So Henry listened, and heard how the fire-faced man said the word “damn” with great volubility and variety of cadence, and other words to the same effect, and how the little group around him hung upon his words and said to each other, “How brilliant!” “How absolute!”
Henry turned to his friend. “The only word I can catch is the word ‘damn,’” he said.
“That,” said the publisher, with a laugh, “is the master-word of fashionable criticism.”
Presently a little talkative man came up, and said that he hoped Mr. Mesurier was an adherent of the rightful king.
“Oh, of course!” said Henry.
“And do you belong to any secret society?” asked the little man.
Henry couldn’t say that he did.
“Well, you must join us!” he said.
“I suppose there won’t be a rising just yet?” asked Henry, realising that this was the Jacobite method.
“Not just yet,” said the little man, reassuringly. So Henry was enrolled.
* * * * *
And so it went on till past midnight, when Henry at last escaped, to talk it all over with the stars. The evening had naturally puzzled him, as a man will always be puzzled who has developed under the influence of the main tendencies of his generation, and who finds himself suddenly in a backwater of fanciful reaction. Henry, in his simple way, was a thinker and a radical, and he had nourished himself on the great main-road masters of English literature. He had followed the lead of modern philosophers and scientists, and had arrived at a mystical agnosticism,—the first step of which was to banish the dogmas of the church as old wives’ tales. He considered that he had inherited the hard-won gains of the rationalists. But he came to London and found young men feebly playing with the fire of that Romanism which he regarded as at once the most childish and the most dangerous of all intellectual obsessions. In an age of great biologists and electricians, he came upon children prettily talking about fairies and the philosopher’s stone. In one of the greatest ages of English poetry, he came to London to find young English poets falling on their knees to the metrical mathematicians of France. In the great age of democracy, a fool had come and asked him if he were not a supporter of the house of Stuart, a Jacobite of charades. But only once had he heard the name of Milton; it was the learned boy of fifteen who had quoted him,—a lifelong debt of gratitude; and never once had he heard the voice of simple human feeling, nor heard one speak of beauty, simply, passionately, with his heart in his mouth; nor of love with his heart upon his sleeve. Much cleverness, much learning, much charm, there had been, but he had missed the generous human impulse. No one seemed to be doing anything because he must. These were pleasant eddies, dainty with lilies and curiously starred water-grasses, but the great warm stream of English literature was not flowing here.