“Now just kindly let up on that a little.” Riddle continued, “you fellows are too confounded theoretical for me. What’s the good of going round congesting your cerebrums about problems you can’t settle? I say let a fellow go it while he’s young—moderately you know—and when he is old he will not regret the same. You fellows swot, and I sit in the orchestra chairs. You read your digestions to rack and ruin—or else you’ve got to be so mighty careful,—while I put in a fine gourmand’s dinner every day, attended with the comforts of civilization. I dance while you are working up unsuccessful essays. The world owes nothing to fellows who do that. If you’re fools enough to want to benefit the world, turn your minds to steam engines and telegraphs, that cheapen dinners and save us running, and I’ll give you my blessing in spare moments when I’ve nothing to do. I take a kind of melancholy interest in this institution, you know, but honestly upon my word, I hate your rational style, and I wouldn’t for the world go round like a walking problem and have the fellows call me ‘Forlorne Riddle.’ The place where I enjoy myself most,—our private theatrical club,—is called the ‘Inconsistents’ on that principle. We don’t care about being correct. We know we have the prettiest girls and chummiest fellows in town, and we’re all right.”
“Of course if a fellow’s legs are so crooked that he can’t dance or appear in a play, he has got to solace himself with billiards or eating, or some of the elegant accomplishments like playing the guitar. That’s my system. There’s philosophy in it too, by jove! I’ve done lots of philosophy by the smoke of a cigarette. It’s philosophy properly tamed, in evening dress. It’s philosophy made into a good Churchman, and Tory!”
“La morale de la cigarette!” suggested Quinet.
After all was not the highest thing simply to live the natural life of the time and place?
“I refuse that,” I cried to myself, “I ask a Permanent, an Eternal!”
* * * * *
In speculative Philosophy I sought it, urged by the saying reported of Confucius:
“The Master said: ‘I seek an all-pervading Unity,’” and much useless labor did I spend upon the profound work of the monarch of modern thinkers—Immanuel Kant.
In a depression at the end of this labor I finally threw my books aside.
It was afternoon, dull and dusty: a thunderstorm was brewing. I walked to the Square. What is that carriage with golden-bay horses?—that fresh image of loveliness—so calm—serene in queenly peace—the spiritual eyes! “Alexandra, I am miserable; elevate and purify my hopes with a smile, when I need thy presence—ma belle Anglaise”—No, she looks coldly and drives on in her equipage without even a recognition.—Is anything wrong?—I am deeply dispirited.—Another street—she passes again without bowing—not even looking this time.