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MY DEAR DOUGLAS:
I have your long letter. It is an exciting journal. It has been a habit of mine to say that any man who would write truthfully of his own life could not help producing a distinguished piece of literature. Those princes of epigram, the French, say that metaphysics is l'art de s'egarer avec raison. Most autobiography is merely the art of making oneself distinguished without valour. Your letters to me are of the quality that would make good autobiography. The Fates seem to have you in leash, and to be leading you, and letting you go, and bringing you back again, in a way that makes me think I am reading one of those epicene Dumas efforts of the day, where effeminate Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan strut about, poor milk-andwater substitutes for the fiery brandy of their originals. But in your case it is true! You have been “skinning the cat” from the projecting gutters of high buildings on fire; you have been tempted of the Devil to let
your enemy burn to death (I don't think I could have stomached that. If you had not gone back to that poor devil, I fear I should have distrusted you forever.) You have been rescuing the unfortunate, and discovering at the same time how inscrutable are the ways of men, as instanced by the man who lifts his hand to strike his wife one day, and weeps over an injured “nigger” baby the next. Would that we might remember that we never know all of any
man, no matter how insignificant, we who judge one another with the precision, cruelty, and carelessness of men who deem themselves endowed with omniscience.
You ask me what I think of this man. Tell it not in Gath, but I have a sneaking fondness for the man who went feeling about for his cigarette-case, when the house was on fire. It reminds me of the great Frederick, who said to some of his soldiers who hesitated to obey his order to attack on some particularly hazardous occasion: “What, do you fellows want to live forever !” In most countries to-day, life is the most absurdly overrated commodity in the market. Anything rather than death, rather than suffering, rather than hardship even! We have become so sentimental that we not only coddle ourselves, but we coddle criminals, the insane, the diseased, the per
verted. We are moving toward that ideal civilisation where every man, woman, and child will be provided with an armour of cotton-batting at the expense of the state. No more war, no more pugilism, no more feats of endurance, no more football, no more shooting of game, is the cry! The only permissible struggle is that between men armed with stocks and bonds, and equipped with coolness, impudence, and lack of moral sense. To rob a whole community of men of hundreds of thousands of dollars is acknowledged to be a noble form of human endeavour, but to knock a man down in order to steal a loaf for a starving child is to open the gates of the penitentiary. The pretty young woman who tires of her husband takes a train for the divorce-court, and the husband may stay behind and bite his finger-nails, instead of being permitted to lock her up in a closet on bread and water until she comes to her senses. We have an exaggerated notion of the perversity of the man who beats his wife, but may it not be true that here and there is a wife for whom a sound spanking were not too harsh a punishment? You know, after all, some women are fools even after they are married, as are many men!
This Mr. B. of yours may have a story to tell, who knows? I have noticed that it not infrequently happens that the hero who marries the much-abused-by-a-previoushusband heroine finds to his cost that his predecessor is often excused by his own experience. You see I am a little inclined to take a brief for the chap who lights a cigarette, jumps out of a ten-story window, catches the gutter and skins the cat on the roof, and lives to fight another day. Of