A MISPLACED AFFECTION.
THE young people of both sexes in Colymbia are excessively fond of racing. They train seals to run, or rather swim, races for them; and much money changes hands on these occasions, for the Colymbians are given to betting like their terrestrial fellow-creatures. Almost every gentleman keeps his seal, as these sagacious animals, whom the Colymbians facetiously term their poor relations, are of a great variety of uses, more especially for watching the house and destroying crabs, cuttles and other vermin. By careful breeding, a very fine-bodied, broad-flippered and long-armed seal has been developed, which is used almost exclusively for racing and hunting purposes.
It is delightful to see the eagerness and intelligence displayed by these animals in their encounters, which form one of the favourite amusements of all classes of Colymbians. The course is marked out by posts, on the outside of which the racing seals must keep, otherwise their chance is forfeited. A starter arranges them in line, and at a given signal the seals, decorated with their masters' colours, dart away with the rapidity of an arrow. They display the utmost sagacity in availing themselves of all the ruses the most cunning jockey on the turf could employ. It was beautiful to observe how an artful old seal would allow the younger ones to make the running at the commencement and exhaust themselves, and then putting on a tremendous spurt would gain a forward position, give his opponents his wash, and effectually prevent them getting ahead again.
All classes, and both sexes, assist at these races, which are, indeed, the most popular amusement of the country. But the Colymbians have many other sports. Thus, they have what we may call coursing matches, with seals. A small, bright-coloured fish, with large pectoral fins of a beautiful blue colour, a sort of gurnard, is let loose and two or more seals sent after it. In this case, the sportsmen require to follow their seals, which sometimes lead them a considerable distance before the fish is captured by one of them. The short body and large fins of the fish enable it to turn very abruptly, which the seals are unable to do, and though the latter are the faster swimmers, the fish often baffles its pursuers by its zig-zag course.
The young men have also races among themselves scarcely less popular than the seal races.
In order to increase their speed, they fasten on to their feet sandals with a stout leather sole, from which projects a sort of circular fan that expands when the leg is thrust out and collapses when it is retracted, thus giving a greatly increased resisting surface to help the onward progress of the swimmer. These fans are strictly limited to a certain size, so that no competitor shall have an advantage over the others, and the races are swum with wonderful quickness.
In some of the races the competitors all start at once and on equal terms, and the strongest swimmer or best stayer is the victor. In other races the competitors are handicapped, some being allowed a few seconds' start in advance of their opponents. In yet other races the handicapping is done by the best swimmers being, not weighted, but lightened by means of bladders full of air attached to them, which reduce their speed and bring them to more equal terms with less powerful competitors.
Crowds assemble to witness the prowess of these athletes, and it is amusing to watch the eager excitement of the friends, male and female, of the swimmers.
Each on starting takes a full inspiration of the oxygenated air, and much depends on the staying power of the swimmer and on his capacity for finishing his course without a fresh inspiration. It often happens that a swimmer who seems to be certain of an easy victory, is forced to sacrifice his chance in order to get a fresh breath of air, and it is curious to observe the rush the victor immediately makes to an air-pipe the instant he reaches the goal.
When the course is very long the swimmers are allowed to carry with them a bottle of compressed air, but for the shorter courses this is not permitted, and the competitors have to do with the one inspiration they take at starting. The victor in the shorter races often owes his victory more to the capacity of his lungs than to his muscular power.
There are races also for the ladies, and nothing could be more delicious than to see their graceful forms gliding through the crystal waters, their animated looks and the beautiful play of their white rounded limbs.
As my intimacy with Julian and his family increased, I was thrown a good deal into the company of his lovely sister Lily. I was much charmed with her intelligence and winning ways. She was very curious about the manners of the ladies of England, and used to put to me the most embarrassing questions concerning them.
She could not understand the dresses of our ladies, with the external appearance of which she was well acquainted from the illustrated English works that frequently came into her hands.
"If the ladies of your country," she would say, "have to dress themselves in those complicated robes and change their costume several times a day, in addition to arranging and re-arranging their elaborate constructions of false hair, how can they possibly have time to do anything else?"
I replied that in fact many of them did little else, whereupon she expressed her wonder that they could be so enslaved to an occupation that, after all, was of no benefit, but only did harm to themselves.
I explained that it was by their elaborate costumes that many of our ladies endeavoured to obtain admiration more than by the qualities of their minds or by the agility of their bodies. Female dress, I observed, was considered usually as a means to an end, that end being the attraction of the opposite sex, with the view of forming matrimonial alliances.
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Lily, "I am sure I could not bear to be swathed in those terrible garments with their tight bands, pins and hooks-and-eyes. And then the stays they wear under them,—do tell me what they are like."
I described as well as I was able these stiff constructions which ladies wear for the support of their backs, and for the production of what they consider a fine figure. As I cannot boast of any intimate acquaintance with these articles of dress, it is highly probable that my description did not quite do them justice, for Lily burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
"What!" she exclaimed, as soon as her merriment had subsided, "do they actually wear a machine stiffened with whalebone and steel, and laced so tight they can hardly breathe in it, much less bend their bodies about in a natural way? They must reduce themselves to the condition of our poor turtles, who cannot, for the life of them, bend their backbone either forwards or backwards. Do tell Julian all about those stays; he will certainly conclude them to be a striking instance of what he calls 'atavism,' and affirm this to be a proof that you terrestrials are descended from tortoises or crabs! How I pity those poor English ladies encased in their carapace of bone and steel! Why, no English lady could move about so!"
With that she threw herself backwards, and executed a succession of the most graceful and ravishing circles in the water.
"No," I said, "certainly no English lady could do that, but they have no need to do it; and indeed it would be dangerous to attempt it, for you must remember that they live in air and move about on land, and not in the water like you."
"Ah!" she said, "how I commiserate them condemned to inhabit such a medium as air! I know, when I have ventured on shore, the mere weight of my own body nearly bore me to the ground, and though my limbs were in perfect freedom I could hardly keep myself erect or walk along without a painful sense of fatigue. What must it be for those poor creatures with that mass of clothes to weigh them down, with that top-heavy-looking head-dress to over-balance them, and with that inflexible corset to embarrass their movements? Surely that very unnatural mode of life must make them very often ill."
I admitted that there was a great deal of delicacy among my fair countrywomen, and that much of it might be owing to the faulty character of their attire.
"Why then do they wear clothes at all?" said my pretty companion, "surely they have less need to wear them than we have, as the weight of every thing is so much greater in air than in water."
I explained, as well as I could without giving offence, that it would be considered indelicate in ladies to go about in England so scantily clad as she was.
"Indelicate!" she exclaimed, "why, I should think the indelicacy consisted in making themselves larger in some places than they ought to be by padding, and smaller in others than they really are by tight-lacing, in supplying a deficient complexion by rouge, in increasing the height at one end by enormous erections of false hair, and at the other by those preposterous high heels which nearly upset the wearers on their noses. Besides, I think you must be hoaxing me when you talk of the indelicacy of my costume, for I have read descriptions of theatrical performances in your country and seen illustrations of them in your papers, where the young ladies on the stage were scarcely more clad than we are, and yet the performances were said to be attended by the highest and noblest of the land, both ladies and gentlemen."
I confess this was a home-thrust I found some difficulty in parrying, but I tried to get out of it by saying that people expected to see on the stage the very opposite to what would be approved of in private life.
This explanation did not satisfy my fair questioner, nor was I altogether satisfied with it myself. She perceived my embarrassment, and, with fine feminine tact, immediately changed the subject of conversation.
"What I think I would like best in your terrestrial life, would be to go up in a balloon. When sailing about in the air, ascending or descending at pleasure, one would feel oneself emancipated for the time from those everlasting laws of gravitation which keep you plodding about on the dirty earth. In a balloon, you must experience some of our sensations in the clear water that buoys us up."
I explained that the temperature fell rapidly as we mounted, so we had to encumber ourselves with a still greater load of garments than we required down on earth.
She shrugged her white shoulders at this; and made a pretty mouth indicative of dislike.
"After all, then," she said, "there is nothing like the water for comfort and pleasure."
One evening, when she was my partner at a gyrating assembly, in the pause between two dances, she said:—
"How is it possible to dance those waltzes and galops you are so fond of in Europe? With your small rooms, choke-full of people, and every lady with yards of superfluous skirt trailing after her, I should think that, when you began to turn round, the ladies' dresses would twist about the gentlemen's legs, and you would all come to the ground together."
I told her that such a catastrophe would often happen were it not that the ladies' ball-dresses were usually made of such flimsy material that they readily gave way when they became twisted round any object.
"Then after a fast and furious dance," she said, "your ladies' costumes will not be much more ample than ours."
I tried to make her comprehend the mysteries of underclothing, and told her that they might lose several layers of their dress and after all be still sufficiently covered. This amused her greatly, and she made a hundred quaint remarks about the dilapidated and forlorn appearance of the fair dancers at the end of a ball, with their beautiful and costly dresses torn to ribbons, their hair all dusty and disheveled, their complexions spoiled, and their bodies sinking with fatigue.
Of course I told her it was not half so bad as she thought, and, besides, we never noticed how young ladies looked at the end of a ball, provided they looked well at the beginning.
On another occasion, Lily said:—
"One of the most disgusting of your amusements, must be your feasts, great and small, where ladies and gentlemen are not only not ashamed but actually take pride in assembling together to cram themselves with all sorts of food and drink. No wonder, with your frequent dinner parties, most of you suffer from indigestion, for you must, on those occasions, eat and drink more than is good for you. We, who are accustomed to swallow our food when alone, thinking that the art of eating can never be a graceful one, but so very much the reverse, that we would be ashamed to eat before our most intimate friends,—we cannot understand the pleasure of sitting for hours crowded round a table, and watching one another during all that time making those horrid contortions of features which accompany the act of chewing and swallowing. I can imagine nothing more calculated to disenchant a man or a maiden of that worship and adoration that belong to love, than the sight of the beloved object stuffing a superfluity of meat and pudding into his or her gaping mouth, and washing it down with a totally unnecessary quantity of intoxicating liquors."
"Ah," said I, with a half-suppressed sigh, elicited by the fond remembrance of some joyous feasts, "you can never know the delights of a good dinner, seasoned with the witty sallies or instructive discourse of a select company of intelligent men and lovely women."
"Are your dinner parties, then, always composed of witty men and lovely women?"
I was obliged to confess that the guests did not always answer to this description, but then we would generally find a solace for the lack of brilliant conversation in the well-cooked dishes and the exquisite wines supplied by the entertainer.
"I could understand that," she replied, "if the excellence of the cookery and the cellar were always in an inverse proportion to the agreeableness of the company; but you do not mean to say that that is always the rule?"
"Alas! no," I said, "the dinners are sometimes as bad as the company is dull, and then we are regularly bored. However," I added, "when a gentleman gives a feast he generally takes care to secure the presence of some literary or scientific celebrity, or some person of a rank superior to that of the generality of his guests; and the satisfaction we get by merely sitting at the table with such a superior person, though he may be neither entertaining nor handsome, is a sufficient compensation for bad cookery and general discomfort. Indeed," I assured Lily, "many persons who have no pretensions to wit or learning themselves acquire a sort of prestige for both from the mere circumstance of being able to boast of having dined in company with some literary lions; and I know some otherwise not very distinguished men who are very much looked up to in consequence of its being known that they have occasionally sat at the same table with a lord."
I could not get this beautiful water-nymph to see these things from the true British point of view. In fact I thought I saw something like an expression of contempt steal over her charming features, and I fear I rather blushed and betrayed some awkwardness at having to apologize as it were for some of our most cherished English habits and ideas, which in England need no apology, but which I felt could not appear in the same light to a Colymbian.
If any such feeling possessed Lily she took good care to give no expression to it in words, but merely said:—
"I fear I should be quite incapable of appreciating the pleasure of your dinner parties under the most favourable conditions of agreeable company and nice food, and still less when either the company or the food or both were indifferent. Now, candidly, do you not think it would be better to eat your nice food and drink your nice wine at home, than in company of a number of stupid uninteresting people, whose society must be more of a bore than a pleasure?"
I could not deny that it would often be preferable to do so, "but then," I observed, "custom has reconciled us even to the infliction of stupid dinner parties, and we often partake of these feasts more as a matter of duty and to give pleasure to our entertainer, than from any real enjoyment we derive from them."
"In short," she archly rejoined, "whereas your ancient saints did penance by starving themselves in solitude, your modern sinners do penance by stuffing themselves in company. But, after all," she continued, "you must allow that our mode of being convivial is a great improvement on yours, for our festivities are never interrupted by the necessity of sitting for hours in one spot, by the side of some possibly disagreeable and uncongenial person, in order to eat without appetite more food than is good for us, with the prospect of an indigestion or at least a headache the next morning as a consequence of our excess."
Of course I pretended to be quite converted to her way of thinking, and indeed, there is in the entertainments of the Colymbians an amount of ease, refinement and grace that can seldom be found in the grosser sensual indulgences of our European festivities.
The beauty of Lily's face and form, the exquisite grace of her movements, and the charm of her sprightly conversation (which I fear I have failed to convey in the specimens I have given from memory) ere long began to make a very decided impression on my susceptible heart. She too, I thought, regarded me with feelings beyond those of ordinary friendship. As I grew more accustomed to the life I now led, I began to reconcile myself to the idea of a life-long residence here; indeed, I saw no escape from it had I wished it; I thought my position, on the whole, would be more comfortable if I could set up a domestic establishment. The thought of having Lily to be my life's partner laid every day a stronger hold on me. Though I was thrown into the company of many beautiful and charming young ladies, who all treated me with frank familiarity, and strove, not unsuccessfully, to render my sojourn in Colymbia agreeable, I felt that there was a peculiar tenderness in Lily's behaviour towards me, and that she derived pleasure from my society and conversation.
I had almost made up my mind to ask her to be my wife, but somehow day after day went by without my being able to summon up courage to put the momentous question.
It invariably happened that when I was just on the eve of coming to the point, the refrain of a ridiculous song one of my companions in England used to sing at our convivial meetings would obtrude itself on my memory, and, in place of asking Lily to be mine, I would find myself involuntarily humming,—
To a mermiaid
At the bottom of the sea!"
which quite disconcerted me and turned me from my resolve.
As soon as I was away from her sweet companionship I felt how much I longed to call her mine, and I vowed I would pop the question the very next time I saw her; but the absurd circumstance I have mentioned always occurred to annoy and distract me from my purpose by placing the contemplated marriage with this lovely and accomplished creature in a ridiculous light.
About this time a grand shark-hunting expedition, to start from a distant part of the lagoon, was organized, which was to be followed by games and races that would occupy several days. I was invited to form one of the party, and accepted the invitation all the more readily, as I wished to ascertain precisely the state of my feelings towards Lily, and whether absence from her charming society would prove to me that these feelings were really based on such true affection as would justify me in asking her to share my lot. I had always been told by my mother that marriage without love was certain to lead to unhappiness, so I was determined I would not run the risk of marring the happiness of this beauteous and innocent creature by offering her my hand, if I could not, at the same time, offer her my whole heart.
I found, as I anticipated, that days of absence only intensified my passion. Neither the excitement of the shark-hunt, nor the amusement the games and races afforded, nor yet the bewitching manners and looks of the new fair acquaintances I made, dulled in the slightest degree the impression left on my heart by the lovely Lily. In fact, in spite of the attractions and distractions around me, I longed every day more and more to be beside my sweet girl; and towards the end of the visit I fairly yearned to be with her, in order that I might tell her how truly I loved her, and how impossible existence was without her.
Soon after my return a gyrating assembly was given by one of the principal men of the town, to which I was invited, much to my contentment, as I was certain to meet Lily there.
When I entered the hall, I beheld the object of my affections looking more beautiful and more irresistible than ever. She was engaged in executing one of those graceful performances I have before described, with a tall and handsome youth named Phoebus, who was one of my familiar friends, but who had not accompanied us on the late hunting expedition. When the music ceased, Lily espied me and gave me such a sweet smile, that I was at her side in an instant, and engaged her for the next dance. Phoebus left us to seek another partner for himself. I gave Lily a warm pressure of the hand, which I fancied she returned with a lingering tenderness.
"You have been absent a long time," she began.
"Ah," replied I; "it has indeed seemed long to me. May I flatter myself that you have missed me a little?"
"Indeed, I have missed you a great deal," she returned with emphasis;" I wanted to ask you so many questions about your funny English ways. I am so glad you are back again."
The dear girl really looked so pleased to see me, and her large lustrous eyes seemed to me to smile so tenderly on me, that I resolved to ask her then and there to be mine. I longed to know if she had felt the same void during my absence as I had. I almost wished to hear her say that she had felt sad and melancholy while I was absent. I said with affected carelessness:—
"How have you been amusing yourself since I had last the happiness of seeing you?"
"Oh! moderately," she replied; "there was a dramatic reading the night you left, which was very well. The following day there was the periodical lecture on transcendental geography, which, you know, I make a point of attending, but which was rather dull. We had a very nice ball the night before last; and as there was nothing particular going on yesterday, Phoebus and I got married."
"Married!" I exclaimed, while I felt almost as though I had received a deadly thrust of some sharp weapon through my heart; and had I been on land I feel sure I should have fallen to the ground;—"Married! O heavens!—is it possible?—alas! for my hopes of happiness!"
"What do you mean?" she inquired, with a look of the utmost concern.
"I mean," I stammered out, hardly conscious of what I was saying, "that I loved you better than my life—that it was the dearest wish of my heart to be able to call you my wife!"
"How can that be?" she said; "you have known me all these days and never asked me to marry you, far less told me that you loved me. I could not guess your wishes, as you never expressed them, though you had every opportunity."
"And would you," I stammered out in my agitation, "would you have been mine had I asked you?"
"I don't quite understand what you mean by being yours; but," she naively said, "had you asked me to marry you, I would undoubtedly have done so at once."
The extraordinary character of the conversation did not strike me at the time. As for Lily she seemed to see no impropriety in it.
"But now," I proceeded, "I am doomed to grief and disappointment, and must gnaw my heart in solitude and despair."
"Oh I no," she cheerfully retorted; "there is no occasion to do any thing so horrible. Very likely Phoebus and I will not suit one another; and, in that case, we can get a divorce, and then I can marry you, if you still wish it."
She said this with so much simplicity and sincerity, that I had not the heart to tell her how contrary such a proposed course of conduct was to all my ideas of what was right and proper.
Stammering out some stupid expressions of gratitude and thanks, I feigned some pressing engagement I had forgotten, and muttering an apology for my rudeness, I fled and sought the solitude of my home to collect my thoughts and recover from the shock I had received. As I retired, I marked her look of bewildered astonishment, at what, according to her notions, she must have considered my unaccountable behaviour.
Alone in my house, I had time and leisure to brood over my disappointment, and also to reflect on the strange ideas of the Colymbians with regard to marriage and the relations of the sexes. Here was a lovely and innocent girl with simple tastes and a well-cultivated mind, marrying all of a sudden a man whom she could not be said to love, evidently with the view of seeing whether they would suit one another, and so far from being sure on that subject, she seemed rather to incline to think that they would not, in which cases he would have no hesitation in discarding him and trying another. And no one seemed to think such conduct at all extraordinary or improper. We would hardly treat a partner in a waltz less ceremoniously than these Colymbians treat the partners of their domestic joys and sorrows. They marry as we try on boots in a ready-made shop. If one does not fit another may, and so they try a succession of conjugal partners, until at last they get themselves well mated.
A man or a woman who was constantly changing was considered by his or her friends as hard to please, but no one thought of attaching blame to conduct which would be deemed outrageous in my own country.
While I was cogitating over these matters and endeavouring to reconcile myself to my loss, by the reflection that perhaps Lily would have found me too unsuitable after a short trial, I received a visit from an intelligent young professor of transcendental geography of my acquaintance, with whom I was on such intimate terms that we used to be constantly popping in on one another to have a friendly chat. To him I mentioned my disappointment in the matter of Lily.
"Oh, console yourself," he said, with a smile, "there are as good fish—I mean girls—in the sea as ever came out of it. I fear I do not make a very happy adaptation of your proverb to the circumstances of our life, but you understand what I mean: you may marry any other girl you please here—almost."
"But I shall never care about marrying any other, now I have lost Lily."
"You astonish me," he replied; "there are hundreds as good-looking and as accomplished as she."
"Doubtless," I answered, "but I can only love her."
"Love!" he repeated, with an incredulous smile (for which I hated him), "how can you love a girl until you know how she will suit you morally? We all know exactly what the lovely creatures are like physically, but it is not the mere physique we can love; you might as well say you love a picture or a statue. It is the mental disposition we love, and that we can never discover until we marry and begin to live together. A man may show the most amiable manners in public; he may be obliging, good-humoured, witty, and in every way agreeable in society; but look at him in the privacy of domestic life, he may there prove harsh, arrogant, exacting, in short everything that is detestable. Our people have no concealments to make with regard to their physical qualities; but all are deceivers, consciously or unconsciously, with regard to their moral constitution. This is a fact so generally recognised here, that no attempt is made to ascertain the moral adaptedness of couples till after they are married. If they then find themselves unsympathetic and morally unsuited to one another, we should consider it highly immoral that they should continue to live together. Our bodies are held to be so secondary in importance to our minds, that we never give them a thought in judging of our mutual adaptability. Now, the main purpose of marriage is to secure a partner with whom it would be pleasant and profitable to spend your life. The most beautiful body would not reconcile you to a thoroughly unsuitable mind; and a really congenial mind might easily be found in a body which did not display perfect symmetry of proportion and perfect beauty of features. You terrestrials know little of the mere physique of one another, as you are always enveloped in those clothes that serve to conceal your bodies and often to hide defects. Of the moral qualities of one another you can know, before marriage, just as little as we do of each other; and yet you contract indissoluble marriages, and form life-partnerships with beings who may be perfectly unsuitable, physically and morally. And then you talk of the sanctity of marriage, and consider it a heinous offence even to think of dissolving the perhaps irksome bond by which you have bound yourselves to one another. No wonder that complaints are so frequent among you of unhappy marriages, and that your satirists find a constant theme for their unpleasant wit in the miseries of married life. To us it seems extraordinary that your marriages so often turn out the reverse of what we would naturally expect them to be, and that contented and even happy couples are produced by such unlikely means."
It may easily be imagined how profoundly I was shocked at hearing such sentiments, so utterly at variance with all that I had been taught at home. But I felt some relief for the grief of my great disappointment when I reflected that, without doubt, the sentiments expressed by my transcendental friend were entertained by Lily also, and I felt it impossible that I could have led a happy life with a young creature, however charming in other respects, whose ideas were evidently so diametrically opposed to everything my education had led me to believe right and proper. I could not let him go without telling him how entirely I differed from him.
"Your notions respecting our English marriages," I said, "are almost entirely wrong. It is true that couples often find themselves but ill matched. But the knowledge that they have made a life-contract, if they have common sense and amiability, leads them to accommodate themselves to one another, to overlook faults and to develop latent virtues, so that, after a few months, or perhaps years, of greater or less discomfort, they generally settle down into a calm and peaceful contentment; and the love of children, which with us is a master-passion, tends to endear them to one another, and to make them overlook those little incongruities and discrepancies which, without the absorbing sentiment of parental love, they might be disposed to magnify into real incompatibilities, that would render married life a purgatory. You know nothing of the power of parental love, for your attachment to children, where it does exist, seems to have no reference to the parentage of the children. I observe that you part with your own offspring to the state establishments without regret, and adopt such children as you please, though you may have had no hand in the begetting of them, and cannot claim even a blood-relationship with them."
"In this too," he replied, "I think we have the advantage of you. Your own children are not necessarily loveable, though they are of your own blood. They may be ugly, disagreeable, disobedient and perverse. They may be so numerous as to be a serious burden upon you. And yet you are bound by law and by custom to love, cherish and provide for them all; to clothe, feed and educate them, though they may annoy and vex you every day of your life, and render your life miserable by their outrageous conduct. You have an idea that your children ought to love you, and pretend to consider it unnatural when they do not. But we do not see things in this light. Our children owe us no love for the mere fact that we are their parents. If we stand in the way of their advancement, if we prevent them obtaining the food and education they require, they will certainly hate us. If a poor man has a large family, and from some sentimental feeling which he calls parental love, insists on keeping all the children at home with him, subjecting them to constant privations, and stinting their education by reason of his poverty, instead of sending them to the national institutions, where they would be well fed, well educated, and fitted for a useful and honourable career, can you affirm that this man does his duty by his children? Can you contend that to the parental sentiment must be sacrificed the whole future fortune of the children? We think quite otherwise here, and consider ourselves bound to stifle the parental sentiment if it militates against the well-being of our children. Thus, it is contrary to that well-being that uncongenial parents and children should live together, and it is prejudicial to both parents and children that a man with small means should attempt to bring up a large family. The parents are racked with anxiety, and the children are deprived of what they have a right to, sufficient food and a good education. On these principles we act. If our children are disagreeable or too numerous, we send them, or as many of them as we please, to the national educational institutions. We may, of course, retain as many as we please with us, and may even keep at home a far more numerous family than we have means to support. But though there is no law against this, the opinion of society is so opposed to such a selfish proceeding, that few would dare to brave the censure of their fellow-citizens by adopting a course so detrimental to the true interests of their families. If we have no children, or do not feel pleasure in those we have, and still wish to have children, we can select such as we think we can love and of whom we may be proud. Why should we make ourselves wretched with uncongenial children, whom we never could bring up well, if they made themselves disagreeable to us? It is mere selfishness to love a thing because it is our own; the true philosophy is to love what is loveable."
I felt it was no use protracting this discussion with one from whose very principles I must dissent. So I gave him my hand, thanked him for his visit, and said:—
"You have indeed comforted me in my affliction and reconciled me to my loss of Lily; not by converting me to your views, but by showing me the incompatibility of the customs of your country and the modes of thought of your people with those I have been brought up in and of which I cannot divest myself. I feel I am only outwardly a Colymbian, and I fear I shall never cease to be an Englishman at heart."
He took his leave with an expression of regret that I was unable to see the superiority of the Colymbian customs in regard to marriage and children; and he hoped that a longer residence would enable me to get rid of what he termed my irrational English prejudices, which he asserted with solemn gravity were far from being in accord with the perfect life of the unknown people, or in unison with the wishes of their ruler.
I could not refrain from saying that I had read all the old books and had been unable to discover in them a word on the subject of marriage or parental affection.
On which he shook his head, and said with solemn emphasis:—"My dear young friend, I fear you have not read the books in a right spirit. Unless the mind is penetrated with transcendentalism, the language of the books cannot be comprehended."
There was no answer to this, for I could not say that my mind was in a transcendental state, as I did not in fact know what that phrase implied and had never yet been able to obtain an explanation of it. So I wished him again good night and went to bed.