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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter V

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"I draw a very wide line," answered the Philosopher, "between ideals and delusions. The ideal has always helped man; but that belongs to the land of his dreams, his most important kingdom, the kingdom of his future. Delusions are earthly structures, that sooner or later fall about his ears, blinding him with dust and dirt. The petticoat-governed country has always paid dearly for its folly."

"Elizabeth!" cried the Girton Girl. "Queen Victoria!"

"Were ideal sovereigns," returned the Philosopher, "leaving the government of the country to its ablest men. France under its Pompadours, the Byzantine Empire under its Theodoras, are truer examples of my argument. I am speaking of the unwisdom of assuming all women to be perfect. Belisarius ruined himself and his people by believing his own wife to be an honest woman."

"But chivalry," I argued, "has surely been of service to mankind?"

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"To an immense extent," agreed the Philosopher. "It seized a natural human passion and turned it to good uses. Then it was a reality. So once was the divine right of kings, the infallibility of the Church, for cumbering the ground with the lifeless bodies of which mankind has paid somewhat dearly. Not its upstanding lies-- they can be faced and defeated--but its dead truths are the world's stumbling-blocks. To the man of war and rapine, trained in cruelty and injustice, the woman was the one thing that spoke of the joy of yielding. Woman, as compared with man, was then an angel: it was no mere form of words. All the tender offices of life were in her hands. To the warrior, his life divided between fighting and debauchery, his womenfolk tending the sick, helping the weak, comforting the sorrowing, must have moved with white feet across a world his vices had made dark. Her mere subjection to the priesthood, her inborn feminine delight in form and ceremony--now an influence narrowing her charity--must then, to his dim eyes, trained to look upon dogma as the living soul of his religion, have seemed a halo, deifying her. Woman was then the servant. It was naturally to her advantage to excite tenderness and mercy in man. Since she has become the mistress of the world. It is no longer her interested mission to soften his savage instincts. Nowadays, it is the women who make war, the women who exalt brute force. Today, it is the woman who, happy herself, turns a deaf ear to the world's low cry of pain; holding that man honoured who would ignore the good of the species to augment the comforts of his own particular family; holding in despite as a bad husband and father the man whose sense of duty extends beyond the circle of the home. One recalls Lady Nelson's reproach to her lord after the battle of the Nile. 'I have married a wife, and therefore cannot come,' is the answer to his God that many a woman has prompted to her lover's tongue. I was speaking to a woman only the other day about the cruelty of skinning seals alive. 'I feel so sorry for the poor creatures,' she murmured; 'but they say it gives so much more depth of colour to the fur.' Her own jacket was certainly a very beautiful specimen."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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