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PODCAST: https://ayearofwarandpeace.podbean.com/e/ep1510-hail-and-farewell-george-moore-ave-chapter-63/ PROMPTS:
byo Today's Reading, via Project Gutenberg:
The station is about a mile distant from the town, whither the hotel omnibus took us, and having ordered dinner to be ready in an hour's time, we went out to see the streets, Edward, as usual, seeking the church, which was found at last. But I did not follow him into it, the evening being so fine that it seemed to me shameful to miss any moment of it. Never were the streets of Rothenburg more beautiful than that evening, not even when the costumes of old time moved through them. A more beautiful sky never unfolded, and girls, passing with alert steps and roguish glances, answering their admirers with sallies of impertinent humour, are always delightful. They and the sky absorbed my attention, for it is natural for me to admire what is permanent, whereas Edward is attached to the transitory. He had just come out of the church, where he had discovered a few bits of old glass, and he was talking of these eagerly, and congratulating himself that we had seen everything there was to be seen in Rothenburg, and would be able to go away next morning. His hurry to leave shocked me not a little. It semed indeed like an insult to go into a town, look about one, and rush away again without bestowing a thought upon the people who lived in it. So did I speak to him, telling him that while he had been poking about in the church I had been thinking of a sojourn of six months in Rothenburg in some pretty lodging which one could easily find tomorrow, and the attendance of a sweet German girl. From her it would be possible to learn a little German, rejoicing in her presence in the room while she repeated a phrase, so that we might catch the sound of the words. At the end of the day it would be pleasant to wander with my few mouthfuls of German into the fields, and make new acquaintances. The whole of my life would not be spent in Rothenburg, but enough of it to acquire a memory of Rothenburg. But Edward did not understand me. All he cared to study were the monuments and the public buildings, and from them he could learn all there was worth knowing about the people that had made them, all people being more or less disagreeable to him, I said to myself; especially women, I added, noticing that he averted his eyes from the girls that passed in twos and threes; and as if desirous to distract my attention from them, he called upon me to admire a very wide, red-tiled roof, and some old lanterns hung on a chain across the street. These things and the hillside over against our window interested Edward more than any man or woman could; quaint little houses went up the hillside like the houses in Dürer's pictures. There are quite a number of them in his picture of Fortune. Everybody knows the woman who stands on the world holding a chalice in one hand; she does not hold it straight, as she would have done if the painter had been an inferior artist: Dürer leaned it a little towards the spectator. Over one arm hangs some curious bridle, at least in the engraving it seems to be a bridle with many bits and chains; and every one of these and the reins are drawn with a precision which gives them beauty. Dürer's eyes saw very clearly, and they had to see clearly, and steadily, to interest us in that great rump and thigh. One wonders who the model was, and why Dürer chose her. Degas more than once drew a creature as short-legged and as bulky, and the model he chose was the wife of a butcher in the Rue La Rochefoucauld. The poor creature arrived in all her finery, the clothes which she wore when she went to Mass on Sunday, and her amazement and her disappointment are easily imagined when Degas told her he wanted her to pose for the naked. She was accompanied by her husband, and knowing her to be not exactly a Venus de Milo, he tried to dissuade Degas, and Edward who has had little experience of life, expressed surprise that a husband should not guard his wife's honour more vigilantly; but he laughed when I told that Degas had assured the butcher that the erotic sentiment was not strong in him, and he liked my description of the poor, deformed creature standing in front of a tin bath, gripping her flanks with both hands—his bias towards ecclesiasticism enables him to sympathise with the Middle Ages, and its inherent tendency to regard women as inferior, and to keep them out of sight.
It's strange, I said to myself, to feel so different from one's fellows, to be exempt from all interest and solicitude for the female, to be uninfluenced by that beauty which sex dowers her with, and which achieves such marvels in the heart. We go to our mistresses as to Goddesses, and the peasant, though he does not think of Goddesses, thinks of the wife waiting for him at his fireside, with a tender, kindly emotion of which the labour of the fields has not been able to rob him. It's wonderful to come into the world unconcerned with the other sex, Edward.
You think I hate women. You're quite wrong. I don't hate women, only they seem absurd. When I see them going along the streets together they make me laugh; their hats and feathers, everything about them.
We come into the world, Edward, with different minds; that is a thing we can't remember too often. What makes you laugh enchants me. Nature has given us companions as different from us as the birds of the air, and for that I shall always feel grateful to Nature.
And then, just for the sake of expressing myself, though I knew that Edward would never understand, I told him that the coming of a woman into the room was like a delicious change of light.
Without women we should be all reasonable, Edward; there would be no instinct, and a reasonable world—what would it be like? A garden without flowers, music without melody.
But these comparisons did not satisfy me, and seeking for another one I hit upon this, and it seemed to express my meaning better: without women the world would be like a palette set in the raw umber and white. Women are the colouring matter, the glaze the old painters used. Edward wanted information as to the method employed by the old painters, but I preferred to develop my theme, telling him that a mother's affection for her daughter was quite different from her affection for her son, and that when a father looks upon his daughter he hears the love that he bore her mother echoed down the years, and muttering the old saw God is Love, I said that it would be much truer to invert the words, considering religion as a development of the romance which begins on earth.
To one who realises hell more clearly than heaven, and to one so temperamentally narrow as my friend, it must have been disagreeable to hear me say that religion has helped many to raise sex from earth to heaven; to instance Teresa as an example, saying how she has, in hundreds of pages of verse and prose, told her happy fate, that, by resigning an earthly, she has acquired an eternal Bridegroom.
It was in the second or third century that the Church became aware that heaven without a virgin could not commend itself to man's imagination, but the adoration of the Virgin, said to be encouraged by the Catholic Church, has never been realised by any saint that I know of—not even by St Bernard. Nor is this altogether to be wondered at; the Virgin is always represented with a baby in her arms: motherhood is her constant occupation, and I can imagine Edward, to whom all exhibition of sex is disagreeable, being not a little shocked at the insistence of certain painters on the breast, the nipple, and the gluttonous lips of the child. The exhibition which women make of their bosoms at dinner-parties has always struck him as somewhat ludicrous. Full-blown roses, he used to call them, reminding him of the flower-maidens in Klinsor's garden.
Who could not tempt Parsifal, and would not tempt you, Edward. But would you have yelled as he did when Kundry tried to kiss him?
By one of those intricate and elaborate analogies of thought which surprise us, Parsifal took me back to my chambers in King's Bench Walk, and I told Edward how, when I was writing Esther Waters
, it was a help to me to gossip with my laundress after breakfast, a pious woman of the Nonconformist type, like Esther herself. Almost any topical event provided a basis for ethical discussion; a divorce case best of all, and the O'Shea divorce and Parnell's complicity seemed to me to be the very thing. But it was impossible to engage her attention, and soon it was evident that she was much more interested in a certain murder case—a Mrs Percy who had murdered another woman's baby, and hidden it in a perambulator. It was the perambulator that gave the story the touch of realism that appealed to my laundress's imagination. But the murder of a baby offering little scope for ethical discussion, I took advantage of the first break in the flow of her conversation to remind her that the crimes were not parallel.
Don't you think so, sir? And I can still see her rolling her apron about her arms. It comes to the same thing in the end, sir, for when one party goes away with the other party, the party that's left behind dies.
Her view of life interested me; the importance of desertion is greater among the lower classes than it is among the upper; but it could not be doubted that she was telling me what she had heard from the parson rather than any view of her own, drawn from her experience. Therefore, to get at herself, to force her into direct personal expression, I said:
You can't seriously maintain, Mrs Millar, that adultery is as great a crime as murder?
Still winding her coarse apron round her arms, she stood looking at me, her eyes perplexed and ambiguous, and I thought of how I might move her out of her position.
You know your Bible, Mrs Millar? You know the story of the woman of Samaria? And you remember that Christ forbade the people to stone her, and told her to sin no more?... Mrs Millar, you can't deny that Christ said that ... and you are a Christian woman.
Yes, sir, he did say that; but you must remember he was only a bachelor.
I think I fell back in my chair and looked at my laundress in amazement, until she began to wonder what was the matter, and she must have wondered the more when I told her she had said something which I should never forget.
But what I said is true, isn't it? she answered shyly.
Yes, it's quite true, only nobody ever thought of it before, Mrs Millar! It's true that the married man who brings home his wages at the end of the week is the one that understands life, and you are quite right to condone Christ's laxity in not pronouncing a fuller condemnation. You are quite right. The bachelor may not attain to any full comprehension of the 'ome.
She left the room, confused and wondering at my praise, thinking that she had answered as everybody would have answered, and conscious of having expressed national sentiments.
Dear Irish Edward was shocked by Mrs Millar's theology at first, but hearing that she was a pious woman, he roused a little, and, lest he might reproach Protestantism for its married clergy, I reminded him that Rome still retained married clergy in Greece. His answer was that he was sure the Greek priests abstained from their wives before their ministrations, an answer that rejoiced my heart exceedingly, and set me thinking that the Western mind has never been able to assimilate, or even understand, the ideas that Christianity brought from the East. Our notions of the value of chastity are crude enough, and the Brahmin would life his eyes in silent contempt on hearing from a priest that a man, if he lives chastely, though he be a glutton and a drunkard, will never descend to so low a stage of materialism as he that lives with a woman ... even if his life be strict. The oddest of all animals is man; in him, as in all other animals, the sexual interest is the strongest; yet the desire is inveterate in him to reject it; and I am sure that Christ's words that in heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage have taken a great weight off Edward's mind, and must have inspired in him many prayers for a small stool in heaven. If by any chance he should not get one (which is, of course, unthinkable) and finds himself among the damned, his plight will be worse than ever, for I suppose he will have no opportunity for correcting his natural disinclination, and I believe no theologian has yet decided that the damned do not continue to commit the sins in hell which they were damned for committing on earth.
Edward always leads me to think of the Middle Ages, but he also leads me to think sometimes of the ages that preceded these. There are survivals of pagan rites in Christianity, and in every man there is a survival of the pagan that preceded him; paganism is primordial fire, and it is always breaking through the Christian crust. We know of the eruption that took place in Italy in the sixteenth century, and, though the pagan Edward lies in durance vile, Edward is, in common with every other human being, no more than a pagan overlaid with Christianity. If three men meet in The Heather Field
to speak of the misfortune that comes to a man when he allows himself to be inveigled by woman's beauty, they express, every one of them, a craving for some higher beauty, and this craving finds beautiful expression in the scene between Carden Tyrrell and his brother; and the same craving for some beauty, half imagined, something which the world has lost, is the theme of Maeve
. She renounces earthly love, and dreams of a hero of Celtic romance, and in her last sleep he visits her at the head of a wonderful assemblage. Edward's paganism finds fuller expression in The Enchanted Sea
than in any other play. In the depths of green sea-water, we catch sight of the face of the beautiful boy, Guy, whose drowning causes Lord Mark such blinding despair that he walks like one enchanted into the sea, and is carried away by the waves. More in this play than in the others do we catch a glimpse of the author's earlier soul, for every soul proceeds out of paganism; only in Edward the twain are more distinct; neither has absorbed the other, both exist contemporaneously and side by side—a Greek marble may be found enfolded in a friar's frock.