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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter I

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"After all," said the Philosopher, "what can a man do more than tell a woman that he loves her? All the rest is mere picturesque amplification, on a par with the 'Full and descriptive report from our Special Correspondent,' elaborated out of a three-line telegram of Reuter's."

"Following that argument," said the Minor Poet, "you could reduce 'Romeo and Juliet' to a two-line tragedy -

Lass and lad, loved like mad;

Silly muddle, very sad."

"To be told that you are loved," said the Girton Girl, "is only the beginning of the theorem--its proposition, so to speak."

"Or the argument of the poem," murmured the Old Maid.

"The interest," continued the Girton Girl, "lies in proving it--why does he love me?"

"I asked a man that once," said the Woman of the World. "He said it was because he couldn't help it. It seemed such a foolish answer-- the sort of thing your housemaid always tells you when she breaks your favourite teapot. And yet, I suppose it was as sensible as any other."

"More so," commented the Philosopher. "It is the only possible explanation."

"I wish," said the Minor Poet, "it were a question one could ask of people without offence; I so often long to put it. Why do men marry viragoes, pimply girls with incipient moustaches? Why do beautiful heiresses choose thick-lipped, little men who bully them? Why are old bachelors, generally speaking, sympathetic, kind-hearted men; and old maids, so many of them, sweet-looking and amiable?"

"I think," said the Old Maid, "that perhaps--" But there she stopped.

"Pray go on," said the Philosopher. "I shall be so interested to have your views."

"It was nothing, really," said the Old Maid; "I have forgotten."

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"If only one could obtain truthful answers," the Minor Poet, "what a flood of light they might let fall on the hidden half of life!"

"It seems to me," said the Philosopher, "that, if anything, Love is being exposed to too much light. The subject is becoming vulgarised. Every year a thousand problem plays and novels, poems and essays, tear the curtain from Love's Temple, drag it naked into the market-place for grinning crowds to gape at. In a million short stories, would-be comic, would-be serious, it is handled more or less coarsely, more or less unintelligently, gushed over, gibed and jeered at. Not a shred of self-respect is left to it. It is made the central figure of every farce, danced and sung round in every music-hall, yelled at by gallery, guffawed at by stalls. It is the stock-in-trade of every comic journal. Could any god, even a Mumbo Jumbo, so treated, hold its place among its votaries? Every term of endearment has become a catchword, every caress mocks us from the hoardings. Every tender speech we make recalls to us even while we are uttering it a hundred parodies. Every possible situation has been spoilt for us in advance by the American humorist."

"I have sat out a good many parodies of 'Hamlet,'" said the Minor Poet, "but the play still interests me. I remember a walking tour I once took in Bavaria. In some places the waysides are lined with crucifixes that are either comic or repulsive. There is a firm that turns them out by machinery. Yet, to the peasants who pass by, the Christ is still beautiful. You can belittle only what is already contemptible."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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