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conversation ceases to be intercourse, and becomes the crackling of thorns under the pot.
It does not do to speak with encomium of semi-detached couples, yet are there moments when frail humanity is driven to sigh for less substance in the bonds that rivet a wife's attention upon her husband. As a rule, a man has as little influence on the lot that assigns him a lady to take to dinner as he has had in the choice of his own parents. There are exceptions of course, but to allow them to become anything else would be fraught with peril of another sort. He offers his arm, bent at the inelegant angle prescribed by the rules of civilised society, to matron, maid, or widow, at the bidding of his hostess. It is no fault of his if he is not the one of the sablecoated throng upon whom his fair partner would have laid her choice, and she must know that as well as he. He feels no misgiving as to his ability to find conversation enough to fill up the intervals that will occur in mastication during the next hour and a half, and all goes according to his modest expectation, till soup and fish have been disposed of. By that time articulate speech round the table has begun to acquire the usual poultry-yard clatter. Our friend is well disposed to bear his part in it, but he becomes aware of some degree of failure in securing his neighbour's attention. Her eyes move continually towards a certain point near the other end of the table, and it is clear that, if she had a dog's power of pricking its ears, hers would be turned in the same direction. Of course, if this were a bride or a very young married woman, not a word need be said about it ; time may be trusted to work the cure. It happens, however, that this dame has been married for more years than there are fingers on the hand she gave in wedlock; her lord, who exerts such magnetic influence upon her, has never given her the slightest occasion for jealousy; it is clearly unreasonable, then, that she should be unable to detach her attention from what he is doing or saying, and lend it to the man who is doing his best for her entertainment. He has just tried a fresh subject, on which he happens to be in possession of something original to say, but it has not elicited any immediate response. Her eyes, ears, and thoughts are at the other side of the table, and he begins to wish her body was there too; only, as he justly observes, in grumbling over his experience to a friend, after the ladies have left the dining-room, she could hardly go in to dinner with her own husband, you know. After a pause she does respond, showing that while listening to what was going on down the table, her tympana had received the impression of what had been said beside her. The defect arises neither from jealousy nor curiosity, nor because the man at her side is boring her, but solely because she cannot detach herself from proprietary rights in her husband.
The lack of this power of detachment has become vastly op
pressive in some of the literature of the day, especially in the periodicals. The quarterlies, for the most part, maintain a dignified standard of impersonality, but the common run of magazine articles is too often grievously tinged with impertinent suggestion of the quill-driver himself. How different the method of the immortals ! Whether it was unconsciously or scrupulously, Shakespeare in effect kept himself and his affairs so completely out of sight in his writings, that there actually exists, one hears, a considerable number of grown, educated, and therefore responsible persons who profess disbelief in his authorship.
The most obvious way of suppressing all suggestion of the writer's self or self-consciousness is to avoid the use of the first personal pronoun. He can lay about him just as boldly-cut, thrust, stab, tickle, soothe with as much certainty as if he were unmasked, and indeed with far greater effect on the reader's nerves. The modern journalism of personal paragraphs began in England-did it not ?-with the World newspaper, about the year 1870. Even as a novelty it had a most distressing effect on the sensibilities of people accustomed to a more stately style ; it was quickly taken up by imitators in other journals, until now the ridiculous affectation has become intolerable. Far from suggesting the writer's easy familiarity with the scenes he depicts and the personages he slaps on the back, it seems, on the contrary, to let in a draught from the back stairs, with whiffs of dripping from the kitchen, and paraffin from the lamp
Readers always invest the personality of a writer with imaginary attributes ; to this day there lingers in some respectable country houses the impression that all the leaders in the Times are written by the same hand-by an august individual in a closely buttoned blue frock-coat, rather high in the collar, and tightly strapped trousers, wielding a long plumed goose quill. Shirt-sleeves, wooden brûle-gueules, and fountain pens form no part of the picture. But the perpetual I, I, I' of society papers conveys the mental picture of a pair of trousers bagged at the knees, a dirty lounge coat very shiny on back and cuffs, everything of the writer revealed as far as the chin, only the features are masked.
It is quite true that many excellent narratives have been penned in the first person singular, but very few carry the weight of Boswell's Life of Johnson. The amazing frankness of Boswell in regard to himself is hardly excelled by Samuel Pepys, who is the only man that ever succeeded in writing a perfectly honest and, at the same time, readable personal journal. Walter Scott's is quite as readable and far more elevating, but there is less in it about Walter Scott than any other subject. Boswell and Pepys have succeeded in diverting us, though they were both incapable of detachment, Boswell never letting us forget that he was the best friend and historian of his hero, and Pepys that he was the best friend and historian of himself; but
our diversion in their perusal arises from sources which would never have been suspected by the writers. Scott's journal, begun late in life, was far more a common-place book than anything else, into which random impressions on a many-sided intellect were piled without any design of showing off what a coarser touch would have made the principal figure.
Mirabeau's letters written to Sophie from his prison at Vincennes, if the profuse amatory passages are omitted, form a somewhat similar running commentary on men and manners. He certainly possessed the power of sinking self and surroundings in contemplation of human life and passions. Montaigne, on the other hand, delightful gossip as he is, impresses one as being constantly, though gracefully, posed. He certainly owes some of his charm to archaic orthography. The first personal pronoun singular, written by him ie, has none of the arrogant self-sufficiency of the English capital ' I.'
Although it really has little to do with securing the quality of detachment in literature, it is not a bad principle for a young writer to set out with the resolution to turn every sentence so as to avoid the use of I.' It will be found equally remarkable how difficult it is to succeed in the attempt at first, and how direct is the gain in dignity when the trick has been acquired. The time-honoured device of the pronoun in the first person plural, however effective in what is uttered from the monarch's council or an editor's office, is inseparable from ludicrous pomposity in a private scribbler. It is really worth considering whether the time has not arrived when we might dispense with the capital letter in the nominative singular of the pronoun, and render it'i,' after the manner affected by conscientious agnostics who inscribe the name of God with a small g, although it is not known that they pursue the same plan when occasion arises to mention the heathen deities. To do so would impart rather a mesquin air to some sonorous passages. For instance :
See what a grace was seated on this brow!
New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill; &c. &c. This would be to give Hyperion a distinctly unfair advantage over the cloud-compeller, through the accidental position of his name at the beginning of a line.
So far the subject has been examined chiefly from the point of view of what will best insure the objective grace of speakers and writers, and the subjective edification of their audience. But followed a little further, the virtue of detachment will be seen to be essential to the right discharge of the historian's task. Cold impartiality will not do; that, wedded with acumen, may serve the turn of a judge, but an historian has need of far more penetrating powers. It would never do, for example, for a judge (let us suppose his name to be Mr. Justice William Smith) to be swayed by the echo of Baxter's pious sentiment, and, with his eye on a convicted criminal awaiting sentence, murmur to himself, · There, but for the grace of God, goes Bill Smith. His sentence, if it is to be righteous, must be purged of speculative psychology.
It is otherwise with the historian. Being human, he cannot be without predilection, nor, probably, without prejudice; the presence of these emotions will redeem his work from the insipidity of the Annual Register; but unless he has detachment, which will enable him to probe and diagnose the motives of individuals with whose principles he happens to be out of sympathy, and apply the evidence furnished to him without regard to his own creed or training, then his history will never be more than a partisan record.
This detachment is, after all, but the pure spirit of philosophy, and it is rare indeed that the philosopher will be at the pains to write history. He is generally content to deliver his message or remain a silent spectator of events. Thomas Carlyle attempted the parts of both philosopher and historian, but though the wreaths on his urn have lost no freshness of verdure, few would incline to number detachment among his attainments. Of a truth, though historians are indispensable, we hold them in but scurvy repute. When Sir Robert Walpole retired into private life, time hung heavy on his hands, and Horace exerted himself to amuse his father. One day he offered to read to him. What will you read, child ? 'asked Sir Robert wearily. Horace suggested history. "No, no,' replied the veteran statesman, 'not history, Horace; that can't be true!
Still one might suppose that two chroniclers, however deeply saturated with the opinions of one or other party, might be trusted in matters of mere fact. How far it is otherwise. Here are contemporary accounts by two different hands of the events of a single day in the same city. The extracts are from authorities of some repute— books which no gentleman's library should be without ’— and describe what took place when Charles the Second died and James the Second was proclaimed king.
Burnet. There were no tears for the last king, and no shouts for the present one.
All people began now to wipe their eyes, and to dry up those tears they had so plentifully shed.
What remains to be said on behalf of a craft which can arrive no nearer the truth than by telling lies on each side of it ? It is to be deplored that some harmless vent might not be found for writers who
cannot purge themselves of partisan spleen, like that devised of old for the aristocrat Ghibellines, who were trained to cut fruit at table crossways, while the democrat Guelfs were careful to slice it lengthways.
The first lesson to be learnt by a man who would bring the full weight of his influence to bear in intercourse, written or spoken, with his fellows is to shake himself clear of the fetters of rank and wealth in whatsoever degree he may possess them, and of occupation or profession, of whatsoever kind or degree of dignity it may be. He must, in short, stand clear of his milieu.
But I can never forget that I am a gentleman,' says one with some asperity. Will you be good enough, sir, to define what is a gentleman ? Does the term imply a member of a county family? or one with a comfortable balance at his bank? or one who can afford to pay others to clean his boots ? or one who is not obliged to work for his living ?
Or is a gentleman a product of education that is getting nearer the mark-or, shall we not rather say, the outcome of training ?—for education is a term too often used where instruction were the more apt expression. Education is too commonly regarded as exclusively a matter of the head, and its purpose as being to fill the head rather than to form it. Yes! a gentleman is trained, not born ; it is the ideal fruit of education in the true sense, and it happens that those to whom daily food and lodging are not matters of pressing anxiety are most generally exposed to the influences which refine and stamp the gentleman. But in measure as pride of lineage or station, fastidious exclusiveness or belief in caste, affect a man's conduct or bearing, so far is he from having achieved detachment, so much short does he come in the attribute of a gentleman.
The outspoken ways and caustic sayings of Dr. Jephson of Leamington, celebrated in the forties and fifties, have furnished the kernel of many anecdotes. One day he was called on by one whom Brantôme would have called une grande dame de par le monde—the Marchioness of Having listened to a description of her malady, the oracle pronounced judgment : 'An egg and a cup of tea for breakfast, then walk for two hours; a slice of cold beef and half a glass of madeira for luncheon, then walk again for two hours ; fish (except salmon) and a cutlet or wing of fowl for dinner, with a single glass of madeira or claret; to bed at ten, and rise at six, &c., &c. No carriage exercise, please.' ‘But, doctor,' she exclaimed at last, thinking he was mistaken in his visitor, 'pray do you know who I am ? Do you know—ahem-my position ?'Perfectly, madam,' was the reply; 'I am prescribing for an old woman with a deranged stomach. From which it is clear that it behoved this exalted lady to cultivate detachment as the preliminary to a return to health ; to regulate her life without any reference to her rank in the peerage,