The Egg of the Ego

‘MEET my friend, name of Bantam,’says my friend Duck; ‘charming chap, excellent fellow.’

He vanishes. Bantam eyes me as I him. Our corporal presences are as platters to each other; we look beyond the background of china, willow-patterned, gold-rimmed, Panamaed, or knickerbockered, to the substance unmistakable lying beneath.

‘What sort of concoction have we here? ‘ we murmur, mutually poking about a bit with knife and fork. Surely that ingratiating smile is mere garnish, a sprig of parsley, say. He offers a smoke: a dab of potato on the side. He rambles genially: a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a dash of paprika — What’s that? (How casually it drifts into the perspective!) It seems he drives a Buick, the new model, a wonderful car. The pièce de résistance lurks no longer among parsley foliage or in potato shade. It is always there: it could never be mistaken. It is only its clientele and its carefully culinaried cloaks of disguise that vary from man to man. The epicure soon uncovers them.

‘Hard-boiled!’ he mutters, tapping the Buick vices and virtues, and disclosing therein those of its lord and master.

‘Stuffed!’ he explodes a week later. ‘Bantam’s a cousin of Mandrake, the big Dairy Man, knows him well, in fact. You’ve seen the name of course? Yes, you’ve seen it. You’ve seen it!’

And the others: one Bird, he of the big Bird family, Sparrow — that’s his name! Will he ever have done quoting that wife of his? She’s very common; everyone knows it; née English, we understand, but she belongs to Sparrow— she’s his. And his daughters! High-fliers, higher than most, to his thinking. Coddled is Sparrow, coddled to a turn.

And Pigeon: he chatters on every street-corner, every curb, every market: how he picked up his fortune. It was his judgment that advised heavy buying in the Featherbloom Underwear stock — and where is it now? Forty above par, gentlemen, if it is one per cent. He knew from the first that the Nest Egg securities were scoundrels, all of ‘em. He knew, he knew! Did n’t he tell you all the time? Oh, impossible, that Pigeon! Messy mind, messy way of thinking — scrambled, badly scrambled.

And others, still others: what could one call them? They are more than dropped, much more. A trifle déclassé, perhaps? Yes, more than déclassé — decadent! There you have it. They reek of brimstone—nay, further, of sulphur, of hydrogen sulphide, of the nether region. Let us consign them to it; let us, indeed.

And what of ourselves, gentlemen, what of ourselves? Egos all, believe me.

‘You egg!’ rips out the murderer of the Macduff heir apparent (I have not verified the quotation), and the child dies.

‘ You ego! ‘ shrieks one wildly to one’s inner self; but stabs and stabs in vain. The egg of the ego is not thus easily done to death. It is there, it is there; behold, even in the germ of the protoplasm — it is there. In the words of the immortal Burke, we cannot change it, we cannot prosecute it as criminal, but what, in the name of Heaven, can we do with it? Gentlemen, we can do nothing. As the Atlantic Monthly would have it (vide August issue, A.D. 1922, Contributors’ Column), we can only ‘leave it lay’!

L’État, c’est moi!

Cogitoergo sum.