A Conversation in Ebury Street

A LETTER is sometimes very real, very personal — a living thing, that wheedles, cajoles, interests, charms, lures one’s thoughts from daily concerns and projects, creating a little life of its own. I received one of this sort from Winnetka, Illinois, years ago: and after answering my correspondent’s questions, I could not keep myself from complimenting him on his script, telling him it was like Poe’s and Mallarmé’s, natural and free from affectation; whereas François Coppée’s merely mocked the fourteenth century.

So I wrote; for I always find it hard toraise up one man without pulling dodown another; and after posting my letter to Mr. Husband, I often caught myself wondering what manner of man he might be: young or old (his letter read like the letter of a young man), rich or poor, I asked, firm of purpose, or likely to be led away? This last question begetting a scruple lest a casual phrase of mine — intimating that a transcription of The Brook Kerith on vellum by him would be a beautiful thing in any man’s library and, later, a nation’s possession—should beguile him from his own tasks and bring a weighty parcel to 121 Ebury Street.

I dipped my pen in the ink; but, before writing a word, it began to seem ungracious to tell Mr. Husband that my letter of the eighth implied no more than a visionary admiration of a script. So I reached out for a telegraph form and wrote: Pay no heed to mine of the eighth. But will not this telegram give undue importance to a remark that he will accept as casual and unimportant if I refrain? I asked. And day after day doubts continued to gather; many specious phrases tempted me, but withal I kept my hand from paper; and at last a letter arrived from Winnetka, which I read eagerly for a reference to the transcription of The Brook Kerith; and finding none, it behooved me to judge Mr. Husband as a clever man who knew how to read a letter, distinguishing easily the casual from the pertinent.

Again I drew a sheet of letter-paper toward me, this time with a view to putting a number of questions to Mr. Husband about himself: was he a professional writer? had he published any books? and if he had, would he be kind enough to send them to me?

The answer I got was that he had written a book telling his experience in the coal mine into which he descended after taking his degree at Harvard; and whilst turning over the leaves of the short book that the post had brought, I said: I thought the sting was deep enough in me, but had the alternative been to seek a book five hundred feet under the earth, or not to write one, I should have been bookless. After turning over some more pages telling of the different shifts and the long way a miner has to go before he reaches the seam, I wrote a letter, but keep no faintest memory of it, nor of the next, and very little of the letter that Mr. Husband wrote from the coast of Ireland, whither he had gone to hunt German submarines, having enlisted; and it was not till the other day that I got a letter written from an hotel in Jermyn Street, telling me he was in London for a short holiday, and sent a note to him saying that he would find me home at teatime.

At half-past four the same day, the young stalwart, who, after taking his degree at Harvard, had hewn coal for eight or ten months in one of the deepest mines of Indiana, stepped out of a taxi before the door of 121 Ebury Street. I am not far now, I said, from the knowledge whether his quest in the mine was a literary one, a derivative of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey, or — What else could it be?

A moment after, I found myself the object of the same admiration that Zola used frequently when I called to see him. You will get over all that, I said to Mr. Husband; and before entering into serious conversation it seemed but courteous to express a hope that he had not suffered too much in the crossing. But a man who has prowled the Irish coast in winter in an American torpedo-boat does not suffer from seasickness, and the topic was dropped for a more homely question: When did you arrive in London?

Mr. Husband answered: This morning. His first act was, therefore, to write to me, whereat I felt complimented; and on my inquiring how he had spent his hours, he told me that he had spent them seeking the church in which Pepys was baptized. It lies behind Mark Lane, he said. Near the Tower, I interjected. I don’t know where the Tower is, he replied; I have n’t yet been there. The taxi look me round by the British Museum — Ah, I thought the taxi that stopped at my door looked a little tired! But you found the Church? He answered that he had; and I heard for the first time that Pepys’s bust is retained on a bracket, and looks down upon the pew in which the diarist and his wife used to sit. Yu have imagined a great many things, Mr. Husband was kind enough to say, but I doubt if even you can imagine how much it means to me to come to a city that I have heard of all my life. All the books I have read, at least three quarters of them, were about London, or written in London; and here I am in London, with a fortnight before me to see as much of it as I can in the time. You will show me your pictures, I hope?

We walked round the dining-room, and went upstairs to the drawingroom. Ah! here is the Aubusson carpet, he said. At first, the drift of his remark escaped me; but a moment after, I remembered that I had introduced the carpet into different books; and having spoken of Manet and Monet, we returned to the dining-room, to talk of my books, till Mr. Husband began to feel afraid that he had outstayed his welcome, whereupon I begged him not to think that this was so; and he stayed for another half-hour, talking so well that I forgot the coal mine, and it was not till he stood on my threshold that I remembered it.

Mr. Husband, I have often wished to ask you, — it seemed unseemly to put the question in a letter, but face to face, — why did you go down into a mine to hew coal for ten months?

I had learnt all I could learn out of books at Harvard, he answered, and I felt that books did not seem to bring me nearer to life. If I had lived in Europe, I should very likely have gone to Paris, as you did; but being in America, there was nothing else for me to do but go down into a coal mine.

An excellent answer this seemed to me to be, and after watching him from my doorstep, I returned to my study to think the matter out, saying to myself that he could not have given a better answer, better than any I discovered in all my meditations, for it profits a man but little to have read all the books in the world if he miss life. But he has not missed it; he finds it wherever he goes; and I caught glimpses in my thoughts of Mr. Husband visiting Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, walking in a dream and dreaming as he walked; and not a little curious to know how London struck him, I wrote, asking him to dinner; an invitation that he accepted.

You have had a week of sight-seeing, I said, and I hope London has not disappointed you. Only in two things, he answered. And what has disappointed you? I was disappointed, he replied, in the Elgin marbles and in Sickert’s portrait of you in the Tate Gallery. This strange association of images—the Theseus on one hand and Mr. Sickert’s portrait on the other — took me aback, and I spoke of Greek humanism, saying, doubtless, that whereas Assyrian and Babylonian sculpture represented oriental despotism, the Greeks had — Before I could bring my commonplace apology to a close, however, Mr. Husband interjected: — But Mr. Sickert’s portrait misses you altogether. If a portrait is not like the sitter, it is not a portrait. The quality of Sickert’s painting, I said, occasionally rivals that of Manet; but he is not primarily a portrait-painter inasmuch — A portrait that misses the sitter. Mr. Husband interposed; raising my voice a little, I insisted upon being heard: though Ingres’s portraits are often very like his sitters, the absence of what is known in the studios as quality causes us to turn away from them with a feeling of disappointment, but the quality, or shall I say virtue, of Sickert’s painting always detains me. I think a portrait ought to be like, Mr. Husband muttered, causing me a moment’s annoyance, from which I escaped by changing the subject of our conversation, which was easy to do, for I was anxious to hear the further adventures of this young man, who was not prevented by his father’s bankruptcy from finishing his University course and taking a degree; for while learning, he taught, edited books, thrived, and having in ten months tasted all there was of life in a mine, started for Texas and the chasing of cows, to leave this second source of life for a third — Mrs. Husband. And certain from the knowledge of his character already obtained that he had married his body’s and soul’s desire, I listened to the praises of her for whom he had consented to settle into a profitable business.

Your business gives you time to pursue your literary career? I inquired; and learnt that he had no fault to find with his business but one — it dragged him from his bed at seven in the morning. And nobody enjoys sleep more than I do, said Mr. Husband. Better than sleep, he added, is dozing. To turn over, said I, clasping your dreams to your bosom. My dream is my wife and my children, he answered. An answer I appreciate, I replied, though I never had a wife. But dozing, lying between sleeping and waking, chasing dreams — ah, yes, I know what that is. One of the charms of London is that I need n t get out of bed till nine, Air. Husband muttered, addressing himself to himself rather than to me. And what do you dream when you lie awake in London? I asked, anxious to learn Mr. Husband as far as was possible in two visits. I dream, said he, that the next world is as pleasant as this one; and of course, if it is, we need have no fear of death. Another Paul! said I to myself; and aloud; O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

At which Mr. Husband’s face was overspread with such a genial light of cheerfulness, that he set my thoughts flowing, and in a trice I was lost in a dream of dewy hillsides and a radiant morning, with a young man blowing a fanfare to his comrades, the meaning of which was: Life is a perfect gift, and our duty is to enjoy it; by doing so we can help others to enjoy. If Mr. Husband had left my thoughts to swarm, an idea of a young man might have fixed itself in me, to flourish in due time.

The reader must not, however, draw from these words the conclusion that Mr. Husband had outstayed his welcome, nor can he be blamed for not having read himself into my mind. It were folly to find fault with a guest because he is not a soothsayer; and as Mr. Husband had come to hear me talk literature, it was but natural that he should break the silence with an inquiry about the book I was writing, and impossible for me to do else than abandon my dream of him and turn to In Single Strictness, saying that the revised sheets had been returned to the printer and passed for press. A very lacklustre admission this seemed to me to be, and to enliven it, I confessed that, whilst writing this new book, I seemed to myself to be writing something I had never written before, and for that reason believed it to be as good as any of the books I had offered to the public within the last ten years.

And so you took pleasure, Mr. Husband said, in writing this last book. Yes, for the reason I have given, and for another reason: I thought it was going to be my last book. But you will always go on writing? I am afraid I have written too much, and the man who writes many books raises his tombstone. But, I continued, if one does not write, and has lost the art of reading and never acquired that of fishing or of gardening, the hours go by on leaden wings. For you life extends in endless perspective beyond your own life; but I have nothing to look forward to when my library edition is published but a picture-gallery (one in the provinces might be given to me to look after), or to the learning of French and the senile temptation of writing a book in that language. But the end has not jet come, Mr. Husband, for on opening Impressions and Opinions — One of your best books, Mr. Husband interjected; I always take it up with pleasure. After reading a few pages, I said, thoughts began to gather in me of another book of essays, one that would not be unworthy to offer to my American readers. And what, asked Mr. Husband, will be the title of your new book? I answered that I was thinking of calling it A Parley, or Parleys and Opinions, or perhaps Conversations in Ebury Street. And its character? he inquired. I shall try to make it more like Avowals — sets of conversations between me and my friends. But you will not omit the article about Balzac? Not altogether, I answered. But the original article begins by comparing The Human Comedy to a great city seen upon a violet evening and a traveler standing on the crest of the hill. I once liked that opening, said Mr. Husband. I doubt if you would like it if you were to read it again, I answered; and he asked me if I had another opening in my mind. I replied that I had, saying: A line of Matthew Arnold has given me the clue; but not the line about seeing life steadily and seeing it whole. And to explain my aversion towards the aphorism, I recalled to his memory John Eglinton, one of the stalwarts who still walks daily from Terenure to the National Library, determined that, come what may, he will not fail in his duty to see life steadily and to see it whole.

We debated this phrase beloved of journalists, till I began to feel that the evening was passing away, and to remove thoughts of the clock on the mantelpiece from my guest’s mind, I returned for his sake to Arnold, who, after all, is literature, though he wrote words that have led a whole generation, headed by John Eglinton, astray. Two things, he says somewhere, are required for a work of art; the man and the moment; and if Arnold’s words be true, and the moment be necessary, it seems to me not at all unlikely that we have seen the end of art in Europe.

And you will answer me — I will venture to suggest, my guest interposed, that the moment Arnold deems requisite will occur again. It does not seem to me likely, I replied, that the moment which called The Human Comedy into being will be repeated. Everything is repetition, but in distant time. The sun brings back the mallows in the garden, and they live again and spring in another year; but we, the great and mighty, or wise, when once we have died, in hollow earth we sleep, gone down into silence; a right long, and endless, and unawakening sleep. I am prepared to admit, however, that Moschus spoke falsely, and that the universe, with all that is in it, great and little, returns after attaining unity, to spread itself out once more into sidereal systems billions of years hence. But our minds are too feeble to comprehend a billion years; and maybe a billion billion years would be needed for the accomplishment of Edgar Poe’s poetic prediction.

From Poe we returned to Balzac.

Balzac was a man of the Napoleonic period, I said, and you will admit that many centuries will be needed to bring back the antique world to us. It was not until after the Battle of Waterloo that the antique world slipped forever behind us; and to apprehend the distance we have traversed since then, we need only to go to Portsmouth and look at Nelson’s battleship; or, if she has been thrown to the ship-breakers, at a picture of her. Her mast and yards will tell us that she is of the kin of the ancient galley. Whereas a dreadnought — I will not labor the point.

But although the external world changes, said Mr. Husband, man remains the same. His instincts are the same, no doubt, I replied, but his beliefs in good and evil presences are different in every century; and who shall say that with the death of superstition

— But is superstition dead ? my guest asked me. And I answered that the superstitions that peopled the woods with Sileni and fauns, that gave Neptune to the sea and Zeus to the skies, were a more spiritual influence than our superstitions— never to sit down thirteen to dinner, and to be sure to turn round three times if you see two magpies.

And on these words we returned from theology to earth, myself holding forth, as it was my duty to do, since Mr. Husband had come to hear me speak, that art was the first of human instincts. The caveman drew before he began to worship, I said. I know the scientists hold that the caveman did not draw for his pleasure, but for some belief that the animal drawn was potentially dead; modern savages think the same.

I referred my guest to The Golden Bough, and was speaking of the great artistic periods, when Mr. Husband interposed with a question: Have you found a satisfactory definition of art? Tolstoy, he said, after rejecting mam definitions, defined art as a means whereby a man communicates his sensations to another man. Tolstoy, I answered, was unæsthetic, and the average man reads his own justification in — Which do you place highest, Mr. Husband asked, War and Peace, or Anna Karenina? I answered that a reply would lead me far away from the first chapter of my new book. And you know, Mr. Husband, I said, you asked me to tell it to you. Mr. Husband acquiesced.

We must not, however, leave Tolstoy too quickly, I continued; he is too great a man to be dismissed. A phrase often met in contemporary criticism is that a man can be judged only by his best works; all the same, it may be contended that a man’s work is all of a piece, with very little variation, the inspiration of the truly great man being always by him. Few would come out of such a judgment unscathed, but Tolstoy would be sent to the galleys by a jury of æsthetes for Sebastopol; for in it he is eye and nothing but eye — an eye that sees everything and records everything, with the unvarying monotony of a cinematograph. If this terrible old man, after compiling many extravagant books on the indissolubility of marriage, had not run away from his wife and died in a railway station at the age of eighty-two, he would have been able to add to his long list of eccentricities another: a solemn declaration yelled from the Steppes, of course, that whereas Angelo or Donatello lied, the cinematograph tells the truth.

But being without the æsthetic sense, Mr. Husband interposed, his definition of art is as unacceptable as the definitions he disregarded. So it seems to me to be, I answered; and seeing that my guest was waiting for my definition of art, I said that the different arts were formula whereby man interprets Nature. And man, I continued, being isolated in different communities for several thousand years after the birth of civilization, was able to invent many formulæ. Now and then a seed came from overseas, and in a new soil and in a different climate a new flowerage began. Latin literature is derived from the Greek; it is said that Roman statues were the work of Greek sculptors — which may be true; who shall say? Be this as it may, it is certain that, in the third or the fourth century, art vanished from the earth, some theorists giving as a reason the descent of northern barbarians into Italy, others contending that to have art there must be long periods without art. What concerns us is not the reasons for the disappearance of art from the world, but the fact that it did disappear in the third century — not to reappear again for nearly a thousand years.

May not history repeat itself? Mr. Husband asked. And I answered: History repeats itself when the circumstances arc the same; and it would have been strange if art had not returned, the circumstance of the thirteenth century not differing very widely from the fourth. A Christian world not differing very widely from a pagan, Mr. Husband interposed. The mediaeval world was hardly larger than the ancient world, I replied, only portions of the planet being known to men. But today we are without gods, and the world is no bigger than a bandbox; every man is looking over the next man’s shoulder, and a portrait painted in Christiania is indistinguishable from a portrait in Lima. The circumstances of the antique world and the modern were, till a hundred years ago, practically the same. We lived till 1850 in isolated communities; every town had a society, customs, and dialect of its own. Till 1850 many languages were spoken in these islands.

I remember the humming of looms in the village street, housewives spinning at cottage doors; and at the end of a passage in my house in Mayo stands a grandfather-clock which came from Castlebar at the end of the eighteenth century; the precise date I cannot vouch for, but it is certain that a grandfather-clock has not been made in Castlebar since 1850. It was about that time that beer ceased to be made at Moore Hall; the brew-house still existed in my childhood, but we got our beer from Ballinrobe; now the beer comes to Ballinrobe from Dublin. Moore Hall was built in 1780 by Mayo builders and carpenters, and few houses in Ireland or England have withstood a hundred years of wear and neglect better than this hale old house, standing on a hill overlooking some ancient island castles. In my childhood, Mayo builders, carpenters, and blacksmiths were little inferior to those who built Moore Hall. I remember one of Mayo’s carpenters designing and making a handsome wardrobe; he could not read or write, but it may be doubted if Mayo’s newspaper-reading peasantry could show so excellent a craftsman; and of this I am sure, that Mayo is a drearier county, for landlords and peasants alike, in the twentieth century than it was in the first half of the nineteenth.

I looked inquiringly across the hearthrug, afraid lest this big-framed, even-complexioned, blue-eyed, darkhaired young American, who sat in the armchair opposite to me, was wearying of my discourse. I am not given to holding forth like my friend W. B. Yeats, and I beg the reader to believe me when I say that, if I emulated Yeats on the 27th of March, 1922, it was because my guest wished it. Yeats does not waste himself on one; so there is a distinction. And afraid to pursue my theme till it became tedious, I bethought myself of an anecdote whereby I might enliven it for him; wherefore I related that some twelve or fifteen years ago I went to call on Sir William (then simple) Orpen, who came to Dublin every six months to teach drawing in the Metropolitan School of Art. The studios in which I was invited to seek him seemed strangely crowded for a country whose chief ambition is the priesthood; and this thought had barely come into my mind when the clerical appearance of the students caught my eye, and I began to ask myself if Ireland had turned from theology to sculpture, for the greater number were producing faint resemblances to pears and apples with wet clay. My wonderment was interrupted by Orpen making his way through the serried ranks, his smile telling me as he came that he guessed the reason of my astonishment. But, said I, whence come all these people to learn modeling? There must be fifty or sixty here. — From all parts of Ireland, he answered. And the money that brings them to Dublin — whence comes it? — They don’t pay to come here; they are paid to come. And what do they come here for? To get diplomas, he replied, that will allow them to teach. — So men come here not to study art, but to learn to teach art, I said. The teacher has to be taught! — Yes, he said; and it is the same everywhere.

But tell me, Orpen, why the students dress like clerics. They come from Christian Brothers’ schools, Orpen answered. But what conception, I said, can the people who invented this system have of art? — You must ask your friend, Mr. T. P. Gill, about that, Orpen replied. And I heard that a Metropolitan School of Art has been set up in every large town; for, according to the newest principles, everybody must get his chance whether he wants it or not. To admit, Orpen continued, that one man brings a gift into the world and that the next man does not, would amount to an admission that the Liberal Party cannot rectify Nature’s mistakes. What would become of democracy if such a thing were admitted? I am amazed, I said, for I did n’t suspect imbecility in the average man. The average man is not imbecile, said Orpen, but principals are. The Minister of Education would admit that genius cannot be produced artificially, but his contention would be that genius can look after itself, and that it is his business to look after mediocrity. He might even say: Let us create an atmosphere.

Wonderful, thrice wonderful! I replied; and began a story that I had from my friend Tonks, the Slade Professor, of how an artist was treated by Mr. Fisher, or his department. The man was an artist — he had gained his living by painting; but after the war he fell into difficult circumstances, and applied for the post of teacher at a provincial school; mind you, he was an artist who had gained his living by painting. The headmaster of the school at which he wished to teach had seen his paintings in various exhibitions, and the artist thought that all was settled. But when he interviewed Mr. Fisher, or his department, I know not which, he was told: Yes, your pictures are well enough, — we have photographs of them before us, — but you must go to Kensington and go through a course of pedagogy. Pedagogy — what is that? I asked. I never heard the word. Tonks explained it to me, and I answered: Well then, if a school were started to teach young ladies how to write novels, and I applied for the post, I should have to learn how I was to teach them to write novels? Most undoubtedly you would! That is the Fisher formula. Mr. Fisher, I continued, will admit that his system is not perfect ; he hopes, of course, to improve it as time goes on; others will say that we are pursuing a false system of teaching, but nobody will admit that all teaching is futile, — worse than futile, poisonous, — and that the poison will continue generation after generation, until there is no handicraft and no art worth speaking of left in England.

So you see, Mr. Husband, we are without hope of a Renaissance of illiteracy. It would seem that every epoch is represented by a word, the thirteenth by filioque, the Napoleonic Empire by organization, the twentieth century by education. And upon my word, I would welcome a reversion to theology. The arts flourished in it, and, if certain questions were not asked, men and women were left to their instincts.

You think, said my guest, that man has not advanced in intelligence? But you do not think so, Mr. Husband; nor does anybody but those without knowledge of the world’s history — the history of Greece, for example. Mr. Fisher knows that forcible education was not the law of Athens, and that wisdom thrived without it; and if he believes in detaining young folk at school till they are sixteen, and brings down Wranglers from Cambridge and Firsts from Oxford to teach them, it is because he does not know how life is made, or because his belief in forcible education springs from money. Money hides from learned men many things that the poor know well, and every workman knows that a boy released from school when he is fourteen is set upon learning a trade; but if he be kept at school till he is sixteen, he very likely becomes part of the vagrant class. At sixteen, a boy begins to look round, to think; and seeing that there is no future for him in ploughing, mowing, carting hay, and reaping corn, or following a flock, he hesitates to return whence he came. If he be a town lad, the plumbing trade does not entice him; the slater’s still less, for, if the sewers are deep, the roofs are high; and if you press him, saying: Well, if you don’t enter a trade, how do you hope to get a living? Live on the old man, I expect, is the answer you will get. Now the new laws allow boys to be kept at school till they are sixteen; but they permit exceptional boys to be detained till they are eighteen, the exceptional boy, in the eyes of the schoolmaster, being the boy who passes examinations.

At one moment of my life, I remember being able to count twenty men among my friends and acquaintances who had taken Firsts at Oxford; and looking back upon them now, they seem a very sorry squad, indeed. Some lived upon their relations; some had small incomes, from two hundred and fifty to three hundred pounds a year, and struggled to make two ends meet in furnished apartments; some turned to journalism, and wrote paragraphs and turn-overs for the Globe newspaper; some drifted into the Times office; others into chambers in the Temple, glad to accept what are known as soups at the Old Bailey. It was not that these men came into the world stupid: as boys they were intelligent enough; but the effort to acquire knowledge for the honor of a First poisoned their minds.

Education, said Mr. Husband, must come from within, not from without. In response, I answered, to an instinctive prompting. All education of value, Mr. Husband continued, is self-education; that is my experience.

I regretted afterward not having listened instead of recording my own experiences and ideas; but the impulse of speech was upon me, and I said: Our concern is not with the men who go to universities and wear their brains away in learning things they do not want to learn, for the sake of their parents, who would like to say: Johnny took a First. At Oxford a few mental wrecks don’t matter; my pity is for those in the elementary schools, who are turned from their natural instincts.

The making of round pegs for square holes, Mr. Husband chimed in, and I answered: Yet it should be clear to everybody who gives five minutes thought to the question that the destiny of the great majority of mankind is to dig the field. An everlasting law that no Government can change, said Mr. Husband, and I replied: The country goes to the town, but the town never returns to the country.

I often wonder if Mr. Fisher, on awakening from his educational dreams, asks himself how the world will get its food when the shepherd no longer goes to the fold, lantern in hand, and the ploughman to the stable. It is hard to think that he ponders his educational schemes without sometimes seeing the peasant as Atlas; and the explanation that he is a Londoner, bred and born, is not enough. He cannot have escaped seeing a man hedging and ditching, on his holidays; but very learned men often have eyes only for print, and are unable to appreciate the country until they read it in books; it may be that Mr. Fisher is one of these.

If he understands what he reads in print, all will be well, said Mr. Husband ; for I can see that you are bent on enlightening him. I was moved to reprove Mr. Husband for his facetiousness; but, remembering that he was my guest, I said: Though there be no hedging and ditching in America, Mr. Husband, there are certainly coal mines, and you are perhaps the one educated man in the world who has hewn coal in a mine five hundred feet deep, of his own free will. So tell me, you who know something of manual labor at firsthand, — no, I am not punning, — tell me if education and manual work are compatible?

I read yesterday in the newspaper, Mr. Husband said, a speech by Mr. Winston Churchill, in which he told that Bolshevism had reduced Russia, the granary of Europe, to a desert where millions are dying of starvation. Bolshevism, he said, will do the same in England if it gets a footing here; and while Mr. Churchill spoke, Mr. Fisher was making the bed for Lenin.

I was about to start again on the words: The law that is over us, when my guest interrupted, and I listened, nothing loath, having already had my fill of words. It may be well for you to hear, said Mr. Husband, — I hope you don’t mind? On the contrary, I replied; you can illuminate the question whether forced education — I was going to say, began Mr. Husband; and then stopped suddenly, as if ashamed at having interrupted me. I waited. I was going to say, he repeated, that Aristotle thought it quite natural that men should be born slaves. I have not read Aristotle, I answered — my defective education. A wisdom that has illuminated century after century is not listened to to-day, his ideas being treated as out of keeping with the progress that has been made since his day. Progress! I continued, looking into Mr. Husband’s face; a book might be written indeed about the progress we have made. But, however well written, the book would fail to open the eyes of tire blind century we live in. The worst slavery of all is to be set to perform tasks that are out of our instinct. A hare beating a tambourine in Regent Street is one of the most pathetic of all spectacles. I saw one once and introduced poor puss — Into Evelyn Innes, said Mr. Husband. Yes; and now I compare the showman to the Minister of Education, who is daily dragging men and women out of their instincts, out of their nature, out of their genius, creating the worst slavery of all, and so needless, for a moment of thoughtfulness might have revealed to Mr. Fisher the fact that the Liberal professions cannot absorb everybody. It might, indeed. And so we find ourselves in the midst of doctors who would like to look after a farm, artists of the stuff that sailors are made of, secretaries who detest writing and dream over their machines of washing-up dishes, and shop-girls who wearily stand behind the counter, thinking how happy they would be broom in hand.

After a pause, during which Mr. Husband was kind enough to wait for me to collect my thoughts, I said: We have forsworn our hands, and invented machines that do badly the work that the hand did very well; and having got so far, we would, by means of enforced education, wipe out original instincts and remake mankind; for it amounts to as much. Everybody in the Education Office knows that he cannot educate himself, but he is convinced that he can educate somebody else. The Liberal belief that everything can be remedied by education is strangely pathetic; and the word education, like filicque, reveals us to ourselves, and, if not for long, we apprehend for a moment, at least, how pathetic is the race of man.

I wonder what Aristotle would think of the modern belief that everybody is a slave who does not go to an office and sit on a high stool and keep accounts. I wonder what Aristotle, who thought it quite natural that men should be born slaves, would think of the idea of the office-stool and a fortnight’s holiday. I think I can see him, in my thoughts, looking at the office-stool, and after looking at it for some time, his words sound in my ears: But men are shaped differently; do you not keep different sizes? I think I can hear Mr. Fisher answer: At present the size does not fit all men; but we hope that all men will soon begin to fit the stool. A Platonist, surely, Aristotle murmurs. I always dreaded his influence and now find it predominant after more than two thousand years. How very extraordinary! And then Aristotle might ask: Enforced education, or enforced slavery — which? Why is one meritorious and the other abominable? All these young men and women do not want education; they hate it.

Ah, yes, said Mr. Husband, interrupting my dream. There are many among the young generation who dislike, and intensely, the education that is being forced upon them; who, as you would say, Mr. Moore, are inspired by their instincts to avoid it; and many would prefer to educate themselves, feeling that they could do it better. But their parents are not of that opinion; for parents ascribe their comparative failure to their lack of education. Therefore they cry out that their children shall be retained at school till they are sixteen, and make sacrifices for this calamitous end.

Parents, I said, have sacrificed their children. Once it was to gods, now it is to education; fetish after fetish, and none more reasonable than another. The flower blooms according to its law, Mr. Husband answered; the planets follow their courses according to law. Everywhere we look, we find law; but however much we may seek, the cause of the law escapes us. Perhaps, I said, that is the reason why we try to get above the laws of Nature.

Tell me, I continued, changing the subject suddenly; passing from philosophy to practical truths, is it true that in America all manual labor is done by emigrants? I believe the servant problem is a very pressing one. Our servants come from Ireland, Italy, and Sweden, Mr. Husband replied, and that is why the immigration laws arc not more strict; at least seventy per cent of our manual labor comes from the middle of Europe. The first generation works hard, the second generation works less, the third generation looks upon itself as American, and aspires to the liberal professions, which cannot absorb everybody.

I asked him if he had met no American hewing coal. About five-and-twenty per cent in the mine in which I worked were Americans, he answered; and he spoke of some lean hunters, who came sometimes from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland: who, he said, when not hunting or mining, are employed in feuds, vendettas, the causes of which are forgotten, so long ago is it since the original shooting. Dick knows that he must shoot Jim when he meets him, and Jim is not more knowledgeable; enough it is for him to know that he must pull the trigger first.

Mr. Husband’s stories of the Blue Ridge Mountains were brought nearer home by a remark that even Irish raiders could learn something from these lean mountain men. Are there mountains in Maryland? I asked. You see, dear reader, I was fortunate enough to be possessed of an instinct that persuaded me to accept thrashings rather than submit to education, else my lot might have been to write like Mr. Hardy, our modern Æschylus; whereas, by a little act of courage and avoiding the Bible till I was fifty, I wrote The Brook Kerith.

But I am wandering from memories of my delightful guest. What I remember next of the evening’s conversation is Mr. Husband telling me many stories of the childishness and improvidence of the negroes he had met in the mine.

You are not afraid, I asked Mr. Husband, that, when they outnumber the whites, they will revolt? A successful revolt, he answered, implies organization. And we spoke of Hayti, Mr. Husband telling, what every schoolboy knows, but which I did not, that Hayti had belonged to the French, and that the French revolutionaries sent over a deputation conferring freedom upon the negroes, the first result of which was a massacre of the whites and then a massacre of each other.

Mr. Husband’s anecdotes illustrating the childishness of negroes had enlivened our conversation; and unwilling that it should again darken, I asked him if his eyes could distinguish a gleam of light on our horizon. His cheerful optimism did not desert his voice even when he said that the world would continue its breakneck pace till it toppled over into the barbarism of the Middle Ages. Just as you have predicted, Mr. Moore, emerging, much reduced by famine, a smaller but more beautiful planet.

And it seeming to me that I could not run the risk of losing the pleasing optimism of Mr. Husband’s voice, I refrained from speaking of the desolating tide of children flooding our doorways, and spoke instead of my Parisian life — one that all Americans like to hear; peopling my anecdotes with those who assembled at Tortoni’s during the seventies. And as a bonne bouche, I related my last visits to the great tribe of Impressionists, now reduced to two, Monet and Mary Casatt; and Mr. Husband listened, as all Americans listen to such tales, till he began to remember that his days in London were numbered, and that he must not miss a night of long slumber. For heaven only knows when the chance of a ten-hours sleep will come again! he said. I think I told you that I have to leave my bed at seven? Yes, I remember, I answered; and it is now going on for midnight. But do not leave on account of me; I sleep on in the morning and rise when I am rested. Mr. Husband hesitated, as if he had something still in his mind to say, and I wondered what it could be.

We have talked, he said, when I opened the front door for him, about a great many things, without, however, mentioning my handwriting. You see, I am now in business, and am afraid it would be rather too long a job to copy out the whole book; but if you would like a chapter of it — My dear Mr. Husband, your letters are enough; and after bidding him good-bye once more, I returned to my Aubusson carpet and my lyre-shapen clock, feeling that I would have done better to have talked less and to have drawn Mr. Husband into further confidences about himself. But no further confidences would have helped me to understand him better than his first avowal: that, after leaving Harvard University, he had gone down into a coal mine in search of — what? The last thing that anybody would suspect: life — primal, fundamental life. And I sought, without finding them, the words in which he had said he had gone down into the mine in search of primal life. He said nothing about escaping from conventions and prejudices — what did he say? I asked myself; and stirred the fire without being able to recall his words.

The words, however, that I am sure of, are: If I had been in Europe, I might have done as you did — gone to France and lived in Montmartre; but being in America, there was nothing for me to do but go down into a coal mine. How admirable! How altogether admirable! In these words we see the man from end to end, we weigh him, we appraise him. And before a dwindling fire I sat for a long time, thinking of Mr. Husband’s sea voyage, his arrival in New York; pausing after rising from my chair, so that I might better consider the question whether he would sleep a night in New York, or catch a train to take him to Chicago. The answer came: He is too eager to see his wife again, to wait in New York; he will catch the train.