‘I try to strengthen my mind.’
‘So I hear,’ said he dryly.
‘Well, as far as your schools of teaching will allow.’
’That is, you read and commit to memory, like other young scholars. Whereunto? Have you no aim? You have, or I am told you are to have, fabulous wealth—a dragon’s heap. You are one of the main drainpipes of English gold. What is your object? To spend it?’
‘I shall hope to do good with it.’
’To do good! There is hardly a prince or millionaire, in history or alive, who has not in his young days hugged that notion. Pleasure swarms, he has the pick of his market. You English live for pleasure.’
‘We are the hardest workers in the world.’
‘That you may live for pleasure! Deny it!’
He puffed his tobacco-smoke zealously, and resumed:
’Yes, you work hard for money. You eat and drink, and boast of your exercises: they sharpen your appetites. So goes the round. We strive, we fail; you are our frog-chorus of critics, and you suppose that your brekek-koax affects us. I say we strive and fail, but we strive on, while you remain in a past age, and are proud of it. You reproach us with lack of common sense, as if the belly were its seat. Now I ask you whether you have a scheme of life, that I may know whether you are to be another of those huge human pumpkins called rich men, who cover your country and drain its blood and intellect—those impoverishers of nature! Here we have our princes; but they are rulers, they are responsible, they have their tasks, and if they also run to gourds, the scandal punishes them and their order, all in seasonable time. They stand eminent. Do you mark me? They are not a community, and are not— bad enough! bad enough!—but they are not protected by laws in their right to do nothing for what they receive. That system is an invention of the commercial genius and the English.’
‘We have our aristocracy, Herr Professor.’
’Your nobles are nothing but rich men inflated with empty traditions of insufferable, because unwarrantable, pride, and drawing, substance from alliances with the merchant class. Are they your leaders? Do they lead you in Letters? in the Arts? ay, or in Government? No, not, I am informed, not even in military service! and there our titled witlings do manage to hold up their brainless pates. You are all in one mass, struggling in the stream to get out and lie and wallow and belch on the banks. You work so hard that you have all but one aim, and that is fatness and ease!’
‘Pardon me, Herr Professor,’ I interposed, ’I see your drift. Still I think we are the only people on earth who have shown mankind a representation of freedom. And as to our aristocracy, I must, with due deference to you, maintain that it is widely respected.’
I could not conceive why he went on worrying me in this manner with his jealous outburst of Continental bile.