The truth, of course, is that the English spirit is distrustful of emotion and display. It is ashamed of making “a fuss” and hates heroics. The typical Englishman hides his feelings even from his family, clothes his affections under a mask of indifference, and cracks a joke to avoid “making a fool of himself.” It is not that he is without great passions, but that he does not like talking about them. He is too self-conscious to trust his tongue on such big themes. He might “make an exhibition of himself,” and he dreads that above all things. This habit of reticence has its unlovely side; but it has great virtues too. It keeps the mind cool and practical and the atmosphere commonplace and good-humoured. It gives reserves of strength that people who live on their “top notes” have not got. It goes on singing “Tipperary” as though it had no care in life and no interest in ideas or causes. And then the big moment comes and the great passion that has been kept in such shamefaced secrecy blazes out in deeds as glorious as any that were done on the plains of windy Troy. Turn to those stories of the winning of the V.C., and then ask yourself whether the nation whose sons are capable of this noble heroism deserves to have the whip of Zabern laid across its shoulders by any jack-in-office who chooses to insult us.
Those two stokers, putting their heads out for a breath of fresh air in the midst of the battle, are true to the English type. Death was all about them, and any moment might be their last. But they were so completely masters of themselves that in the brief-breathing space allowed them they could turn their minds to a simple question of everyday conduct. “What I says is, ’e ought to have married ’er.” That is not the stuff of which heroics are made; but it is the stuff of which heroism is made.
Do not, if you please, imagine that this title foreshadows some piquant personal revelation. “Story! God bless you, I have none to tell, sir.” I have not fallen in love for quite a long time, and, looking in the glass and observing what Holmes calls “Time’s visiting cards” on my face and hair, I come to the conclusion that I shall never enjoy the experience again. I may say with Mr. Kipling’s soldier that
That’s all shuv be’ind
Long ago and fur away.
But just as poetry, according to Wordsworth, is emotion recalled in tranquillity, so it is only when you have left the experience of falling in love behind that you are really competent to describe it or talk about it with the necessary philosophic detachment.
Now of course there is no difficulty about falling in love. Any one can do that. The difficulty is to know when the symptoms are true or false. So many people mistake the symptoms, and only discover when it is too late that they have never really had the true experience. Hence the overtime in the Divorce Court. Hence, too, the importance of “calf love,” which serves as a sort of apprenticeship to the mystery, and enables you to discriminate between the substance and the shadow.