“But there are some good biographies?” said Barthrop.
“About a dozen,” said Father Payne. “I won’t give a list of them, or I should become like our friend the merchant. I feel it coming on, by Jove—I feel like accounting for things and talking you all up to my bedroom.”
“But what can be done about it all?” I said.
“Nothing whatever, my boy,” said Father Payne; “as long as people are not really interested in life, but in money and committees, there is nothing to be done. And as long as they hold things sacred, which means a strong dislike of the plain truth, it’s hopeless. If a man is prepared to write a really veracious biography, he must also be prepared to fly for his life and to change his name. Public opinion is for sentiment and against truth; and you must change public opinion. But, oh dear me, when I think of the fascination of real personality, and the waste of good material, and the careful way in which the pious biographer strains out all the meat and leaves nothing but a thin and watery decoction, I could weep over the futility of mankind. The dread of being interesting or natural, the adoration of pomposity and full dress, the sickening love of romance, the hatred of reality—oh, it’s a deplorable world!”
“I wonder,” said Father Payne one day at dinner, “whether any nation’s proverbs are such a disgrace to them as our national proverbs are to us. Ours are horribly Anglo-Saxon and characteristic. They seem to me to have been all invented by a shrewd, selfish, complacent, suspicious old farmer, in a very small way of business, determined that he will not be over-reached, and equally determined, too, that he will take full advantage of the weakness of others. ‘Charity begins at home,’ ’Possession is nine points of the law,’ ‘Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched,’ ‘When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.’ They are all equally disgraceful. They deride all emotion, they despise imagination, they are unutterably low and hard, and what is called sensible; they are frankly unchristian as well as ungentlemanly. No wonder we are called a nation of shopkeepers.”