Friday, 21 June 2019

Quotes: The Hero (1901) by W. Somerset Maugham

They laughed together over his jokes, mildly, as befitted persons for whom a sense of humour might conceivably be a Satanic snare…

They were so used to controlling themselves, that when their emotion was overpowering they were at a loss to express it.

They had ever tried to shield him from all knowledge of evil [...] holding the approved opinion that ignorance is synonymous with virtue.

The Parsons had lived their whole lives in an artificial state. Ill-educated as most of their contemporaries in that particular class, they had just enough knowledge to render them dogmatic and intolerant. It requires a good deal of information to discover one’s own ignorance, but to the consciousness of this the good people had never arrived. They felt they knew as much as necessary, and naturally on the most debatable questions were most assured. Their standpoint was inconceivably narrow. They had the best intentions in the world of doing their duty, but what their duty was they accepted on trust, frivolously. They walked round and round in a narrow circle, hemmed in by false ideas and by ugly prejudices, putting for the love of God unnecessary obstacles in their path and convinced that theirs was the only possible way, while all others led to damnation. They had never worked out an idea for themselves, never done a single deed on their own account, but invariably acted and thought according to the rule of their caste. They were not living creatures, but dogmatic machines.

...there is nothing like the daily and thorough perusal of a newspaper for dulling a man’s brain.

James had been brought up in the belief that women were fashioned of different clay from men, less gross, less earthly; he thought not only that they were pious, sweet and innocent, ignorant entirely of disagreeable things, but that it was man’s first duty to protect them from all knowledge of the realities of life. To him they were an ethereal blending of milk-and-water with high principles; it had never occurred to him that they were flesh and blood, and sense, and fire and nerves – especially nerves. Most topics, of course, could not be broached in their presence; in fact, almost the only safe subject of conversation was the weather.

But was it love, or was it merely affection, habit, esteem?

And when Mrs. Wallace, against his will, forced herself upon his imagination, he tried to remember her vulgarity, her underbred manners, her excessive use of scent. She had merely played with him, without thinking or caring what the result to him might be. She was bent on as much enjoyment as possible without exposing herself to awkward consequences; common scandal told him that he was not the first callow youth that she had entangled with her provoking glances and her witty tongue. The epithet by which his brother officers qualified her was expressive, though impolite. James repeated these things a hundred times: he said that Mrs. Wallace was not fit to wipe Mary’s boots; he paraded before himself, like a set of unread school-books, all Mary's excellent qualities. He recalled her simple piety, her good-nature, and kindly heart; she had every attribute that a man could possibly want in his wife. And yet – and yet, when he slept he dreamed he was talking to the other; all day her voice sang in his ears, her gay smile danced before his eyes. He remembered every word she had ever said; he remembered the passionate kisses he had given her. How could he forget that ecstasy? He writhed, trying to expel the importunate image; but nothing served.

Time could not weaken the impression. Since then he had never seen Mrs. Wallace, but the thought of her was still enough to send the blood racing through his veins. He had done everything to kill the mad, hopeless passion; and always, like a rank weed, it had thriven with greater strength. James knew it was his duty to marry Mary Clibborn, and yet he felt he would rather die. As the months passed on, and he knew he must shortly see her, he was never free from a sense of terrible anxiety. Doubt came to him, and he could not drive it away. The recollection of her was dim, cold, formless; his only hope was that when he saw her love might rise up again, and kill that other passion which made him so utterly despise himself. But he had welcomed the war as a respite, and the thought came to him that its chances might easily solve the difficulty. Then followed the months of hardship and of fighting; and during these the image of Mrs. Wallace had been less persistent, so that James fancied he was regaining the freedom he longed for. And when he lay wounded and ill, his absolute weariness made him ardently look forward to seeing his people again. A hotter love sprang up for them; and the hope became stronger that reunion with Mary might awaken the dead emotion. He wished for it with all his heart.

“War is the most splendid thing in the world. I shall never forget those few minutes, now and then, when we got on top of the Boers and fought with them, man to man, in the old way. Ah, life seemed worth living then! One day, I remember, they’d been giving it us awfully hot all the morning, and we’d lost frightfully. At last we rushed their position, and, by Jove, we let ‘em have it! How we did hate them! You should have heard the Tommies cursing as they killed! I shall never forget the exhilaration of it, the joy of thinking that we were getting our own again. By Gad, it beat cock-fighting!”

“You’re nothing better than a pro-Boer, James.”
“I’m nothing of the kind; but seeing how conflicting was current opinion, I took some trouble to find for myself a justification of the war. I couldn’t help wondering why I went and killed people to whom I was personally quite indifferent.”
“I hope because it was your duty as an officer of Her Majesty the Queen.”
“Not exactly. I came to the conclusion that I killed people because I liked it. The fighting instinct is in my blood, and I'm never so happy as when I'm shooting things. Killing tigers is very good sport, but it's not in it with killing men. That is my justification, so far as I personally am concerned. As a member of society, I wage war for a different reason. War is the natural instinct of all creatures; not only do progress and civilisation arise from it, but it is the very condition of existence. Men, beasts, and plants are all in the same position: unless they fight incessantly they’re wiped out; there's no sitting on one side and looking on.... When a state wants a neighbour’s land, it has a perfect right to take it – if it can. Success is its justification. We English wanted the Transvaal for our greater numbers, for our trade, for the continuance of our power; that was our right to take it. The only thing that seems to me undignified is the rather pitiful set of excuses we made up.”

“D’you think men go to war for scientific reasons?”
“No, of course not; they don’t realise them. The great majority are incapable of abstract ideas, but fortunately they’re emotional and sentimental; and the pill can be gilded with high falutin. It’s for them that the Union Jack and the honour of Old England are dragged through every newspaper and brandished in every music hall. It’s for them that all these atrocities are invented – most of them bunkum. Men are only savages with a thin veneer of civilisation, which is rather easily rubbed off, and then they act just like Red Indians; but as a general rule they’re well enough behaved. The Boer isn’t a bad sort, and the Englishman isn’t a bad sort; but there’s not room for both of them on the earth, and one of them has to go.”
“My father fought for duty and honour’s sake, and so fought his father before him.”
“Men have always fought really for the same reasons – for self-protection and gain; but perhaps they have not seen quite so clearly as now the truth behind all their big words. The world and mankind haven't altered suddenly in the last few years.”

When James went home he found that the Vicar of Little Primpton and his wife had already arrived. They were both of them little, dried-up persons, with an earnest manner and no sense of humour, quite excellent in a rather unpleasant way; they resembled one another like peas, but none knew whether the likeness had grown from the propinquity of twenty years, or had been the original attraction. Deeply impressed with their sacred calling – for Mrs Jackson would never have acknowledged that the Vicar’s wife held a position inferior to the Vicar’s – they argued that whole world was God’s, and they God’s particular ministrants; so that it was their plain duty to concern themselves with the business of their fellows – and it must be confessed that they never shrank from this duty. They were neither well-educated, nor experienced, nor tactful; but blissfully ignorant of these defects, they shepherded their flock with little moral barks, and gave them, rather self-consciously, a good example in the difficult way to eternal life. They were eminently worthy people, who thought light-heartedness somewhat indecent. They did endless good in the most disagreeable manner possible; and in their fervour not only bore unnecessary crosses themselves, but saddled them on to everyone else, as the only certain passport to the Golden City.

The curate was a big, stout man, with reddish hair, and a complexion like squashed strawberries and cream; his large, heavy face, hairless except for scanty red eyebrows, gave a disconcerting impression of nakedness. His eyes were blue and his mouth small, with the expression which young ladies, eighty years back, strove to acquire by repeating the words prune and prism. He had a fat, full voice, with unctuous modulations not entirely under his control, so that sometimes, unintentionally, he would utter the most commonplace remark in a tone fitted for a benediction. Mr. Dryland was possessed by the laudable ambition to be all things to all men; and he tried, without conspicuous success, always to suit his conversation to his hearers. With old ladies he was bland; with sportsmen slangy; with yokels he was broadly humorous; and with young people aggressively juvenile. But above all, he wished to be manly, and cultivated a boisterous laugh and a jovial manner.

Colonel Clibborn was a tall man, with oily black hair and fierce eyebrows, both dyed; aggressively military and reminiscent. He had been in a cavalry regiment, where he had come to the philosophic conclusion that all men are dust – except cavalrymen; and he was able to look upon Jamie’s prowess – the prowess of an infantryman – from superior heights. He was a great authority upon war, and could tell anyone what were the mistakes in South Africa, and how they might have been avoided; likewise he had known in the service half the peers of the realm, and talked of them by their Christian names. He spent three weeks every season in London, and dined late, at seven o’clock, so he had every qualification for considering himself a man of fashion.

Mrs Clibborn was a regimental beauty – of fifty, who had grown stout; but not for that ceased to use the weapons which Nature had given her against the natural enemies of the sex. In her dealings with several generations of adorers, she had acquired such a habit of languishing glances that now she used them unconsciously. Whether ordering meat from the butcher or discussing parochial matters with Mr Jackson, Mrs Clibborn’s tone and manner were such that she might have been saying the most tender things. She had been very popular in the service, because she was the type of philandering woman who required no beating about the bush; her neighbour at the dinner-table, even if he had not seen her before, need never have hesitated to tell her with the soup that she was the most handsomest creature he had ever seen, and with the entree that he adored her.

“Women have never liked me. I don’t know why. I can’t help it if I’m not exactly – plain. I’m as God made me.”
James thought that the Almighty in that case must have an unexpected familiarity with the rouge-pot and the powder-puff.

“Actions are the most lying things in the world. They are due mostly to adventitious circumstances which have nothing to do with the character of the agent. I would never judge a man by his actions.”

“The easiest way to get through life is to say pleasant things on all possible occasions.”

“But a young man doesn’t want to be steadied. Let him see life and taste all it has to offer. It is wicked to put fetters on his wrists before ever he has seen anything worth taking. What is the virtue that exists only because temptation is impossible!”

“I can’t escape from my bringing-up. You can’t imagine what are the chains that bind us in England. We’re wrapped from our infancy in the swaddling-clothes of prejudice, ignorance, and false ideas; and when we grow up, though we know they’re all absurd and horrible, we can’t escape from them; they've become part of our very flesh. Then I grew ill – I nearly died; and Mary nursed me devotedly. I don’t know what came over me, I felt so ill and weak. I was grateful to her. The old self seized me again, and I was ashamed of what I’d done. I wanted to make them all happy. I asked her again to marry me, and she said she would. I thought I could love her, but I can’t – I can’t, God help me!”

[Mr Dryland:]
“But you must remember that genius has always been persecuted. Look at Keats and Shelley. The critics abused them just as they abuse Marie Corelli. Even Shakespeare was slandered. But time has vindicated our immortal William; time will vindicate as brightly our gentle Marie.”

“I wonder how many of us here could get through Hamlet without yawning!” meditatively said the Vicar.
“I see your point!” cried Mr. Dryland, opening his eyes. “While we could all read the ‘Sorrows of Satan’ without a break. I’ve read it three times, and each perusal leaves me more astounded. Miss Corelli has her revenge in her own hand; what can she care for the petty snarling of critics when the wreath of immortality is on her brow. I don’t hesitate to say it, I’m not ashamed of my opinion; I consider Miss Corelli every bit as great as William Shakespeare. I’ve gone into the matter carefully, and if I may say so, I’m speaking of what I know something about. My deliberate opinion is that in wit, and humour, and language, she's every bit his equal.”

“And there is one thing you must never forget,” said the Vicar, gravely, “she has a deep, religious feeling which you will find in none of Shakespeare’s plays. Every one of her books has a lofty moral purpose. That is the justification of fiction. The novelist has a high vocation, if he could only see it; he can inculcate submission to authority, hope, charity, obedience – in fact, all the higher virtues; he can become a handmaid of the Church. And now, when irreligion, and immorality, and scepticism are rampant, we must not despise the humblest instruments.”
“If all novelists were like Marie Corelli, I should willingly hold them out my hand. I think every Christian ought to read ‘Barabbas.’ It gives an entirely new view of Christ. It puts the incidents of the Gospel in a way that one had never dreamed. I was never so impressed in my life.”

[Mr Dryland:]
“Why, no one’s education is complete till he’s read Marie Corelli.”

“Captain Parsons, let us shake hands, and let bygones be bygones. You have taken my advice, and if, in the heat of the moment, we both said things which we regret, after all, we’re only human.”
“Surely, Mrs. Jackson, I was moderation itself? – even when you told me I should infallibly go to Hell.”
“You were extremely irritating,” said the Vicar’s lady, smiling, “but I forgive you. After all, you paid more attention to what I said than I expected you would.”
“It must be very satisfactory for you to think that.”
“You know I have no ill-feeling towards you at all. I gave you a piece of my mind because I thought it was my duty. If you think I stepped over the limits of – moderation, I am willing and ready to apologise.”
“What a funny woman you are!” said James, looking at her with a good-humoured, but rather astonished smile.
“I’m sure I don’t know what makes you think so,” she answered, bridling a little.
“It never occurred to me that you honestly thought you were acting rightly when you came and gave me a piece of your mind, as you call it. I thought your motives were simply malicious and uncharitable.”
“I have a very high ideal of my duties as a clergyman’s wife.”
“The human animal is very odd.”
“I don’t look upon myself as an animal, Captain Parsons.”
James smiled.
“I wonder why we all torture ourselves so unnecessarily. It really seems as if the chief use we made of our reason was to inflict as much pain upon ourselves and upon one another as we possibly could.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Captain Parsons.”
"When you do anything, are you ever tormented by a doubt whether you are doing right or wrong?”
“Never,” she answered, firmly. “There is always a right way and a wrong way, and, I’m thankful to say, God has given me sufficient intelligence to know which is which; and obviously I choose the right way.”
“What a comfortable idea! I can never help thinking that every right way is partly wrong, and every wrong way partly right. There’s always so much to be said on both sides; to me it’s very hard to know which is which.”
“Only a very weak man could think like that.”
“Possibly! I have long since ceased to flatter myself on my strength of mind. I find it is chiefly a characteristic of unintelligent persons.”

No comments:

Post a Comment