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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 2. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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THE people who crowded Mrs. Hulme's unaired and undecorated drawing-room were, to say the least of it, oddly mixed. Among good, steady, high-nosed folk, with whom conventional propriety was as sacred as the Decalogue and the religion of white kid gloves that for which they had the most practical respect, were to be found seedy foreigners who had no investments outside their sharpened wits; obscure artists whom the Academy rejected and the picture-dealers would not endorse; shabby literati, said to be capable of great things but page: 39 achieving only small ones, and living by methods unknown to men of letters in the mass; handsome women, with invisible husbands and curiously constant male friends; unengaged actresses, whose jewels, fine dresses and pretty little broughams did not suffer from their enforced want of work; and every shade and kind of Bohemianism extant. There were no limits to the breadth and depth of Mrs. Hulme's hospitality; and as there were no restraints, from dress to certificates, and the only stipulation demanded was the power to amuse or the capacity for being amused, she got round her what Mr. King called a ‘job lot’—and a job lot of even more unscoured character than that which Silk Buckingham drew into the net of his famous Institute.

Her evenings were singularly pleasant. There was always good music by professionals, for whom this was a kind of unpaid and unfruitful advertisement. Sometimes page: 40 there was an impromptu charade; or a pretty aspirant gave the walking scene of Lady Macbeth, or Juliet on the balcony, as a proof of her powers—if only that stout sleek impresario in the huge white waist-coat and heavy golden chain would make her the leading lady at so much the week. Or a clever imitator reproduced Buckstone, or O. Smith, Paul Bedford or Webster, Wright or Liston, Farren, ‘Little Munden,’ or Robson, to the life, and the stock catch-words ‘brought down the house’ as at the real thing. Sometimes there was a spell of table-turning, or of mesmeric experiments, when young sensitives acted according to order, and proved the truth of craniology by showing love or hate, devotion or disdain, as this bump was touched or that indicated. And always there was plenty of wit and laughter, with a subtle suspicion of garlic and tobacco, and an ever-present sense of hunger and impecuniosity.

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The steady folk were scandalized by the free-and-easy tone of these evenings, as well as by the slightly ragamuffin look of some of the guests, and the more than slightly doubtful antecedents and conditions of most of them. But as Mrs. Hulme was a woman of good birth, passably rich, heirless, and of an age when scandal had ceased to make merry with her name—it had made very merry indeed in times past—she somehow managed to hold on with respectability, while she towed her queer cargo behind and kept her own head above water.

She had lived a great deal abroad, where it was supposed she had adopted her loose ways and put off more than her English stays. And the pernicious influence of all that bad foreign example to which she had been subjected was her excuse with those who could not approve yet would not renounce. Thus, nothing page: 42 worse was said of her, by even the strictest of the Pharisees who consorted with her, than:

‘What a pity it is that Mrs. Hulme knows such very odd people! She is really too kind-hearted and indiscriminate!’

If they were odd, however, they were all, according to their hostess, personages of latent distinction and the unrecognised geniuses of the future. What a hot-bed of compressed talent it was!—the crozier heads of forth-coming far-spreading fronds! What nameless Raffaeles in long hair and thread-bare coats discoursed learnedly on ‘method’ and ‘touch,’ ‘technique’ and ‘morbidezza;’ on Turner's skies and Stansfield's seas; on Chalon's grace and Etty's flesh-tints; on the power of Maclise and the versatility of Mulready! What cotyledonous Beethovens sprung the notes and broke the strings of that Broadwood ‘grand’ which was Mrs. Hulme's most important bit of furniture!— page: 43 and what fascinating Malibrans that were to be sang ‘Robert! toi que j'aime!’ looking at that stout impresario in the big white waistcoat, who had their fortune in his pocket if only he would put his hand therein to find it!

And those black-bearded counts and fair-haired barons, with coats buttoned to the chin and not a line of linen to swear by—they were all great men in their own country, and most of them were inventive geniuses, with that potential wealth beyond the dreams of avarice we have heard of so often before, in the shape of unpatented inventions—wanting but so few pounds to set agoing for the certain realization of those dreams! Among them were some good ideas which have since been taken up and worked out into practicality. But it is sad to think that many a germ of what is now an accomplished fact, bringing an enormous fortune to the manipulator, had its origin in the brains of page: 44 these poor unfriended foreigners,who scarcely knew where to get the bread and meat that should keep body and soul together.

Mrs. Hulme herself, always sitting in her own especial arm-chair by the fireplace, was not the least remarkable in an assembly where no one was common-place. She was a woman of about seventy, whose love of personal ease had conquered all that personal vanity some vestige of which most women keep to the end of time. She was loose and stout, and with no more shape than the typical sack tried round the middle. Her grey hair was thin and wispy, and brushed straight off her bold full brow; and she wore no cap, as do other women of her age, but only a small black lace kerchief, tied round her face and knotted under her chin. She was always dressed in black stuff, with a grey woollen knitted shawl on her shoulders. She wore black mittens on her soft white flaccid hands; and among her page: 45 numerous old-fashioned rings was one large onyx. This she said held her quietus.

‘The day when I can no longer laugh,’ she said to me quite cheerfully; ‘the day when I have to confess that I am beaten, that life is at last played out, and that humanity has become to me more revolting than ridiculous—then I shall open this and bid you all “Good-night.”’

She made no secret of her intention to commit suicide when life should be no longer enjoyable. She had no fancy for dregs, she used to say, with her strange laugh, at once so cynical and so pleasure-loving, so mocking, so sensual and so humorous. And the knowledge that she could die when she chose, without pain or confusion, helped her to live. It was her staff of strength, without which the road would be both rough and tiresome—and perhaps already too long.

I may as well say here as later, that she page: 46 carried out her intention, and did one night take that great leap into the dark which she always said she would take when tired of the light. When she found out that she had an internal tumour, which would probably become cancerous, she put her affairs in order; gave her last Bohemian evening, where she surpassed herself in the audacity of her speech and the brilliancy of her wit; and then, with her finger between the pages of her pocket Rabelais, she drew down the thick curtain between herself and the House of Life, and so ended the play for ever. She left all she possessed to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other kindred institutions; dumb brutes being, according to her, less bestial than men.

She was the first person I had ever heard speak of suicide in this philosophical manner—as a thing to be discussed like any other—an act of free will and intelligence, good page: 47 or evil according to conditions, but not necessarily a sin, a mystery, a shame, a dread. And her words made on me one of those ineffaceable impressions which are the birth-hours of thought.

Of course the first time she spoke to me I was shocked—and more. My father had never mentioned the subject without horror, as murder of the worst kind—impiety of the most damnable character—the one sin which could never be repented of. Cato might be pardoned, because Cato was a heathen; but a Christian who had the true knowledge was outside the pale of forgiveness—and God Himself had limited His own power. But the thing was altogether forbidden; and even discussion was an irreligious tampering with evil. It was to be simply abhorred in silence, like any other infamy. Yet I remember when a poor fellow, a clergyman, cut his throat not far from Eden, my dear father would not page: 48 allow a harsh word to be spoken of him, but said only:

‘The mercy of God is infinite. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’

For here, as so often in his life, personal charity was stronger than dogmatic harshness, and the man pitied what the theologian condemned.

Of this teaching I naturally retained the impress, and looked on self-murder as one of those crimes which have no two sides and for which there is no kind of palliation. And now, here was Mrs. Hulme calmly upholding not only the moral right, but even the social value, of suicide, and proclaiming her own intention of one day practising what she professed!

Two years ago a new arithmetic would have seemed to me as possible as a new moral code. Theology might be, and was, an uncertain quantity, but morality was as fixed as the everlasting hills. But now, I page: 49 confess it, my absolutes were beginning to dissolve. My old principles were laughed out of court by my Paphian friends the Free-lovers, with whom the sanctity of marriage was effaced in favour of the imperialism of love—by the hedonism of Mrs. Hulme, with whom duty was a superstition and pleasure the final cause and great end of existence.

Yet these people were neither criminals nor savages. They were thoughtful, kindly, cultivated, conscientious; and the ordinary theological writ about the depravity of the human heart did not run among them. Still, they made morality discretionary and not compulsory; and changed the granite stability of right and wrong into a nebulous kind of individualism, where all was convertible according to convenience, and nothing was radical and superior to conditions.

Thus it was that I first began to see the page: 50 moral law as a question of evolution and social arrangement, void of extrinsic divine ordination—that, while recognising some laws as better and making more for progress than others, I had to confess, also, that nowhere has been said the final word, and that nothing has received its last and unchangeable form—that everything on earth is relative—from colour by juxtaposition, to crime by the circumstances surrounding it.

In manner Mrs. Hulme was kindly, brusque, unconventional, familiar. She never rose from her chair, let who would enter the room; and she kept a seat immediately behind her for her favourite of the evening, to whom she laughed and talked over her shoulder. That beside her was for the last comer, who was expected to vacate it when another visitor entered. If he delayed, he was ordered off without ceremony. She called women by their Christian names, and page: 51 men by their surnames, without prefix or distinctive title; and she treated all young people like children, rebuking, encouraging or caressing, according to her mood, as if these young heroes had been so many boy-babies at her knee.

In religion an atheist; in theoretical politics a socialist; despising human nature, and therefore tolerant of its weaknesses and indifferent to its vices; mocking, cynical, irreverent; without tenderness of sentiment to make her sympathetic with earnestness, yet marvellously kind-hearted and generous to excess, she stripped every question that she touched of all sacredness, all mystery, all poetry, all divinity, and reduced it to a standard as prosaic as the market-price of a pound of tallow-candles. She scoffed at the idea of hidden mysteries, and denied the peculiar sacredness of things because they are unknown. She saw no difference in kind, only in degree, and page: 52 swept the whole universe into the same abyss of contempt.

‘The Divine Life to be found in bugs and blue-bottles?’ she said with her mocking laugh when I, still under the influence of Adeline Dalrymple, spoke as I had been taught. ‘So you make yourself a deicide every time you catch the one or scrunch the other? The Divine Life energizing itself in a stinging-nettle or a dandelion? What rubbish! Reduce your pretty fancy to reason, and you will find that your divinity means, on the one hand, bigness and complexity of organism—on the other, that which pleases and profits yourself. You vapour about the beauty—a condition of the Divine Life—of a lily; but you will dig up and destroy that stinging-nettle aforesaid. A beautiful woman is of course very divine—but that flea biting her neck? that midge making a bump on her forehead? Pshaw! You have a great deal yet to learn, my dear page: 53 boy, and a great deal more to unlearn. We shall have to scrape those brains of yours clear of all the superstitious whitewash plastered over them, if you are to do any good in life or see things as they are.’

‘Say what you will,’ I answered, ‘there must be something at the back of creation; and life did not come of itself.’

‘How do you know that?’ she said drily. ‘If you do not know one thing you do not know another; and one unlighted candle is as good as another when you are in a dark room and have no matches.’

According to Mrs. Hulme, we come from nothing and return to nothing—or, rather, we are simply old material re-combined and re-incorporate. We are mere phenomena of the hour—mere phantasmagoria in time and appearances flitting though space—no more stable than clouds, no more individually valuable than so many melon seeds. If any secret meaning lies at the back of page: 54 life, we have not found the key yet, and never shall. But she denied any secret meaning at all, and treated the whole thing as a huge cosmic joke and energized satire.

‘A fortuitous concourse of atoms—creatures bound by the material circumstances which have formed them—brought into the world without their own consent and by no action of theirs—dependent on time and place, food, parentage, and weather for what they are and do—and then credited with an immortal soul to be punished or rewarded for deeds done in the flesh!—those deeds as necessarily the result of material conditions over which the individual has no more control than has the acorn when it springs into an oak and not an ash—than has the piece of wax when it is moulded into the likeness of Jupiter, or battered out into the mask of Silenus! What logic! What reasoning! And this is the nineteenth century! And you are one of those who page: 55 “lead public opinion.” The blind leading the blind, with a vengeance, and the ditch as the consequence!’

‘But what do you make of free-will?’ I asked. ‘We all have free-will, and can choose the bad or the good at pleasure; we are not the mere slaves of material conditions.’

She measured my head with her two hands. Among other things, she was a phrenologist, and believed in George Combe as well as in Lavater.

‘A simple question of proportion,’ she said. ‘Intellectual, moral, animal:—which of the three is largest, there will be the thing you call “free-will”; that is, self-governance through the preponderance of the intellect—passions which are uncontrollable because of the weight of the cerebellum—or the higher range of social instincts because of the size of the coronal region. The mind is like a muscle—it cannot go beyond its page: 56 own power. A weak arm cannot raise a heavy weight; a small intellectual and moral development cannot overcome a large animal region. The doctrine of free-will, like all the rest of human life, is a delusion. It has its economic uses. So has the belief in heaven and hell—in the eve of God and the claws of the devil. But economic uses, because men are ignorant and therefore superstitious, do not make a lie the truth, nor delusion a reality.’

‘Then you would destroy the conscience?’ I asked.

‘What is conscience?’ she returned. ‘The public opinion and fleeting ideas of a certain time and era individualized. Is that an absolute?’

‘If it is not, then all human virtue goes to the wall,’ I answered. ‘Your theories leave us neither spiritual influence nor eternal laws of right—neither truth nor conscience.’

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She laughed in her mocking Voltairean way.

‘Eternal laws of right, spiritual influence, truth, the absolute, conscience!’ she said. ‘And pray, my dear, what do you make of any of these, outside external conditions? Point me out one virtue which has not been merely the expression of the needs of the time, cherished because of social exigencies;—tell me of one that has been absolute from the beginning anywhere, and in all stages of civilization—and then we can talk of the divine illumination of conscience and the eternal rule of right. Go over the list. Truth, which is the most necessary of all as the mutual defence-work and protection between man and man—the concordat of society and the basis of association; Chastity, on which the family is founded, the family being in its turn the foundation of society; Justice, which is the taproot of law—these, the very elements of all the rest, are es- essentially page: 58 sentially geographical, chronological, social. So also is magnanimity; so charity, liberty, patriotism, temperance—and all the rest. The whole fabric from end to end is a matter of growth and modification; and this absolute rightness, this divine illumination of the conscience, about which you ecstatics talk such egregious nonsense, is the mere result of external education, like proficiency in mathematics or clever combinations in chemistry.’

‘Then right and wrong do not exist?’ I said.

‘As unchangeable principles?—no!’ was her answer. ‘Where do you find them? In the Bible? Surely there least of all! But in no place—none! Polygamy, honoured as well as lawful in the East, is prostitution in the West. Mohammed sanctified what David and Solomon and the patriarchs had all practised and what Christ and later Judaism forbade. Who is to page: 59 choose between the two systems, and pronounce arbitrarily on either? Slavery, supposed by the Jews to have been expressly sanctioned—and limited—by Jehovah; practised by all barbarous peoples and a main feature in the civilization of Greece and Rome; upheld in the United States as morally allowable, divinely ordained, and valuable for the general good—has become to us of late years an accursed thing, and we have put it away from us. But the doctrine of a man and a brother is one of quite modern growth. It is not even essentially Christian. Yet before the rights of man were preached you cannot say that slavery was a crime. There can be no fault where there is no better knowledge. You might as well say that belief in dreams, touching for the king's evil, or any other foolish outcome of superstition, was a crime. It was only ignorance. And he who would condemn page: 60 ignorance must begin with the new-born babe.’

‘You make life very uncertain, and leave no solid foot-hold anywhere,’ I said.

‘Do you think so? I do not. On the contrary, I find in my belief the greatest certitude,’ she answered.

‘How? Where?’ I asked.

She laughed again.

‘In a paradox, my dear—in the universal phantasmagoria and mirage that it all is—the universal delusion and maze of everything,’ she said. ‘There is no reality except illusion. There is no absolute standard—only the opinion of the day; and morality, truth and right, change their names and dresses according to time and place, just as our winter is the Australian summer, and the despised donkey of the London costermonger is the honoured ass of the Eastern dignitary. We are no better than blind puppies abandoned by their mother, and we know very little page: 61 more than they. We do not even understand the material of the basket in which we find ourselves, nor our relations with the rest of the stable where we have been littered.’

‘I cannot push God out of the world,’ I said. ‘He is the Absolute; He is the Truth; the Life of the universe and the Soul of the soul of man ’! ’!

‘All in capitals?’ she said, lifting her upper lip, but with no sting in her good-tempered contempt. ‘All right; I congratulate you, my dear boy. You have found the key to the riddle which the world has so long sought in vain. Give me your talisman. Teach me your method. It is worth knowing.’

‘My talisman?—Love!’ I answered fervently, thinking of Adelina Dalrymple.

‘Yes? love? Love of what?—of whom? Love between the sexes?—sometimes not a very celestial matter,’ she said.

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‘Love in Nature,‘ I repeated.

‘So!’ she said drily. ‘The Divine may be there for you, but for myself, I cannot for the life of me find God in a stagnant horse-pond, nor in a ploughed field spread over with dead fish. And I confess I see Him no more in hawks and tigers, bogs and weeds, than in this bundle of passions, weaknesses, appetites, treacheries, and impulses we call man. But your Pantheism, to be logical, must include man as well as beasts and roots and stones and trees.’

‘And why not?’ I answered. ‘Man is the base of our ideal God—he is the best we know.’

‘In which case all I can say is—bad is the best, and very bad too; and your divine tabernacle is wonderfully in need of repair, and a very ramshackle concern all through.’

‘That which He has made must have something of Himself in it,’ I said. ‘Nature, page: 63 and with nature man, are both the expressions of the thought and power of God.’

‘You believe in direct creation?’ she returned, as if with surprise. ‘You believe that we are consciously and intentionally made as we are, by a Supreme Being who could have done so much better for us if He would? How odd! If I were to think so, I should go as mad as if I were locked up in a torture-chamber where I had to witness the agonies of others, and be twinged myself as a gentle reminder of consanguinity. To believe that this world, with all its pain and misery, its disease and death and ignorance, is the deliberate work of an Omnipotent and Omniscient Deity, seems to me the most blasphemous assumption—if there be such a thing as blasphemy—the most illogical and self-contradictory idea, as well as the most derogatory to the character of the God proclaimed, that the mind can conceive. No, my dear, I make no God responsible for page: 64 all this misery! It was not by the direct act of a Supreme Power that Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed—that we are born by torture and have to die in agony—that we have to protect ourselves from the elements which else would annihilate us—that we have to labour if we would live, and to suffer if we would enjoy—no Conscious Power is responsible for all this. It is the Law—that thing of which we know neither the origin nor the issue—Law without consciousness, without favour, without discretion, without individualism—Law as cold and stony as one of the old Egyptian gods, sitting through all eternity, their hands resting on their knees, deaf to the cries of men, dead to their prayers, and unmoved by all that passes before them, whether it be the blood of slain men or the laughter of little children.’

All this kind of talk fascinated while it half-terrified me. It had on me the same page: 65 effect as conjuring up the devil and the practice of the Black Art must have had on a mediæval student. It was peeping into forbidden places and listening to forbidden sounds. The boldness of Mrs. Hulme's negations; the cynicism of her morality; her contempt for all those things which have ever been most sacred to man, and which were then my holiest treasures of faith; her keen wit; her kind heart and the barrenness of her spiritual nature—all made her a study of singular interest to me. But my interest was mixed with dread and my affection for her was dashed with reprobation. I was in a new world when with her; and I had not yet polarized myself. My enthusiasm was pitied as the fever of youth; my principles of deepest root were shown to be unworkable in actual life; the ‘counsels of perfection’ to which I yet clung were set aside as moral fairy tales, without substantiality or reasonableness; my faith in page: 66 the essential qualities of vice and virtue was treated as a superstition on all fours with Aubrey's astral spirit, the properties of the herb moly, and the gift of invisibility lying in fern-seed. When I spoke of the absolute, I was met by the relative, the evanescent, the apparent; and I was becoming familiarized with the doctrines which made all life mere vapoury phenomena, where nothing is new, nothing is true, and nothing signifies.

As I have said, Mrs. Hulme's contempt for humanity made her latitudinarian all through. She was philosophically tolerant of lying and deceit, of selfishness, treachery, unchastity, and all the rest, because she expected nothing better.

‘They have broken the eleventh commandment and been found out,’ she used to say. ‘Everyone does the same, but some manage better than others, and fasten their doors with a closer lock. It is all that question of the lock—you may be sure of that, my page: 67 dear! Behind the door everyone is pretty much alike. An Archbishop is only a chevalier d'industrie made honest because he has no need to cheat. Take away his lawn sleeves and put him into a jockey's jacket, and in place of a saint you will have a blackleg. It is only a matter of dress and assignment.’

‘Do you allow no good in human nature?’ I asked, a little impatiently. ‘What do you leave us?’

‘Well, I leave you Nero and Domitian and Caligula and all that lot—Lucrezia Borgia and the Marchioness de Brinvilliers—Gilles de Retz and the whole crew of inquisitors—and a crowd more; all own brothers and sisters, founded on the same ground-plan as your saints and heroes, and all divine tabernacles according to you. What more do you want?’

‘Oh, Mrs. Hulme! how can you live without faith in God or love for man?’ I page: 68 said with real pain. ‘I should die if I were out in the wilderness as you are—if I were so desolate and deserted.’

A sudden look of tenderness came into her face and moistened her eyes. She leaned forward in her chair and took my hand between both her own.

‘What a child you are still, my six-foot-two dreamer!’ she said. ‘When you were a little fellow, did you not suck your thumb before you went to sleep? I am sure you did! You suck your mental thumb still. It served you then for comfort—was as good as a lollipop. So are your beliefs and aspirations, your vague adorations and baseless certainties, now! It is almost a pity to take them from you prematurely. The day came when of your own accord and by the law of growth you left off sucking your thumb and yet went happily to sleep; and the day will come when you will cease to idealize human nature, and yet you will find page: 69 life tolerable when you have left off believing in its pretty fables.’

‘And I am to find no one good, no one true or faithful?—not though I know and love you?’ I asked, masking emotion under playfulness.

She patted my head.

‘What a pretty speech!’ she said. ‘I despise flattery, my dear, but I love it all the same. When I hear beautiful music, I know it is only a cunning combination of sounds made by lifeless material. But it stirs my blood, for all that it comes out of the bowels of a cat and the wood of a tree—nient' altro! So thank you for your nice little bit of humbug, which is pleasant to hear and which I do not in the least believe. So far from thinking me good, you think I am a horrible old woman, given over to the devil and all his works, and destined to be damned to all eternity.’

‘I do not,’ I answered. ‘I do not agree page: 70 with you, but that does not prevent my respecting you.’

‘How should you agree with me?’ she said, with her mocking little laugh. ‘I am old, you are young; I know, you believe; I have proved, you hope. We are not on the same platform. It is impossible. But you will come to me in time;—that is, if you are made of stuff that matures and ripens and does not wither green—nor become fossilized before it has fructified.’

‘And then I shall despise humanity?’ I said.

‘Yes, my dear—despise, pity, aid and not condemn it,’ she answered. ‘It is a poor thing; but it cannot help itself, any more than a snake can help its poison-fang or a jelly-fish its want of backbone. It is so, and no one is to blame. But, being this poor thing, do not talk to me of the divinity lying within it, nor of the omnipotence, the love which energizes this grossly cruel and imperfect world.’

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This was the kind of thing which Mrs. Hulme perpetually said to me; and I wonder now how my belief in goodness and the right survived her efforts to kill it. It did. I could not be brought to that terrible contempt which seemed to her the key of all wisdom—the awful mirror bought of truth by knowledge. I must love. I must be able to feel reverence, and to trust; and to live among the dry bones as she did would have ruined me for ever. If I had doubted those whom I loved, I should have doubted of God. And this was to me that mysterious sin against the Holy Ghost on which my young imagination had been so often exercised.

No; Mrs. Hulme was wrong. There was more than blind Law under which we lived—there was Divine Providence ever leading us, like little children, step by step, higher and higher. There was more than the irresponsible animal in man—there was page: 72 his soul, his conscience, his love, his aspiration, his truth. And there were always some who were absolutely good—had I not loved Adeline Dalrymple?—and right and wrong were facts, not fancies.

So I fortified myself against my old friend's cynicism, and for her dead negation substituted my own fervent affirmation, and made sure that I had the Truth in front of me. And I was still actuated by principle, and did my best to put into practice those counsels of perfection which had always stirred my soul and, so to speak, fired my spiritual ambition. But I made a terrible fiasco of my worldly matters in the process, and put back the dial-hand of fortune for as many degrees as it had gone forward.

For instance: I had written a novel, for which Mr. Colbourn, one of the great publishers of novels of that time, had agreed beforehand to give me three hundred pounds. Now, three hundred pounds, in page: 73 those days of hard work and narrow gains, was a small fortune; and I had reckoned on it with the satisfaction of certainty. But my book was an unconventional and daring sort of thing; and when it was finished I began to think it was not quite the kind Mr. Colbourn had anticipated when he bargained for it. He came to me on the day when I told him it was completed; and he had the three hundred pounds in his pocket-book. When he took out the notes I laid my hand on his.

‘No,’ I said; ‘let it stand over. Take the manuscript; and if you do not like it, I let you off the bargain.’

He did not like it, and I lost my money. But I kept my sense of honour, of truth, and fair-dealing; and was not that better?

When I told Mrs. Hulme what I had done, I really thought the end of our friendship had come. She raved at me for my folly, my absurd pride, my presumption page: 74 even, in pretending to arrange Mr. Colbourn's business for him. What right had I to teach him the lesson of not buying a thing he had not seen? Who was I, to think myself wiser than a sharp man of business who knew what he was about a great deal better than I could tell him? So she stormed. But at last she ended by taking my face between her large, soft, flaccid hands, and kissing me on the forehead.

‘You are a fool,’ she said in her queer cynical way; ‘about the biggest out of Bedlam. But,’ she added more softly; ‘you are a good fool—which is something.’