“I am not a conjuror,” said the stranger, resuming his hat with some hauteur.
An hour later, Mr. Clarkson was enjoying at his Club a meal that he endeavoured to regard as lunch, and on reaching the office in the afternoon he apologised for having been unavoidably detained at home.
“There’s no place like home,” replied his elderly colleague, with his usual inanity.
“Perhaps fortunately, there is not,” said Mr. Clarkson, and attempting to straighten his aching back and ease his suffering limbs, he added, “I am coming to the conclusion that woman’s place is the home.”
THE CHARM OF COMMONPLACE
George Eliot warned us somewhere not to expect Isaiah and Plato in every country house, and the warning was characteristic of the time when one really might have met Ruskin or Herbert Spencer. How uncalled for it would be now! If Isaiah or Plato were to appear at any country house, what a shock it would give the company, even if no one present had heard of their names and death before! We do not know how prophets and philosophers would behave in a country house, but, to judge from their books, their conversation could not fail to embarrass. What would they say when the daughter of the house inquired if her Toy-Pom was not really rather a darling, or the host proclaimed to the world that he never took potatoes with fish? What would the host and daughter say if their guest began to prophesy or discuss the nature of justice? There is something irreligious in the incongruity of the scene.
The age of the wise, in those astonishing eighteen-seventies, was succeeded by the age of the epigram, when someone was always expected to say something witty, and it was passed on, like a sporting tip, through widening circles. Such sayings as “I can resist everything but temptation” were much sought after. Common sense became piquant if reversed, and the good, plain man disappeared in laughter. When a languid creature told him it was always too late to mend, and never too young to learn, he was disconcerted. The bases of existence were shaken by little earthquakes, and he did not know where to stand or what to say. He felt it was nonsense, but as everyone laughed and applauded he supposed they were all too clever for him—too clever by half, and he went away sadder, but no wiser. “If Christ were again on earth,” said Carlyle, of an earlier generation, “Mr. Milnes (Lord Houghton) would ask him to breakfast, and the clubs would all be talking of the good things he had said.” Frivolity only changes its form, but the epigrams of the early ’nineties were not Christlike, and Mr. Milnes would have been as much astray among them as the good, plain man.