... The cold heart, and the murderous tongue, The wintry soul that hates to hear a song, The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye, And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.
Man’s virtues and vices are being subjected to a re-classification, in the course of which they are entertainingly seen, in no few instances, to be changing places. The standards of punishment applied by Dante to his inferno of lost souls is being, every year, more closely approximated; warm-blooded sins of instinct and impulse, as having usually some “relish of salvation” in them, are being judged lightly, when they are accounted sins at all, and the cold-hearted sins of essential selfishness, the sins of cruelty and calculation and cowardice, are being nailed up as the real crimes against God and man. The individual is being allowed more and more to be the judge of his own actions, and all actions are being estimated more in regard to their special relation and environment, as the relativity of right and wrong, that most just of modern conceptions, is becoming understood. The hidden sins of the pious and respectable are coming disastrously into the light, and it no longer avails for a man to be a pillar of orthodoxy on Sundays if he be a pillar of oppression all the rest of the week; while the negative virtues of abstinence from the common human pleasures go for less than nothing in a world that no longer regards the theatre, the race course, and the card table, or even a beautiful woman, as under the especial wrath of God. No, the Grundy “virtues” are fast disappearing, and piano legs are once more being worn in their natural nudity. The general trend is unmistakable and irresistible, and such apparent contradictions of it as occasionally get into the newspapers are of no general significance; as when, for example, some exquisitely refined Irish police officer suppresses a play of genius, or blushingly covers up the nakedness of a beautiful statue, or comes out strong on the question of woman’s bathing dress when some sensible girl has the courage to go into the water with somewhat less than her entire walking costume; or, again, when some crank invokes the blue laws against Sunday golf or tennis; or some spinster association puts itself on record against woman’s smoking: all these are merely provincial or parochial exceptions to the onward movement of morals and manners, mere spasmodic twitchings, so to say, of the poor old lady on her deathbed. We know well enough that she who would so sternly set her face against the feminine cigarette would have no objection to one of her votaries carrying on an affair with another woman’s husband—not the least in the world, so long as she was careful to keep it out of the courts. And such is a sample of her morality in all her dealings. Humanity will lose no real sanctity or safeguard by her demise; only false shame and false morality will go—but true modesty, “the modesty of nature,” true propriety, true religion—and incidentally true love and true marriage—will all be immeasurably the gainers by the death of this hypocritical, nasty-minded old lady.