The Real and the Imaginary

I HAVE lately become a member of a class in English Composition at a near-by university. Each week, for our edification and criticism, a story or poem, or an essay, the work of one of our members, is read aloud by the professor. At our last meeting, it was a story that he chose. The plot was of the slightest; a few words will tell all. A discontented princess and a pseudo shepherd — the prince of the dénouement — meet and discuss love, or rather the absence of it, as the princess declares that there is no such thing. The period is not specified, though probably somewhat modern, as we say about art, since the young lady refers to the king, her father, as “ dad.” As for the place, I think it must have been somewhere near the fields of Arcady, as the shepherd and the princess meet with charming informality, chaperoned only by the silly sheep. The end of the story is not hard to guess.

These few words have served for the plot, but they have not served to indicate the charm with which the little tale was told, the lightness of the writer’s touch, or the pretty wit of the prince and princess. Altogether, it was quite delightful.

“ But,” commented the professor, “ the writer says that the story has been rejected by many publishers. What do you think is the trouble ? ”

Many of us thought that the trouble probably lay with the publishers. Not liking to say this, we ventured some vague criticism which, as one says in blindman’s-buff, was not even “ warm.” At last, thanks to the guiding prods of the professor, we began to see wherein the story’s weakness lay.

“ Would any of you ” — the class is co-edueational — “ fall in love with the prince ? I’m speaking now for the girls; or do any of you men think you would ever fall in love with the princess ? I’m sure I should n’t.”

These were heart-searching questions. A girl gave it as her opinion that she would n’t; the men, apparently not caring to go on record, kept silent.

“ And why not ? Now speak up, somebody. Does he interest you ? No! Then why not ? ”

“ He does n’t seem exactly real; ” again from the feminine portion of the class.

“That’s just it, he is n’t real — he is n’t vital. How are you going to fall in love with anybody who is neither real nor vital ? ”

Real or vital! Into my mind flashed a little newspaper incident, which I had read but the day before.

“ Many young friends of Miss Mary Stone, the plaintiff, came into court this morning to hear John Barr, the defendant, answer to the charge of having struck Miss Stone the night before, when calling on her. The defendant frankly admitted the charge, when on the witnessstand, but said, in his own defense, that he did it because every time he called on the plaintiff, she tried to stick hat-pins into him, and it was this that made him strike her the night before.

“ ‘ Why then,’ demanded the court, ‘ don’t you stay away ? ’

“ ‘ I can’t stay away. I — I — I’m in love with her! ’

“ ‘ He never told me that,’ said Miss Stone, very audibly.

“ The judge charged the defendant twenty-five dollars and dismissed the case.”

Here was a hero real and vital. My mind came back to the class-room and to the imaginary prince of the story. No, I should never fall in love with him, for all his graceful speeches, of this I am quite sure. Nor should I fall in love with the tepid dukes and exalted personages who have figured so much in recent fiction. But to the incensed lover who strikes but will not confess his love until driven to bay in open court, my heart goes out mightily. Why this is so, I hope some psychologist will answer, for I cannot, though I remember reading a story once of a haughty princess who spurned the addresses of a certain Norman knight, nor wouId she consent to marry him until her irritated lover had knocked her down, and rolled her in the dust; and the name of the lover, so history tells us, was William the Conqueror.