The fire-tender. After all, it’s the easiest thing in the world to sit and sneer at eccentricities. But what a dead and uninteresting world it would be if we were all proper, and kept within the lines! Affairs would soon be reduced to mere machinery. There are moments, even days, when all interests and movements appear to be settled upon some universal plan of equilibrium; but just then some restless and absurd person is inspired to throw the machine out of gear. These individual eccentricities seem to be the special providences in the general human scheme.
Herbert. They make it very hard work for the rest of us, who are disposed to go along peaceably and smoothly.
Mandeville. And stagnate. I ’m not sure but the natural condition of this planet is war, and that when it is finally towed to its anchorage—if the universe has any harbor for worlds out of commission—it will look like the Fighting Temeraire in Turner’s picture.
Herbert. There is another thing I should like to understand: the tendency of people who take up one reform, perhaps a personal regeneration in regard to some bad habit, to run into a dozen other isms, and get all at sea in several vague and pernicious theories and practices.
Mandeville. Herbert seems to think there is safety in a man’s being anchored, even if it is to a bad habit.
Herbert. Thank you. But what is it in human nature that is apt to carry a man who may take a step in personal reform into so many extremes?
Our next door. Probably it’s human nature.
Herbert. Why, for instance, should a reformed drunkard (one of the noblest examples of victory over self) incline, as I have known the reformed to do, to spiritism, or a woman suffragist to “pantarchism” (whatever that is), and want to pull up all the roots of society, and expect them to grow in the air, like orchids; or a Graham-bread disciple become enamored of Communism?
Mandeville. I know an excellent Conservative who would, I think, suit you; he says that he does not see how a man who indulges in the theory and practice of total abstinence can be a consistent believer in the Christian religion.
Herbert. Well, I can understand what he means: that a person is bound to hold himself in conditions of moderation and control, using and not abusing the things of this world, practicing temperance, not retiring into a convent of artificial restrictions in order to escape the full responsibility of self-control. And yet his theory would certainly wreck most men and women. What does the Parson say?
The Parson. That the world is going crazy on the notion of individual ability. Whenever a man attempts to reform himself, or anybody else, without the aid of the Christian religion, he is sure to go adrift, and is pretty certain to be blown about by absurd theories, and shipwrecked on some pernicious ism.