The New Machiavelli

Page 107 of 114

That argument went on for some time. I was attacked across the table by a man named Burshort about my Endowment of Motherhood schemes, but in the gaps of that debate I could still hear Weston Massinghay at intervals repeat in a rather thickened voice: “THEY didn't get dysentery.”

I think Evesham went early. The rest of us clustered more and more closely towards the drier end of the room, the table was pushed along, and the area beneath the extinguished conflagration abandoned to a tinkling, splashing company of pots and pans and bowls and baths. Everybody was now disposed to be hilarious and noisy, to say startling and aggressive things; we must have sounded a queer clamour to a listener in the next room. The devil inspired them to begin baiting me. “Ours isn't the Tory party any more,” said Burshort. “Remington has made it the Obstetric Party.”

“That's good!” said Weston Massinghay, with all his teeth gleaming; “I shall use that against you in the House!”

“I shall denounce you for abusing private confidences if you do,” said Tarvrille.

“Remington wants us to give up launching Dreadnoughts and launch babies instead,” Burshort urged. “For the price of one Dreadnought—”

The little shrivelled don who had been omniscient about guns joined in the baiting, and displayed himself a venomous creature. Something in his eyes told me he knew Isabel and hated me for it. “Love and fine thinking,” he began, a little thickly, and knocking over a wine-glass with a too easy gesture. “Love and fine thinking. Two things don't go together. No philosophy worth a damn ever came out of excesses of love. Salt Lake City—Piggott—Ag—Agapemone again—no works to matter.”

Everybody laughed.

“Got to rec'nise these facts,” said my assailant. “Love and fine think'n pretty phrase—attractive. Suitable for p'litical dec'rations. Postcard, Christmas, gilt lets, in a wreath of white flow's. Not oth'wise valu'ble.”

I made some remark, I forget what, but he overbore me.

Real things we want are Hate—Hate and COARSE think'n. I b'long to the school of Mrs. F's Aunt—”

“What?” said some one, intent.

“In 'Little Dorrit,'” explained Tarvrille; “go on!”

“Hate a fool,” said my assailant.

Tarvrille glanced at me. I smiled to conceal the loss of my temper.

“Hate,” said the little man, emphasising his point with a clumsy fist. “Hate's the driving force. What's m'rality?—hate of rotten goings on. What's patriotism?—hate of int'loping foreigners. What's Radicalism?—hate of lords. What's Toryism?—hate of disturbance. It's all hate—hate from top to bottom. Hate of a mess. Remington owned it the other day, said he hated a mu'll. There you are! If you couldn't get hate into an election, damn it (hic) people wou'n't poll. Poll for love!—no' me!”

He paused, but before any one could speak he had resumed.

“Then this about fine thinking. Like going into a bear pit armed with a tagle—talgent—talgent galv'nometer. Like going to fight a mad dog with Shasepear and the Bible. Fine thinking—what we want is the thickes' thinking we can get. Thinking that stands up alone. Taf Reform means work for all, thassort of thing.”

The gentleman from Cambridge paused. “YOU a flag!” he said. “I'd as soon go to ba'ell und' wet tissue paper!”

My best answer on the spur of the moment was:

“The Japanese did.” Which was absurd.

I went on to some other reply, I forget exactly what, and the talk of the whole table drew round me. It was an extraordinary revelation to me. Every one was unusually careless and outspoken, and it was amazing how manifestly they echoed the feeling of this old Tory spokesman. They were quite friendly to me, they regarded me and the BLUE WEEKLY as valuable party assets for Toryism, but it was clear they attached no more importance to what were my realities than they did to the remarkable therapeutic claims of Mrs. Eddy. They were flushed and amused, perhaps they went a little too far in their resolves to draw me, but they left the impression on my mind of men irrevocably set upon narrow and cynical views of political life. For them the political struggle was a game, whose counters were human hate and human credulity; their real aim was just every one's aim, the preservation of the class and way of living to which their lives were attuned. They did not know how tired I was, how exhausted mentally and morally, nor how cruel their convergent attack on me chanced to be. But my temper gave way, I became tart and fierce, perhaps my replies were a trifle absurd, and Tarvrille, with that quick eye and sympathy of his, came to the rescue. Then for a time I sat silent and drank port wine while the others talked. The disorder of the room, the still dripping ceiling, the noise, the displaced ties and crumpled shirts of my companions, jarred on my tormented nerves....

It was long past midnight when we dispersed. I remember Tarvrille coming with me into the hall, and then suggesting we should go upstairs to see the damage. A manservant carried up two flickering candles for us. One end of the room was gutted, curtains, hangings, several chairs and tables were completely burnt, the panelling was scorched and warped, three smashed windows made the candles flare and gutter, and some scraps of broken china still lay on the puddled floor.

As we surveyed this, Lady Tarvrille appeared, back from some party, a slender, white-cloaked, satin-footed figure with amazed blue eyes beneath her golden hair. I remember how stupidly we laughed at her surprise.


I parted from Panmure at the corner of Aldington Street, and went my way alone. But I did not go home, I turned westward and walked for a long way, and then struck northward aimlessly. I was too miserable to go to my house.

I wandered about that night like a man who has discovered his Gods are dead. I can look back now detached yet sympathetic upon that wild confusion of moods and impulses, and by it I think I can understand, oh! half the wrongdoing and blundering in the world.

I do not feel now the logical force of the process that must have convinced me then that I had made my sacrifice and spent my strength in vain. At no time had I been under any illusion that the Tory party had higher ideals than any other party, yet it came to me like a thing newly discovered that the men I had to work with had for the most part no such dreams, no sense of any collective purpose, no atom of the faith I held. They were just as immediately intent upon personal ends, just as limited by habits of thought, as the men in any other group or party. Perhaps I had slipped unawares for a time into the delusions of a party man—but I do not think so.

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