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0100_005E Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter II

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"There is a time for everything," agreed the Philosopher. "With the lover, penning poetry to the wondrous red and white upon his mistress' cheek, we do not discuss the subject of pigment in the blood, its cause and probable duration. Nevertheless, the subject is interesting."

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"We men and women," continued the Minor Poet, "we are Nature's favourites, her hope, for whom she has made sacrifice, putting aside so many of her own convictions, telling herself she is old- fashioned. She has let us go from her to the strange school where they laugh at all her notions. We have learnt new, strange ideas that bewilder the good dame. Yet, returning home it is curious to notice how little, in the few essential things of life, we differ from her other children, who have never wandered from her side. Our vocabulary has been extended and elaborated, yet face to face with the realities of existence it is unavailing. Clasping the living, standing beside the dead, our language still is but a cry. Our wants have grown more complicated; the ten-course banquet, with all that it involves, has substituted itself for the handful of fruits and nuts gathered without labour; the stalled ox and a world of trouble for the dinner of herbs and leisure therewith. Are we so far removed thereby above our little brother, who, having swallowed his simple, succulent worm, mounts a neighbouring twig and with easy digestion carols thanks to God? The square brick box about which we move, hampered at every step by wooden lumber, decked with many rags and strips of coloured paper, cumbered with odds and ends of melted flint and moulded clay, has replaced the cheap, convenient cave. We clothe ourselves in the skins of other animals instead of allowing our own to develop into a natural protection. We hang about us bits of stone and metal, but underneath it all we are little two-legged animals, struggling with the rest to live and breed. Beneath each hedgerow in the springtime we can read our own romances in the making--the first faint stirring of the blood, the roving eye, the sudden marvellous discovery of the indispensable She, the wooing, the denial, hope, coquetry, despair, contention, rivalry, hate, jealousy, love, bitterness, victory, and death. Our comedies, our tragedies, are being played upon each blade of grass. In fur and feather we run epitomised."

"I know," said the Woman of the World; "I have heard it all so often. It is nonsense; I can prove it to you."

"That is easy," observed the Philosopher. "The Sermon on the Mount itself has been proved nonsense--among others, by a bishop. Nonsense is the reverse side of the pattern--the tangled ends of the thread that Wisdom weaves."

"There was a Miss Askew at the College," said the Girton Girl. "She agreed with every one. With Marx she was a Socialist, with Carlyle a believer in benevolent despotism, with Spinoza a materialist, with Newman a fanatic. I had a long talk with her before she left, and tried to understand her; she was an interesting girl. 'I think,' she said, 'I could choose among them if only they would answer one another. But they don't. They won't listen to one another. They only repeat their own case.'"

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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