Cornelia and Dionysus: Introducing Also Her Husband and Some Others

MAY, 1924



THE smooth order of Cornelia’s life was interrupted on New Year’s Eve by a distressing occurrence which I — which all of us who possess a rudimentary sense of tact — insist on calling an accident. The circumstance which seemed at the moment to point the accident with a piercing significance, a chilling personal meaning for us, was, I suppose, the mere coincidence that we were arguing in the abstract about just such occurrences when the brutal reality of the thing burst in among us with the effrontery of a bandit in a Pullman car. Of course it admits of the natural explanation which I shall give, leading up to the mishap in the order of my own approach.

Cornelia spends the winter months in the city, in a desirable apartment near the lower end of the Park — an apartment so spacious and so desirable that an old New Yorker once amused himself at my small-town ideas by asking me to guess the annual rental. As her children, Dorothy and Oliver Junior, — the centre of her summer solicitude, — are at their preparatory schools except during the holidays, she devotes this season to her women friends, to her husband, and to her husband’s friends. I group in this way the people whom she entertains, first, because she has no men friends who are not her husband’s friends, and, second, because her husband has an endless string of interesting official and unofficial personages whom he gets up — or brings up — from Washington for conferences or for exhibitional or other mysterious diplomatic purposes.

As an ancient admirer—to put it discreetly — who has sunk through the incalculable accidents of life to the level of an educational counselor or referee, I confess that I find Cornelia just a shade more perfectly herself in the country, where she is comparatively alone with the children and Nature and her books, than in the city, where, on my occasional expeditions, I see her but seldom and then usually so beset with husband, friends, and personages that there is little opportunity for the long educational tête-à-têtes of the summer.

In the winter holidays I like to call on the two of them in their own characteristic setting, for a variety of reasons which will be obvious enough to all those provincials who spend the gray season quietly sitting in silent, snowbound prairie towns and villages, dreaming, like waifs in a Scandinavian fairy tale, of the bright commotion of crowded streets and thronged foyers and Duse and Pavlowa and grand opera and Conrad and Lloyd George and Swinnerton and windows full of new books and golden gowns and cut flowers. I remember once remarking to them, after they had taken me into one of their theatre parties in the grand style: ‘Art for the upper classes; morality for men of moderate incomes; religion for the poor.’ ‘No’; retorted Oliver, with his instantaneous eye for the weak spot in my armor: ‘Art for the cities; morality for the towns; religion for the villages.’

We provincials are, it is true, fairly well disciplined to the stoic ‘apathy’ — a kind of cultivated hardening of the heart toward everything beyond the reach of our hands and the range of our eyes. Through month after month the rosy knuckles of temptation may knock on our hardened hearts in vain. But recent investigation proves that under constant percussion and strain the hardest substances yield — steel girders buckle, flywheels burst, and bridges wear out and give way to a malady known to science as ‘the fatigue of metals.’ An analogous malady, attacking even the most firmly tempered of hearts, accounts for the popularity of Charles Lamb’s ‘moral holiday,’ that excursion from the moral macadam which nowadays we call a ‘detour.’ It explains, too, in my own case, the sharp nostalgia for the city which afflicts me annually on the depressing morning after Christmas. On that spiritless day-after, I feel like a wretched silkworm in a glass jar, which will swiftly perish of inanition if not supplied with fresh mulberry leaves. That explains why I pack my bag and, by the first Limited train, creep to the city — under the pretext of reading a paper before one of the learned associations.

What I am coming to is the rather curious fact that the attraction of Cornelia’s winter establishment is perhaps due less directly to her than to her husband, and to the refreshing and, for me, delightfully relaxing air of worldliness which circulates around him. Cornelia wonderfully incarnates the Eternal Feminine, which is supposed to draw us upward. But in the interim between Christmas and New Year’s Resolutions one does n’t desire to be drawn upward. All one wants is to escape from ennui and suffocation. In the colloquial idiom of our section, one ‘wants out.’ And Oliver, in the negligee of old acquaintance, is a most agreeable, realistic, and sometimes rather witty Mephistopheles, letting one out of conventional and cloistral habits of thought, and leading one by sharp detours into the heart of ‘things as they are.’ Clearly, I don’t dislike Oliver: I envy him, and, like his other familiars, call him ‘Excellency,’ a title which I believe few persons except the Governor of Massachusetts have any right to use officially. Nor do I think that Oliver really dislikes me: he pities me, and calls me ‘Professor,’ a title which he has also conferred, in my presence, upon the learned Greek who polishes his shoes. I tell him that both the Greek and I have a better right to our titles than he, for Oliver is now writing his reminiscences of the war, and has at present no official Washington connection whatever, busy as he seems to be there.

I envy him the variety of his life, the interest and importance of his personal relations, his position inside the façade of public affairs, his understanding of the huge subterranean dynamos which operate the puppet-show of politics, his familiarity with the little hairsprings which govern the dynamos, his chatter of Wall Street and the Departments and the legations, and his inexhaustible stock of unpublished anecdote. In public he has had the reputation of a strong team-worker, a sound ‘administration’ man; and in the newspapers he passes as a champion of the common people, friend of the farmer and the laboring man — and the rest. But twenty-five years of more or less public life have not stereotyped his mind. In private, indiscretions bubble from him like water from a spring. He utters the most profane and contemptuous condemnation of major enterprises of his party. In a friendly circle he will even repudiate, with perfect recklessness, the ‘asininities’ to which he has been constrained by various public considerations to subscribe. I twit him on the essential duplicity of the official character. I call him what he seems to my academic sense to be — ‘a tough little Yankee crabapple, coated with the wax of European diplomacy’; ‘a hardshelled individualist steeped in Nietzschean philosophy and merely dipped in democratic shellac.’ I insist that there is no more milk in him than there is in a billiard ball; and that he values the plain people as a professional golfplayer values his caddies. Caesar’s wives? Oliver’s immediate implication, I suppose, was merely that the public expects on the part of instructors of youth a quasi-priestly character, a many-sided and inhuman exemplariness of opinion and conduct such as neither the youth in our charge nor their parents require of themselves. But Oliver meant more than that. He meant to suggest the absurdity to the ‘realistic’ mind — the practical invalidity — of the entire professorial and schoolmasterly point of view, and the utopian insubstantiality of our ethical and social vision. Caesar’s wives! The sting of that quip, which he planted in me last summer, was still rankling a bit on a gray hungry morning a few days after Christmas, the poison of it being its truth; and a doubt was stealing insidiously into my mind, like the snake into the garden of Eden, whether perhaps the influence of the secular priesthood over the democracy might not be greater if the priesthood abandoned its attempt to appear so supremely untouched by the gross human infirmities of the democracy — when I received a note from Cornelia, and, half an hour later, a telegram from Oliver. For brevity’s sake, I give the telegram:

In revenge, Oliver blandly replies: ‘The only trouble with you professors is that you know absolutely nothing about life ‘ — a charge which I always admit; and then pump him for information. He responds with the — I think — sincere conviction, shared by many Eastern statesmen, that we Mid-Westerners are of an unsubjugated alien race, ominously multiplying within the borders of the otherwise united States, and mainly occupied with the propagation of miscellaneous fanaticisms. He has not yet forgiven me ‘the pacifism of the Mississippi Valley when the seaboard was aflame.’ He ascribes to me the ‘bolshevism’ of North Dakota, and is always inquiring solicitously; ‘By the way, how did you come out with your investments in the Dakota bonds?’ Sometimes he pretends that, as I am from ‘Puritan Kansas,’ I may have scruples against breakfasting with them ‘on the Sabbath’; if I accept, he turns to Cornelia and gravely warns her not to forget ‘the Nebraskan’s grape-juice.’ Or he will ask my permission to light a cigarette, remarking, ‘As you are from Utah, I feared it might be offensive to you.’ His mocking compassion is often excited by my provincial residence and by my profession. I don’t mind his designating me as ‘Pascal,’ nor his reference to my correspondence with Cornelia as Les lettres provinciates. But, in one of his sharper moods, I remember his saluting me as ‘Calpurnia.’ I asked him to enlarge a little on the idea. ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ he replied, ‘only I hear that nowadays they are dismissing all the men from university faculties and manning them with Cæsar’s wives — with persons “above suspicion.” I always think of you professors as Caesar’s wives.’


I packed my old suit into my old suit-case, slipped into my inside pocket the old club-paper which was to pay my expenses, snatched a book of Gilbert Murray’s to read on the train, and crept slowly eastward on the Limited. My diary shows that my occupations during my first forty-eight hours in the city were about as follows: —

(Details at this point omitted by the Editor.)

Mulberry leaves! These details I include in order to indicate briefly how I reduced the unmarinerliness of my provincial appetite before I put in my appearance at Oliver’s, and, leaving my bag at the office, went up one flight to their apartment. I don’t like to seem too eager.


As I stepped into the clear soft blueness of the candlelit apartment Cornelia rose, a silvery shimmer, from the settee where she had been chatting with Oliver Junior, and, approaching with Artemisian stride, greeted me with her finished graciousness. The artistic perfection of it might subtly pain a sensitive heart, were it not for the intimate reassurance imparted by the rippling overtones of her voice, which resolves art into intoxication and curiously persuades a man in evening dress, in the heart of the city, that he is standing in the midst of a garden full of flowers. . . . I muse.

Cornelia swiftly explained that Oliver Junior, though festively attired, would not dine with us. That spirited and well-groomed youth would, in a few minutes, drive his sister and two of their friends to a young people’s party in Riverdale. After I had asked him a few banal questions about his school, a topic which did not appear greatly to ‘intrigue’ him, he edged into the adjoining room and diddled with the piano till his sister Dorothy skipped in, looking like an adolescent Bacchante, — she is a little over seventeen, — and they disappeared together.

Cornelia in the meantime had also explained that Oliver Senior was in the library with Vernon Willys. ‘I don’t like him much’; she added, ‘in fact I think him rather horrid. He is very happy to-night over his separation from his wife. He could hardly wait to get inside the door to tell us about it. But I believe you have discovered something precious in his books, and Oliver seems infatuated with him. They have been running around together all the fall. He is doing a political novel now, and I accuse Oliver of sitting for the portrait of the hero. But here they are.’

The two men came in from the library with red buds in their buttonholes. Oliver as usual saluted me with a volley of questions, which he gave me no time to answer, and with an animating smile, in which I always feel a slightly satirical edge. Willys, whom I had met once or twice before, nipped my arm, smacked his lips, and murmured with a communicative flicker in his eyes that I must be sure to see His Excellency’s library before I left. As we moved toward the dining-room, Oliver’s quick fire continued: ‘Did you get my telegram? Get the point about Bacchus? I’m feeling the pulse of the country on this prohibition business. Willys here has convictions, I find—just as many convictions as you have, but different. I got you two together in the hope of hearing you beat each other’s brains out. I hope you ‘ll do it in good style. Give him the Mid-Western gospel. I’ll hold the coats. I’ve arranged the proper setting. But be human, Professor! Be human — just for to-night!’

It is not my intention to describe the dinner in detail. The excellence of a dinner a quatre, for any but a quartet of gourmands, is merely to provide a softfooted ministration of successive felicities to the appetitive nature while the higher faculties, stimulated by the aesthetic accessories of the feast, nimbly engage in the discourse of reason. Of the material details, my memory is as indistinct as an impressionist poet’s. I recall only the tall silver of candlesticks on an immaculate whiteness which was doubtless linen; and a soothing greenness which may have been holly; and a dark rich redness which was certainly roses; and a fragrance, mingled, various, which was partly roses and partly — well, I sat at Cornelia’s right hand, and in that dazzling proximity — she carries her head so proudly that Time has hardly ventured to touch a wisp of her bronze-gold hair nor to breathe near her shoulder — in that proximity I did not notice, I honestly did not notice till some seconds after we were seated, that in front of each plate was a half-moon formed of three delicate glasses, glowing with candlelight reflected from the varicolored souls of old vineyards.

Vernon Willys quite audibly drew in his breath, which after the visit to His Excellency’s library was a discreet enough thing to do with it. Oliver, glancing at me, repeated: ‘Remember, Professor — be human.’ Then he raised his ruby-colored glass toward the novelist and said: ‘Let us drink to the death of Bacchus.’ The two men clinked and instantly drained their glasses. Cornelia lifted hers in my direction, just touched it with her lips, and then replaced it in the semicircle. I was thinking of Ben Jonson’s old song, that Anacreontic thing about the thirst that rises from the soul. But what I did with my glass, since whatever I did would grievously offend many persons’ notion of the right thing to have done, I absolutely refuse to disclose. That point is of quite subsidiary relevance.

The thing which engaged my attention as a Mid-Western ‘ethicist’ and one of ‘Cæsar’s wives’ was not the content of the glasses nor the number of times they were filled by the chocolatecolored Caribbean cupbearer. A person of my long practice in the ascetic philosophy actually does n’t much attend to these matters. I merely — let us say — became aware of Oliver’s Machiavellian plot to seduce me. Then what leaped to my sense as worthy of exploration was just the personal feeling, the intimate private attitude of my friends, of precisely this sort of people, toward the ethical question — or complex group of questions — which the alleged death of Dionysus and his active posthumous life have forced into the foreground of our consciousness.

His Excellency, I knew, had publicly advocated the passage of the obnoxious measure, and had given to the press a ‘strong’ statement on the necessity of enforcing the law. In the intimacy of friendship, however, and in the circumstances which he himself had arranged, that was only a provocation to my remarking, as he set down his glass:—

‘It is obvious that you support the Eighteenth Amendment, with reservations.’

‘With a diplomatic reserve,’ he corrected, chuckling. Willys, who had penetrated the ‘reserve,’ laughed. And Cornelia, crushing a smile between her lips, entered into a rather needless explanation, of which the intention, I perceived, was to dissipate any uneasiness which a Mid-Western Puritan might be conceived to feel on his abrupt introduction to a ‘ wet ‘ New Year’s Eve.

‘Monsieur — meaning Oliver — is a little naughty,’ she said, ‘and he likes to make himself appear worse than he is. You must remember that he is practically a European.’

‘Oh, nonsense!’ I exclaimed; ‘Oliver a European! Then so was Andy Jackson.’

‘Yes,’ Cornelia insisted, ‘his tastes and habits were formed in the earlier part of his life, when he was almost constantly abroad. His best friends in Washington are men in the legations who are n’t obliged to adopt our reforms. Naturally, when he entertains them here, he does n’t wish to seem inhospitable or absurd, like poor dear Mr. Bryan. We don’t ordinarily have wine on the table for our own guests — I mean outside the semiofficial connection. But just for to-night, as it’s a holiday, and one of you is a pilgrim from the Mid-West, Oliver thought — we thought — you would appreciate it if ambassadorial privileges were extended to you.’

‘I get the point perfectly,’ I said; ‘that’s Oliver’s point of view — or one of his points of view. But please let Janus defend himself. He will need practice before we Puritans are done with him. But now that the theme is before us, Cornelia, won’t you give us the benefit of your own point of view?’

‘My point of view?’ Cornelia smiled her Mona Lisa smile. ‘ I — oh, I am Oliver’s wife!’

‘ I have often regretted that,’ I replied with a consciously provincial affectation of urban daring; ‘but knowing your strict old-fashioned convictions about marriage, I stifle my regrets. I can’t quite reconcile your indulgent humor this evening with your rigorously prohibitive principles regarding — well, the moral fluidity of such novels as Willys writes. I had hoped that your conservatism, your puritanism, as they call it, on the marriage question would bring you around to our position on prohibition, and so, in that respect at least, detach you from Oliver.’

‘You are dead wrong, Professor,’ Willys interjected, ‘you are muddled. Prohibition is n’t conservatism. It is radical innovation. It is n’t Puritanism. As you yourself have admirably demonstrated, the Puritans drank like fishes. I am a Puritan. So is His Excellency. We are conservatives. So is our hostess.’

‘You don’t read my articles, Willys,’ I said, ‘as carefully as I read your novels. What I demonstrated was, that the Puritan is a radical innovator. The Puritan of our day says, “Let the dry land appear.” You are not a Puritan; you are a Fundamentalist. You wish to return to the Flood. You are a Diluvian.’

‘Now you are at it!’ cried Oliver gleefully. ‘Go to it!’

‘Excuse me,’ I objected; ‘we have n’t heard Cornelia’s point of view yet. I was about to say, when Willys broke in, that we educators don’t attach any great importance to the opinions of disillusioned politicians and satirical novelists — cynics like you and Willys. The national culture is in process of fundamental change and regeneration; and you belong to an order that will soon be obsolete, with none to mourn its extinction. The future of the country is in the hands of the young people and such of the rest of us as keep up with them. I am totally indifferent, Cornelia, to what you think of prohibition as His Excellency’s wife. In that capacity I doubt if you think at all; you merely accept the situation. I am curious only about your attitude as a parent of the new order — as Oliver Junior’s mother. Won’t you, for example, psychologize — analyse your feelings and tell us just why you kissed the glass and set it down untasted?’

A hint of rose — pride or some deeper emotion — appeared in Cornelia’s face when I mentioned her son. He is her religion — the substance of it. Her husband is the church which she attends from old habit, repeating her belief in him with her lips, like the phrases of an ancient creed. But what she really believes in, with the fervor of prayer and faith, is her son. I suspected that Willys and Oliver would think me guilty of bad taste for bringing into the conversation a subject — as a Restoration hero remarks of his wife — ‘so foreign and yet so domestic.’ Somehow children seem out of place when one is celebrating a moral holiday ! But if one wishes to break down the guard of a woman who says, ‘My point of view? I — oh, I am Oliver’s wife!’ one must risk bad taste. Cornelia’s voice glided softly from gay to grave as she answered: —

‘ I kissed the glass for auld lang syne. I set it down untasted for the sake of the new times and the children. I used to enjoy it — as I used to enjoy being twenty years old. It is n’t much to relinquish, is it? — compared with what one has to relinquish.’

When Cornelia talks in this vein about age, she seems to me, well, just ravishingly young; and I murmured, for our angle of the table only, ‘You’ve relinquished nothing!’ She ignored me and continued: —

‘As my son’s mother, I am very happy, under present conditions, to know that he does n’t drink or even feel any temptation to drink. We refrain, my son and I, more as a matter of taste than as a matter of conscience. Besides, he is too young. In my own home the boys had a glass of wine on their twenty-first birthday as a part of the family celebration. And the girls — I can’t remember that I tasted wine, except in Italy, till after I was married. Oliver is only nineteen. If, when he is of age, he is at Oxford, — as I hope he may be, — or if he were able at home to have his wine in a natural atmosphere, simply and innocently, with gentlemen, I should not wish to deprive him of what I was brought up to regard as a proper element of social festivity.'

‘Bravo!’ cried Willys.

‘But, alas,’ she concluded, ‘all that is gone now. And it’s all so furtive and mean that I have a horrid feeling. And one hears so many hateful stories about the secret drinking of mere boys and girls, at school and at their parties, treating one another in their cars by the roadside, — and the consequences of it, — that it’s odious, just odious. And I — I just sigh a bit for “the age of innocence,” and bid it all adieu.’

‘Admirable speech!’ cried the novelist, as the Caribbean attendant refilled his glasses. ‘Beautiful speech: full of sweet reasonableness — all but the conclusion. But why adieu? Watch and wait! I maintain that the prohibitionists builded better than they knew: they have driven drinking out of the barroom and are bringing it back to the home, where it belongs, and where as Burke says, — does n’t he? — it loses all its evil by losing all its grossness, or something like that. You and His Excellency are performing a service to posterity by preserving through this destructive period the purity of a line old tradition.'


I turned to Oliver. ‘Oliver,’I said, ‘you have been shielded by your wife. Now Willys is apologizing for you. Really, you know, this won’t do. You will have to come into the open and speak for yourself. When I go home, my friends will expect me to give them some intelligent account of what is going on here beneath the surface of things. We sit out there among the cornfields with our radio sets and listen to Washington uttering austere words about enforcing the law, and the next morning we read in the papers that there has been a party under the shadow of the Capitol, and that there is no one to see that the law is enforced, because all the responsible people are busy putting away their private stocks. Slanderous, no doubt. But in the ethical sense, how — actually — do you get away with it? Janus, explain yourself,'

‘Oh, very well, Calpurnia,’said Oliver, ‘yours to command, remembering only that, as Judge Black informs me, what a man entrusts to the wife of his bosom “in the sweet confidences of the midnight hour” she is not permitted to bring into court against him. But shall I explain myself as a friend of the Government, or as the master ot my private life? As an ornamental pillar of the Administration, or as the captain of my own soul? Which shall it be?’

‘Both, by all means!’ Willys exclaimed. ‘First one and then the other. First the marble bust and then the man. First the friend of the aspiring people and then the friend of the downtrodden artist. Discuss your public betrayal of your own class and then your private loyalty to the good old cause. But tell us first why you passed the Eighteenth Amendment. I can’t write my next chapter of Senator Jones till I have an authentic hunch, the vraie verite, about the fashion in which you and the Professor and the Puritans and the Mid-West and the Anti-Saloon League — in short, the Anglo-Saxon minority — downed the great hearty Teutonic, Celtic, Italic, Slavic, and Hebraic majority — the glad, gay, sinful, eating-and-drinking majority — and put it over on us.'

‘My dear man,’ said His Excellency in his quietly impressive diplomatic manner, ‘don’t tell me that you accept that fable. You call yourself a realist! Neither the Anti-Saloon League, nor the Puritans, nor the Professor, nor I had any more to do with passing the Eighteenth Amendment than a butterfly on a steam-roller has to do with building the Lincoln highway, or than a catfish in the Mississippi has to do with irrigating the rice-fields of Louisiana.'

His Excellency ‘held the point’ by pausing to light a cigarette.

‘Well, we are waiting,’ someone prompted, after duly respecting his technique.

‘ Mes enfants,' he continued, and then blew a ring of white smoke spinning toward the tip of one of the candles, where it hung for a moment like a nimbus and then dissolved upward. ‘ My children, let me disclose to you the fundamental axiom of political philosophy — not the orthodox but the esoteric philosophy. Distrust the press and ignore the palaver of the man in the street. I tell you this: you may scold yourself red in the face; you may bleed yourself white; you may shout yourself blue with pietistic, reformatory, and patriotic fervor; nothing of any importance, of any public consequence, is ever accomplished in this world except by Necessity — by a succession of linked Necessities.'

‘The theory is n’t entirely novel, Excellency,’ I said. ‘And now the application.’

‘The necessity which put through the Volstead Act was the war; the necessity behind that was the sky-vaulting of wages; the necessity behind that was maximum production; the necessity behind that was a workman sober seven days in the week; the necessity behind that I could make concrete to you by naming the hundred leading corporations of the country that were in the belly of the wooden horse, making his feet track, when the AntiSaloon League rode on his back into Jerusalem — or, if the figure offends you, into Washington.’

‘The figure seems a little mixed at the best,’ said Willys. ‘ But call it Jerusalem — whither the tribesmen go up to liquidate the burden of laying taxes on us. As for your chain of necessities, now that the war is over, that chain is falling apart. The workingman sees the Big Brother in the wooden horse, who bullied him into working six days in the week and into doing, according to Union standards, two days’ work in one. He does n’t like that. Besides, he knows that his Big Brother’s own throat is n’t dry, has n’t been dry. The injustice rasps him. He wants his beer again. He wants the “poor man’s club” again. And he has a jolly good right to have them. What do you say to that?’

‘Oh, he has rights enough,’ Oliver assented; ‘but the poor man’s club has passed into the hands of a receiver — a mighty capable one. The poor man’s club is now in the hands of his wife. She is in charge now of the Saturday afternoons and evenings. Do you think, when her vote is as good as his, she is going to let him pour his wages into the sink? Rather not. She has spent them, spent them in advance, fot a generation to come.’

‘ Yes,’ said Cornelia. ‘ Is n’t it a pity! Workwomen are the most wasteful creatures. Why, when Margaret — ‘

‘You don’t quite get. the idea, my dear,’Oliver resumed. ‘As I was saying, in war time, while her old man was sober, with money bulging his pockets and nowhere to go, she made him buy her a house and a Ford and a Victrola and savings stamps and baby bonds, and now she’s buying a municipal playground along the line of the old grogshops and a new schoolhouse and a hospital and a couple of movie theatres and a municipal stadium and a municipal swimming-pool and God Himself alone knows how many hundred thousand miles of the finest and most expensive roads in the world.’

‘Why, Oliver dear,’ cried Cornelia, ‘what do you mean?’ I don’t know anything more painful than to report the occasional fatuity of a woman whom one almost unreservedly admires. But dear Cornelia has not medilated very deeply on the problems of the working classes. And returning to her point, she insisted: ‘I’m sure Margaret has n’t bought any swimming-pools or hospitals.’

‘No, my dear,’ said Oliver calmly, ‘ I doubt if she has. But as I was saying, she has her own ideas of a club — that woman. She is a Progressive. As a big employer in Pittsburgh said to me yesterday, “She has tasted blood.” She has dug in, and is going to extend her works. Wages won’t go down; they’ll be higher to-morrow morning. Why? Do you suppose that new outfit of hers is paid for? Rather not. Do you suppose that the business men are going to continue in business and collect their bills? Do you suppose they know what kind of plain people pay their bills and have money to spend? I fancy they do. Well! The Big Brother is still in the wooden horse. Maximum production and high wages till the Judgment Day. And prohibition! The only ticket on which any party will hold office. That’s my forecast — as a servant of the Government and a friend of the workingman.’

‘Heaven help the poor workingman,’ cried Willys, ‘and spare us a few noble specimens of the idle rich. But now, Excellency, you must cheer our fainting spirits by explaining your point of view as the master of your private life.’

‘As the master of my private life,’ said Oliver promptly, ‘ I deny that I am any such Janus as the Professor here tries to make me out. As a private citizen, I still believe that prohibition cannot be repealed. Within this belief, I merely include, as a private citizen, my philosophic certainty that it will never be enforced, except where it is economically necessary. In my case it is not necessary: therefore, it will not be enforced. Its enforcement helps the business of the plain people; it would hinder mine. It adds, on the whole, very greatly to the comfort of their lives; it would detract from mine. The whole case against liquor grew out of the plain people’s abuse of it. The whole case of liquor will be improved by my right use of it. There is no “rasping injustice” but a beautiful poetic justice in their losing theirs and in my keeping mine. That does n’t express adequately my generosity in lending my hand to riveting the workingman’s benefits firmly upon him. Many of the most decorative and not the least substantial pillars of prohibition are men of excellent and experienced palate. I simply cannot understand the Senator who refers to the Volstead Act as an idiotic measure and a failure. It was absolutely necessary: nothing which is necessary is idiotic. And every economist will tell you that it has been a marvelous economic success. It wonderfully accomplishes what had to be done, and it leaves undone what it ought not to do. And there you are.’

‘And there you are!’ retorted Willys, ‘you and your economic argument. But where are the rest of us? I’m sorry to say that, for economic reasons, I can’t follow you. My bootlegger is devouring my royalties. Therefore, as you would say, I have conscientious objections to illicit liquor.’

‘I had rather overlooked that possibility,’ said Oliver. ‘But lean on me — at least until you have finished Senator Jones’

‘Thank you,’ said Willys, ‘I’ll do so. But seriously speaking — ‘

‘Forgive me!’ Cornelia interposed, with a delightful wave of her hand flagging the onrush of the novelist’s volubility. ‘Before Mr. Willys begins to speak seriously, suppose we adjourn to the library. You remember that Oliver is likely to lose his temper if I keep him too long at the table fiddling with cigarettes.’


I have never had leisure to examine the books in the library, which range from floor to ceiling. Sargent’s portrait of Cornelia at twenty-five hangs above the fireplace. When we had relaxed in Oliver’s wonderful library chairs before a real log fire, and had been equipped with an ambassadorial type of cigar, which the elder Carib lighted for us, and had been fortified by the highest potency of a private stock of real Java coffee, we men, at least, were in a position to contemplate the approaching midnight with equanimity. As soon as this change of base had been fully effected, Cornelia, who seldom loses the Connection of things, irradiated the novelist with her most hospitable smile. (I sometimes think my feeling for her is pure intellectual respect for her skill in keeping a good topic alive and not letting conversation die out in small talk.) She smiled and said: —

‘Mr. Willys, you were just about to speak seriously, when I interrupted. Please speak seriously, Mr. Willys. We are all most anxious to have you.’

‘Oh, my point of view, you mean?' said Willys. ‘Speaking seriously, I can’t — for more or less obvious reasons — take as calmly as His Excellency does the poor man’s loss of his pleasures. I appeal from the tyranny of our recent moral legislation to my constitutional guaranties of liberty and the right to pursue my happiness where I can find it. I agree with the Senator that the whole business is idiotic. It is idiotic impertinence to dictate what I shall eat and drink at my own table, or what I shall brew in my own cellar.’

‘If you had a cellar?’ suggested Cornelia, rather spitefully reminding us of Willys’s arrangements to leave his house in New Jersey to his wife, and his wife to his house. But, as I have said, she is firm on such points.

‘Spare the wormwood, Cornelia darling,’ Oliver blandly interceded. ‘But, Willys, if you have a better remedy for our present discontents than mine, don’t conceal it from the country. Everyone is clamoring for it. Only be sure that it is a remedy. Be sure that it rests firmly on the necessities of the situation. There is no use in talking of anything else.’

‘ I ‘ll tell you my remedy,’ said Willys, ‘when I get done telling you my troubles. I object to governmental regulation of my diet. But I object even more to governmental corruption of my conscience. God knows I need what little I’ve got left, and I’d like to keep it pure. I protest against the creation of crime by Act of Congress. My conscience tells me that moderate drinking is not a crime but one of the few certain solaces in this chaotic world.’

‘I had always fancied,’ said Cornelia, ‘that those who find drink a “certain solace” are seldom very moderate.’ But the cork, so to speak, was out of Willys’s bottle. He flowed on unchecked:

‘I protest against the legislative destruction of old customs which every civilized nation under heaven but ours respects. Your Excellency has seen the vintage in Greece, Italy, France, Germany — Persia, too, have n’t you, not to speak of our Gulf Islands? Consider merely the picturesqueness of it! The romance of it! Blood of the grape! Bottled sunshine! We had a bit of it ourselves, here and there — in the green vineyards of northern California, wild grapes on the Sangamon, moonshine in the Kentucky mountains, mintjulep on the old Southern plantations. Even the cocktail, you know, our own national contribution, had begun to be humanized and to have its tender local associations, as every club of distinction modified its ingredients and christened it with some lovely name: the Chrysanthemum, the Chrysostom, the Golden Girl, and so forth. Does n’t it really stir your imagination a little?’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Oliver, first smacking his lips and then pursing them with mock severity. ‘Yes, we grant you all that. But what, sir, is the necessity of it ? We are talking of necessities, not of sentiments. We, we midlanders — the Professor and myself—want to know what necessity requires the tolerance of a mere beverage which is so liable to become a beastly nuisance.’

‘Exactly so,’ I said.

‘I’ll tell you the necessity,’ replied Willys. ‘And I’ll tell you, too, that it goes far deeper than your economic theory. You know, I know, everyone with two grains of sense knows that there is something desirous in the inside of a man which even hard roads and baby bonds don’t satisfy. That something is a primitive and profound need of our elemental nature for excitement and every now and then for something like intoxication. Why, my wife says — excuse me, a lady with whom I was formerly acquainted used to say — “no woman can get along on less than a thrill a day” of one sort or another. It’s rooted in the human organism — this hunger for an occasional escape from humdrum. “Tedium”—what was it you said the other day, Professor? Rather good, you know —“tedium is three fourths of life.” For the multitude, for the masses, the fraction that is not tedium is almost negligible, when it is not positive pain. But — but, in that microscopic fraction there must be a few moments or hours of heightened consciousness, a burst of hilarity, a breath of freedom, a little dream, a little edge of ecstasy — or a man will cut his throat in order to feel that he is alive.’

‘It is not done among the sort of people we associate with,’ said Cornelia, whom the argument impressed as rather silly.

‘Perhaps not,’ said Willys, ‘perhaps not. Perhaps you “escape” in some other fashion. But I say His Excellency is wrong in making light of the poor man’s club. It’s his safety valve. Take the poor devil to whom Saturday night has been the only bright spot in a black week. Deny him beer, he drinks whiskey; deny him whiskey, he drinks vanilla extract; if he can’t get vanilla extract, he takes to methyl alcohol; or he falls back on drugs, and takes to theft, burglary, and crimes of violence.’

‘Are n’t you leaning rather heavily, Willys,’ I said, ‘on what you allege prohibition has done to the criminal classes? You can’t expect repeal of prohibition in behalf of thieves and thugs.’

‘As for the upper classes,’ said Willys, ‘I won’t offend our hostess by knowing anything that simply “is n’t done.” But just consider what everyone knows: the Capuan character of the New York roof-garden, the Corinthian style of current dancing, nice young girls at petting-parties indistinguishable, actually indistinguishable in costume and paint and manner from courtesans, the high spots that can’t be kept out of movies, the chief interest in the novels we’re reading and writing, and then the general domestic smash-up that is following prohibition. There are worse things than a liquor license, Professor, and we’ve got the whole pack of them on our backs by putting in prohibition.’

I quoted my favorite passage from King Lear: ‘We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.'

‘Quite pat, Professor,’ exclaimed Willys, whose wits are quick enough. ‘And there is, by George, a divinity in it. I maintain it’s the vengeance of Dionysus! We’ve tried to bind a god, and, by George, he’s getting back at us. See what I mean? Have you read Euripides, Excellency?’

‘Once on a time,’ Oliver said, ‘not lately. Tell us about it.’

‘A great work — his Bacchae. Everybody ought to read it. You see, there’s a reformer in Thebes, called Pentheus, a straitlaced, stiff-necked puritan, an out-and-out prohibitionist, a—a regular Mid-Western professor. Well, the young god — Dionysus, you know — comes over into Greece from Asia with his choruses, singing and dancing and swinging the ivy-wreathed thyrsus — and all that beautiful joyous stuff, you know. But this Pentheus makes up his mind that Dionysus is a bad lot, and he locks the god up in the stable — passes a sort of Volstead Act on him, you understand. But he gets out — the god gets out. Of course he gets out; on the q.t. He escapes into the hills — classical moonshine, classical bootlegging, you see. The women get hold of the stuff and, up there in the hills, begin celebrating “mysteries” — all on the q.t. Attorney-General Pentheus says this must be stopped — law must be enforced. He sleuths up into the hills to spy them out. But the women, his own mother among them, catch him, and literally pull him to pieces, tear him limb from limb and strew the bloody fragments all over the place. That’s the vengeance of Dionysus.’

‘How perfectly horrid!’ exclaimed Cornelia.

‘You know the play, Professor,’ said Willys, ‘of course.’

‘Oh yes,’ I replied, as if I had been intimate with it from infancy. As a matter of fact, Oliver’s telegraphic reference to Bacchus had prompted me to chuck Gilbert Murray’s little book on Euripides into my traveling bag for train reading. That accident enabled me to sustain my bluff by a bit of critical wisdom. ‘The play is curious,’ I said, ‘coming from Euripides. He passes for a progressive, an intellectual radical. You would have expected him to sympathize with Pentheus, of course. But I notice that Gilbert Murray does n’t accept the old theory that Euripides recanted and went back to the ancestral gods.’

‘Well,’ replied Willys, ‘in that case, I think Gilbert Murray is wrong —. Who is this Gilbert Murray? I’ve got the play here — in my overcoat pocket — somebody or other’s translation, of course. You take it with you, Professor, when you go. Read it again and tell me if you don’t think I’m right.’

I had to laugh; and then we both explained how we happened to be reading, or reading about, the Bacchae. Then Willys returned to his argument.

‘When I read this play, you know, it hit me in the eye that this thing is as old as history. This prohibition idiocy is as old as the race. If drinking could be rooted out, it would have been rooted out long ago. All the arguments against it were cheesy in the days of Noah. It sticks because, as His Excellency and I are pointing out, it is rooted in necessity. You reformers, as you call yourselves, don’t know what you are about. You’ve bit off what can’t be chewed. You are attacking religion; and it’s dangerous business. You are trying to kill a god, and it can’t be done.’

‘But my dear Mr. Willys,’ cried Cornelia, ‘it is n’t our God. The Church has n’t really defined its position, and of course some of the bishops are very liberal. But don’t the dissenters in this country take a very firm stand in favor of prohibition? Most Americans are dissenters, are n’t they? If so, then I should think you would call prohibition itself a religious movement.’

’It has long been identified with the popular evangelical churches,’ I said.

‘Don’t talk to me about the evangelical churches,’ cried Willys. ‘The “uplift” has hit the churches till now they are nothing but community-improvement societies, with no more religion in them than the municipal waterworks. There is no more real relation between religion and prohibition than there is between signing the pledge and seeing the Beatific Vision. Wine is as much a part of our traditional religion as it was of the Greek religion. The Jews still drink their Passover wine. Why should n’t they? What do you make of that passage in the Old Testament about the winecup in the hand of God? What do you make of the wine at the marriage feast in the New Testament ? Or the wine in the Holy Grail? Or the sacramental wine, drunk by all the faithful, till the spirit of mystical fellowship evaporated in the grape-juice of that paradox, the individual communion cup.’

‘But it’s much more sanitary that way,’ said Cornelia firmly, ‘really much nicer. And since everyone knows that it’s only a beautiful old form — ‘

‘Oh, you formalists!’ Willys ejaculated. ‘You formalists are the real atheists. Till the days of frank atheism, we wished our friends Godspeed, we pledged their healths, and we launched our ships with a libation of wine. The central act of religious worship for two thousand years was a kind of sacred intoxication in the blood of the living God. Omit the central act and religion disappears; all you’ve got left is a lot of unedifying bishops wrangling over the “higher criticism” of fifty years ago. It’s the vengeance of the Dionysiac element in Christianity overtaking them. I repeat what I said before — it’s just as true of bishops as it is of workingmen: human life can’t be sustained without a little edge of ecstasy. If we try it, something will burst. That’s my forecast! ‘

‘And your remedial measure?’ said Oliver, ‘your remedy, rooted in the necessities of the situation?’

‘Why, moderate drinking, of course,’ replied the novelist, lapsing into the wide arms of the chair, like one from whom all the virtue has departed. ‘Teach Americans to drink as the Greeks do to-day: wine everywhere, no one drunk.’

‘Not a bad idea,’ chuckled His Excellency.

‘An idea of startling originality,’ I added.

‘Our “dry battery” is crackling with suppressed thunderbolts,’ said Oliver. ‘But,’ he glanced at his watch, ‘it lacks only ten minutes of midnight and the dawn of a better era for the world. While all the inhabitants of this borough of Manhattan are meditating on their sins of the past year, and signifying repentance by various acts of atonement, it is fitting that we should not let the hour pass without some appropriate ceremony. Professor, you have n’t seen my new set of Casanova — a Christmas gift from the wittiest of my French friends. Let me show it to you. Willys admires it immensely.’

Willys and I followed our host to his bookshelves, while Cornelia idly turned the pages of the new American Mercury. But why go into details? Oliver’s edition of the Mémoires, handsomely bound in full morocco and locked in a glass case, proved to be the mask of His Excellency’s ‘diplomatic reserve.’ From the ingredients of two or three ‘volumes’ he compounded something which he told us was known in Washington as the ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement,’ because it agreed with gentlemen. As the clock and the bells and the whistles sounded the knell of 1923, Oliver exclaimed, ‘Why, Cornelia, where’s the Professor’s buttermilk!’ and he and Willys clinked glasses, and drank ‘To the vengeance of Dionysus! ‘


‘And now,’ said His Excellency, stroking his silvered brown beard and turning upon me the raillery of his dynamic dark eyes, ‘it’s up to you, Professor. You’ve been sitting here like one of Uncle Sam’s “observers” at a peace conference — a chiel a-takin’ notes, an’ sayin’ nothin’. Don’t you know that henceforth there shall be no more neutrals? You are our only representative of the great drouthy forwardlooking West. Don’t you know that the business of a representative is to represent? But Willys and I have got you backed into a corner. I’ve shown the economic necessity of prohibition. Willys has shown the religious necessity of drink. What is the Mid-West going to do about it? Which way are you going to break? Break, Professor! But stick, as we do, to the necessities of the case.’

‘I am as much a necessitarian as you, Excellency,’ I said.

‘You’d better be,’ chuckled Oliver, ‘Caesar’s wives, I suspect, had better be necessitarians.’

‘But I am as religious as Willys,’ I added.

‘That’s very right,’ said Willys.

‘And so,’ I continued, ‘I shall take a middle ground.’

‘I see,’ said Oliver, ‘the golden mean, or temperance. Too little temperance is chronic inebriety. Too much temperance is teetotalism. Prohibition may and must be defended as the only known means to ensure moderate drinking among the better sort of people. Exactly my position!’

‘No, Excellency,’ I said, ‘you don’t see. Mine is not exactly your position. The extremes which I have in mind are your economic necessitarianism and Willys’s religion — his theory of the necessity of religious excitement. I lay hold of both those positions as firmly as you and Willys; but I reconcile them, instead of making them mutually destructive. Starting from the same premises, I reach a different conclusion.’

‘Of course,’ said Oliver. ‘Of course. But what is it?’

‘Before I state it,’ I said, ‘may I, since I am on the defensive, take a minute to rebut your fallacies and to present, as you and Willys have done, my more intimate personal feeling and private “point of view”?’

‘Oh yes,’ murmured Willys, rather sleepily, ‘that will be very proper.’

‘It will be good for you, Willys,’ I said. ‘I shall not hurt you more than is necessary. And I shall not be half so tedious as I might be if I were not leaving town on the 2.37. Relief is in sight; my taxi will be here at one.’

‘At one?’ said Cornelia. ‘The children promised to be home by one, or earlier. Oliver, could n’t you all —?'

‘Why certainly,’ Oliver said. ‘Send away your taxi. Professor. When the Infant comes in with the car, we’ll drive you to the station, and then I ‘ll lake Willys to his hostelry. But go ahead now, Professor, with your personal narrative of the great drouth in the Mojave Desert.’

’Oh, it’s the first forty years without water that’s hardest,’ I said. ‘After that, one gets on nicely. Do you know that, far from being keen for this argument, the entire subject bored me terribly, till you and Willys drenched it again in — in reality. Since my student days, a generation ago, I have hardly even seen liquor enough of all sorts to float an old-fashioned alumni reunion for a single evening. A resident during the latter half of my life in a bone-dry district, I, like most of my neighbors, viewed the annual extension of the dry lands with the aloofest academic interest.’

‘Of course!’ said Oliver, smiling. ‘Of course! But you can abridge that: we all know the quality of a professor’s interest in any matter of first-rate importance.’

‘ It was not till bootleggers were commonly reported to be as ubiquitous as German spies in war time,’ I resumed, ‘and men began to attribute all the evils of the hour to prohibition, and seriously to argue that the Volstead Act was forcing drunkenness and criminality upon numberless respectable citizens who thitherto had led lives of unblemished virtue — it was not till then that I began to feel a certain curiosity about the facts and, especially, about the mental condition of intelligent and responsible people resident in territory which is still subterraneously wet.’

‘Their mental condition, Professor?’ Oliver inquired. ‘Why their mental condition?’

‘ Because I could n’t understand, Excellency,’ I replied, ‘how intelligent men like you and Willys, who have lived abroad, could permit yourselves to attribute the sexually hectic flush of recent literature and life in America to the Volstead Act. All these evils, says Willys, followed prohibition, and he wags his head and mutters, “Vengeance of Dionysus.” Suppose, now, I seize the same absurd post-hoc-propterhoc principle and attribute the virginal chastity of French, Italian, and English fiction and private life to the free use of intoxicating beverages?’

‘ I smell irony, Professor, somewhere,’ said Oliver, ‘but I grant you that Willys’s logic slipped a cog there. We’ll have to grant you that America dry is no more sex-obsessed than Europe wet.’

‘And then,’ I went on, ‘I was a little troubled by Willys’s plea that with the general decline of drinking in America, something of real poetic beauty is passing out of our lives. I honestly can’t feel that he speaks realistically about that. I know the Anacreontic tradition, the literary romance of nutbrown ale and blood-red wine, perhaps as well as Willys does, and in the bookish imagination of youth used myself to revel with those that “gloried and drank deep.” But when I had an opportunity to compare the Bacchic frenzy of an ancient Greek or Persian or Elizabethan, as represented by the poets, with the Bacchic frenzy of an American citizen howling drunk — I declare it was one of the major disillusions of my life. The actual beauty of the real thing has come at last to impress me as very nebulous, like the amours of Thomas the Rhymer with the queen of the fairies. The lover is too often left “alone and palely loitering,” with a crumpled shirt-front, with his hat in the gutter, by a green lamp-post — “where no birds sing.’”

‘Oh green grapes!’ stuttered Willys. ‘What can you make of green grapes! What can you know about it, Professor? On your own showing it’s twenty years since — ‘

‘True, Willys,’ I replied, ‘true. But the pathos of distance ought to lend a glamour to one’s memories. One has, you know, one’s memories. Even a Mid-Western professor has his memories; and in the deep interval of twenty years all that is ugly in them should have faded out, should have been gathered into the blue mist of oblivion, leaving the soft contours of the Bacchic landscape bathed in pure beauty. I don’t find it so. I see— ‘ I hesitated. In a company like this, it is a bit awkward to talk on the killjoy side of the question. But Oliver rallied me forward.

‘Tell us what you see, Professor,’ he said. ‘Life or death, give us only reality. Show us the sad pictures in the prohibitionist gallery of disillusion. We’ll try to look interested.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘Willys’s praise of this beautiful old custom of getting drunk, now and then, did press a button in my gallery of memories and light up a few old pictures. They are relevant only because I did have, in my earlier years, about the average American’s chance to feel the aesthetic value of this vanishing phase of our popular culture. I see pictures. As Whitman says, “The shapes arise.”’

‘Whitman was a priest of Dionysus,’ said Willys.

‘So was Emerson,’ I said, ‘and so, according to my lights, am I. The shapes arise. I see a strayed reveler, with no vine leaves in his hair, — with only a shirt, trousers, and suspenders,— lying on his back, and shouting children towing him by a rope attached to his foot, through the main street of an Arizona town; the reveler grins and plucks feebly at the rope and says, “Now, boys.”This picture is thirty years old. I see a driveling swaying figure in a crowd at a street corner in Los Angeles, trying to give away the contents of his pocketbook. I see a Vermont farmer in his haymow, surly and maudlin with the unfreezable alcoholic element of frozen apple-cider: he jabs his cow with the tines of his hayfork. Returning from a mountain camp at midnight to a Massachusetts village, I see in the road before me a dim mass reeling through the moonlight and entering a cottage in the outskirts, and two minutes later I hear a woman’s voice shrieking, “Murder! murder! murder! ” ‘

‘Yes,’ yawned His Excellency, ‘I have always insisted that the peasantry and the proletariat were nasty in their liquor— serves them right to lose it.’

‘Don’t interrupt my vision,’ I said. ‘The shapes arise. I see in a New England city a trolley car full of sick college students scrambling for the rear platform — one of them lies at full length in the passage; he is a little trampled. I see a fellow student regularly soaking his shredded-wheat biscuit in whiskey; he carries his flask to morning chapel. I see another, stepping — without vine leaves — into the open shaft of an elevator; no god bears him up. I see other youths of the better sort in large numbers in a smoke-heavy place of midnight refreshment, after a football victory, treating to hot whiskey wearylooking painted girls in black — Stephen Phillips’s “disillusioned women sipping fire.” I see five professional men on a moral holiday, seriously approaching the task of consuming three quarts of Scotch and Bourbon before morning. I see groggy alumni embracing one another in tears, hugely pleased to be drunk with men to whom they never speak when they are sober. I see derelict artists and novelists and lawers, quietly slipping away from professional life to settle down in a rustic hermitage to drink themselves to death. I see a group of permanent class-secretaries in secret session, running through the long list of alumni in every college who never report and never turn up; the secretaries know why, but they publish no report.’

‘Good heavens, Professor,’groaned Willys, ‘His Excellency and I were not born yesterday, and doubtless even our hostess knows there are some casualties. Whiskey is n’t buttermilk. Knives have edges, and are dangerous. Everything that’s good for anything is dangerous. But really now, what is the point of all this?’

‘It has a point,’I replied, ‘it has a point at both ends. It bristles with points, and all of them are dangerous to you and your remedy for our discontents — your moderate drinking. The first point is this: that customary drinking in America, whatever it may be in Greece, has been and is, on the whole, not beautiful but ugly, disgusting, and destructive. The second point is this: that customary drinking in America is so inveterately intemperate that your proposal to institute a custom of temperate drinking is really far more visionary and impractical than prohibition. Your remedy is not conceived with an eye to the essential facts in the case.’

‘And these are — ‘ prompted His Excellency.

‘These are,’I said, ‘that Americans of both upper and lower classes are temperamentally hard to stop when they are started. Ninety out of every hundred Americans feel a curious pride in “seeing the whole show,” on “going the whole hog,” on “sticking the thing out,” on “going the limit,” on “getting results,” and on “getting there first.” This temperament shows in their drinking as in everything else. They care nothing for taste or bouquet. They value their liquor in proportion to the quickness of the “kick.” “I can let the stuff alone,” they say, “but when it speaks to me, I want it to speak with some authority.” ‘

‘The first really sensible thing you’ve said this evening,’ said the novelist.

I was tempted to mention his perfectly callous consumption of Oliver’s choice Spanish wine as a case in point; but I restrained myself and said: —

‘A Frenchman sits down at a table on the boulevard with a single small glass of light wine; and sips, and rolls it under his tongue; and sips, and studies a cloud in the sky; and sips, and holds the glass up to the light; and sips, and looks at the river, and quotes a couple of verses of Ronsard; and sips, and considers what he was doing in April a year ago; and lifts the glass, and puts it down, and counts his change; and so on for half an hour or an hour; while the Yankee traveler at the next table selects a bottle of the most expensive wine on the list, gulps it down like icewater, and sighs for an American cocktail. We were born whiskey-drinkers, high and low, men and women.’

‘I adored wine but I abominate the taste of whiskey,’ said Cornelia. ‘I detest the very odor of it.’

His Excellency relieved me of the obvious duty of saying that her taste in that, as in all things, is exceptional.

‘The Professor,’ he continued, ‘overdraws it a little; but there is much in what he says. Historically considered, we have, as a people, rather taken to extremes: George III or pure democracy; abolition or a thousand niggers; the book of Genesis or Robert Ingersoll; for better for worse, till death do us part, or Brigham Young and his twentyeight wives; the town wide-open or the town bone-dry; milk-shake or whiskey neat. It hangs together. You’ll have to admit, Willys, that moderate as you and I are, as a people we insist on going in for a kick. It’s rooted in what you yourself called the “primitive and profound necessities” of our national temper.’

‘It’s rooted,’ said Willys, ‘in the artificial “necessities” created by our national puritanism. It’s rooted in the artificial necessity of being ashamed to drink at home, and having to five, like a false little Sunday-School god, in the eyes of a sanctified wife and puritanized children.’

‘Really—Mr. Willys!’ Cornelia exclaimed.

‘It’s the truth,’ insisted the novelist. ‘It is rooted in the necessity thrust upon a poor devil by the surrender of public opinion to the prohibition bullies — the necessity of carrying a portable kick in his hip pocket, or, in the old days, of standing up with his foot on the rail and taking it quick and getting out before his neighbor — came in for his.’

‘No, cynic,’ I said, ‘it is rooted in a deeper necessity than that — and a real one, which can’t be essentially changed. I mean, that our national custom of whiskey-drinking was rooted, like all bad things, — according to His Excellency, — in the Mid-West, rooted through a thousand miles of the richest corn-land in the world. Do you know that if the Atlantic Ocean were pumped dry and we Mid-Westerners applied our resources to it, we could fill the basin with corn whiskey every year? That is the real reason why a kickloving people would, in America, always be a whiskey-drinking people. And that is one of the real reasons why we Mid-Westerners have maturely decided to feed our corn to hogs.’

‘A-ha!’ cried Oliver. ‘Striking into your argument at last! Economic theory of morals! My argument! I “get” you, as you midlanders say.'

‘Yes, Excellency,’ I assented, ‘you get me very well. As a “friend of the plain people,” you get me very well. I accept the whole of your economic argument for the necessity of prohibition. I accept every word that you say on the expensiveness of the reconstructed workman’s club, on the expensiveness of his wife’s post-bellum tastes, of the long future in which we may expect high wages, of the continued necessity for maximum production. But you hardly scratched the surface of the argument. You have hardly glimpsed the expanding expensiveness which the average life in America is soon going to exhibit. We are headed straight and hard for an era of broad, inclusive, expensive popular culture. The plain people whom we’ve been feeding for a hundred years on the skim-milk and fragments of old morality and religion are developing an appetite for comfort, for health, for knowledge, for recreation, for variegated pleasure, for style, for art, and for beauty, which is the most expensive thing in the world. Prohibition — and the average man knows this, even the moderately intelligent workman knows this — prohibition has its tap root of necessity in the imperative choice of our entire society between “booze” on the one hand, and, on the other, beauty, art, style, pleasure, knowledge, health, and comfort — which he knows, and you know, are the real tangible substance of modern upper-class religion.’

‘Oho,’ cried Willys, ‘getting around to my argument at last! But it does n’t sound much like what I mean by religion.’

‘Religion!’ cried Cornelia. ‘Why, it is n’t religion at all!’

‘What is religion, my dear Cornelia?’ I asked.

‘Why, religion,’ she replied, ‘is what the bishops agree are the fundamental teachings of the Church.’

‘It is not!’ I retorted with the intimate discourtesy and dogmatism of an old friend who is also an old puritan. ‘My dear Cornelia,’ I hastened to add, ‘that is theology — not religion.’

‘Tell Cornelia,’ said Oliver, whom the high Anglican tendencies of his wife rather amuse, ‘tell Cornelia, Professor, what religion is.’

‘Your religion,’ I responded, ‘is what you actually believe in, whatever that is. My religion is what I actually believe in, whatever it is. The religion of the average American is what he actually believes in, whatever it is. What do you actually believe in, Cornelia?’

‘I believe,’ she replied firmly, ‘in the Apostolic Church, in the communion of saints — ‘

‘His Excellency, for example, among them? ‘ suggested Willys, saucily enough.

‘Really, Mr. Willys!’ said Cornelia. I felt the air cold on my cheek. I doubt if it lowered the temperature of Willys. He merely said, ‘I am a realist,’ and lapsed again. Cornelia repeated: —

‘I believe in the Apostolic Church,’ and this time I interrupted.

‘The average American,’ I said, ‘ does not — at least, he does not believe in it with any such fullness of faith as he accords to baseball.’

‘The tone of this conversation is becoming decidedly distasteful to me,’ said Cornelia. She picked up a copy of Vogue and buried herself in it, pretending to lose all interest in our discussion.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘but I too, like Willys, am a realist. I have learned much from the master realists of my time—I mean the salesmen. I have learned, when I wish to make a religious appeal to a man, to appeal to him on the basis of the things in which he really believes. If a man’s real belief is small and mean, you’ve got to begin mean and small. If he believes only in his pocketbook, I must appeal to his pocketbook. If he believes in his children, I can appeal to him through his children.’

‘Excuse me,’ said Cornelia, rising, ‘it’s nearly time for the children to come home. I will telephone down to the office to have them send away your taxi.’ When she returned from giving the message at Oliver’s desk-telephone, she picked up her Vogue again, and seated herself outside our circle, near the tall windows looking on the street. We readjusted our positions by the fire so that our backs should not be turned to her, and I continued: —

‘The real business of religion is to reconcile us to our necessities. According to the powerful drive of Oliver’s economic argument, the outstanding necessity to which the average American has now got to be reconciled is prohibition. That is a rather hard selling-proposition. I don’t think it can be put over except under pressure of some sustained religious emotion, or as Willys calls it, “excitement.” Now don’t you see how important it is to know what the average American sustains a religious emotion about — what he really believes in?’

‘Yes, that’s all right,’ said His Excellency. ‘What next? ‘

‘Well,’ I said, ‘if the average American registers no emotion about the Apostolic Church, we can’t use that in a case like this, can we? We’ve got to fall back on our really common bonds of union like our common belief in modern plumbing, health, youth, the athletic life, education, publicity, automobiling.'

‘Popular elements, anyway,’ said Willys. ‘Automobiling as a substitute for which of the Thirty-nine Articles, Professor?’ I glanced to see if Cornelia were listening; but she was plucking at a holly-wreath in the window, and seemed intent on the street.

‘It is a vital element of our popular religion,’ I insisted, ‘and by no means so absurd a substitute as you suppose. One has got to take together, you see, this whole group of genuine popular beliefs. Next one asks every honest average man if he does n’t agree that these things are what he wants and believes in, and that the group of them expresses what our modern civilization wants and believes in. Then one turns on the average man and says: “This, sir, is your effective Shorter Catechism; and you ‘ve got to junk whiskey as your national drink because it is just flatly incompatible with the general distribution of the objects of your religion.” That’s the way his religion reconciles him to his necessity.’

‘ I had a hunch, Professor,’ said Willys, who had long since grown weary of serious argument, ‘that automobiling and drinking went together.’

‘They have hitherto,’ I said, ‘but — ‘


My speech was cut short at that point by Cornelia at the window, calling out rather sharply: —

‘Oliver, why do you suppose the children don’t come?’ Almost in the same breath she sprang to her feet, and pulling aside the curtain, cried: —

‘Oh!—Oh! Oliver, what’s that?’ And an instant later, ‘Oh! Oh! Oh! How dreadful! Thank God! Thank God! Oh, thank God, it’s not the children!’

‘Of course not!’ soothed Oliver, with his arm about her shoulder. ‘Of course not. What was it? Tell us about it.’

We ourselves had heard, not indistinctly, — the apartment is on the second floor, — the prolonged steady screech of an automobile horn, and, in response to Cornelia’s cry, had rushed to her side, expecting, I suppose, to see the fire department clearing its right of way up the avenue.

‘Oh, there’s been a dreadful accident,’ cried Cornelia. ‘That poor little boy — Oh, that poor little boy! They were driving like mad — to the hospital, I suppose. I saw two policemen standing on the running-board of an open car coming up the street, and another sitting on the front seat by the driver. Then, for just an instant, as it flashed into the bright light under the windows, I could see that the policeman in front was holding in his arms a little boy — seven or eight years old — with his head, face upward, hanging over the edge of the car — bright red with blood — absolutely one bright red disc of blood — and streaming. Oh, it was horrible! You have no idea how horrible! And then, as it went past, I could see that there was a woman crumpled over in the rear seat, and an old man trying to hold her up.’

‘It must have been a shock,’ Willys offered; and I added something equally helpful, as one does on such occasions.

‘Well, my dear,’ said Oliver, as we returned to the fireplace, ‘accidents, you know, do happen. Are you calmer now?’

‘Yes,’ said Cornelia, ‘yes, I guess so. I’m trembling still. You’ve simply no idea how it shook me.’ She sank into a chair, then recovered herself sharply, and said with a smile: ‘I’m sorry. Forgive me for making such a fuss over it. I’m all right now. I suppose it’s horrid to be so selfish — but, O Oliver, are n’t you glad it was n’t the children? Are n’t you?’

‘Certainly, my dear!’ said Oliver, in such a droll matter-of-fact tone that we all laughed quite spontaneously. ‘And now shall we talk of something else? Or do you wish me to telephone to the Infant that their mother has been anxiously expecting them for at least five minutes?’

‘No, don’t telephone,’ Cornelia protested. ‘It’s really only just, after one. I’m sure they will be here in plenty of time for the train. And please don’t change the subject. I heard what you were saying. You were talking about automobiles and automobile accidents. That is what made me so “jumpy,” I suppose. I’ll not be silly any more. What were you going to say about automobiles when I interrupted?’

‘It would be hard,’ I said, ‘to avoid “improving the occasion” a little. Heaven knows I did n’t get up the accident to illustrate my argument—and there’s no reason to suppose that it does illustrate my argument exactly. These people may all have been perfectly sober. But if this thing, just now, had happened in a story, like that, we should have felt that it was contrived and artificial — I don’t recall just where I stopped, but what I was about to say was — the gist of it was, that you can make a live argument based on our automobiling civilization, with almost anybody in the United States, because almost everybody in the United States has some sort of vital interest in a car; and so the argument, as we say, comes home to him.’

‘That is sound enough,’ said Oliver.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘the things that people have in common are the things that hold them together and enable them to act together. Cars are a much more expensive cultural and social amalgam than, say, abstract fraternity, or a belief in the Apostolic Church, or even than an old family Bible. But the fact remains that cars are at present far more widely diffused and almost infinitely more used among our fellow countrymen than any of the older and less expensive amalgams. I doubt whether there is any other subject whatever upon which our people possess so large a fund of common knowledge and experience. Consider: we have fifteen million cars. That means that perhaps one out of every six or seven men, women, children, and babies in this country actually drives a car. That’s what I call practical belief in an article of the popular religion. And you see — if you think — that it’s the garage and the filling-station that crowd out the saloon, at every few blocks in the city, in every town and village, at every crossroads from Florida to Montana. It’s one — just one, mind you — of the expensive new clubs of the plain people, of the average man.’

‘Yes,’ said Oliver, ‘there’s something in that.’

‘There’s a good deal in that,’ I persisted, ‘both for economic necessitarians like you and me, and for religious enthusiasts like Willys. For Willys, you remember, the essence of religion is a kind of dangerous and exciting Bacchic escape from humdrum into a few hours of heightened consciousness and mystical fellowship — through the national drink. Well, Willys, when the half gods go, the true gods arrive. The national car does everything that you ask of the Holy Grail: it provides the average American with an emotional discharge; it provides him with danger, excitement, the intoxication of speed, heightened consciousness, and a mystical sense of fellowship with the owner of both the Rolls-Royce and the Ford roadster; and it provides these things not on Saturday night only but every day in the year. As you will concede, there is a kick, the possibility of a kick — especially in our national car — for every day in the year. And there’s one more thing about the religion and ritual of the car.’

‘Oh, at least that!’ said Oliver. ‘But what is it, Professor?’

‘It’s a thing,’ I said, ‘that knocks into a cocked hat His Excellency’s private argument for privately nullifying the Eighteenth Amendment. Of course His Excellency did n’t invent the argument — I mean that hoary old bore about personal liberty and private conscience and so forth. All the “wet” newspapers pull it out of the pyramid of Cheops seven times a week. All the “wet” city newspapers count the German and Italian and Slavic noses in their constituencies, and then get off that tedious drip about the “puritan minority” and its attempt to bully these honest European consciences, which, being European, are free from sanctimonious scruples against befuddling their wits with liquor.’

Quo me rapis, tui plenum — where, O Mid-Western Bacchus,’ cried Oliver, ‘where dost thou drag me at the tail of thy car? I feel the thong going through my heels and the rope running up to the axle of your Ford. Crank up! Drag on! ‘

‘Why, don’t you see, Excellency,’ I persisted, ‘that the car hauls the whole argument clean out of the gumbo of “personal liberty,” clean out of the slough of “private conscience.” We don’t know how this accident out here in the street took place; but in our Mid-Western metropolis we killed some seven hundred people last year with cars, and, according to the papers, there was more than one such accident as this one from drivers who were drunk. With one out of every seven men, women, children, and babies in the United States driving a car at from twenty to forty miles an hour, along crowded streets and thoroughfares from Maine to California, we have simply got to prevent drivers from being drunk. It’s in the necessity of the situation. We are all private engineers nowadays. That’s what we want. Very well. If we all want to be private engineers, we’ve got to submit to the same regulations as governed — long since — engineers on the railways. Our job is not less hazardous than theirs, but more so. A railway engineer who drinks is fired by the railroad and, I understand, by his own union.’

‘I’m as stiff on that as you are,’ said His Excellency, ‘a man who drives his car when he’s drunk should be strung up to the nearest telegraph pole.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Willys, ‘you’re a little hard on him. You can’t stop a man drinking because he occasionally drives his car, drunk. Give him a good fine and take away his license. Or if he is very drunk, put him where he can sober up.’

‘That would n’t,’ I said, ‘quite straighten things out, would it? for the occupants of the car that went by here?’

‘Oh, but Professor, you are so unrealistic,’ said Willys, as he rose and clapped a hand over his mouth in order to eject a yawn which he could not swallow. ‘You are hopelessly unrealistic. If a man does n’t drive when he’s drunk, now and then, how in the dickens is he going to get home? What time is it? ‘

‘It’s half-past one,’ said Cornelia, who had also risen at the first opportunity. ‘And there’s the telephone. See what it is, Oliver — quickly, quickly. But nothing could have happened to them — my son is such a careful driver.’


Oliver stepped to his desk and removed the receiver. There was an inevitable moment of suspense. Then tossing to us with a smile — ‘It’s the Infant—they’re all right,’ he turned again to the telephone and listened for nearly five minutes, during which he said ‘Yes’ several times, ‘What’s that?’ once, and concluded with ‘I’ll come immediately.’

Then he faced us with a curious smile, meant to be reassuring, and, with that promptitude of thought and action which idle Americans in Europe are understood to exhibit on the outbreak of war, said too swiftly and decisively for debate: —

‘Oliver has been arrested for speeding. I’ll have to go and bail him out. They are letting the girls come home. They will be here any minute. Willys, will you go downstairs to the office and tell them to send a taxi here at once? Professor, you go, too, and meet the girls downstairs. I want to have a word with Cornelia. If Dorothy comes before I join you, keep her there a minute. Yes, put on your coats — we’ll not come back. Willys and I will look after this business; the Professor will go on to his train.’

In the face of a real little emergency Cornelia’s nerves never betray her. As soon as Oliver began to give orders, she became the source instead of the recipient of reassurances, as if her only anxiety had been for a gracious leave-taking. She did it extraordinarily well.

The rest of my impressions of that night I shall drastically telescope because this is not a story, but a conversation, and my impressions relate merely to the incident which had intruded with such coincidental force upon the conversation.

I recall that the first moment in which my imagination began to link the talk and events of the evening vividly together was in the elevator, descending to the ground floor, when Willys, casually thrusting his hands into the pockets of his overcoat, and muttering something about His Excellency’s being a little fussed, fished out his copy of the Bacchae. As I transferred the book to my own coat, somehow association shot a link from the Greek tragedy and its gory scene in the hills to the red face that Cornelia had seen under the city lamps.

While Willys occupied himself with accelerating the arrival of a taxi, I went out on the street and stood on the curb, waiting reflectively enough for the appearance of Dorothy and her girl friend. Five minutes later they were driven up. With the notion that my function was to shut off a ‘scene’ of any sort, I instantly remarked, in the quiet tone of a man who understands all about the situation, that Dorothy’s father was explaining the thing to her mother, who was a little agitated, and that he desired them to wait downstairs till he came down. Both girls looked as if they had been crying, but they were calm now, and seemed indisposed to talk to me. When I had drawn them aside out of observation from the office, and saw no hysterical signs, I ventured to ask why they had been driving so fast. The other girl, whose name I did not catch, said that they had not been driving fast but had skidded. Before I could utter my natural question, Dorothy turned on her young friend, and said: —

‘That is not so. You know it is not so.’ Then she did a queer thing. She asked me if I was leaving town that night, and when I said that I was, she slipped from under her fur coat a small light oblong parcel wrapped in a man’s handkerchief, thrust it into my hands, and whispered with singular intensity: ‘Take it with you, please. Take it away and pitch it — pitch it where no one will ever find it!’ I dropped it discreetly into my overcoat pocket. Then Oliver entered from the elevator, questioned Dorothy for a minute, and sent the two girls up to Cornelia.

Oliver, Willys, and I then entered the waiting taxi and drove away. Oliver sat with his back to the driver, facing us two. I itched to ask him why the other girl had told me that their car had skidded, and why Dorothy had denied it. But it seemed a good time to let Oliver speak first. He sat for a few moments in a frowning concentration, almost as if we had not been there. Then he ejaculated, still as if we had not been there, ‘My God, what a mess! My God, what a mess!’ Willys rallied him on making such an ado over a fine. Then Oliver hurled the whole thing between our eyes, just as he himself had got it, standing there so gaily in the library, smiling histrionically back at us from the telephone: the Infant — he still referred to him as ‘Infant’ — had been arrested on a charge of manslaughter and driving a car while drunk. He was n’t drunk, but he had been drinking a little at the party, as the other boys had. He had somehow lost control and hit some people, a woman and a little boy, he thought, just a few blocks from home.

Well, that is the gist of the incident.

As I look back now on that trip to the police station, I am shocked to remember how self-centred we were, all three. I can’t recall that it occurred to any one of us to be concerned about the load of broken humanity that had gone, an hour earlier, to the hospital. Our sole concern seemed to be, lest a couple of physically uninjured boys should spend a few hours of the night in jail. And just before the taxi stopped at the police station to let His Excellency and Willys out, I know that I myself was actually wondering about this remote point: how it would affect Cornelia, and whether she would not suffer more in the injury which her son had inflicted upon others than if he had himself been injured. But what I was actually saying was, that I thought young Oliver did not drink; Cornelia seemed so sure of him. Oliver Senior exclaimed ‘Oh rot!’ And then he added:—

‘Why, the Infant and the furnaceman made a keg of raisin wine in the basement of our own apartment last Easter. He told me about it just yesterday. I asked him why he had n’t told me at the time, since we two were on the square with each other. He said that he was afraid of setting me a bad example! Oh, the poor little devil! The poor little devil!’

Willys said it was ‘a damn shame,’ and that they must see what they could do to get the charge of driving while drunk withdrawn and the charge of exceeding the speed limit substituted. Then we shook hands. Oliver and Willys got out, and I went on to the railway station. I hated not to stand by and see the thing through. But Oliver had assured me that I could n’t really do anything but stand by; and as I had a speaking-engagement in Ohio on the next day, and my college work began the day following, I surrendered to the necessity of the situation. My holiday was over.

I started westward with little eagerness — with an odd sensation of repletion and fatigue mixed with cerebral excitement. ‘The starved silkworm,’ I muttered to myself, ‘has had his feast of mulberry leaves.’ I was not sleepy and did n’t wish to spend the small hours of the morning tossing in my berth. I went into the vacant dressingroom for a smoke. As I hung up my overcoat, I thought of the parcel that Dorothy had entreated me to ‘pitch — pitch where no one will lind it.’ Poor pathetic, distracted little Dorothy! It was only an empty silver flask, wrapped in her brother’s handkerchief and neatly engraved with his monogram. Poor little distracted Bacchante — apparently it had n’t occurred to her that the breath of whiskey still strong in the silver flask was doubtless giving even stronger evidence elsewhere.

The thing hurt me, and I put it away. Everything that I tried to think of, however, hurt me. I wanted to escape from too much sensation. But my mind was in that state of fatigue-intoxication in which one seems to be simply an observer of a succession of pictures which form spontaneously there. I was conscious of wishing to reflect consecutively on a certain idea, namely, whether Willys was right in declaring that one can’t kill a god. But the moment that I began to grip the idea and ask myself whether in the course of history many terrible old gods and dynasties of gods had not utterly passed away under the pressure of that Necessity which encompasses the gods and is stronger than they — then pictures began to form: Bacchanalian women dancing in the hills; Willys’s humorous torn limbs of Pentheus strewn ‘all over the place’; Cornelia’s terrified picture of the gory head hanging over the car; and — the young Bacchus at the police station.

Sometimes one manages to escape from the persecution of such pictures by reading a book. I had nothing available but the copy of the Bacchae that Willys had lent me. When I found it impossible to escape from its suggestions, I decided to face them. I read till the gray morning crept into the car and extinguished the lights. The last lines of the tragedy moved me deeply, with a kind of strange solemnity, a haunting beauty.

O the works of the Gods — in manifold wise they reveal them:
Manifold things unhoped-for the Gods to accomplishment bring,
And the things that we looked for, the Gods deign not to fulfill them;
And the paths undiscerned of our eyes, the Gods unseal them.

I looked out at the window. Another day had come. We were thundering through wintry cornfields — a hint of snow on the withered brown stalks. I rose, and passing through the silent sleepers to the deserted observationcar at the rear, I went out on the platform and pitched the empty silver flask as far as I could pitch it into the wind. I seemed to hear from the corn a remembered godlike voice crying: ‘O celestial Bacchus, drive them mad!’