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Narrated by Simon Vance
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"In the time of the amiable Brantome," Mr. Scogan was saying,
"every debutante at the French Court was invited to dine at the
King's table, where she was served with wine in a handsome silver
cup of Italian workmanship. It was no ordinary cup, this goblet
of the debutantes; for, inside, it had been most curiously and
ingeniously engraved with a series of very lively amorous scenes.
With each draught that the young lady swallowed these engravings
became increasingly visible, and the Court looked on with
interest, every time she put her nose in the cup, to see whether
she blushed at what the ebbing wine revealed. If the debutante
blushed, they laughed at her for her innocence; if she did not,
she was laughed at for being too knowing."
"Do you propose," asked Anne, "that the custom should be revived
at Buckingham Palace?"
"I do not," said Mr. Scogan. "I merely quoted the anecdote as an
illustration of the customs, so genially frank, of the sixteenth
century. I might have quoted other anecdotes to show that the
customs of the seventeenth and eighteenth, of the fifteenth and
fourteenth centuries, and indeed of every other century, from the
time of Hammurabi onward, were equally genial and equally frank.
The only century in which customs were not characterised by the
same cheerful openness was the nineteenth, of blessed memory. It
was the astonishing exception. And yet, with what one must
suppose was a deliberate disregard of history, it looked upon its
horribly pregnant silences as normal and natural and right; the
frankness of the previous fifteen or twenty thousand years was
considered abnormal and perverse. It was a curious phenomenon."
"I entirely agree." Mary panted with excitement in her effort to
bring out what she had to say. "Havelock Ellis says..."
Mr. Scogan, like a policeman arresting the flow of traffic, held
up his hand. "He does; I know. And that brings me to my next
point: the nature of the reaction."
"The reaction, when it came—and we may say roughly that it set
in a little before the beginning of this century—the reaction
was to openness, but not to the same openness as had reigned in
the earlier ages. It was to a scientific openness, not to the
jovial frankness of the past, that we returned. The whole
question of Amour became a terribly serious one. Earnest young
men wrote in the public prints that from this time forth it would
be impossible ever again to make a joke of any sexual matter.
Professors wrote thick books in which sex was sterilised and
dissected. It has become customary for serious young women, like
Mary, to discuss, with philosophic calm, matters of which the
merest hint would have sufficed to throw the youth of the sixties
into a delirium of amorous excitement. It is all very estimable,
no doubt. But still"—Mr. Scogan sighed.—"I for one should like
to see, mingled with this scientific ardour, a little more of the
jovial spirit of Rabelais and Chaucer."
"I entirely disagree with you," said Mary. "Sex isn't a laughing
matter; it's serious."
"Perhaps," answered Mr. Scogan, "perhaps I'm an obscene old man.
For I must confess that I cannot always regard it as wholly
"But I tell you..." began Mary furiously. Her face had flushed
with excitement. Her cheeks were the cheeks of a great ripe
"Indeed," Mr. Scogan continued, "it seems to me one of few
permanently and everlastingly amusing subjects that exist. Amour
is the one human activity of any importance in which laughter and
pleasure preponderate, if ever so slightly, over misery and
"I entirely disagree," said Mary. There was a silence.
Anne looked at her watch. "Nearly a quarter to eight," she said.
"I wonder when Ivor will turn up." She got up from her deck-
chair and, leaning her elbows on the balustrade of the terrace,
looked out over the valley and towards the farther hills. Under
the level evening light the architecture of the land revealed
itself. The deep shadows, the bright contrasting lights gave the
hills a new solidity. Irregularities of the surface, unsuspected
before, were picked out with light and shade. The grass, the
corn, the foliage of trees were stippled with intricate shadows.
The surface of things had taken on a marvellous enrichment.
"Look!" said Anne suddenly, and pointed. On the opposite side of
the valley, at the crest of the ridge, a cloud of dust flushed by
the sunlight to rosy gold was moving rapidly along the sky-line.
"It's Ivor. One can tell by the speed."
The dust cloud descended into the valley and was lost. A horn
with the voice of a sea-lion made itself heard, approaching. A
minute later Ivor came leaping round the corner of the house.
His hair waved in the wind of his own speed; he laughed as he saw
"Anne, darling," he cried, and embraced her, embraced Mary, very
nearly embraced Mr. Scogan. "Well, here I am. I've come with
incredulous speed." Ivor's vocabulary was rich, but a little
erratic. "I'm not late for dinner, am I?" He hoisted himself up
on to the balustrade, and sat there, kicking his heels. With one
arm he embraced a large stone flower-pot, leaning his head
sideways against its hard and lichenous flanks in an attitude of
trustful affection. He had brown, wavy hair, and his eyes were
of a very brilliant, pale, improbable blue. His head was narrow,
his face thin and rather long, his nose aquiline. In old age—
though it was difficult to imagine Ivor old—he might grow to
have an Iron Ducal grimness. But now, at twenty-six, it was not
the structure of his face that impressed one; it was its
expression. That was charming and vivacious, and his smile was
an irradiation. He was forever moving, restlessly and rapidly,
but with an engaging gracefulness. His frail and slender body
seemed to be fed by a spring of inexhaustible energy.
"No, you're not late."
"You're in time to answer a question," said Mr. Scogan. "We were
arguing whether Amour were a serious matter or no. What do you
think? Is it serious?"
"Serious?" echoed Ivor. "Most certainly."
"I told you so," cried Mary triumphantly.
"But in what sense serious?" Mr. Scogan asked.
"I mean as an occupation. One can go on with it without ever
"I see," said Mr. Scogan. "Perfectly."
"One can occupy oneself with it," Ivor continued, "always and
everywhere. Women are always wonderfully the same. Shapes vary
a little, that's all. In Spain"—with his free hand he described
a series of ample curves—"one can't pass them on the stairs. In
England"—he put the tip of his forefinger against the tip of his
thumb and, lowering his hand, drew out this circle into an
imaginary cylinder—"In England they're tubular. But their
sentiments are always the same. At least, I've always found it
"I'm delighted to hear it," said Mr. Scogan.
The ladies had left the room and the port was circulating. Mr.
Scogan filled his glass, passed on the decanter, and, leaning
back in his chair, looked about him for a moment in silence. The
conversation rippled idly round him, but he disregarded it; he
was smiling at some private joke. Gombauld noticed his smile.
"What's amusing you?" he asked.
"I was just looking at you all, sitting round this table," said
"Are we as comic as all that?"
"Not at all," Mr. Scogan answered politely. "I was merely amused
by my own speculations."
"And what were they?"
"The idlest, the most academic of speculations. I was looking at
you one by one and trying to imagine which of the first six
Caesars you would each resemble, if you were given the
opportunity of behaving like a Caesar. The Caesars are one of my
touchstones," Mr. Scogan explained. "They are characters
functioning, so to speak, in the void. They are human beings
developed to their logical conclusions. Hence their unequalled
value as a touchstone, a standard. When I meet someone for the
first time, I ask myself this question: Given the Caesarean
environment, which of the Caesars would this person resemble—
Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero? I take
each trait of character, each mental and emotional bias, each
little oddity, and magnify them a thousand times. The resulting
image gives me his Caesarean formula."
"And which of the Caesars do you resemble?" asked Gombauld.
"I am potentially all of them," Mr. Scogan replied, "all—with
the possible exception of Claudius, who was much too stupid to be
a development of anything in my character. The seeds of Julius's
courage and compelling energy, of Augustus's prudence, of the
libidinousness and cruelty of Tiberius, of Caligula's folly, of
Nero's artistic genius and enormous vanity, are all within me.
Given the opportunities, I might have been something fabulous.
But circumstances were against me. I was born and brought up in
a country rectory; I passed my youth doing a great deal of
utterly senseless hard work for a very little money. The result
is that now, in middle age, I am the poor thing that I am. But
perhaps it is as well. Perhaps, too, it's as well that Denis
hasn't been permitted to flower into a little Nero, and that Ivor
remains only potentially a Caligula. Yes, it's better so, no
doubt. But it would have been more amusing, as a spectacle, if
they had had the chance to develop, untrammelled, the full horror
of their potentialities. It would have been pleasant and
interesting to watch their tics and foibles and little vices
swelling and burgeoning and blossoming into enormous and
fantastic flowers of cruelty and pride and lewdness and avarice.
The Caesarean environment makes the Caesar, as the special food
and the queenly cell make the queen bee. We differ from the bees
in so far that, given the proper food, they can be sure of making
a queen every time. With us there is no such certainty; out of
every ten men placed in the Caesarean environment one will be
temperamentally good, or intelligent, or great. The rest will
blossom into Caesars; he will not. Seventy and eighty years ago
simple-minded people, reading of the exploits of the Bourbons in
South Italy, cried out in amazement: To think that such things
should be happening in the nineteenth century! And a few years
since we too were astonished to find that in our still more
astonishing twentieth century, the unhappy on the Congo
and the Amazon were being treated as English serfs were treated
in the time of Stephen. To-day we are no longer surprised at
these things. The Black and Tans harry Ireland, the Poles
maltreat the Silesians, the bold Fascisti slaughter their poorer
countrymen: we take it all for granted. Since the war we wonder
at nothing. We have created a Caesarean environment and a host
of little Caesars has sprung up. What could be more natural?"
Mr. Scogan drank off what was left of his port and refilled the
At this very moment," he went on, "the most frightful horrors are
taking place in every corner of the world. People are being
crushed, slashed, disembowelled, mangled; their dead bodies rot
and their eyes decay with the rest. Screams of pain and fear go
pulsing through the air at the rate of eleven hundred feet per
second. After travelling for three seconds they are perfectly
inaudible. These are distressing facts; but do we enjoy life any
the less because of them? Most certainly we do not. We feel
sympathy, no doubt; we represent to ourselves imaginatively the
sufferings of nations and individuals and we deplore them. But,
after all, what are sympathy and imagination? Precious little,
unless the person for whom we feel sympathy happens to be closely
involved in our affections; and even then they don't go very far.
And a good thing too; for if one had an imagination vivid enough
and a sympathy sufficiently sensitive really to comprehend and to
feel the sufferings of other people, one would never have a
moment's peace of mind. A really sympathetic race would not so
much as know the meaning of happiness. But luckily, as I've
already said, we aren't a sympathetic race. At the beginning of
the war I used to think I really suffered, through imagination
and sympathy, with those who physically suffered. But after a
month or two I had to admit that, honestly, I didn't. And yet I
think I have a more vivid imagination than most. One is always
alone in suffering; the fact is depressing when one happens to be
the sufferer, but it makes pleasure possible for the rest of the
There was a pause. Henry Wimbush pushed back his chair.
"I think perhaps we ought to go and join the ladies," he said.
"So do I," said Ivor, jumping up with alacrity. He turned to Mr.
Scogan. "Fortunately," he said, "we can share our pleasures. We
are not always condemned to be happy alone."
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