past three years you, who possess artistic souls, have revelled in the masterpieces of Italy, of Holland and of France which have been brought over to your country at great risk and expense for your delectation. You can enjoy to-day the admirable photo-plays from America, from Germany and from France. The cost of travelling has been so reduced that you can cross over to Belgium or to France more easily than in my time one could go from London to Brighton.
And, above all, you have lived in comradeship through four terrible years and learned all there was to know of the courage, the endurance, the patriotism of those by whose side you fought—aye! I’ll even venture to add that you have seen all there was to admire in your enemies.
Hang on to that thread of amity, m’dears! Do not allow it to snap in the turmoil of politics and the noise of agitators. Polemics, I know, assert that the virtues of courage, endurance and self-sacrifice are only kept alive by wars; that in time of prosperity and of peace there is no opportunity for the exercise of those wonderful qualities; but I say that such an argument is arrant nonsense. Need I quote instances? Captain Oates, whose deed of selfless valour, I, for one, cannot hear recounted without feeling a lump in my throat. And what about all those doctors—there are many of them—who in the pursuit of science have seen their limbs wither away in disease, and even then have carried on until death put an end to their sublime self-sacrifice. Go to a pit-head when there has been an explosion, and see the miners go down into what must be hell to try and rescue their comrades. Watch the lifeboat in a storm.
And these virtues, m’dears, these evidences of courage and self-sacrifice you will find in every nation. Men are men all the world over, and women of every country have been as heroic as the men. Do not sneer at their faults; you have plenty of your own. Try and understand their little ways even if they seem strange to you at first. You can admire their virtues because you are generous to a fault; then hold out your hand to them in friendship: it will redound to your credit throughout the centuries that are to come if you are the first in these troublous times to cast aside pique and misunderstandings and, eschewing every quarrel, act up to the gospel of universal love.
Call me impertinent, put me down an ass for daring to broach the subject, but listen to me all the same. You see I had a French wife. I lived, as you know, for many years in France. I met people of all nations during my adventurous life and, in your ear, dear ladies, I made love to your adorable sex whenever and wherever any of you deigned to smile on me. So, I entreat you, to give me credit for knowing something of the subject about which I wish to speak.
How often have I heard English girls, Scottish girls—girls, in fact, of Great and Greater Brtain—laugh, none too kindly sometimes, at the peculiarities of their foreign sisters. ‘French women don’t wash,’ or ‘German women are dowdy,’ or ‘Italians reek of garlic’ are generalities which one hears emitted on every side, mostly, I’ll admit, by those whose foreign experiences are confined to Boulogne or Ostend.
Mind you, when I am on the other side of the Channel I hear the same generalities: ‘English women can’t cook!’ or ‘They have eight-seven kinds of religion and only one kind of sauce’ and ‘They have no idea how to wear their clothes.’
And it is against these fatuous generalizations that I would like to enter a vigorous protest. I am at one with you, m’dears, in deeming my own countrywomen the cream of the earth, but do you know why that is? Simply because I understand them better than I do the beautiful creatures of other countries. Though I have travelled far and wide I was born and bred among my own people: from childhood I have romped and played with little British girls. I know their virtues and their foibles and love them for both—so do you.
You know, for instance, that not the finest chef abroad can cook fish, or game, or fry bacon better than, what is sarcastically termed, ‘a good plain cook’ over here. You walk down any part of London—whether it be Bond Street, Kensington High Street or Kilburn or Hammersmith, and you see just as many smart young girls tripping along as you do in Paris or in Vienna. You are conscious of these things, and so when you hear of any disparaging remarks made about you by a foreigner you just shrug your pretty shoulders and say to yourself: ‘How ignorant those dagoes are!’
Well, m’dears, that is where I come to the pith of my argument. The elaborate bathrooms which are to be found in your homes of to-day, the delicious baths in which you revel night and morning are, of course, delightful adjuncts to your comfort and love of luxury, and they are hygienic as well as cleanly. In provincial France or Italy such a luxury is unknown except in the homes of the wealthy. Girls like yourselves have to perform tragedies in five acts over a wash-hand basin night and morning instead of revelling in a bath perfumed with crystals. But this doesn’t mean that the Victorian axiom: ‘English people are clean, foreigners are dirty!’ is true. Even the poorest Italian contadina in her cottage has every one of her mattresses and pillows taken to pieces and recarded every year. In every village in Italy or in France you see the men outside the meanest-looking cottage doing that work. Now, the Scotch claim to be the cleanest amongst all other British-born people, but even they would be deemed very dirty by Italian, German or French housewives for omitting this elementary dictate of cleanliness.
That, m’dears, is only one instance of how the whole question of virtue or of sin is just a matter of point of view. In a theatre or a cinema we all laugh at the antics of a man who has had too much to drink. In France or in Italy such antics would not raise a smile. They only create disgust. This was very much exemplified in our immortal Charlie’s latest film ‘City Lights’. English people who went to see it in Paris were delighted with the scenes were Charlie has had much too much champagne; the French audience liked the sentimental part of the film, but did not tolerate the rest.
It is all a question of the point of view, also of education; and if only you dear, lovely things would try to see your foreign sisters’ point of view your men-folk, who all take their cue from you, would quickly follow suit. The universal goodwill which we all feel is the essence of our future prosperity, must begin with the little things of this world, with mutual understanding of one another’s failings, the little idiosyncrasies which after all make up the characteristics of each individual nation, and which are therefore objects of keen interest and not of derision.
Why not acknowledge that though our race is, in our estimation, the chosen one of God, men of other nations have just the same love for their own land. To most Latins an Englishwoman’s beauty is insipid. To most Englishmen an Italian or a Frenchwoman is not what he calls wholesome. Nature made us all different from one another, and there is a quaint proverb in Roumanian which says that: ‘Mr. Frog thinks Mrs. Frog the most beautiful thing that God ever made.’ And that is what you want, m’dears: a better understanding of ‘Mr. Frog’s’ point of view. You want comradeship these days, not isolation. The world has changed since my time. The most terrible cataclysm your modern world has known has taught you one thing and did it through blood and tears: it is that human nature is at bottom the same all the world over: men and women wherever they were born have the same ideals, the same appreciation of what is good, virtuous and beautiful. It is only a slight variation of temprament that divides one neighbour from another.
It is up to you to bridge that division over.
Is it genuine or merely a pose, this attitude adopted by you moderns whenever the word ‘love’ occurs in real life or in fiction? You will have it that love, as apart from what you are pleased nowadays to call ‘sex-appeal’, either never existed save in the imagination of medieval romanticists, or if it ever did that it is long since dead, bereft of any savour or thrill.
Frankly, you would make me laugh, all of you young things of this amazing country, if this attitude of yours were not so demmed tragic. Do you mean to tell me, m’dears, that amongst your charming, sleek-headed, bright-eyed girls of to-day there are no Juliets, or Francescas or Heloïses, and that you have disarmed Don Cupid, broken his golden arrows and tied him down, like some dry-as-dust old clerk, to a desk in a City office? Faith! that would be a daring thing to do, for there is more power in the little god’s arrows, even though they be broken, than in your most up-to-date, most deadly shrapnel. And, as I told you once before, he will have his revenge.
Only the other day at one of your smart cock-and-hen clubs I overheard a general discussion between a bevy of those same sleek-headed, carefully lip-sticked young Dianas on the respective merits of the men who had been foolish enough to make love to them. They were appraising the methods these unfortunates had used in order to pierce their armour of feminine scepticism, and one and all found these methods wanting—wanting in what? I asked myself, and tried to disentangle the truth out of this medley of disappointments and discontent, which lent to those bright eyes a look of boredom—aye! and of age. Anyway, they all decided, over clouds of cigarette smoke, that ‘love’ as spoken of by the great writers of the past was only ‘gammon’—I believe they called it ‘rot’; and that the roseate thing of fiction was only a dry business after all.
And presently when these lovely young creatures had all fluttered away like so many butterflies, in order to alight on the high stools of the nearest American Bar, I fell to wondering whether there was not something of truth in what they said, and whether they themselves were not allowing something of the glamour of love to fade into the smoke of their cigarettes, or lie dim and savourless at the bottom of their cocktail-glasses.
Thus musing I bethought me of the caveman. His manners were somewhat unpolished, shall we say, but nevertheless he had that certain dominating quality which the terse language of to-day has designated as ‘It’. I am sure, though we have no records of his home life, that he knew how to make love—rather fiercely I should say—to his unsophisticated womankind.
Nor were the sybaritic or athletic Greeks and Romans backward in such words and deeds as would flutter any maiden’s heart. And so one might go on throughout the ages extolling the times of chivalry, when poets wrote sonnets to a lady’s eyebrow, and gallant knights rode forth in armour to break a lance, or lose their life in honour of the woman of their choice. Or I might remind you that in my day gentlemen crossed swords or fired at one another with pistols to settle some quarrel over a woman’s favour. It was not an uncommon thing for a man to be shot dead by another—who had perhaps been his intimate friend—for no other reason than that Lady A or Mistress X had smiled equally on both.
Of course, you gay, shingled, pert young things smile at all that and shrug your thin shoulders. You call it ‘tommy-rot’, don’t you? You sneer at your grandmothers and your grandfathers, and ask how on the jolly old earth there could have been anything romantic in their bowings and scrapings, their slow-moving quadrilles or whirling polkas, with mamma or Aunt Priscilla sitting in the offing watchful lest her giddy young charge threw too many soft glances on her ‘beau’.
Faith! you may sneer at it, but believe me, m’dears, stolen fruit is passing sweet. There was something peculiarly delicious in those stolen moments in the conservatory when Aunt Priscilla wasn’t looking, or in waylaying the postman for a letter which contained a few impassioned words, a discreet homage written in verse, probably.
And there was rapture in a kiss in those days of long ago, a thrill of which you cynical moderns know nothing. What is a kiss to you? You bestow and receive so many. Your mouth to-day is more accessible than was your grandmother’s hand in the past. And that is why, m’dears, some of you—not by any means all—find love a dry business these days. There can be no romance in the love-making of an anaemic ‘intellectual’ to a boyish, freakish Amazon. I am talking of extreme cases, but unfortunately they are on the increase year after year, while young people in order to be in fashion look on the love between man and maid through the muddy, horn-rimmed spectacles of modern cynicism. To them it does seem dull and dry, but only because they are too much engrossed by this selfish business called self-expression, to appreciate the subtle beauty of love. They are the people who call Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ‘too horribly old-fashioned’, and prefer Mr. Epstein’s ‘Genesis’ to the soulful beauty of the Venus de Milo.
Nevertheless, m’dears, you can take it from me that love is no more a dry business to-day than it was in the past and thank Heaven, there are still a number of you in this go-ahead twentieth century who have experienced the thrill of a first kiss and not been ashamed to exchange love-tokens with the one destined to be your companion and helpmate throughout life.
Those of you who are so blessed will see their path strewn with the happy memories of those golden moments which alone make for contentment and happiness—fragrant rosemary treasured for remembrance in the pages of your book of life.
Progress has slipped a cog. It has got ahead of you humans who are supposed to regulate its advance. During the Great War, when your backs were turned and you were attending for your lives to your own business, it took a demmed sharp advantage of you all, so much so that now, egad, you seem hardly to know where you are!
You seem suddenly to have awakened to find yourselves in the midst of an age which is not meant for you and is not altogether suited to your mentality.
This age is one or realism, rationalism, a cold-blooded, hard-headed, calculating age, and it has given your sentimental complacency a severe jolt.
Those of you who wish to be thought up-to-date at any cost have shortened your hair, you have readjusted your moral values so as to give your conscience more elasticity, you have thrown your religion overboard and assumed an attitude of cynicism and unbelief.
Your extremists, on the other hand—your early Victorians and ‘dash-it-sir-things-weren’t-like-this-when-I-was-a-boy’ kind of men—have come to a sort of mental halt on small islands of age-old and rapidly disappearing sand and ordering the waves of progress to roll away out of their sight.
Meanwhile between these two extremes there is the rest of humanity—a crowding mass of ordinary, everyday folk, men and women who do their best to hide their romantic ideals, their feelings and emotions under a cloak of artificiality, whilst waging their humble battle of life in an era which they cannot understand and in which they find neither sympathy nor comradeship.
Faith! the trouble some of you take to conceal what you think is your weakness, but which, in point of fact, is the essence of beauty in your nature, the hall-mark of a noble soul. But just now you are bewildered, you have been swept off your feet; you have lived through those four awful years when you saw every ideal, every gentle impulse, every sense of love and charity sacrificed to the needs of that terrible War. Your sense of security and of peace was suddenly seized upon by forces over which you had no control, and hurled into the seething cauldron of a Titanic conflict wherein the demons of hatred, of distrust and of terror stirred their witches’ brew.
You had suddenly lost your anchorage. The struggle for bare existence, for keeping some measure of sanity in the midst of so much horror, compelled you to wake from your dreams of tranquility and to plunge into the nightmare of reality.
As a result you have lost the years of transition. The time between 1914 and 1933, instead of gliding gently along its normal course, was one in which everything was artificially speeded up. The pace of living was increased an hundredfold.
In the ordinary course of events your children would have graduated to it just as you graduated from penny-farthing bicycles to your cars and your aeroplanes. But human beings have only a limited capacity for adapting themselves to new modes of life, and you have been asked to live through so many changes that you have become like a piece of elastic that has been overstretched. And you naturally feel puzzled and not a little uneasy. You are trying to be sympathetic and to understand things that shock or astonish you; you are, in fact, straining every nerve to appear hard-headed before the world, cold-blooded and what is known as modern. You have donned an armour of indifference and scepticism because civilization has run ahead of you, and you are afraid to show your true self to the world because it might scoff at the romantic ideals which you treasure in your heart.
Your pitiless psycho-analysts, who jeer at human virtue or weaknesses, would probably say that you had a superstition-complex, or a sex-complex, or some other mental ailment with a high-sounding name; but you, with all your old-fashioned beliefs, know well enough that the only complaints you suffer from are idealism, romance, love, or some silly prehistoric things like that, and you remark with a sigh of longing that the old dresses must have been very charming, or how thrilling it would have been to meet a highwayman.
What you really mean is that coquettish glances from under a coal-scuttle bonnet must have been very alluring, and that it must have been very thrilling to meet men who clung to the axiom that chivalry and courtesy are a necessary part of any gentleman’s code of honour.
I could wish that you had the courage, my friends, to assert boldly with me that chivalry and love and laughter are still extant to-day; you know that they are; then why not proclaim it to the rest of this disillusioned world? You have felt their existence, have you not? Say on a warm summer’s evening away from the bustle and noise of cities, with the right man or woman beside you? You have felt the thrill of romance then, I’ll wager, so why not own to it? But all your life you have been taught that romanticism is a weakness of which you should be ashamed; so lest your neighbours suspect you of it you adjourn to the nearest American Bar, swallow an unpleasant-tasting cocktail and do your best with a forced jest or cynical remark to dispel such an illusion.
And all the while in your innermost soul you know that you cannot get rid of that persistent streak of romance which may not belong to the age in which you live, but is nevertheless a characteristic of your face.
Have you ever watched the faces of guests at one of your fashionable weddings? Serious men of business who have stolen an hour from the daily battle of life and fortune come to the ceremony in order to bestow a friendly smile and a wish for happiness on their friend; women with faces lined by age, to whom marriage has perhaps meant disillusionment, look almost beautiful when, with moist eyes and quivering lips, they murmur a silent blessing on the bride as she goes by and a beautiful prayer that she may find in her life the romance and the love which luckless fate had denied to them.
Or have you modern cynics ever watched a suburban gardener bending his back to the task of transforming his tiny plot of ground from what was a builder’s scrap-heap into a small paradise filled with blossoms and flowering shrubs, a nesting-place for birds, an ideal spot where he can sit and smoke his pipe and contemplate the work of his hands?
Have you watched the street-hawker, whose bellowing voice has often grated on your sensitive ear, stoop with a smile to a small child who is afraid, to cross the road? Have you ever paused in your walk in order to see him take the child gently by the arm and guide it safely through the traffic? Then have you watched his face—almost ashamed of the emotion that prompted this kind action—while the child, after the manner of young things, heedlessly runs away?
Now let me advise you to look out for these small incidents which occur every day in the crowded streets of your great cities, and I’ll warrant that you will think as I do, that progress and rationalism have not yet succeeded in eradicating from the heart of your nation all traces of romance and of kindly, unselfish, foolish friendliness. You of your generation may try to deny it, but I know better. I know that in spite of your blasé, cynical attitude, you still treasure deep down in your hearts the true romanticism that is so essentially British—firm friendships, love that is as faithful as it is ardent, and with it all a light bon-homie, the laughter that will conceal a tear.
Romance may be foolish and out-of-date, but without it life would be like a rose without its fragrance, like an evening sky robbed of its stars. You who have it in your hearts be no longer ashamed of it. I don’t say that you want to wear every emotion on your sleeve, but in Heaven’s name do not allow modern cynicism to harden your hearts against romance, which is the very savour of existence—the one thing that makes men of you instead of unfeeling robots.
In the Book of Books there is a commandment in which certain words occur with which even those of us who never open that Book these days are quite familiar, and which—did one ever reflect seriously on them—would give one furiously to think:
‘. . . and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation . . .’
Now, m’dears, in this case, whether you individually believe in God or not, is beside the point. Whether you look on those words as a divine commandment or as a mere aphorism is a matter of your own personal outlook. But you cannot deny their truth, and I will venture to add to them an entirely worldly axiom which is this: everything a man or woman does, everything he or she thinks or says, is moulding a character which, in its turn, will be handed down to another generation and to another yet.
Yours is an era, my friends, when the cry of ‘Self first’ and of ‘Damn posterity! what has it done for me?’ is heard on every side, chiefly, or course, from those who are adding to the load of weaknesses and of failures which the next generations will have to bear, from self-satisfied, self-deluded wastrels, who are content to go their slothful way along the line of least resistance, indulging in their little sins, scorning to exert any one of the gifts with which they happen to be endowed. ‘Oh! what can a man do?’ they are fond of saying. ‘I am only one among millions. What can I do?’ And having used this argument which they deem unanswerable they turn over and, figuratively speaking, go to sleep.
Would these selfish ne’er-do-wells not be wiser to remember the old fable of the bundle of sticks? Each stick by itself could easily be broken by a feeble hand, but it would take the strength of a Titan to break the bundle when the sticks were all tied together.
How many of you, I wonder, stop to think that every action of your life, good or bad, adds something of good or of evil to the character which you pass on to the next four or five generations? Have you ever realized that it is you, individually and collectively, who to-day are writing the history of the world a century hence? Great things are prophesied of the future—untold, unbelievable marvels! But you are writing their history now!
Far be it from me to suggest that it is in your power to affect altogether all the ensuing generations. But whether you will it or not you are bound to leave a legacy either of heavenly gifts or of hellish curses. If you allow your own true and simple character to be perverted out of all recognition by a sneering and cynical world you will pass it on in its warped and distorted state to your children, and to their children after them.
It is on you, m’dears, that the people of the future will look back one day, blessing you for their strength and their happiness, or cursing you for their misery or their disease. If you remain clean in heart and mind, strong, faithful and loyal, you will be giving them a fair start.
It is for you to see to it that what is dross in your generation be consumed in the furnace of your present life; for you to make the most of the many gifts with which your glorious nation is endowed—your strength of character, your patriotism, your loyalty, your love of home; for you to wage deathly warfare against all this modern cynicism, this contempt of everything that is beautiful in life or in art, this constant grubbing in the gutter in search of what is noisome, and this inability to see the glory that is around you. If you do all this, m’dears, you will ease the coming generations of their heaviest burdens.
Only think for a moment! I will quote you extreme cases first. Children of confirmed drunkards—what do they become? Drinkers themselves very often, slaves of drugs, wastrels or prostitutes.
Is there a doubt in your mind when you see a dirty, slatternly woman, lounging about the alleyways of a great city, as to what her parents were? Is it not obvious?
And what about the children of inveterate gamblers? From babyhood they have, perhaps, been stinted in their food, deprived of childish pleasures, in order to allow their selfish unnatural parents to indulge in their pet vice. Weak in health and physique, what chance will they have in life? With that pernicious example constantly before them how can their character develop on fine, straight, loyal lines?
Nor is it only those obvious vices that will trail after them a generation of diseased or decadent sufferers. The scum of your great cities, the thieves, the drunkards, the liars know quite well what heritage of diseases and misery they will ultimately bequeath to their children. But what of the ordinary average man in the street—the respectable but unthinking folk, the well-to-do, who conceal their petty vices even from themselves? What of the people who make no effort against adversity? What of those who groan and complain that the world has passed them by? What of those who are content to rail against ‘bad luck’? It is to these, m’dears, that you must look for the drifters and the derelicts of to-morrow. It is their children, and their children’s children who will swell the ranks of the useless and the futile of the future.
You cannot put a heavier handicap on the younger generation than the germ of laziness and supineness, for that germ will develop and spread until its hideous tentacles have smothered every noble virtue, every attribute of the intellect and of the heart.
Human nature being what it is, is fond of procrastination; it dislikes trouble, tries to avoid worry; the easy road is the one it prefers to take. These are not grave faults, I’ll admit, and with your marvellous mechanical progress are not even dangerous. But there is to-morrow to think of! The future generation—your children to whom you are bequeathing a heritage which may cause the very downfall of their Empire and the destruction of their race.
What is the use of genius if it has not with it the virtues of energy and perseverance? Of what use would such great scientists as Newton and Faraday, or in your own time Edison and Marconi, have been to the world had they been content to dream of the great wonders of the universe and not applied their genius to elucidating its mysteries, and by dint of hard work succeeded in enriching the future generations with their great discoveries. I doubt not but that Nature still holds concealed many a great marvel in her ample bosom, and calmly waits for human hands to draw aside the curtain wherewith she veils them. There are, alas, many diseases still waiting for the brain that will find a way to conquer them. There are still new places to discover, new realms on which the adventurer can set his foot, new mines for the seeker after gold and precious stones. The universe is waiting to reveal its wonders to those of the next generation who have energy, courage and enterprise.
And it is in your hands that their future lies!
The man of genius who is incapable of developing within himself the great virtues of energy and perseverance will assuredly live and die nameless and unglorified; his genius will have been of no use to the world. You will soon see him slip down the social ladder and finally submerged in that low stratum where there is neither ambition nor hope of success, and where the joy of life is killed by discontent. He is a man to be both pitied and despised. He could have done something for humanity, but was too lazy to accomplish it. He frittered away those grand gifts which Nature had bestowed upon him; handicapped by his own supineness, he did not even try to overcome it; and in the end he committed the unpardonable sin of transmitting that same handicap to his children ‘unto the third and fourth generation’.
In Heaven’s name, m’dears, remember that determination, ambition, refusal to admit defeat, are the weapons with which your children will in their time have to battle with life. Is it then not worth while to keep a bright edge on those weapons for their sakes; to keep them clean and burnished by constant use? For the sake of the love you bear them do not forget that every action in your life, however insignificant it may seem to you, may add one day to their happiness or to their sorrow; for children see more than you sometimes give them credit for; and it is what they see in you that goes to mould their character. Far be it from me to be a square-toes or a pussyfoot; in my day every gentleman knew how to empty his glass and thrilled at a good game of hazard; I know that you moderns enjoy these things just as we did in the past, but it is moderation that will carry you through and excess that will destroy you, for every excess means adding another twig to the rod of unhappiness with which one day Fate will smite your son or your daughter.
’Tis not for me to preach, I know. I was deemed lazy in my time, flippant, irresponsible. You perhaps judge me differently, and I, for one, know that noble latent virtues lie beneath your outward cloak of futility. All I plead for is for courage to allow your virtues to come to the surface so that your children may delight in them and their young characters be moulded after their patterns.
It is worth the effort because of the future. It is also worth the effort because through it ‘self’ becomes entirely subservient to the rest of humanity—humanity represented by the young ones that grow up around you and, unknown to themselves, cry out even from babyhood for the happiness and contentment which a life of courage and of initiative, of love of country and of home alone can give.
Do not let them cry out in vain.
Whenever I read in your newspapers that an engagement between young Society people has been broken off I cannot help but admire their courage. Their marriage had probably been engineered for them by their parents or their friends, their respective wealth and social connections had certainly been weighed in the balance on either side, and neither being found wanting it was decided that connubial bliss was bound to follow. But the young people knew better and stood firm against the conspiracy to build their happiness on the insecure foundation of wealth.
In the past—which you are, all of you, so fond of calling the good old days—it would have been very difficult for those young people to set their faces against the commands of their respective families. Custom dictated that parents should ‘arrange’ the future of their children, and as often as not the result was a demmed unhappy mess for the poor young things. How lucky youth is nowadays to be allowed to mould its life as it will, and I will readily admit that wealth—in terms of £.s.d. hardly ever enters into the ideal realms of a genuine love-match.
Unfortunately one cannot blind oneself to the fact that the influence of money is very largely on the increase these days. Too often I notice that the share-pusher or fraudulent financier is accepted in certain strata of modern society. Croesus is toadied too because of the benefits which may accrue from his goodwill, and an ill-mannered millionaire is often made more welcome than a poor gentleman because of the tips he is able to give for a flutter on the Stock Exchange.
Far be it from me to assert that money has not its romantic side! I were a demmed ingrate if I did, for it was money that enabled me to indulge my passion for adventure, which I could not have done had I been a penniless rustic. Money does undoubtedly open for one the portals of a wide, wide world. It brings the many delightful luxuries of the earth within one’s reach; it can satisfy one’s wishes and fulfil one’s desires. But it is not almighty, and somehow the very things that are beyond its reach are the most important of all.
I enjoyed my wealth; I liked the comfort it brought me and the luxuries. I loved my white-winged ‘Day-Dream’, my lace, my perfumes, my horses and my home. I still love the things that wealth can give. I love to see beautiful pearls round a beautiful woman’s neck. I love to see her wear expensive furs, silks and dainty shoes, and all the rest of the fripperies that women love. But I do not believe in the influence of wealth as wealth, or in the power of pearl necklaces and fur coats. There are influences far greater than these.
To begin with—and I am deliberately treading here on delicate ground—there is religion. There is no money in the world that could purchase the conviction of a devout man or woman, no matter to what form of belief he or she may adhere. The pages of the world’s history teem with the relations of terrible martyrdom endured for its sake in the early days of Christianity, or during the great religious persecutions of the Middle Ages. These facts are too well known to need reiteration, but they do serve to prove that not even life, much less wealth or honours, was thought too high a price to pay when religious convictions were at stake.
A famous statesman did once assert that ‘every man has his price’. Now that was a demmed foolish assertion on the part of that statesman: it goes to prove that he, for one, knew very little of men and of life or he would never have made it. Take your own case, m’dears; would you, if the reward was high enough, commit murder, betray your friend, or rob an old woman of her savings? Would a sackful of gold, or all the gold in the world, compensate you for the loss of love, honour, or self-respect? Egad! I’ll not wait for an answer.
There is nothing in the world that will purchase the love of a woman if she be forced into a marriage with the veriest Croesus. Many a rich man has learnt that hard lesson to his cost. Diamonds and pearls, fur coats or your wonderful motor cars—every luxury a woman’s heart can desire—will not command a single heartfelt caress or the true fervour of a loving kiss.
Money cannot purchase love, and it cannot purchase health. There is at least one millionaire in your world to-day who would give five-sixths of his entire fortune to any doctor who could cure him permanently of a troublesome, though not deadly, disease. A very well-known lady of Victorian times offered £100,000 to any physician who could rid her of a disfiguring mark on the face. Beauty-culture was not then the highly scientific study that it is to-day and the lady took the ugly mark with her to the grave.
Egad! do not these two instances dispose of the theory that wealth is an almighty power? And I could quote you innumerable others. But it is exceedingly pleasant, I’ll admit—and so is health. Wealth has not the satisfying quality of faith, nor the rapture of love, and personally, I am of the opinion that great wealth is a source of more trouble than anything else on earth. The acquiring of it is a worry, the losing it a greater worry still. In that way it is like teeth—trouble when they come and a demmed trouble when they go!
The possession of money is, in fact, a perpetually unsatisfied ambition. The man who owns a bicycle longs to have a car; as soon as he can afford a car he wants a large one; having a larger one he wants a more expensive one, or a more exclusive make; having this he wants a yacht, and in the striving after these things he spends his life in a musty office with his ear glued to a telephone, whilst love, happiness, idealism and adventure pass him by.
And in the end money, that precious thing for the acquisition of which he has sacrificed his whole life toiling and slaving and striving, cheats him out and out, because it is powerless to obtain for him that which perhaps he wants more than anything else in the world.
Unfortunately the tendency of to-day is to imagine that wealth must be gained at all costs, that nothing matters except money and the luxuries it can bring; that for its sake it is wise to sacrifice everything that the idealist holds most dear—love, conscience, art, even honour sometimes.
It is true that you cannot take love and honour to the money-lender or the pawnbroker as you can a string of pearls, but when you have them even a visit to the pawnbroker is robbed of some of its sting. You may have a hard struggle for life; you may even feel the pinch of poverty; you may have to deny yourself and those you care for many pleasant luxuries, but if you have a clean record and possess the love of one who is dear to you, you will own gems far more precious than the rarest pearls that ever came out of the sea. And what is more, these gems have a purchasing power which no money in the world ever had, or ever will have, for they can, in their turn, purchase love and friendship. Honour calls to honour, love to love, both will bring into your life that great, priceless, wonderful thing without which no life can be complete—true and loyal friends.
A man, well-known in your world to-day, remarked recently that the world no longer bowed to the dictates of its womenkind. He talked of the old days—my days, if you like—when behind every throne in Europe there lurked the shadow of a beautiful woman. He recalled the times when no statesman dared lift a finger for fear of that powerful shadow unless he had first assured himself that it favoured his project; and he finished his talk by averring that nowadays petticoats and petticoat government have vanished together into the limbo of forgotten things. He was wrong! I have not been wandering about among you without discovering that the ladies—bless ’em—still rule, and are as captivating, bewitching and obstinate as they always were and, I trust, always will be. Odd’s my life! it makes one’s heart leap with joy even now to see their bright fearless eyes, coquettish as ever, turn a man into an abject slave, though the fan—lovely necessity to every flirtation once upon a time—has gone now, alas! the same way as hoops and flounces and the frou-frou of silk petticoats.
In the days when sticks and clubs were used alike for international or domestic arguments, it is extremely likely that skin-clad men believed that they ruled supreme. Probably there was a strident ‘Woman’s place is in the cave’ slogan in existence even then. But all the same, even in those days, your smiling Stone-Age lady could twist the stalwart tribal chief round her finger as easily as she could twist her own glossy plaits of hair; and the local witch doctor or head councillor, whose lightest word rolled like thunder around the massed silent circle of men, was sent out grumbling by his wife from his desirable cavern residence to scrape the dirt off his feet with his spear.
And though all that happened a demmed long time ago something very similar goes on to this day! Many of the world’s most famous men have confessed that all their lives they have been guided by their wife or their sweetheart or sometimes their mother. Many wonderful pictures, beautiful books, glorious pieces of music, are dedicated to the women who inspired them. Though there are many examples or men who, ruled by women, were led to cruel, unjust or foolish deeds, there are countless others where that rule has been everything that is wise and just.
But the vindication of petticoat government, m’dears, does not rest on historic records alone; it would have a poor chance of proving its case if it did. Luckily for the world’s happiness it rests on more secure foundation. You surely must know many cases of ordinary everyday folk—friends, acquaintances, the man in the street—in whose life the magic of romance has turned life’s rough stony roads into exquisite, rose-strewn highways, and transformed the cottage into a wondrous palace of love and of constant joy.
Even in your ultra-practical days when so many of you affect to despise romance, many a young lover would choose to be the slave of his adored rather than become the ruler of an Empire, and the rejected swain still finds the whole world, its triumphs and its rewards a hollow mockery when love is not. That is the way of true love, and it has not changed a tittle since my day or any other. It will brook no sharing of its sovereignty either with pride, with wisdom or ambition; it cares nothing for opinion of the world, powerful as that can sometimes be. Petticoat government is an autocratic form of rule, and there is no power on earth that can overthrow it if it is backed by love.
It would certainly seem that in your year of sense, 1933, you ought to banish this tyrannical petticoat rule—if indeed it chafes you, as you say it does—just as of late so many countries of the world have banished their monarchs and upset their government. I am happy to say that our own beloved country has been sane enough to set its face against the modern proneness of looking upon hereditary monarchy as an impediment to business, or as tending to distract the mind from its all-important aim of money-making; but in many countries, alas! monarchs are voted to be anachronisms, to be in the way of the steady development of reason. Let us depose our crowned kings, say the moderns, and by the same token let us hurl our queens of the petticoat from their throne. Let us rid ourselves, once and for all, of such false, out-of-date, medieval gods.
Thus do you, m’dears, proclaim your independence from the housetops, and a good many of you in this post-War world have certainly rid yourselves of your ancient monarchies. But strive as you may against the autocratic rule of the petticoat, it is still with you. It is not in your power, nor, believe me, is it your wish to cast off woman’s yoke once she has entwined herself around your heart, demanding to be worshipped, to be loved, and to rule. It is her province, my friends; she will never give it up, so you had better make up your minds to wear her fetters and pretend you like them.
You may try to abolish the word ‘love’ like Soviet Russia has tried to abolish Christianity, but even the most cynical amongst you may find one day that there is, perhaps, one footstep in the world the sound of which will cause a flutter in your heart, and that you will find happiness and the strength to carry on in the light of one woman’s smile. You may deflect a river from its course, and in your twentieth century you have your wonderful inventions which enable you to talk to a man half a world away, to see through solid flesh as if it were transparent, or to erect buildings so high that the Tower of Babel would seem puny beside them. Nevertheless it is a small white hand that will beckon you to the Heaven of contentment and of home, or will point the way to the Hell of loneliness. With all your independence, your strength, your power to set up Governments and destroy them at your will, you are still under the sway of the most tyrannical autocracy the world has ever known.
This world is still Cupid’s plaything, and do believe me when I say that you have no wish for it to be otherwise. My faith! I cannot imagine—nor can you, I’ll warrant—what would happen if the merry little god gave up trying to play with us and left our hearts to get atrophied in their solitude. Life would not be worth the living now, would it, I ask you? Love rules most of you, the best of you, the strongest, manliest amongst you, and you had best admit it. It may be love of wife, of daughter or mother, but there is no man worthy of the name who does not toil and strive for a woman he loves. And, mind you, there is not a more jealous god than that little Cupid. If you fight him he will have his revenge. If you turn your back on him he will contrive to overload you with depression, discontent and monotony, and finally he will hand you over to the most cruel of all torturers—loneliness.
But if you bow to the sovereignty of Love, if you wear its golden fetters, it will crown you king of your little world. It will fill your life with gladness, spur you on to noble deeds, raise your hopes, stimulate your ambition and make you the real master of your fate.
’Pon my soul, my friends, I must congratulate you at least on this: that your generation has discovered and is not afraid to admit that a wife makes the truest comrade and the best guide an ambitious or a happy man can have. Indeed, it warms the heart to see such tributes paid to women as your great men have recently done.
See how many of your statesmen have said that but for the guidance of a woman’s hand they would never have attained their high eminence in world affairs. Sir Austen Chamberlain, who is an aristocrat after mine own heart, has said: ‘For thirty years my wife has been my inspiration. She has known every secret of my public life. She has sustained my courage, shared my hopes and sympathized with me in my anxieties.’
Mr. Baldwin has on more than one occasion said much the same thing about his own life partner; Lord Reading, when he closed his great years of service in troubled India, said that more than once would discouragement have overcome him but for ‘the lady who stood by me when times were difficult and anxious.’
Yet another of your famous statesman who would never have reached to fame alone is the Marquess of Aberdeen, who has served his country as Governor-General of Canada and as Viceroy of Ireland during the latter’s most troublesome years. The book most appropriately entitled, We Twa, of which he and his wife are joint authors, proclaims in every page the vital truth of the ancient saying that, ‘Whoso findeth a good wife findeth a great thing.’
And in other realms than politics great or famous men have paid tribute to the white hands that guided their careers. John Galsworthy dedicated his Forsyte Saga to his wife, saying that without her encouragement, sympathy and criticism, he would never have won through to success. Even your amazing Mr. G. B. Shaw has for once been conventional enough to admit that he might perhaps have failed but for the help his wife had given him throughout his career.
My faith! I could go on quoting you instances by the yard of famous men who have said as much, but I find it difficult to choose among so many. Cromwell, that iron-hearted regicide, was never happy when parted from his wife; and she it was who once wrote those beautiful words to him: ‘My life is but half a life in thine absence.’ Lord John Lawrence, who helped to build our Empire in India, was once chaffed by his sister, who said that he could never rest for five minutes away from his wife’s side. ‘That was why I married her, madam,’ he replied quietly.
But it is not in those great men, either past or present, or in their wonderful helpmates that I am most interested. My thoughts now, as always, fly to the man in the street, to the average British working or commercial man, to all those, in fact, who have found in marriage just the kind of companionship that they sought. Laurels of fame are perhaps not for them; they are not striving to reach the giddy heights of clangorous success, but in their struggles and their strivings they can hold on to a hand which is always ready to guide and to help. ‘God must have loved the average woman: He made so many of them,’ was said by a great philanthropist who knew how to appreciate the wonderful qualities of the quiet, everyday housewife who sits at home and ministers to the creature comforts of the man she loves, and while darning his socks weaves into the criss-cross threads thoughts of how best she can serve him with encouragement and advice.
She it is who makes this modern world of yours seem less drab, for she causes it to glow with the effulgence of her unselfishness. She is for ever planning ways and means to save her man from petty worries and irritating cares; she it is who puts heart into him when discouragement overtakes him; she who comforts him when sorrow and disappointment seem more than he can bear.
Then I pray you, charge your glasses, ye men of this Great and Greater Britain, and drink a loyal toast to your adorable womankind. You know as well as I do that without your loving wife life would indeed make a poor show for you. Without the ladies—God bless ’em!—this whole round earth of ours would lose all its sweetness, and we, poor male creatures, would lose all our self-respect if we had no one to stand by us and tell us what demmed fine fellows we really were.
I hate that stupid old proverb which says that familiarity breeds contempt; but all the same, I fear me, that it causes us to take for granted, or cease to appreciate at its just value, the constant care, the kindliness, the thoughtfulness wherewith our working life is made easier for us. Think back on the days of your honeymoon, my friends, and how exquisite seemed to you the thousand and one little attentions which your young wife already bestowed on you. Every time you found your slippers put to warm by the fire you felt a thrill of manly satisfaction and of pride in the choice you had made of a life’s companion. Do not lose this great hold you have on happiness by ceasing to notice those small attentions after the first few years of marital contentment.
The love that prompts all those small attentions is the same to-day as it was in the days of your betrothal. Do not blind yourself to it and take too much for granted. She is always ready to share your sorrow and make it thereby but half a trouble, and by the same token she will double your joy by sharing it with you.
It is the unfortunate lonely bachelor who ‘has no one to still him and therefore must weep out his eyes’.
And to put the matter in a more prosy way, let me assure you that two heads are always better than one, especially if that other head matures thoughts only of you. The wagon that is drawn in double harness will roll without a jolt on life’s highway.
This, m’dears, is one of the questions everlastingly asked by man, and woman’s answer to it is a Mona Lisa smile, which may be interpreted as acquiescence or scorn—as you please.
There have been, of course, many women well known in history who have appeared to be taking all and giving nothing in return, who never hesitated to destroy ruthlessly whatever stood in the way of their ambition, were it for place, for power or for love. In order to remove an obstacle that stood in their path women—demmed ungallant as it seems to say it—have been known to sacrifice the lives or friends or lovers, even the honour of their country, without granting so much as a kiss in return. Women have show, in fact, that they can be more pitiless, more cruel than men, where their desires, their appetites or their ambition were concerned.
In the nature of things there must also have been millions of women, inconspicuous and unknown, who have acted at times with unbelievable selfishness. Women, perhaps, who have used all their arts of seduction to keep a lover at their side when honour and duty called to him to go; others who, in order to satisfy their own ambition, have tied husband or lover to their chariot wheel, and dragged him with them to heights of social or political attainments which were beyond his power to reach, with the result that a crash was inevitable, and the weak or foolish man was hurled down from those giddy heights and fell broken in heart and in spirit, unregretted, uncomforted by the very one who caused his downfall.
History has shown us many a Cleopatra in some such roles, and I know that everyone of you in your own walk of life, has known of cases less famous but equally tragic.
Nevertheless, in fairness to the sex, let it be said that selfishness in its true sense is not always the motive power that drives these unhappy women on. Cleopatra was not intentionally selfish when she kept Antony by her side, whilst the cold ambitious Octavius had time to conquer worlds in his stead. Mrs. Warren Harding, in acting as the motive force which drove a simple farmer to the helm of one of the greatest powers in the modern world, has always appealed to me as being more a tragedy herself than even the tragic figure of her husband. And, plain Mrs. Smith, who turns her husband from an easy-going, sporting Briton into a white-faced business robot, is herself more often than not a stricken statue of self-denial.
Mark, I do not say that these women are right; merely that they are not, in the true meaning of the word, selfish.
When the pagans would have it that Cupid was blind I think they made a mistake. It is not the little god who is blind; he distributes his precious shafts judiciously enough as a rule; but his arrow points often seem to have been dipped in a virulent poison, which has the power of depriving of their sight those who have been pierced by them. And women suffer from these attacks of blindness far more frequently and more completely than men.
Watch the girl who fears or hopes for her lover. Is she selfish? Let Destiny ask her to give her life for his and see then! For herself she cares nothing, but for him—for him she will be ready to sacrifice not only her life, but the rest of the world in a single blazing funeral pyre if it would but profit him. Love’s poisoned shaft has blinded her indeed.
She thinks for him, acts for him, schemes for him, plunges into evil or good impersonally for him. She sees a prize—he must have it; she recognizes a goal—he must attain it. For love of him she dreams dreams, and in her love-blindness she is obsessed by the dreams and forces his weak humanity to an impossible task.
But make no mistake. The dreams are all for him. She is willing to stand in the background, fall out by the way; she is ready to become a mere stepping-stone to his success. It would be the divine height of unselfishness were it not the blind height of folly.
Woman has a longer vision than man, but she lacks his logical faculty for estimating obstacles. Woman will try and keep her lover by her side, knowing that they would be happy together even though his name be disgraced, or his country in sore need of him. But man, whose creed is different from hers, puts her second in his thoughts. ‘I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honour more!’ is his rule of life; he is selfish for his honour’s sake, whilst she would sacrifice both her honour and his regard for her in order to keep him safely within the shelter of her arms.
It has been said that if we only had faith we could say to this mountain: ‘Go hence!’ and it would actually go. That is the creed of the woman who is in love. Her faith in her love is so great that, should she covet a throne for her lover and a mountain stood in his way she would try her best to move it. I always think that had St. Peter been a woman he would never have found himself sinking when he tried to walk so boldly upon the waves.
Sometimes the man also is of heroic mould and can follow the keenest flights of his chosen woman’s vision and make them all come true. But such a man is rare; he is the real Fairy Prince for whom every woman pines. With a true woman as his guide and helpmate he can rise to heights supreme and when he has reached them you will find him listening to the plaudits of a wondering world, taking them all as his due, for the world, my friends, seldom sees or guesses that it was the woman who gave him all that he most needed—her help, her guidance, her sustaining love—so that he might attain his goal.
Is it not the charming contrariness in woman that makes her—demmed delicious, distracting creature that she is—dream so many uncomfortable dreams? Would woman not a million times rather be left alone in an Eden of her own creation, alone with the man she loved, no matter whether he were god or common clay, than be a dweller in a Paradise peopled and fashioned by the world outside?
That is the reason probably why most of them are glad when they find that their idol has feet of clay after all, and they can love him just as illogically and absolutely as their heart desires, with all his failings and his sins. It is heroic, this giving all for love, and women are so constituted that they actually like doing it; but a happy home, contentment and family life are really worth a thousand times more than dreams of ambition, so few of which are satisfying even when they are attained.
You may believe me or not, m’dears, but I can assure you that there was never yet a man or woman living who was not in search of love. Of course, you moderns, who are so thoroughly versed in psycho-analysis, will at once retort that you, for one—knowing yourself thoroughly—have never even thought of such an antiquated, ludicrous emotion as love. But let me tell you this: that even now in your practical world of to-day I see old and young, men and women, youths and maidens, rich and poor, married and single—all of you, in fact, hot in pursuit of the little pink god. Love, m’dears, is as vital to existence as is the sun to flowers, as is the pure air of heaven to your lungs, and all of you moderns, cynical and unbelieving though you may label yourselves, tend just as eagerly towards love as we did in the past; you are all striving—though you may not be aware of it—to struggle out of the gloom of the commonplace in order to reach the splendours of Love’s fairyland.
The whole of your life, my friends, is incidental to this. It is for love’s sake that a man will work so that he may have a home and comfort to offer to the woman of his choice. I doubt not that even the cave-man in his day sought the richest furs for his women and the warmest shelters for them against cold wintry weather.
Will you tell me why your shingled, boyish-looking emancipated City typist or tea-room waitress trips so gaily every morning to her work? Because she likes it? Gadzooks! does any healthy young girl really like work? Because it flatters her vanity to do man’s work? Never! She does it because instinct tells her that in the world outside her home she will have a chance of one day finding her mate.
This mating instinct is passionately strong in every healthy human being, though most of you young moderns would deny it, and theorize at length about psychic affinities and sex-appeal. Those words, m’dears, are just twentieth century masks, fashioned to distort the oldest and most valuable heritage of the human race—the will to search for love.
Of course you are ready to pulverize me with the argument that love does not by any means always lead to fairyland. More often than not its sequel is tragedy or else a drab mediocrity which is more unendurable than black despair. What you are pleased to call happiness only comes through the channel of love once in a thousand times. That is your argument, I know, and in a measure you are right; but the reason for tragedy or mediocrity is because you young people of to-day are so apt to mistake the brass-farthing of sex attraction for the pure gold of love.
Love is so elusive that it is easily mistaken for dross. Perhaps it is because we want it so badly that we allow ourselves to be deluded by shams and mockeries. But you young post-War girls who are so ready to lure a man on to make love or propose marriage to you, take my advice and test your choice of a mate as carefully as if you were buying gold; nay! far more carefully, for if, after buying gold, you should find it to be base metal, you can always cast it aside and retrieve your loss by starting to bargain afresh; but if you have been foolish enough to mistake a momentary passion for true and lasting love, you will have ruined your life and could no more build it up again than you could a broken rainbow.
I am not talking now of girls who have been victimized by rogues, or of men whose affections have been broken on the wheel of some woman’s caprice. These are but drops in the ocean of tragedies that come in the wake of unhappy love. The real tragedy, m’dears, of life’s most romantic adventure is to be found among the millions of people who have been willing to take the cast-out shafts from Cupid’s quiver and then discovered—too late, alas!—that those shafts, far from being true gold, were just poisoned darts that left incurable wounds in their heart.
How many of you, I wonder, will during this year utter the solemn vows which the churches demand from those who wish to start life together on the basis of mutual love and comradeship? And how many of you will presently regret those vows and regret them to the end of your days? For whatever may be said to the contrary, your modern easy divorce does not erase from the tablets of memory those happenings which the decree nisi is called upon to obliterate. The divorced man and the divorced woman may seem outwardly the same; they may behave in the same manner as before; they may smile as they did heretofore, but deep down in their hearts they know that the romance they dreamed of has received a wound which can never heal again.
If only instinct would teach you young people that happiness can only be attained by real love, and that charming woman needs to exercise more care in choosing a husband than she does in selecting a hat. Only that way, believe me, does your happiness lie.
There is such a thing as falling in love with love. The glamour of it dazzles; the object of one’s adoration appears in the false light as a kind of god, a Titan amongst men. It is only when the eyes become accustomed to the surrounding gloom that the Titan shrivels to the size of a pigmy and the god is found to have feet of clay. But I well understand the glamour! How am I going to preach to you young people who are just on the threshold of life that the great adventure of love needs preparation and thought?
Too hasty enthusiasm has wrecked more exploring expeditions into Loveland than ever Arctic bergs wrecked the vessels of Pole-seeking mariners. There is a very wise parable which was told by Divine lips, and which has a universal meaning. It relates the adventures of ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five very foolish. They were waiting for the bridegroom, if you remember, and the wise virgins in anticipation of his coming kept their lamps trimmed and burning clear and bright. The foolish ones, on the other hand, neglected their lamps, allowed them to flicker out and to die for want of trimming and of oil, so that when the time came and the bridegroom knocked at the door there they were, all in the dark, unable to welcome him. All that is fiction, of course, but what a lot of truth there is in it.
Some of you foolish, charming young people are in far too great a hurry to light the lamp of your love, just letting it shed its feeble, uncertain rays on the first man or woman that comes along. For the time being it certainly does give you a sense of something big and eventful in your life, the illusion that you have laid the foundation of some great happiness. Those of you, on the other hand, who happen to be a little wiser, do not waste the light of your precious lamp. Its searching gleam will reveal pitfalls unseen in the dark. The semi-darkness of loneliness may make the path of life rather difficult, but you are content, nevertheless, to wander along quietly until such time as you see your way to pass through the gloom into the sunshine of real love.
Then, when you have found the one man or woman around whom your universe can safely revolve, you will realize how wise you were to travel on life’s highway hopefully, if alone, and to reach your goal in full possession of your vitality and enthusiasm rather than to make a rush for the dazzle-light of passion and arrive dishevelled and blind.
You will no doubt remind me that in a former chapter I have entreated you to live dangerously, to take risks for the sake of the ends you have in view. I do so still: in all things of life, m’dears, be prepared to take risks, but not in love. Be very sure where you set your foot before you tread that wonderful path. Do not mistake the glamour of a momentary thrill for the true light of enduring love. Think twice before you dedicate your life to one who is not worthy of the sacrifice. Your gay bachelor and smart lavender-lady are happier far than those who wear the fetters of an unhappy marriage, and it is better never to have loved at all than to love amiss.
Love still is, and always will be, the most romantic adventure in life. Not for the world would I have a single one of you deliberately refuse to embark on it. All that the great adventure demands of you is a trimmed lamp, clear-sightedness to distinguish what is true gold, the love that makes the poor infinitely rich, and which will wipe away your tears; the companionship that will ease life’s burden for you and ensure for your domestic happiness, the only bliss of Paradise that has survived the Fall, the spice of life that gives it all its flavour.
I suppose that more has been written on the subject of love than on any other subject under the sun. Proverbs, wise saws, verses, romances—their number is legion; the brains of poets and of wits, dry minds of cynics and philosophers have, in their turn, been exhausted in finding the true definition of that subtle, elusive thing we call ‘love’ and which only a lover understands.
And in writing about love all those prose writers and versifiers have invariably set themselves the task of inquiring as to what exactly is the price to be paid for that rarefied commodity, and whether the possession of it is built on a secure foundation. And so out of the cudgelling of great brains came the wise saws: ‘When poverty comes in at the door Love flies out of the window’; or ‘Love makes beggars of kings’; or again, ‘The first sigh of love is the last of wisdom’; and I could quote a hundred more, but all these quotations m’dears, smack more of wit than of truth.
Are all those cynics and philosophers—aye! and all those poets—going to assert that this ethereal, unsubstantial thing which brightens every life into which it enters and cheers every heart it touches, is yet so poor and feeble that it shrivels at the touch of poverty? That it is so akin to madness that it warps reason and weakens judgement? That it can have the effect of stealing away a man’s riches or his strength or his wisdom? I think not. And do not be led into believing it, either. I give you my word that this modern world of yours is not yet void of great lovers, of men and women who know in their heart of hearts that the magic touch of true love is more precious even to-day than all the gold of Ophir, or the diamonds of Golconda.
But they will not proclaim their belief openly.
Now you know, my friends, that if you were really to search your hearts you would be ready enough to admit that love is still the greatest incentive that will spur a man to noble deeds and selfless actions, that, far from destroying wisdom and sound sense it is the whetstone of enterprise and judgement. You do not have to pay a price for love. Love is its own price: it drives away fear, it conquers pain, it makes poverty and disappointment endurable, it scorns the enmity of the envious and derides the scoffings of the cynic. It is you, who love and are loved, who are immeasurably rich and they—the jaundiced modern scoffers—who are beggars in this world. It is the great, the selfless loves of millions of men and women that mount like incense to Heaven, and the jeers and gibes of cynics that like evil-smelling smoke defile the purity of the atmosphere.
But, on the other hand, honour and duty do often exact a price which love must pay if it is to remain true to itself. When either of those two great forces call, love must often hide itself behind a veil of sorrow; I can assure you that many a time when I was in full possession of the joys and peace of my beautiful garden at Richmond and knew that Lady Blakeney was watching me with fear and doubt in the loveliest eyes that love of man ever filled with tears, I used to hear the low insistent sigh of suffering women and children in revolutionary Paris calling to me, and not even my loved one’s tender arms nor her exquisite voice could then have kept me to her side.
And for you also, m’dears, suffering and sorrow are often the price which your love must pay should honour or duty call you. Most of you experienced the sorrow of parting, did you not, during the sad years of the War? You paid for the joys of love by many a heartache when you thought of her tears and the last kiss of farewell on the platform at Victoria Station.
And in the same way some of you, alas! must pay for the happiness which you enjoyed when things were bright and prosperous at home, by the misery of seeing those you care for suffer for want of the small comforts or luxuries you would give your heart’s blood to provide for them. Where there is no love, m’dears, there can be no sorrow. Sorrow is the price you may have to pay for love; but is it not worth it? Would you not rather shed a bucketful of tears than miss the infinite joys that true love, reciprocated love alone, can give? Good old Dante, when he went to visit Hell to see how the shades were getting on there, would have it that over the gates of Hades there was graven the legend: ‘For sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.’ And this saying he got from an anciet philosopher who averred that ‘In all adversity the most unhappy sort of misfortune is to have been happy.’
Faith! they may have been great men those two—they certainly were—but all the same I beg to differ from them. I’ll pit my knowledge of the human heart against all their theories or their wisdom. There is a sweet fragrance in remembrance which no amount of sorrow can dispel; on the contrary, sorrow will etherealize all the thousand and one little events on which past happiness was built and turn them into a caress that will soothe the troubled mind and wipe away the tears.
And it is in times of stress that true love shines with a clearer and purer light. The sharpness of the trial will in itself purge it from the dross of complacence and selfishness which life, more often than not, is apt to mix it with. So do not rail against love, m’dears, if you have to pay for it at times with anxiety and a few tears. The joys it gives you will more than compensate you for any measure of suffering.
And if in the end love does exact, as it unfortunately will, the greatest price of all the sorrow of life-long parting, do not even then rail against him. The Dark Angel does, alas! wield his awful sword sometimes to part young lovers, still in the rapture of their first kiss, or to sever the bonds that have held trusting comrades together for perhaps half a century.
Even then, m’dears, do not rail against love. ‘It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,’ so said our national poet, and with him I am in complete agreement. Sceptics and cynics may say what they like, but I will put down my profession of faith even here and now. And it is this: Love is such a mighty power that it can bridge over the black chasm which lies between life and death. Perfect love is perfect trust, and those of you who have known true love, just as I did, cannot possibly believe for a moment that it can end in this material world. Love is not material; it is ethereal and sublime, and as such must endure for ever. You cannot bury it, you cannot cremate it. It is one of the attributes of eternity.
The greatest most selfless love that ever burned for man on this earth reached its sublimity on Calvary. There it triumphed, once and for all, over the terrors of Death. And men to-day—you, m’dears, I, the rest of the world—have learned through the grandeur of that sacrifice that human love is powerful enough to break the gates that part us from the loved one who has gone before, so that when our own time comes to cross the Great Divide we may hear the words: ‘I love you. I am waiting for you’ come down to our ears from the realm of the stars, and our spirit grasp the spirit hand that beckons and points the way to the kingdom of undying love.
If I were asked to decide whether men or women have more vivid imaginations, I vow ’twould not be so difficult a situation as that in which the unfortunate Paris found himself! To the ladies would I award the apple, without a doubt!
I suppose every woman has had, at some time or other in her early life, a mental picture of what a perfect lover should be: tall, handsome, strong, kind, just the smallest touch of mystery, the epitome of honour and yet adorably human. Upon my soul, a difficult dream for us poor men to live up to!
The girl sits dreaming, and in her happy, idle moments visualizes a first meeting with this dream-god she has created. Hand in hand she wanders with him in her dream along winding, moonlit paths, waiting, thrilled and breathless for those three little words which, when spoken by him, will change this prosaic world into Fairyland.
And then one day she is acutely conscious of a small, glittering band on her third finger, and wonders how it has come to pass that the universe does not stand still in order to gaze enraptured on the new marvel, the perfect lover—her lover! As a matter of fact, the world has noticed the marvel, but to the girl’s own friends and relations the man to whom she has become engaged is probably no more than barely good-looking, and it is extremely likely that he has some peculiarity or characteristic which they violently dislike.
Girl friends make mental resolutions that when they choose a man he shall be something quite different; already they compare their own dreams to this reality that seems to them so poor, and they smile with a certain complacent indulgence when they meet the shining eyes of the girl whose dream-lover walks by her side. Married friends are more encouraging unless, perchance, their own matrimonial venture has been unlucky, but usually their thoughts dwell on their own perfect lover, even though to others he seems but a whimsical warning of complete prosiness when seen in his own home, clad in unromantic dressing-gown and carpet slippers, grunting from the depths of a capacious arm-chair, and with, perhaps, a cold in his head or gout in his big toe. Odd’s my life! what a dream man—to you!
To your thinking, in the halcyon time of your engagement, the world—your world—does not realize at once that the perfect lover of your dreams has come to life, whereas to you he has already taken on the form and shape of a hero of romance. What if he is of medium height and inclined to broadness? That only makes you realize what an odd mistake you made when you dreamt of him as one of those tall, ungainly, shapeless gawks! What if his nose be flattish and his eyes blue? Gadzooks! who would worship a hero with a bird-like beak and eyes like a savage? In your adolescent imagination you may (though you may not admit that you did!) have created a vague, godlike individual who looked like the illustration on the jacket of a sensational novel. But in the end what you have found is a perfect lover, a man whose character answers to your highest ideals of chivalry and manliness.
Is he less romantic than the gallant armoured knight of old, who rode over hill and dale in order to slay dragons, or to do battle against all those miscreants who refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of his lady’s beauty? Of course he is not! See the number of very real dragons he slays every day, when poverty and disappointment and threatening ill-health menace him. See how shrewdly and yet how fairly he wields his weapons of brain and muscle against clever, doughty or wealthy rivals; and yet, withal, see how chivalrous he is towards women and how kindly and gay he can be with little children.
He is the hero of your dreams, madame, the perfect lover of your imagination. How does he stand in your eyes when, at last, you have trod with him the magic way up to the altar, and heard right through the thunder of the Wedding March the paean of your victory in winning this beau ideal for yourself against all the world? Does the glamour of him wear thin against the hard, prosaic things of everyday life? If a man cannot be a hero to his lackey, can he possibly pose unruffled and unshaken on his pedestal before his wife’s clear eyes?
Do not doubt it for a moment! You need no pedestal for the man you love; all you need for him, all he wants above all other things, is a place in your heart and to live in intimate and close companionship with you. If you, in your turn, have given him love for love, and if you have had the patience and the courage to wait till he, the bridegroom of your dreams, came to you, then marriage will surely be the portal to a realm of supreme and unchanging bliss. Your perfect lover will be the perfect husband, without whom as your helpmate and friend you can never know the perfection of life or the sublimity of romance.
In the course of years, when Father Time has laid a finger on the perfect lover and he finds increasing difficulty in persuading his hair to cover the bald patch on the top of his head, Love the Alchemist, having transmuted the evanescent metal of your girlish visions into the solid gold of conjugal happiness, will touch your eyes with magic so that you will only see the strong brave, kindly soul shining through his loving eyes. If rheumatism in the joints makes him a little slower in opening the door for you than he was forty years ago, Cupid will bewitch you, while you wait, with the understanding of the fine courage and increasing tenderness which has, for a lifetime, marked him for your perfect, gentle knight.
Your world to-day is no less full of magicians, giants, witches, gnomes and fairies than it was in the legendary time of King Arthur. Luck is a magician able to change your lives from drab to gold; care is a witch who can steal your beauty and line your face in a night; despair is a giant who can torture you and hold you in his iron grip until your perfect lover and perfect husband comes to your rescue as the sublime knight-errant; rebellious, unkind thoughts are demmed unpleasant little gnomes to tease you, and friendly, happy ones are the fairies that lighten your burden while you wander down the high road of life.
The Chief Magician of them all is love, love the ruler of men, the king of all the world, whom no amount of scoffing and of sneering has ever dethroned; love the dear tyrant of my time and yours, whose light no modernism can dim; love which has brightened the lives of millions of us and whose torch will be kept aflame for all the aeons to come. Let the world sneer and laugh, but if love gives the fortunate man of your choice the divine accolade and dubs him Sir Perfect Lover, or Sir Perfect Husband, then his companionship and comradeship will make every dark hour seem bright, every sorrow endurable, every joy doubly great, all through your life and in the great unknown that is to come.
When first I made up my mind to come out into the golden light of your everyday life, I vow that I positively shivered at all the misery, the sorrow, the drabness of existence, which you yourselves led me to believe made up the sum total of your lives in this twentieth century. Much less did I relish the thought of compiling a whole book on what I feared would be a most depressing task. This work, I said, will fatigue me most atrociously; it will bore me most unhappily; I verily feared that my exuberant romanticism would be shipwrecked under the strain.
And now, here I am at the last chapter of this little book and it seems to me that the time which I have spent in this fascinating, marvellous new world of yours was but the space of a breath. I have only seen a few of its hundreds of astonishing facets, and, believe me, I feel that there are thousands more of which I have not even caught a glimpse. So I’ll console myself with the thought of another visit to you all at some future time.
I know you will forgive me if I make use of this final chapter for the benefit of those of you young moderns who will wake one morning soon to the sound of your own wedding-bells.
The latest fashion, it seems, is to treat marriage as nothing more or less than a business contract. Had this been any but my last chapter I would have resisted so monstrous a suggestion and written twenty more to make out a case for love. But things being as they are, let us by all means treat this marriage question as strictly business, and let me begin by asking you how you individually would approach a business proposition? I know little of such things, but I venture to presume that you would expect in a business partner an upright, honourable character, a clean bill of health and a full measure of discretion, ability, of sense, and of honour. Pessimists, when I started this book, might have confounded me with the argument that these things are not to be found in modern business men, but now that I know more about you all, and know that there are just as many sterling qualities to be found in your men of to-day as ever there were in the past, I can, in my turn, confound your pessimists.
You would also doubtless refuse to enter into business partnership with a person who looked upon the contract as a sort of slipknot. Odd’s my life! if business was to be run in the slipshod manner in which some of you moderns deal with matrimony, the bankruptcy courts would be kept as busy as are the divorce courts, and the finances of the entire world would soon be engulfed in chaos.
You know as well as I do—better probably—that for a business to be successful it needs to be carried on by men or women who have brains, initiative, training and tact. But so does marriage, m’dears! All the qualities which you expect to find in your successful business men you must look for in the partner who is to be life’s companion, to whom you are going to entrust your happiness, your future and, what’s more, the future of your children.
What chances, think you, would a business have if its principals knew nothing of its workings? Yet how many of you dear, irresponsible young things trip lightly up to the altar and embark on the serious business of matrimony, blissfully ignorant of how to cook a dinner, engage a maid, furnish a house or earn a regular income? No one would think of designing a public building without becoming first a qualified architect, and the law forbids any man to practise medicine without due qualifications, the result of years of strenuous study; yet one sees numberless men and women entering the serious state of marriage without the slightest idea of the duties and responsibilities it will presently entail. Can you wonder, then, that so many marriages end in recriminations, in heartbreakings and sorrow, and finally in the divorce court?
Is marriage a business? Well, we will not argue over the word. ’Tis you moderns who choose to call it so, and then deride it because, forsooth, in your estimation its profit-and-loss account points to bankruptcy. What you want to do, m’dears, is to look upon marriage as a business if you must, but also as a foundation—the only solid one—on which you can raise the edifice of lifelong happiness. By it alone can you obtain comradeship, sympathy and understanding, and that wonderful feeling that in the world there is one being whose interests are absolutely identical with yours.
All of you young moderns, I know, are fond of saying that by marriage you lose your freedom. So you do. You lose the freedom of wandering uncared for on life’s highway, the freedom of weeping alone and uncomforted when sorrow assails you. You lose the freedom of suffering in loneliness, and of being forced to bottle up your joy because there is no one who cares enough to share it with you. Well, m’dears, if that be freedom, give me all the fetters that love can forge: home ties, friendship, not to mention baby fingers that cling so tightly to the heart.
Have I lost something of glamour in your eyes now that I have made you think of me, not as the hero of a hundred adventures in the romantic days of revolutionary France, but as a romanticist who has learned that in all the adventures of life there is none to compare with the one we embark on when we set forth to choose our helpmate?
Once more, I pray you, charge your glasses, you lovely, sleek-headed, slim-legged Amazons, and you ambitious, enterprising Britons all! Drink to the master of you all—Love the King! He is all that matters in life, and in this great business of living he is the profit—worth all the gold of the Indies and all the laurel wreaths ever woven, on which you can count as a set-off against failure or disappointment or sorrow.
On this let me make my bow to you of this still young century, happy in the knowledge that your world of to-day is every whit as romantic as it was in the past. Your men are as gallant, your women as charming as ever they were. There is as much romance in your civilization, your commerce and your marvellous inventions, as there were in medieval jousts, in duelling or poesy. Let me express the earnest hope that I have convinced you of this. Rub your eyes, m’dears, and take another look at your world. Do not allow those demmed cynics and pessimists to be for ever pointing to mud-heaps and gutters, telling you that they are the realities of life; for I vow that real life is full to overflowing of fragrance and of beauty. Look about you, m’dears and see the loyalties, the friendships, the silent endurances and sacrifice that meet you at every turn. And then, I pray you, murmur to yourself: ‘Well, I declare that demmed elusive Pimpernel of ours does know a thing or two!’
Gentlemen, your servant!
Ladies, as ever, your most devoted slave!
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