Such sentences, delivered alternately, will supply all the requisites of intercourse. The philosopher rightly esteemed no knowledge of value unless it was known already, and all these things have been known a very long time. Sometimes, it is true, a conversation may become more directly informative and yet remain amicable, as when the man on the steamer acquaints you with the facts that lettuce contains opium, that Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the size of the Great Pyramid’s base, that Mr. Gladstone took sixty bites to the mouthful, that hot tea is a cooling drink, that a Frenchwoman knows how to put on her clothes, that the engineer on board is sure to be a Scotsman, that fish is good for the brain because it contains phosphorus, that cheese will digest everything but itself, that there are more acres in England than words in the Bible, and that the cigars smoked in a year would go ten thousand and a quarter times round the earth if placed end to end. These facts are also familiar to everyone beforehand, and they present a solid basis for gregarious conversation. They put the merest stranger at his ease. They make one feel at home.
Some of the trades and professions secure the same object by special phrases. When you hear that the horses are fat as butter, the men keen as mustard, and everything right as rain, you know you are back to the army again. The kindly mention of the Great Lexicographer, the Wizard of the North, the Sage of Chelsea, and London’s Particular calls up the vision of a street descending into the vale of St. Paul’s. But such phrases are fleeting. They hardly last four generations of mankind, and already they wither to decay. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “It’s a poor heart that never rejoices,” “There are as good fish in the sea as ever were caught”—those are the observations that give stability and permanence to the intercourse of man. They are not clever; they contain no paradox; like the Ugly Duckling, they cannot emit sparks. But one’s heart leaps up at hearing them, as at the sight of a rainbow. For, like the rainbow, they are an assurance that while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall never cease.
THE PRIEST OF NEMI
Here it is cool under thick alders, close to the water’s edge, where frogs are doing their very best to sing. Hidden in some depth of the sky, the Dog Star rages, and overhead the mid-day sun marches across his blazing barrack-square. Far away the heathen violently rage; the world is full of rumours of war, and the kings of the earth take counsel together against liberty and peace. But here under thick alders it is cool, and the deep water of the lake that lies brooding within the silent crater of these Alban hills, stretches before us an unruffled surface of green and indigo profoundly mingled. Wandering about among overgrown