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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter VI

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"In the Southern States of America," observed the Philosopher, sticking to his guns, "they run excursion trains to lynching exhibitions. The bull-fight is spreading to France, and English newspapers are advocating the reintroduction of bear-baiting and cock-fighting. Are we not moving in a circle?"

"The road winds, as I have allowed," returned the Minor Poet; "the gradient is somewhat steep. Just now, maybe, we are traversing a backward curve. I gain my faith by pausing now and then to look behind. I see the weary way with many a downward sweep. But we are climbing, my friend, we are climbing."

"But to such a very dismal goal, according to your theory," grumbled the Old Maid. "I should hate to feel myself an insect in a hive, my little round of duties apportioned to me, my every action regulated by a fixed law, my place assigned to me, my very food and drink, I suppose, apportioned to me. Do think of something more cheerful."

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The Minor Poet laughed. "My dear lady," he replied, "it is too late. The thing is already done. The hive already covers us, the cells are in building. Who leads his own life? Who is master of himself? What can you do but live according to your income in, I am sure, a very charming little cell; buzz about your little world with your cheerful, kindly song, helping these your fellow insects here, doing day by day the useful offices apportioned to you by your temperament and means, seeing the same faces, treading ever the same narrow circle? Why do I write poetry? I am not to blame. I must live. It is the only thing I can do. Why does one man live and die upon the treeless rocks of Iceland, another labour in the vineyards of the Apennines? Why does one woman make matches, ride in a van to Epping Forest, drink gin, and change hats with her lover on the homeward journey; another pant through a dinner-party and half a dozen receptions every night from March to June, rush from country house to fashionable Continental resort from July to February, dress as she is instructed by her milliner, say the smart things that are expected of her? Who would be a sweep or a chaperon, were all roads free? Who is it succeeds in escaping the law of the hive? The loafer, the tramp. On the other hand, who is the man we respect and envy? The man who works for the community, the public-spirited man, as we call him; the unselfish man, the man who labours for the labour's sake and not for the profit, devoting his days and nights to learning Nature's secrets, to acquiring knowledge useful to the race. Is he not the happiest, the man who has conquered his own sordid desires, who gives himself to the public good? The hive was founded in dark days before man knew; it has been built according to false laws. This man will have a cell bigger than any other cell; all the other little men shall envy him; a thousand fellow-crawling mites shall slave for him, wear out their lives in wretchedness for him and him alone; all their honey they shall bring to him; he shall gorge while they shall starve. Of what use? He has slept no sounder in his foolishly fanciful cell. Sleep is to tired eyes, not to silken coverlets. We dream in Seven Dials as in Park Lane. His stomach, distend it as he will--it is very small--resents being distended. The store of honey rots. The hive was conceived in the dark days of ignorance, stupidity, brutality. A new hive shall arise."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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