ALCIBIADES ON WOMEN IN ENGLAND

In the third night the gods and heroes assembled at Venice. Where the
Canal Grande almost disappears in the sea, there on mystic gondolas
the divine Assembly met in the town of Love and Passion, at the
whilom centre of Power wedded to Beauty. It was a starlit night of
incomparable charm. The Canal Grande, with its majestic silence; the
dark yet clearly outlined Palaces surrounding the Canal like beautiful
women forming a procession in honour of a triumphant hero; the grave
spires of hundreds of churches standing like huge sentinels of the town
of millions of secrets never revealed, and vainly searched for in her
vast archives; and last not least the invisible Past hovering sensibly
over every stone of the unique city; all this contributed ever new
charms to the meeting of the gods and heroes at Venice.

Zeus, not unforgetful of the Eternal Feminine, asked Alcibiades to
entertain the Assembly with his adventures amongst the women of
England. Alcibiades thereupon rose and spake as follows: “O Zeus and
the other gods and heroes, I am still too much under the fascination
of the women with whom I have spent the last twelve months, to be in
a position to tell you with becoming calmness what kind of beings
they are. In my time I knew the women of over a dozen Greek states,
and many a woman of the Barbarians. Yet not one of them was remotely
similar to the women of England. I will presently relate what I
observed of the beauty of these northern women.

“But first of all, it seems to me, I had better dwell upon one
particular type of womanhood which I have never met before except when
once, eight hundred years ago, I travelled in company with Abelard
through a few towns of Mediæval France. That type is what in England
they call the middle-class woman. She is not always beautiful, and yet
might be so frequently, were her features not spoilt by her soul. She
is the most bigoted, the most prejudiced, and most intolerant piece of
perverted humanity that can be imagined.

“The first time I met her I asked her how she felt that day. To this
she replied, ‘Sir-r-r!’ with flashing eyes and sinking cheeks. When I
then added: ‘I hope, madame, you are well?’–she looked at me even more
fiercely and uttered: ‘Sir-r-r!’ Being quite unaware of the reason of
her indignation, I begged to assure her that it gave me great pleasure
to meet her. Thereupon she got up from her seat and exclaimed in a most
tragic manner: ‘Si-r-r-r, you are _no_ gentleman!!’

“Now, I have been shown out, in my time, from more than one lady’s
room; but there always was some acceptable reason for it. In this case
I could not so much as surmise what crime I had committed. On asking
one of my English friends, I learnt that I ought to have commenced
the conversation with remarks on the weather. Unless conversation is
commenced in that way it will never commend itself to that class of
women in England. It is undoubtedly for that reason, Zeus, that you
have given England four different seasons indeed, but all in the course
of one and the same day. But for this meteorological fact, conversation
with middle-class people would have become impossible.

“The women of that class have an incessant itch for indignation;
unless they feel shocked at least ten times a day, they cannot live.
Accordingly, everything shocks them; they are afflicted with permanent
_shockingitis_.

“Tell her that it is two o’clock P.M., and she will be shocked. Tell
her you made a mistake, and that it was only half-past one o’clock, and
she will be even more shocked. Tell her Adam was the first man, and she
will scream with indignation; tell her she had only one mother, and she
will send for the police. The experience of over two thousand years
amongst all the nations in and out of Europe has not enabled me to find
a topic, nor the manner of conversation agreeable or acceptable to an
English middle-class woman.

“At first I thought that she was as puritanic in her virtue as she was
rigid and forbidding in appearance. One of them was unusually pretty
and I attempted to please her. My efforts were in vain, until I found
out that she took me for a Greek from Soho Square, which in London is
something like the poor quarters of our Piræus. She had never heard of
Athens or of ancient history, and she believed that Joan of Arc was the
daughter of Noah.

“When I saw that, I dropped occasionally the remark that my uncle was
Lord Pericles, and that the King of Sparta had reasons to hide from
me his wife. This did it at once. She changed completely. Everything
I said was ‘interesting.’ When I said, ‘Wet to-day,’ she swore that
it was a capital joke. She admired my very gloves. She never tired
asking me questions about the ‘swell set.’ I told her all that I did
not know. The least man of my acquaintance was a lord; my friends were
all viscounts and marquesses; my dog was the son of a dog in the King’s
kennels; my motor was one in which three earls and their wives had
broken eleven legs of theirs.

“These broken legs brought me very much nearer to my goal; and when
finally I apprised her that I had hopelessly spoilt my digestion at the
wedding meal of the Duke of D’Ontexist, she implored me not to trifle
any longer with her feelings. I stopped trifling.

“This experience,” Alcibiades continued, “did much to enlighten me
about what was behind all that forbidding exterior of the middle-class
woman. I discovered Eve in the Mediæval form of womanhood. I was
reminded of the Spartan women who, at the first meeting, seemed so
proud, unapproachable and Amazonian; at the second meeting they had
lost some of their prohibitive temper; and at the third meeting they
proved to be women, and nothing but women after all.

“Honestly, I preferred the English middle-class woman in her first
stage. It suited the somewhat rigid style of her beauty much better.
In the last or sentimental stage she was much less interesting.
Her tenderness was flabby or childish. Then she cried after every
_rendez-vous_. That annoyed me considerably. One evening I could not
help asking her whether she did not feel like sending five pounds of
conscience-money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. She drew the line
on that, and cried more profusely. Whereupon I proposed to send fifty
pounds of conscience-money and to be released of any further tears.
This seemed to pacify and to console her; and thus we parted.

* * * * *

“A few days after I had been relieved of my first lady friend in
England,” Alcibiades continued, “I made the acquaintance of a girl
whose age I was unable to determine. She said she was twenty-nine years
old. However, I soon found that all unmarried girls _d’un certain âge_
in England are exactly twenty-nine years old.

“She was not without certain attractions. She had read much, spoke
fluently, had beautiful auburn hair and white arms. In her technical
terms, which she used very frequently, she was not very felicitous.
She repeatedly mixed up bigotry with bigamy, or with trigonometry. My
presence did not seem to affect her very much, and after two or three
calls I discovered that she was in a chronic state of rebellion against
society and law at large.

“She held that women were in absolute serfdom to men, and that unless
women were given the most valuable of rights, that is, the suffrage,
neither women nor men could render the commonwealth what it ought to
be. I told her that shortly after my disappearance from the political
stage of Athens, about twenty-three centuries ago, the women of that
town, together with those of other towns, clamoured for the same
object. ‘What?’ she exclaimed. ‘Do you mean to say that suffragettes
were already known in those olden times?’ I assured her that all that
she had told me about the aims and arguments of herself and her friends
was as old as the comedies of Aristophanes. That seemed to have a
strange effect upon her. I noticed that what she believed to be the
novelty of the movement constituted really its greatest charm for her.
She had thought that suffragettism was the very latest fashion, in
every way brand new.

“But after a time she recovered and said: ‘Very well; if our objects
and aims are as old as all that, they are sure to be even more solidly
founded in reason than I thought they were.’

“Reason, Right, Equity, and Fairness were her stock-in-trade. She was
the daughter of Reason; the wife of Right; the mother of Equity; and
the mother-in-law of Fairness. It was in vain that I told her that
this world was not held together by Reason or Right alone, but also
by Unreason and Wrongs. She scoffed at my remarks, and asked me to
come to one of her speeches in Hyde Park on one of the next Sundays. I
came. There was a huge crowd, counting by the hundreds of thousands.
My lady friend stood on a waggon in the midst of about half-a-dozen
other women, who all had preferred single blessedness to coupled bliss.
They were, of course, each of them twenty-nine years old; and yet their
accumulated ages brought one comfortably back to the times of Queen
Elizabeth. When my friend’s turn came, she addressed the crowd as
follows:

“‘Men and women. Excuse me, ladies, beginning my speech in that way. It
is mere custom, the behests of which I obey. In my opinion there are no
men in this country. There are only cowards and their wives. Who but a
coward would refuse a woman the most elementary right of citizenship?
Who but a wretch and a dastardly runaway would deny women a right
which is given to the scum of men, provided they pay a ridiculous sum
in yearly taxes? There are no men in this country.’ (A voice from the
people: ‘None for you, m’um, evidently!’)

“‘I repeat it to you: there are no men. I will repeat it again. I can
never repeat it too frequently. Or, do you call a person a man who is
none? The first and chief characteristic of a true man is his love of
justice. It is so completely and exclusively his, that we women do not
in the least pretend to share in this his principal privilege.

“‘But can the present so-called men be called just? Is it justice to
deny justice to more than one half of the nation, to the women? Let
us women have the suffrage, so that men, by thus doing justice, shall
become true men worthy of _their_ suffrage. For are not all their
reasonings against our wishes void of any force?

“‘They say that the suffrage of women, by dragging them too much into
the political arena, would defeminise them. Pray look at us here
assembled. Are we unwomanly? Do we look as if we had lost any of that
down which hovers over the soul of domesticated women as does the nap
on a peach?’ (Stormy applause.) ‘Thanks, many thanks. I knew you would
not think so.

“‘No, it is indeed absurd to assume that a waggon can change a woman
into a dragon. Am I changed by entering a ‘bus? Or by mounting a taxi?
Why, then, should I be changed by standing on a waggon? I am no more
changed by it, than the waggon is changed by me.’ (A voice: ‘Good old
waggon!’)

“‘We want to have a share in legislation. There are a hundred
subjects regarding which we are better informed than are men.
Take food-adulteration–who knows more about it than we do? Take
intemperance–who drinks more in secret than we do? Take the law of
libel and slander–who libels and slanders more than we do? Who can
possibly possess more experience about it?

“‘Look at history. Repeatedly there have been periods when a number of
queens and empresses proved to be more efficient than men. Politics,
especially foreign policy, spells simply lies and dissimulation. Who
can do that better than ourselves? People say that if we women get the
suffrage, the House of Commons would soon be filled with mere women.
Let us grant that, for argument’s sake. Would the difference be really
so great? Are there not women in trousers? And are there not more
trousers than men?

“‘Nowadays most men cry themselves hoarse over Peace, Arbitration,
International Good Will, and similar nostrums. Could we women not do
that too? I ask you men present, could we not do that as well? The men
of this country think that they will bring about the millennium by
preaching and spreading teetotalism, Christian Science, vegetarianism,
or simple lifeism. How ridiculous and petty.

“‘Look at the “isms” we propose to preach and spread: (1)
Anti-corsetism; (2) Anti-skirtism; (3) Anti-bonnetism; (4)
Anti-gloveism; (5) Anti-necktieism; (6) Anti-cigarettism; and finally
(7) _Anti-antiism_.

“‘On these seven hills of antis, or if you prefer it, on these seven
ant-hills, which are in reality anti-ills, we shall build our New Rome,
the rummiest Rome that ever was, and more eternal than the town of the
Cæsars and the Popes. Give us the suffrage! Do you not see how serious
we are about it? We know very well that the various classes of men
obtained the suffrage only by means of great fights in which, in some
countries, untold thousands of men were killed. But can you seriously
think of putting us women to similar straits?

“‘Evidently, what men had to fight for in bitter earnest, ought to be
given to women in jest as a mere gift. Do give us the suffrage! Do not
be pedantic nor naughty. We mean it very seriously; therefore give it
to us as a joke, by sheer politeness, and as a matter of good manners.

“‘Come, my male friends, be good boys; let me brush your coat, fix the
necktie in the proper shape and pour a little brilliantine on your
moustaches. There! That’s a nice little boy. And now open the safe of
the nation and give us quick the right of rights, the might of mights,
the very thing that you men have been fighting for ever since Magna
Charta in 1215, give us the suffrage as an incidental free gift.

“‘If you do so, we will pass a law that all barbers’ shops shall be
in the soft, pleasant hands of young she-barbers. Think of the downy
satisfaction that this will give you! Think of the placid snoozes
in a barber’s chair when your face is soaped, shaven and sponged by
mellow hands! Is it not a dear little enjoyment? Now, look here my male
friends, this and similar boons we shall shower upon you, provided you
give us the suffrage.

“‘Nay, we shall before everything else (provided we have the suffrage!)
pass a law _abolishing breach-of-promise cases_.’

“(Endless hurrahs from all sides–Band–Fire-works–St Vitus’ Dances,
until the whole immense crowd breaks out in a song ‘She is a jolly good
maiden, etc.’)

“‘Thanks, you are very kind. Yes, we mean to abolish breach-of-promise
cases. Consider what advantages that would imply for you. A man will be
able to flirt round five different corners at a time, without risking
anything. He will be able to practise letter-writing in all the colours
of the rainbow, without in the least jeopardising his situation, purse
or expectations. He will be in a position to amuse himself thoroughly,
freely, everywhere, and at any time. What makes you men so stiff, so
tongue-tied, so pokery, but the dread of a breach-of-promise case.
Once that dread is removed by the abolition of such cases, you will be
amiable, great orators, full of charming _abandon_, and too lovely for
words. As a natural consequence, women will be more in love with you
than ever before. Your conquests in Sexland will be countless. You will
be like Alcibiades,–irresistible, universally victorious. Now, could
we offer you anything more tempting?

“‘I know, of course, that outwardly you affect to be no ladies’ men.
But pray, _entre nous_, are you not in reality just the reverse? Man
_is_ polygamous. We women do not in the least care for men, and if all
my female contemporaries should die out, leaving me alone in the world
with 600,000,000 men, I should myself speedily die with boredom. What
are men here for but as mere cards in our game of one woman against the
other? If I cannot martyrise a little the heart of my female friend by
alienating her man from her, what earthly use has her man for me?

“‘But you men, you are quite different. You do wish that all the
women, at any rate all the young and beautiful women, shall be at your
order. This of course we cannot legislate for you. But we can do the
next best thing: we can abolish the chief obstacle in your way: the
breach-of-promise cases. This we promise to do, provided you give us
the suffrage. You are, however, much mistaken if you think that that is
all we have in store for you. Far from it.

“‘If you give us the franchise, we pledge ourselves _never to publish a
novel or a drama_.’

“(Applause like an earthquake–men embrace one another–elderly
gentlemen cry with joy–a clergyman calls upon people to pray–in the
skies a rainbow appears.)

“‘Yes, although with a breaking heart, yet we will make this immense
sacrifice on the altar of our patriotism: we will henceforth not
publish any novels. I cannot say that we will not write any. This would
be more than I or any other woman could promise. We must write novels.
We are subject to a writing itch that is quite beyond our control. The
less a woman has to say the more she will write. She must write; she
must write novels.

“‘We write, we publish at present about five novels a day. If you give
us the suffrage, we pledge ourselves not to publish a single novel.’

“(Universal cry: ‘Give them the suffrage, for God’s sake!’)

“‘And if you do not give us the suffrage, we shall publish ten novels a
day.’

“(Fearful uproar–fierce cries for the police–twenty publishers
present are mobbed–Miss Cora Morelli present is in imminent danger of
life.)

“‘Did I say, ten? What I meant to say is, that if you do not give us
the franchise, we shall publish fifteen novels a day.’

“(Revolution–pistol shots–the fire-brigade comes.)

“‘Twenty–thirty–forty novels a day.’

“(The Big Ben is howling–the Thames river floods Middlesex–the House
of Commons suspends the Habeas Corpus Act.)

“‘Or even ten novels every hour.’

“(The Albert Memorial leaves its place and takes refuge in the Imperial
Institute–the crowd, in despair, falls on their knees and implores the
speaker to have mercy on them–they promise the suffrage, at once, or
somewhat before that.)

“‘There! I told you, we do mean what we mean, and we have all sorts of
means of making you mean what we mean. It is therefore understood that
you will give us the franchise, and we shall stop publishing novels.
But should you change your mind and go back on your present promises,
then I must warn you that we have in store even more drastic means of
forcing your hands. You must not in the least believe that the pressure
we can bring to bear upon you is exhausted with the devices just
enumerated. There are other devices. But for evident reasons of modesty
I prefer calling upon my motherly guide, Mrs Pancake, to tell you more
about them.’

* * * * *

“With that my tender friend retired, and up got a middle-aged woman
with hard features and much flabby flesh. She was received with
mournful silence. She began in a strident voice, which she accentuated
by angular gestures cutting segments out of the air. She said:

“‘You have, ladies and gentlemen, heard some of the disadvantages that
will inevitably be entailed upon you by not granting us what Justice,
Equity and our Costume render a demand that none but barbarians can
refuse. I am now going to give you just an inkling of what will befall
you should you pertinaciously persist in your obdurate refusal of the
franchise to women. We women have made up our minds to the exclusion of
any imaginable hesitation, change, or vacillation. We shall be firm and
unshakable.

“‘We have done everything that could be done by way of persuading you.
We have published innumerable pamphlets; we have trodden countless
streets in countless processions; we have been wearing innumerable
badges and carrying thousands of flags and standards; we have screamed,
pushed, rowdied, boxed, scuffled, gnashed our teeth (even such as were
not originally made for that purpose), and suffered our skirts to be
torn to shreds; we have petitioned, waylaid, interpellated, ambushed,
bullied and memorialised all the ministers, all the editors, all the
clergymen, all the press-men; we have suffered imprisonment, fines,
scorn, ridicule; we have done, with the exception of actual fighting,
everything that men have done for the conquest of the suffrage.

“‘Should all these immense sacrifices not avail us any; should it all
be in vain; then we the women of this country, and I doubt not those
of the other countries too, will, as a last resort, take refuge in
the oldest and most powerful ally of our sex. Eternal Time has two
constituents: Day and Night. The Day is man’s. The Night is ours.’

“(Deadly silence–men begin looking very serious.)

“‘The Night, I repeat it in the sternest manner possible, the Night
is ours. We grant, indeed, that sixteen hours are man’s; but the
remaining eight are ours. The stars and the moon; the darkness and
the dream–they are all ours. Should you men persist in refusing us
the franchise, you will wake in vain for the moon and the stars and
the dream. You will see stars indeed, but other ones than you expect.
We shall be inexorable. No moon any more for you; neither crescent,
half nor full moon; neither stars nor milky-way; neither galaxy nor
gallantry.’

“(A salvationist: ‘Let us pray!’–A soldier: ‘Hope, m’um, that
Saturdays will be off-days?’–Solicitors, teetotallers, and three
editors of Zola’s collected works: ‘Disgraceful! shocking!’–A
scholar: ‘Madame, that’s a chestnut, Aristophanes has long proposed
that!’–General uproar–a band of nuns from Piccadilly hurrah the
proposal and raise prices of tickets–Scotland Yard smiles–the _Daily
Nail_ kodaks everybody and interviews Mrs Pancake on the spot–Mrs
Guard, the famous writer, at once founds a counter-League, with the
motto ‘Astronomy for the people–Stars and Stripes free–the United
Gates of Love’–the _Daily Crony_ has an attack of moral appendicitis.)

* * * * *

“I wish,” continued Alcibiades, amidst the laughter of the immortals,
“Aristophanes had been present. I assure you that all that he said in
his comedies called _Ecclesiazusae_ and _Lysistrata_ pale beside the
tumultuous scenes caused by the peroration of Mrs Pancake. Her threat
was in such drastic contrast to the stars and moon she personally could
exhibit to the desires of men, that the comic effect of it became at
times almost unbearable.

“While the pandemonium was at its height a stentorian voice invited
all present to another platform where another woman was holding forth
on Free Love and Free Marriage. I forthwith repaired to the place, and
heard what was in every way a most interesting speech delivered by a
woman who consisted of a ton of bones and an ounce of flesh. She was
between forty and seventy-nine. She talked in a tone of conviction
which seemed to come from every corner of her personal masonry. Her
gestures were, if I may say so, as strident as her voice, which came
out with a peculiar gust of pectoral wind, unimpeded, as it was, by the
fence of too numerous teeth. She said:

“‘Gentlemen, all that you have heard over there from the platforms of
the suffragettes is, to put it mildly, the merest rubbish. We women do
not want the suffrage. What we want is quite another thing. All our
misery since the days of Eve comes from one silly, absurd, and criminal
institution, and from that alone. Abolish that cesspool of depravity;
that hotbed of social gangrene; that degradation of men and women; and
we shall be all happy and contented for ever.

“‘That institution; that cancerous hotbed; that degradation is:
_Marriage_. As long as we shall endure this scandalous bondage and
prostitution of the most sacred sentiments and desires of human beings,
even so long will our social wretchedness last.

“‘Abolish marriage.

“‘It has neither sense, nor object, nor right; it is the most hapless
aberration of humanity. How can you uphold such a monstrous thing?

“‘Just consider: I do not know, and do not care to know what other
nations are like; I only care for my great nation, for England, for
Englishmen. Now, can anyone here present (or here absent, for the
matter of that), seriously contend that an Englishman is by nature
or education fit for marriage? Why, not one in ten thousand has the
slightest aptitude for it.

“‘An Englishman is an island, a solitary worm, morally a hermit,
socially a bear, humanly a Cyclop. He hates company, including his own.
The idea that any person should intrude upon his hallowed circles
for more than a few minutes is revolting to him. When he is ill he
suffers most from the inquiries of friends about his condition. When
he is successful he is too proud to stoop to talking with anyone under
the rank of a lord. When he is unsuccessful, he takes it for granted
that nobody desires to speak to him. He builds his house after his
own character: rooms do not communicate. He chooses his friends among
people that talk as little as possible and call on him once a year. Any
remark about his person he resents most bitterly. Tell him, ever so
mildly, that the colour of his necktie is cryingly out of harmony with
the colour of his waistcoat, and he will hate you for three years.

“‘And you mean to tell me, gentlemen, that such a creature is fit for
marriage? That is, fit for a condition of things in which a person,
other than himself, claims the right to be in the same room with him at
any given hour of the day or the night; to pass remarks on his necktie,
or his cuffs, or even on his tobacco; to talk, ay, to talk to him for
an hour, to twit him, or chaff him–good heavens, one might just as
well think of asking the Archbishop of Canterbury by telephone whether
he would not come to the next bar round the corner for a glass of Bass.

“‘And as to other still more personal claims of tenderness and intimacy
on the part of the wife, such as embraces and kisses, one shudders
to think how any woman may ever hope to attempt doing them without
imminent risk to her life.

“‘Fancy a wife trying to kiss her legal husband! He, prouder of his
collar and cuffs than of his banking account, to stand calmly and
willingly an assault on the immaculate correctness of the said collar
and cuffs!

“‘It passes human comprehension. The mere idea thereof is unthinkable.

“‘Perhaps in the first few weeks of married life. But after six months;
after a year, or two–by what stretch of imagination shall one reach
the possibility of such an event? After six months, he is indifferent
to the entire astronomy of his wife; after a year or so, he hates her.
It is not so much that he wants another woman, or another man’s wife,
or another wife’s man; what he wants is to be left alone.

“‘He has long since shaken off the State, the Church, the Army, and,
politically, the Nobility. Nothing can be more evident than that he
wants to shake off the last of the old shackles: Marriage. His motive
is: shekels, but no shackles.

“‘Some incomprehensibly modest people have proposed marriage to last
ten years only. It appears, they contend, that the critical period of
the modern marriage shows itself at the end of ten years. The scandals
that are usually cropping up at the end of that period, they say, might
very well be avoided by terminating marriage legally at the end of the
tenth year. People proposing such stuff clearly manifest their utter
inability to see through the true character of modern marriage.

“‘If marriages were to last only ten years, then be sure that the said
critical period with its inevitable scandals would set in at the end
of the fifth year. The cause, the real cause of these scandals is not
in the length of time, but in the very nature of marriage. If this
iniquitous and barbarous contract were to last only for five years,
then its critical period and its scandals would appear at the end of
two years. And by a parity of reasoning, if marriage were to last one
year only, it would by its inherent vice come to grief at the end of
six months.

“‘The only cure for marriage is to abolish it. Does marriage not demand
the very quality that not one English person in a hundred thousand
possesses: yieldingness? Or can anyone deny that no English person has
ever really meant to admit that he or she was wrong?

“‘They are all of them infallible. People write such a lot about the
hatred of Popery in English history. What nonsense. English people do
not hate Popery; they despise the idea that there should be only one
infallible Pope, whereas they know that in England alone there are at
present over thirty millions of such infallibles. This being so, how
can marriage be a success?

“‘Or take it,’ the Free Love lady continued, ‘from another standpoint.
Most Englishmen enter married life with little if any experience of
womanhood. Only the other day a young man of twenty-five, who was just
about to marry, asked in my presence whether it was likely that a woman
gave birth to one child early in the month of May, and to the other in
the following month of June? He thought that _The Times_ instalment
system applied to all good things.

“‘Other young men inquire seriously about the strategy of marriage, and
the famous song in the _Belle of New York_, in which the girl asks her
_fiancé_ “When we are married what will you do?” was possible only in
countries of Anglo-Saxon stock. In Latin countries the operette could
not have been finished in one evening on account of the interminable
laughter of the public. In London nobody turned a hair, as they say.
Half of the men present had, in their time, asked the same question of
themselves or of their doctors.

“‘Now if there is one thing more certain than another in the whole
matter of marriage it is this, that the inexperienced _fiancé_
generally makes the worst husband. Being familiar only with the ways
and manners of men, he misunderstands, misconstrues, and misjudges most
of the actions or words of his young wife. He is positively shocked
at her impetuous tenderness, and takes many a manifestation of her
love for him as mere base flattery or as hypocrisy. Not infrequently
he ceases treating her as his wife, and goes on living with her as
his sister; and, since the wife, more loyal to nature, rarely omits
recouping herself, her husband acts the part of certain gentlemen of
Constantinople. It is thus that the famous _ménage à trois_ does not,
properly speaking, exist in England. In England it is always a _ménage
à deux_.

“‘If, then, instead of continuing marriage; if, instead of maintaining
an institution so absurd and so contrary to the nature of an
Englishman, we dropped it altogether; if, instead of compulsory wedding
ceremonies, we introduced that most sacred of all things: FREE LOVE;
the advantages accruing to the nation as a whole, and to each person
constituting that nation, would be immense.

“‘Free Love, ay: that is the only solution. Nature knows what she is
after. The blue-eyed crave the black-eyed ones; the fair-haired desire
the dark-haired; the tall ones the small; the thin ones the thick; the
unlettered ones the lettered unfettered ones. This is Nature.

“‘If these affinities are given free scope, the result will be a nation
of giants and heroes. Affinities produce Infinities. Free Trade in
wedlock is the great panacea. Since the only justifiable ground for
marriage is–the child, how dare one marry anyone else than the person
with whom he or she is most likely to have the finest babe? That person
is clearly indicated by Nature. How, then, can Society, Law, or the
Church claim the right to interfere in the choice?

“‘I know that many of you will say: “Oh, if men should take their wives
only from Free Love, they would take a different one every quarter.”
But if you come to think of it, it is not so at all. If men took their
wives out of Free Love, they could not so much as think of taking
another wife every quarter. For, which other wife could they take?
There would be none left for them, since all the other women would,
by the hypothesis, long have been taken up by _their_ Free Lovers.
Moreover, if a man takes a wife out of Free Love, he sticks to her just
because he loves her. Had he not loved her, he would not have taken
her; and if he should cease loving her, he would find no other woman to
join him, owing to his proved fickleness.

“‘Last, not least, women and men would form elaborate societies for
the prevention of frivolous breaches of faith. At present no woman has
a serious interest in watching another woman’s man. It would be quite
different in Free-Love-Land. The unofficial supervision and control of
men and women would be as rigorous as in monastic orders. As a man
will pay off debts contracted at a card-table with infinitely greater
anxiety than any ordinary debt of his to a tailor or a grocer, just
because such gambling debts are not actionable; even so conjugal debts
would, in Free-Love-Land, be discharged with a punctuality that now is
practically unknown.

“‘The commonplace assertion that legal marriage preserves men and women
in a virtuous life has been refuted these six thousand years. To the
present day one is not able to deny the truth of what once a Turkish
woman replied to a Christian lady. The latter asked the Oriental: “How
can you tolerate the fact that your husband has at the same time and
in the same house three other wives of his?” The Turkish lady replied:
“Please, do not excite yourself unduly. The only difference between me
and you is this, that I know the names of my rivals, and you do not.”

“‘In Free-Love-Land alone is there virtue. Men and women select freely,
obeying only the dictates of infallible Nature. The result is order,
health, joy, and efficiency. How can any person of sense believe in the
present marriage systems, when one considers the countless lives of old
maids sacrificed to the Moloch of modern legal monogamy?

“‘In England there are about four times more old maids than in any
other country; except in New England, in the United States, where every
second woman is born an old maid. Has anybody ever seriously pondered
over the great danger to Society and State implied in an excessive
number of old maids? I leave it to you, and I dare say to everyone of
you who has, no doubt, bitterly suffered at the hands of some one old
maid in his or her family.

“‘Old maids are either angels of goodness, or devils in human form;
the real proportion of either must be left to the Lord Chancellor
to decide. But who, or what produces old maids? Our legal monogamy.
Give us Free Love, and you shall have heard the last word of old
maids. Refuse Free Love, and we shall have to form our old maids
into regiments and send them against the Germans. Plato said that
the unsatisfied womb of a woman wanders about in all her body like
a ravenous animal and devours everything on his path. Our present
marriage system makes more victims than victors.’

* * * * *




“The good bag of bones wanted to continue in the same strain, but was
stopped by a young policeman who threatened to take her into custody
unless she discontinued her oratory. She threatened to love him freely;
whereupon he ran away as speedily as he could manage, but was at once
followed by the valiant she-orator, who nearly overtook him, crying
all the time ‘I love you freely’–‘I love you freely.’ The whole crowd
followed, howling, screaming, laughing, and singing songs of Free Love.
So ended the discourse on Free Love.

* * * * *

“A few weeks later,” continued Alcibiades, “I made the acquaintance
of what they call a society lady. She was, of course, a specialist.
She had found out that her physical attractions were of a kind to show
off best at the moment of entering a crowded room. She was, to use the
phraseology of the _chef_, an _entrée_ beauty. Her name was Entréa. At
the moment she entered a _salon_, she gave, just for a few minutes, the
impression of being strikingly handsome. She walked well, and the upper
part of her head, her hair, forehead, and eyes were very pretty. She
knew that on entering a room, the upper part of the head is precisely
the one object of general attention. This she utilised in the most
methodic manner. She entered with an innocent smile and lustrous eyes.
The effect was decidedly pretty.

“In order to heighten it she always came late. Her cheeks, which were
ugly; her shoulders, which were uglier; her arms, which were still
uglier, were all cleverly disguised or made to appear secondary, and
as if dominated by her big eyes. She was very successful. Most men
considered her beautiful; and women were happy that her principal
effect did not last very long. She knew some fifteen phrases by heart,
which were meant to meet the conversation of the fifteen different
species into which she had, for daily use, divided the different men
she met in society. Each of these phrases gave her the appearance of
much _esprit_ and of an intelligent interest in the subject. She did
not understand them at all; but she never mixed them up, thanks to her
instinct, which was infallible.

“The last time she had done or said anything spontaneously or
naively was on the day she left her nursery. Ever since she was
the mere manager of her words and acts. In everything there was a
cool intention. As a matter of fact she was meant by Nature to be a
salesgirl at Whiteley’s. Failing this, she sold her presence, her
smiles, her manners to the best social advantage. A rabid materialist,
she always pretended to live for nothing but ideals. Sickened by music,
she always gave herself out to be an enthusiast for Wagner. Like many
women that have no natural talent for intellectual pursuits, she was
most eager to read serious books, to attend serious lectures, and to
engage a conversation on philosophy.

“I met her in my quality as Prince of Syracuse. She first thought
that Syracuse was the name of my father; when I had explained to her
that Syracuse was the name of a famous town in Sicily, she asked me
whether I belonged to the great family whose motto was _qui s’excuse,
s’iracuse_.

“On my answering in the negative, she exclaimed: ‘But surely you belong
at least to the Maffia? Oh do, it would be so interesting!’ In order
to please her I at once belonged to that society of secret assassins.
However, I soon noticed that she thought the Maffia was the Sicilian
form of a society for patriotic Mafficking.

“When we became a little more intimate, she told me that I was
never to speak of anything else than Syracuse. That would give me a
certain _cachet_, as she put it, and distinguish me from the others.
Accordingly I placed all my stories and occasional sallies of talk
at Syracuse. I was the Syracusan. She swore my accent was Syracusan,
and that my entire personality breathed Syracusan air. In society she
presented me as a member of a curious race, the Syracusans, in Sicily,
close to the Riviera.

“One day she surprised me with the question whether the men of Syracuse
were still in the habit of marrying two women at a time. She had read
in some book of the double marriage of Dionysus the Elder in the fourth
century B.C. I calmed her in that respect. I said that since that time
things had changed at Syracuse.

“On the other hand, I was unable to make out whether she was a divorced
virgin, or a deceased sister’s wife. It was not clear at all. When
conversing with me alone, she was as dry as a Nonconformist; but in a
drawing-room, full of people, she showered upon me all the sweets of
passionate flirtation.

“One day I told her that I had won great victories in the chariot races
at Olympia. She looked at me with a knowing smile and said: ‘Come,
come, why did I not read about it in the _Daily Nail_?’ and, showing me
the inside of her hat, she pointed at a slip of paper in it, on which
was printed: ‘I am somewhat of a liar myself.’ I assured her that I had
really won great prizes at Olympia.

“‘Were they in the papers?’ she asked.

“I said, we had no papers at that time.

“‘No papers?’ she exclaimed. ‘Why, were you like the negroes? No
papers! What will you tell me next? Had you perhaps no top-hats either?
Do you mean to tell me that this great poet of yours–what you call
him?–ah, Lord Homer, had no top-hat?’

“I assured her that we had no hats whatever.

“‘Oh, I see,’ she said, ‘you were founded like the blue boys,–I see.
But surely you wore gloves?’

“On my denying it, she turned a little pale.

“‘No gloves either? Then I must ask you only one more thing: had you no
shoes either?’

“‘No,’ I said, calmly, ‘some of us, like Socrates, went always
barefoot, others in sandals.’

“She smiled incredulously. I told her that in the heyday of Athens men
in the streets went about over one-third nude. She did not mind the
nude, but she stopped at the word heyday.

“She asked me: ‘On which day of the year fell your heyday?’

“I did not quite know what to say, until it flashed upon my mind that
she meant ‘hay-day.’ I soon saw I was right, because she added:

“‘Does going barefoot cure hay-fever? And is that the reason why so
many people still talk of Socrates?’

“I stared at her. Was it really possible that she did not know who
Socrates was? I tried to give a short sketch of your life, O Socrates,
but I could not go beyond the time before you were born. For, when I
said that your mother had been a midwife, my lady friend recoiled with
an expression of terror.

“‘What,’ she exclaimed, ‘he was the son of a midwife?–a
midwife?–Pray, do not let us talk about such people! I hoped he was at
least the son of a baronet. How could you ever endure his company?’

“‘That was just it,’ said I, ‘I could not. His charm was so great, that
for fear of neglecting everything else I fled from him like a hunted
stag.’

“‘But pray,’ she retorted, ‘what charm can there be in a son of a
midwife? I can imagine some interest in a clever midwife,–but in her
son? Oh, that is too absurd for words!’

“‘My charming friend,’ I answered, ‘Socrates was, as he frequently
remarked it, himself a sort of midwife, who never pretended to be
parent to a thought, but only to have helped others to produce them.’

“‘Oh, is that it,–‘ she said dryly, ‘Socrates did manual services in
midwifery? How lost to all shame your women must have been to engage a
man in their most delicate moments. I now see why so many of my lady
friends deserted a man who had announced lectures on Plato. He also
talked about Socrates, and when it became known that Socrates was a
wretched midwife’s clerk, we left the lecture-hall in indignation.
Fancy that man said he talked about Plato, and yet in his discourses
he talked about nurseries, teetotalism, Christian Science and all such
things as date only of yesterday, and of which Plato could have known
nothing.’

“‘But my lovely Entréa,’ I interrupted, ‘Plato does talk of all these
things, and with a vengeance.’

“‘How _could_ he talk of them?’ she triumphantly retorted. ‘Did he ever
read the _Daily Nail_ or _Ladies’ Wold_?’

“‘No,’ I said, ‘he never did, which is one of the many reasons of his
divine genius. But he does speak of temperance, and simple life, and
the superman, and all the other so-called discoveries of this age,
with the full knowledge of a sage who has actually experienced those
eccentricities.’

“My fascinating friend could stand it no longer. Interrupting me she
said:

“‘Why, every child knows that Plato talked of nothing else than of
Platonic love. We all expected to hear about nothing else than that
curious love which all of us desire, if it is not too long insisted
upon. We went to the course to revive in ourselves long-lost shivers
not only of idealism, but even of bimetallism, or as it were the double
weight of it.

“‘We thought, since Plato is evidently named after platinum, which we
know to be the dearest of precious metals, his philosophy must treat of
such emotions as cost us the greatest sacrifice.

“‘Platonic love is the most comfortable of subjects to talk or think
about. It makes you look innocent, and yet on its brink there are such
nicely dreadful possibilities of plunging into delightful abysses. Each
thing gets two values; one Platonic, the other,–the naughty value. A
whole nude arm may be Platonic; but a voluptuous wrist peeping out of
fine laces may be only–a tonic.

“‘Now these are precisely the subjects of which we desired to hear
in those lectures. Instead of which the man said nothing about them,
nothing about that dear Platonic love; in fact, he said that Plato
never speaks of what is now called Platonic love. And that man calls
himself a scholar? Why, my very chamber-maid knows better. The other
day she saw the lecturer’s photo in a paper and, smiling in an
embarrassed way, she said to the cook: “That’s the man what talks at
Cliradge’s about miscarriages.” Was she not right? Is not Platonic love
the cause of so many miscarriages, before, during, or after the wedding
ceremony?

“‘And then,’ she added with a gasp, ‘we all knew that Plato was a
mystic, full of that shivery, half-toney, gruesomely something or other
which makes us feel that even in everyday life we are surrounded by
asterisks, or, as they also call them, astral forces. Was not Plato
an intimate friend of Mrs Blavatsky, the sister of Madame Badarzewska,
who was the composer of “A Maiden’s Prayer”? There! why then did that
lecturer not talk about palmistry, auristry, sorcery, witchcraft, and
other itch-crafts? Not a word about them! We were indignant.

“‘A friend of mine, Mrs Oofry Blazing, who talks French admirably,
and whose teeth are the envy of her nose, declared: “_Cet homme est
un fumiste_.” Of course, he sold us fumes, instead of perfumes. One
amongst us, an American woman of the third sex, told the man publicly
straight into his face, and with inimitable delicacy of touch: “Sir,
what are you here for?” Quite so; what _was_ he there for? We wanted
Plato, and nothing but Plato. One fairly expected him to begin every
sentence with P’s, or Pl’s. Instead of that he wandered from one
subject to another. One day he talked about the general and the
particular; the other day about the particular and the general. But
what particular is there in a general, I beg of you? Is an admiral not
much more important? We do not trouble about the army at all. And then,
and chiefly, what has a general to do with Plato? The lectures were
not on military matters, but on the most immaterial matters, which yet
matter materially. But, of course, now that you tell me that Socrates,
Plato’s master, was a he-midwife, I can very well understand that his
modern disciples are philosophical miscarriages!'”

* * * * *

The gods laughed heartily, and Sappho asked Plato how he liked the
remarks of Entréa. Plato smiled and made Sappho blush by reminding
her what the little ones had at all times said of her, although not
a tittle of truth was in it. “No ordinary citizen, nor his wife,” he
added, “ever wants to know persons or things as they really are. They
only want to know what they imagine or desire to be the truth. This
is the reason why so many men before the public take up a definite
pose, the one demanded by the public. This they do, not out of sheer
fatuity, but of necessity. A king could not afford to sing in public,
no matter how well he sang; it does not fit the image the public likes
to form about a king. In fact, the better he sang, the more harm it
would do him. I have always impressed the little ones as a mystic, an
enthusiast, a blessed spirit, as you Goethe used to call me. Yet my
principal aim was Apollo, and not Dionysus; clearness, and not the
_clair-obscur_ of trances.”

Alcibiades, whose beautiful head added to the charms of Venice, then
continued: “Nothing, O Plato, can be truer than your remark. My lady
friend was a living example of your statement. To me, after so many
hundreds of experiences, her made-up little mask was no hindrance,–I
saw through her within less than a week. She was, at heart, as dry,
as kippered, as intentionalist, and coldly self-conscious as the
driest of Egyptian book-keepers in a great merchant firm at Corinth.
Nothing really interested her; she was only ever running after what she
imagined to be the fashion of the moment. What she really wanted was
to be the earliest in ‘the latest.’ When she came to the bookshop,
at five in the afternoon, when all the others came, she would ask the
clerk after the latest fashion in novels. She did that so frequently,
and with such exasperating regularity, that one day the clerk, who
could stand it no longer, said to her: ‘Madame, be seated for a
few moments–the fashion is just changing.’ She, not in the least
disconcerted, eagerly retorted: ‘I say, is that “the latest”?’ The
clerk gave notice to leave!

“One day I found her in a very bad humour. When pressed for an
explanation, she told me that just at that moment an elegant funeral
was going on, at which she was most anxious to attend. ‘Why, then, do
you not go?’ I asked.

“‘Because,’ she replied, ‘it is simply impossible. Just fancy, that
good woman died of heart failure!’

“‘?’–

“‘You cannot see? Heart failure? Can you imagine anybody to die
of heart failure, when the only correct thing to do is to die of
appendicitis? I telephoned in due time to her doctor, imploring him
to declare that she died of that smart disease. But he is a brute. He
would not do it. Now I am for ever compromised by the friendship of
that woman. Oh how true was the remark of your sage Salami, when he
said that nobody can be said to be happy before all his friends have
died!'”

Thereupon the gods and heroes congratulated Solon upon his change of
profession: having been a sage, he was now a sausage.

“The next time I saw my lady friend,” Alcibiades continued, “I found
her in tears. Inquiring after the cause of her distress, I learnt:

“‘Just imagine! You know my little pet-dog. I bought him of a
lady-in-waiting. He has the most exquisite tact and feels happy only
in genteel society. An hour ago my maid suddenly left my flat, and
expecting, as I did, a lady of very high standing, I did a little
dusting and cleaning in my room. When my Toto saw that; when he watched
me actually doing housemaid’s work, he cried bitterly. He could not
bear the idea of my demeaning myself with work unfit for a lady. It
was really too touching for words. When I saw the refined sense of
genteeldom in Toto’s eyes, I too began crying. And so we both cried.’

* * * * *

“When I had lived through several scenes of the character just
described, I could not help thinking that we Athenians were perhaps
much wiser than the modern men, in that we did not allow our women
to appear in society. They were, it is true, seldom interesting, nor
physically greatly developed. On the other hand they never bored us
with types of what these little ones call society ladies. I cannot
but remember the exquisite evenings which I spent at the house of
Critias, where one of our wittiest _hetairai_, or emancipated women,
imitated the false manners, hypocrisy and inane pomp of the society
ladies of Thebes in Egypt. We laughed until we could see no longer.
What Leontion, that _hetaira_, represented was exactly what I observed
in my lady friend in London. The same disheartening dryness of soul;
the same exasperating superficiality of intellect; the same lack of all
real refinement, that I found a few centuries later in society in the
times of the Roman Cæsars.

“London desiccates; whereas Athens or Paris animates. When I gave
up my relation to Entréa, I met a woman of about thirty-four, whose
head was so perfect that Evænetus himself has never engraved a more
absolutely beautiful one. Her hair was not only golden of the most
lovely tint, but also full of waves, from long curls in Doric _adagio_,
to tantalising Corinthian _pizzicato_ frizzles all round. Her face was
a cameo cut in onyx, and both lovely and severe. Her loveliness was in
the upper part of her face; her severity round the mouth and the chin.
This strange reversal of what is usually the case gave her a character
of her own. Her stark blue eyes were big and cold, yet sympathetic and
intelligent-looking; and her ears were the finest shells that Leucothea
presented her mother with from the wine-coloured ocean, and inside the
shells were the most enchanting pearls, which the sea-nymph then left
in the mouth of the blessed babe as her teeth. She was not tall, but
very neatly made; a _fausse maigre_. She wrote bright articles, in
which from time to time she wrapped up a big truth in _bon-bon_ paper.

“There was in her the richest material for the most enchanting
womanhood; a blend of Musarion and Aspasia; or to talk modern style,
a blend of Mademoiselle l’Espinasse with Madame Récamier. She was
neither. Not that she made any preposterous effort to be, what Paris
calls, a Madame Récamier. But London desiccated her. From dry by
nature, she became drier still by London. Being as dry as she was, she
only cared for mystic things; for what is behind the curtain of things;
for the borderland of knowledge and dream. As sand can never drink in
enough rain, so dry souls want to intoxicate themselves with mystic
alcohol. In vulgarly dry persons that rain from above becomes–mud;
in refinedly dry souls it is atomised into an intellectual spray. Her
whole soul was athirst of that spray.

“When I told her that I was the son of Clinias, she wanted to know
first of all, what had been going on at the mysteries of Eleusis. I
told her that, like all the Hellenes, I had sworn never to reveal what
I had seen at the holy ceremonies. This she could not understand. In
her religion the priests are but too anxious to initiate anybody that
cares for it.

“‘Initiate me–oh initiate me–I beg you,’ she said, and looked more
beautiful than ever. Her arm trembled; her voice faltered. Even if
I did not respect my oath, I should not have told her the teachings
of Eleusis. They were far too simple for her mystery-craving soul.
So I told her of the Orphic mysteries, and the more she heard of the
extravagant and mind-shaking rites and tenets, the more interested she
became. Her mouth, usually so severe, swung again in pouty lines of
youthful timidity, and her voice got a ‘cello down of mellowness.

“‘Let us introduce Orphism into this country,’ she exclaimed. ‘Will you
be honorary treasurer?’

“I accepted,” said Alcibiades. “Within three days Orphism was presented
as the _Orphic Science_. The members were called priestesses,
archontes, or acolytes, according to their degree. Within a month
there were 843 members. Jamblichus was sent for and made secretary.
Costumes were invented; pamphlets printed; cures promised; shares
offered. It was declared that trances and mystic shivers would be
procured ‘while you wait’; dreams accounted for; inexplicables
explained; the curtain of things raised every Friday at five, after
tea. Finally the Orphics gave their first dinner at the Hotel Cecil.

“That was the worst blow. After that I abandoned Orphism.”