‘Widely!’ he repeated. ’It is widely respected; and you respect it: and why do you respect it?’
‘We have illustrious names in our aristocracy.’
’We beat you in illustrious names and in the age of the lines, my good young man.’
‘But not in a race of nobles who have stood for the country’s liberties.’
‘So long as it imperilled their own! Any longer?’
’Well, they have known how to yield. They have helped to build our Constitution.’
’Reverence their ancestors, then! The worse for such descendants. But you have touched the exact stamp of the English mind:—it is, to accept whatsoever is bequeathed it, without inquiry whether there is any change in the matter. Nobles in very fact you would not let them be if they could. Nobles in name, with a remote recommendation to posterity—that suits you!’
He sat himself up to stuff a fresh bowl of tobacco, while he pursued: ’Yes, yes: you worship your aristocracy. It is notorious. You have a sort of sagacity. I am not prepared to contest the statement that you have a political instinct. Here it is chiefly social. You worship your so-called aristocracy perforce in order to preserve an ideal of contrast to the vulgarity of the nation.’
This was downright insolence.
It was intolerable. I jumped on my feet. ’The weapons I would use in reply to such remarks I cannot address to you, Herr Professor. Therefore, excuse me.’
He sent out quick spirts of smoke rolling into big volumes. ’Nay, my good young Englishman, but on the other hand you have not answered me. And hear me: yes, you have shown us a representation of freedom. True. But you are content with it in a world that moves by computation some considerable sum upwards of sixty thousand miles an hour.’
‘Not on a fresh journey—a recurring course!’ said I.
‘Good!’ he applauded, and I was flattered.
‘I grant you the physical illustration,’ the Professor continued, and with a warm gaze on me, I thought. ’The mind journeys somewhat in that way, and we in our old Germany hold that the mind advances notwithstanding. Astronomers condescending to earthly philosophy may admit that advance in the physical universe is computable, though not perceptible. Some—whither we tend, shell and spirit. You English, fighting your little battles of domestic policy, and sneering at us for flying at higher game, you unimpressionable English, who won’t believe in the existence of aims that don’t drop on the ground before your eyes, and squat and stare at you, you assert that man’s labour is completed when the poor are kept from crying out. Now my question is, have you a scheme of life consonant with the spirit of modern philosophy—with the views of intelligent, moral, humane human beings of this period? Or are you one of your robust English brotherhood worthy of a Caligula in his prime, lions in gymnastics—for a time; sheep always in the dominions of mind; and all of one pattern, all in a rut! Favour me with an outline of your ideas. Pour them out pell-mell, intelligibly or not, no matter. I undertake to catch you somewhere. I mean to know you, hark you, rather with your assistance than without it.’