Confessions of an Anachronism
There seems something ill starred — inept, as it were — about being thirty or thereabouts in the early nineteen hundreds. Not, of course, that it is a unique predicament; many of my best friends suffer the coincidence. It is the common plight that I deprecate.
Observe, it is not the trite inconveniences of being thirty in any year of our Lord that are here bewailed, — not the passing of the cherished ugly-duckling hypothesis, and the sheepish confession that this unimpressive personality, whose outlines are admissibly more goose than swan, is all we were so long a-making. Still less is it the quiet pangs of the bachelor woman, when she puts the little label “ Strictly private ” on certain of her dreams, and goes about her business. These things have their compensations. There are impersonal joys into which we sink now with a comfort as into hard-won Nirvana, — or into bath-gown and slippers. ’T is better as it is, and the less said the better.
No, the real rub is in getting all ready to live in the nineteenth century and then having to do one’s living in the twentieth. Take my own case for example. Thanks to Education’s curious habit of marching always some twenty years behind the rest of the world, the ideals that fed my youth were Early and Middle Victorian. Considering that every infant is bound to start a good deal behind his times at best, this habitual extra handicap has a look of malice, has it not ?
Be that as it may, I started as I was bid. I loyally accepted the great new age of Science and Freedom. I faced the spectres of the mind. With Huxley and Arnold I fought the good fight of Evolution and Higher Criticism; I championed the Soul against blind materialism with Browning and Emerson. I expanded to take in the nebular hypothesis and the conservation of energy, in long breaths of Herbert Spencer. I loved my country with Lowell and Lincoln, — my reunited, Anglo-Saxon, church-going country of the Gettysburg Oration and the Harvard Ode. I stretched my broad sympathies to embrace California, Texas, and Boston as children of one eagle. I thrilled toward every other reunited advancing nation,— Italy. Greece, the Parliament of Man, — toward our whole pleasant, ripe, Caucasian world.
In short, I had become a progressive, emancipated mind, and the process had done me much inner good. But now I emerge in that character into the arena of adults, and lo, this is not my nineteenth century at all. This is the twentieth, and I am Middle Victorian. Here, I find, are divers profound and heathen creeds to be fraternally admitted to parliament. Here is Psychical Research and Maeterlinck and Revived Celts, and many kinds of Souls I am not used to. Here are various uncanny styles of radiant energy running around loose and knocking my old atoms and molecules from under foot. Here is quite a new country to love, — a new South, not healed and redeemed by the sacred magic of the ballot at all, but talking back and forgiving us, forsooth, that we knew not what we did; a new North, swarming with many-hyphenated, cosmopolitan tribes who need a broad-minded Sunday and excise and Ten Commandments of their own. And chiefest, here is a new world, a really round one, a globe as per Kipling, half brown men and yellow, who must be policed and industrially developed and amalgamated, and figure no longer as vague sheaves for missionaries, or decorative visions of
In roarings round the coral reef.”
And so a new ethics that smiles patiently when you mention the Declaration and the rights of man, and tells you of his duties, — and sanitation.
You see I understand it all, with my brain. I faithfully try to accept it all, in my chosen rôle of a progressive, emancipated mind. But I am not at home. It came over me one happy Sunday afternoon, spent over In Memoriam, as I felt the all but tearful relief of being once more among those familiar problems and wrestlings and emancipations, in my dear, native, English gentlemen’s universe. Battles if you will, but neat, compact, uniformed battles by Meissonier, not your straggling, five-mile, Mauser-and-khaki affairs. These are all very well, but — “I was born to other things.”
If the old doctrine were only true that a mind stretched on Greek and Latin grammar finds bookkeeping and housekeeping as child’s play, I ought by analogy to embrace these new concepts with practiced ease, having embraced new ones before. But it is evidently not a safe analogy. This case must go on the other principle that “the heart that has truly loved never forgets,” etc. My love was older than I thought, as other youth have found theirs.
Yes, I stretched my soul on the wrong things; that is all. It is not exactly a grievance, — rather a perversity of dates. The world goes so fast now with its telephones and railways (note my instinctively Victorian rhetoric), that the human organism cannot make the new schedule time. If I had taken these ideas first, I know I could have learned them just as well. If I had lived a life with my own in the old century, I should not trouble to learn these. As it is, I am an anachronism. And I am only thirty. It seems too bad.