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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter VI

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The Old Maid shuddered visibly. "What a terrible idea!" she said.

"To us," replied the Minor Poet; "not to those who will come after us. The child dreads manhood. To Abraham, roaming the world with his flocks, the life of your modern City man, chained to his office from ten to four, would have seemed little better than penal servitude."

"My sympathies are with the Abrahamitical ideal," observed the Philosopher.

"Mine also," agreed the Minor Poet. "But neither you nor I represent the tendency of the age. We are its curiosities. We, and such as we, serve as the brake regulating the rate of progress. The genius of species shows itself moving in the direction of the organised community--all life welded together, controlled by one central idea. The individual worker is drawn into the factory. Chippendale today would have been employed sketching designs; the chair would have been put together by fifty workers, each one trained to perfection in his own particular department. Why does the hotel, with its five hundred servants, its catering for three thousand mouths, work smoothly, while the desirable family residence, with its two or three domestics, remains the scene of waste, confusion, and dispute? We are losing the talent of living alone; the instinct of living in communities is driving it out."

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"So much the worse for the community," was the comment of the Philosopher. "Man, as Ibsen has said, will always be at his greatest when he stands alone. To return to our friend Abraham, surely he, wandering in the wilderness, talking with his God, was nearer the ideal than the modern citizen, thinking with his morning paper, applauding silly shibboleths from a theatre pit, guffawing at coarse jests, one of a music-hall crowd? In the community it is the lowest always leads. You spoke just now of all the world inviting Samuel Johnson to its dish of tea. How many read him as compared to the number of subscribers to the Ha'penny Joker? This 'thinking in communities,' as it is termed, to what does it lead? To mafficking and Dreyfus scandals. What crowd ever evolved a noble idea? If Socrates and Galileo, Confucius and Christ had 'thought in communities,' the world would indeed be the ant-hill you appear to regard as its destiny."

"In balancing the books of life one must have regard to both sides of the ledger," responded the Minor Poet. "A crowd, I admit, of itself creates nothing; on the other hand, it receives ideals into its bosom and gives them needful shelter. It responds more readily to good than to evil. What greater stronghold of virtue than your sixpenny gallery? Your burglar, arrived fresh from jumping on his mother, finds himself applauding with the rest stirring appeals to the inborn chivalry of man. Suggestion that it was right or proper under any circumstances to jump upon one's mother he would at such moment reject with horror. 'Thinking in communities' is good for him. The hooligan, whose patriotism finds expression in squirting dirty water into the face of his coster sweetheart: the boulevardiere, primed with absinth, shouting 'Conspuez les Juifs!'-- the motive force stirring them in its origin was an ideal. Even into making a fool of itself, a crowd can be moved only by incitement of its finer instincts. The service of Prometheus to mankind must not be judged by the statistics of the insurance office. The world as a whole has gained by community, will attain its goal only through community. From the nomadic savage by the winding road of citizenship we have advanced far. The way winds upward still, hidden from us by the mists, but along its tortuous course lies our track into the Promised Land. Not the development of the individual--that is his own concern--but the uplifting of the race would appear to be the law. The lonely great ones, they are the shepherds of the flock--the servants, not the masters of the world. Moses shall die and be buried in the wilderness, seeing only from afar the resting-place of man's tired feet. It is unfortunate that the Ha'penny Joker and its kind should have so many readers. Maybe it teaches those to read who otherwise would never read at all. We are impatient, forgetting that the coming and going of our generations are but as the swinging of the pendulum of Nature's clock. Yesterday we booked our seats for gladiatorial shows, for the burning of Christians, our windows for Newgate hangings. Even the musical farce is an improvement upon that--at least, from the humanitarian point of view."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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