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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter VI

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"The present revolt of woman," continued the Minor Poet, "will be looked back upon by the historian of the future as one of the chief factors in our social evolution. The 'home'--the praises of which we still sing, but with gathering misgiving--depended on her willingness to live a life of practical slavery. When Adam delved and Eve span--Adam confining his delving to the space within his own fence, Eve staying her spinning-wheel the instant the family hosiery was complete--then the home rested upon the solid basis of an actual fact. Its foundations were shaken when the man became a citizen and his interests expanded beyond the domestic circle. Since that moment woman alone has supported the institution. Now she, in her turn, is claiming the right to enter the community, to escape from the solitary confinement of the lover's castle. The 'mansions,' with common dining-rooms, reading-rooms, their system of common service, are springing up in every quarter; the house, the villa, is disappearing. The story is the same in every country. The separate dwelling, where it remains, is being absorbed into a system. In America, the experimental laboratory of the future, the houses are warmed from a common furnace. You do not light the fire, you turn on the hot air. Your dinner is brought round to you in a travelling oven. You subscribe for your valet or your lady's maid. Very soon the private establishment, with its staff of unorganised, quarrelling servants, of necessity either over or underworked, will be as extinct as the lake dwelling or the sandstone cave."

"I hope," said the Woman of the World, "that I may live to see it."

"In all probability," replied the Minor Poet, "you will. I would I could feel as hopeful for myself."

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"If your prophecy be likely of fulfilment," remarked the Philosopher, "I console myself with the reflection that I am the oldest of the party. Myself; I never read these full and exhaustive reports of the next century without revelling in the reflection that before they can be achieved I shall be dead and buried. It may be a selfish attitude, but I should be quite unable to face any of the machine-made futures our growing guild of seers prognosticate. You appear to me, most of you, to ignore a somewhat important consideration--namely, that mankind is alive. You work out your answers as if he were a sum in rule-of-three: 'If man in so many thousands of years has done so much in such a direction at this or that rate of speed, what will he be doing--?' and so on. You forget he is swayed by impulses that can enter into no calculation--drawn hither and thither by powers that can never be represented in your algebra. In one generation Christianity reduced Plato's republic to an absurdity. The printing-press has upset the unanswerable conclusions of Machiavelli."

"I disagree with you," said the Minor Poet.

"The fact does not convince me of my error," retorted the Philosopher.

"Christianity," continued the Minor Poet, "gave merely an added force to impulses the germs of which were present in the infant race. The printing-press, teaching us to think in communities, has nonplussed to a certain extent the aims of the individual as opposed to those of humanity. Without prejudice, without sentiment, cast your eye back over the panorama of the human race. What is the picture that presents itself? Scattered here and there over the wild, voiceless desert, first the holes and caves, next the rude- built huts, the wigwams, the lake dwellings of primitive man. Lonely, solitary, followed by his dam and brood, he creeps through the tall grass, ever with watchful, terror-haunted eyes; satisfies his few desires; communicates, by means of a few grunts and signs, his tiny store of knowledge to his offspring; then, crawling beneath a stone, or into some tangled corner of the jungle, dies and disappears. We look again. A thousand centuries have flashed and faded. The surface of the earth is flecked with strange quivering patches: here, where the sun shines on the wood and sea, close together, almost touching one another; there, among the shadows, far apart. The Tribe has formed itself. The whole tiny mass moves forward, halts, runs backwards, stirred always by one common impulse. Man has learnt the secret of combination, of mutual help. The City rises. From its stone centre spreads its power; the Nation leaps to life; civilisation springs from leisure; no longer is each man's life devoted to his mere animal necessities. The artificer, the thinker--his fellows shall protect him. Socrates dreams, Phidias carves the marble, while Pericles maintains the law and Leonidas holds the Barbarian at bay. Europe annexes piece by piece the dark places of the earth, gives to them her laws. The Empire swallows the small State; Russia stretches her arm round Asia. In London we toast the union of the English-speaking peoples; in Berlin and Vienna we rub a salamander to the deutscher Bund; in Paris we whisper of a communion of the Latin races. In great things so in small. The stores, the huge Emporium displaces the small shopkeeper; the Trust amalgamates a hundred firms; the Union speaks for the worker. The limits of country, of language, are found too narrow for the new Ideas. German, American, or English--let what yard of coloured cotton you choose float from the mizzenmast, the business of the human race is their captain. One hundred and fifty years ago old Sam Johnson waited in a patron's anteroom; today the entire world invites him to growl his table talk the while it takes its dish of tea. The poet, the novelist, speak in twenty languages. Nationality--it is the County Council of the future. The world's high roads run turnpike-free from pole to pole. One would be blind not to see the goal towards which we are rushing. At the outside it is but a generation or two off. It is one huge murmuring Hive--one universal Hive just the size of the round earth. The bees have been before us; they have solved the riddle towards which we in darkness have been groping.

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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