The Education of a Personage
The Egotist Becomes a Personage
"A fathom deep in sleep I lie
With old desires, restrained before,
To clamor lifeward with a cry,
As dark flies out the greying door;
And so in quest of creeds to share
I seek assertive day again...
But old monotony is there:
Endless avenues of rain.
Oh, might I rise again! Might I
Throw off the heat of that old wine,
See the new morning mass the sky
With fairy towers, line on line;
Find each mirage in the high air
A symbol, not a dream again...
But old monotony is there:
Endless avenues of rain."
UNDER THE GLASS portcullis of a theatre Amory stood, watching the
first great drops of rain splatter down and flatten to dark
stains on the sidewalk. The air became gray and opalescent; a
solitary light suddenly outlined a window over the way; then
another light; then a hundred more danced and glimmered into
vision. Under his feet a thick, iron-studded skylight turned
yellow; in the street the lamps of the taxi-cabs sent out
glistening sheens along the already black pavement. The unwelcome
November rain had perversely stolen the day's last hour and
pawned it with that ancient fence, the night.
The silence of the theatre behind him ended with a curious
snapping sound, followed by the heavy roaring of a rising crowd
and the interlaced clatter of many voices. The matinie was over.
He stood aside, edged a little into the rain to let the throng
pass. A small boy rushed out, sniffed in the damp, fresh air and
turned up the collar of his coat; came three or four couples in a
great hurry; came a further scattering of people whose eyes as
they emerged glanced invariably, first at the wet street, then at
the rain-filled air, finally at the dismal sky; last a dense,
strolling mass that depressed him with its heavy odor compounded
of the tobacco smell of the men and the fetid sensuousness of
stale powder on women. After the thick crowd came another
scattering; a stray half-dozen; a man on crutches; finally the
rattling bang of folding seats inside announced that the ushers
were at work.
New York seemed not so much awakening as turning over in its bed.
Pallid men rushed by, pinching together their coat-collars; a
great swarm of tired, magpie girls from a department-store
crowded along with shrieks of strident laughter, three to an
umbrella; a squad of marching policemen passed, already
miraculously protected by oilskin capes.
The rain gave Amory a feeling of detachment, and the numerous
unpleasant aspects of city life without money occurred to him in
threatening procession. There was the ghastly, stinking crush of
the subwaythe car cards thrusting themselves at one, leering out
like dull bores who grab your arm with another story; the
querulous worry as to whether some one isn't leaning on you; a
man deciding not to give his seat to a woman, hating her for it;
the woman hating him for not doing it; at worst a squalid
phantasmagoria of breath, and old cloth on human bodies and the
smells of the food men ateat best just peopletoo hot or too cold,
He pictured the rooms where these people livedwhere the patterns
of the blistered wall-papers were heavy reiterated sunflowers on
green and yellow backgrounds, where there were tin bathtubs and
gloomy hallways and verdureless, unnamable spaces in back of the
buildings; where even love dressed as seductiona sordid murder
around the corner, illicit motherhood in the flat above. And
always there was the economical stuffiness of indoor winter, and
the long summers, nightmares of perspiration between sticky
enveloping walls ... dirty restaurants where careless, tired
people helped themselves to sugar with their own used
coffee-spoons, leaving hard brown deposits in the bowl.
It was not so bad where there were only men or else only women;
it was when they were vilely herded that it all seemed so rotten.
It was some shame that women gave off at having men see them
tired and poorit was some disgust that men had for women who were
tired and poor. It was dirtier than any battle-field he had seen,
harder to contemplate than any actual hardship moulded of mire
and sweat and danger, it was an atmosphere wherein birth and
marriage and death were loathsome, secret things.
He remembered one day in the subway when a delivery boy had
brought in a great funeral wreath of fresh flowers, how the smell
of it had suddenly cleared the air and given every one in the car
a momentary glow.
"I detest poor people," thought Amory suddenly. "I hate them for
being poor. Poverty may have been beautiful once, but it's rotten
now. It's the ugliest thing in the world. It's essentially
cleaner to be corrupt and rich than it is to be innocent and
poor." He seemed to see again a figure whose significance had
once impressed hima well-dressed young man gazing from a club
window on Fifth Avenue and saying something to his companion with
a look of utter disgust. Probably, thought Amory, what he said
was: "My God! Aren't people horrible!"
Never before in his life had Amory considered poor people. He
thought cynically how completely he was lacking in all human
sympathy. O. Henry had found in these people romance, pathos,
love, hateAmory saw only coarseness, physical filth, and
stupidity. He made no self-accusations: never any more did he
reproach himself for feelings that were natural and sincere. He
accepted all his reactions as a part of him, unchangeable,
unmoral. This problem of poverty transformed, magnified, attached
to some grander, more dignified attitude might some day even be
his problem; at present it roused only his profound distaste.
He walked over to Fifth Avenue, dodging the blind, black menace
of umbrellas, and standing in front of Delmonico's hailed an
auto-bus. Buttoning his coat closely around him he climbed to the
roof, where he rode in solitary state through the thin,
persistent rain, stung into alertness by the cool moisture
perpetually reborn on his cheek. Somewhere in his mind a
conversation began, rather resumed its place in his attention. It
was composed not of two voices, but of one, which acted alike as
questioner and answerer:
Question.Wellwhat's the situation?
Answer.That I have about twenty-four dollars to my name.
Q.You have the Lake Geneva estate.
A.But I intend to keep it.
Q.Can you live?
A.I can't imagine not being able to. People make money in books
and I've found that I can always do the things that people do in
books. Really they are the only things I can do.
A.I don't know what I'll donor have I much curiosity. To-morrow
I'm going to leave New York for good. It's a bad town unless
you're on top of it.
Q.Do you want a lot of money?
A.No. I am merely afraid of being poor.
A.Just passively afraid.
Q.Where are you drifting?
A.Don't ask me!
Q.Don't you care?
A.Rather. I don't want to commit moral suicide.
Q.Have you no interests left?
A.None. I've no more virtue to lose. Just as a cooling pot gives
off heat, so all through youth and adolescence we give off
calories of virtue. That's what's called ingenuousness.
Q.An interesting idea.
A.That's why a "good man going wrong" attracts people. They stand
around and literally warm themselves at the calories of virtue he
gives off. Sarah makes an unsophisticated remark and the faces
simper in delight"How innocent the poor child is!" They're
warming themselves at her virtue. But Sarah sees the simper and
never makes that remark again. Only she feels a little colder
Q.All your calories gone?
A.All of them. I'm beginning to warm myself at other people's
Q.Are you corrupt?
A.I think so. I'm not sure. I'm not sure about good and evil at
all any more.
Q.Is that a bad sign in itself?
Q.What would be the test of corruption?
A.Becoming really insincerecalling myself "not such a bad
fellow," thinking I regretted my lost youth when I only envy the
delights of losing it. Youth is like having a big plate of candy.
Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state
they were in before they ate the candy. They don't. They just
want the fun of eating it all over again. The matron doesn't want
to repeat her girlhoodshe wants to repeat her honeymoon. I don't
want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it
Q.Where are you drifting?
This dialogue merged grotesquely into his mind's most familiar
statea grotesque blending of desires, worries, exterior
impressions and physical reactions.
One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Streetor One Hundred and
Thirty-seventh Street.... Two and three look alikeno, not much.
Seat damp ... are clothes absorbing wetness from seat, or seat
absorbing dryness from clothes?... Sitting on wet substance gave
appendicitis, so Froggy Parker's mother said. Well, he'd had
itI'll sue the steamboat company, Beatrice said, and my uncle has
a quarter interestdid Beatrice go to heaven?... probably not He
represented Beatrice's immortality, also love-affairs of numerous
dead men who surely had never thought of him ... if it wasn't
appendicitis, influenza maybe. What? One Hundred and Twentieth
Street? That must have been One Hundred and Twelfth back there.
One O Two instead of One Two Seven. Rosalind not like Beatrice,
Eleanor like Beatrice, only wilder and brainier. Apartments along
here expensiveprobably hundred and fifty a monthmaybe two
hundred. Uncle had only paid hundred a month for whole great big
house in Minneapolis. Questionwere the stairs on the left or
right as you came in? Anyway, in 12 Univee they were straight
back and to the left. What a dirty riverwant to go down there and
see if it's dirtyFrench rivers all brown or black, so were
Southern rivers. Twenty-four dollars meant four hundred and
eighty doughnuts. He could live on it three months and sleep in
the park. Wonder where Jill wasJill Bayne, Fayne, Saynewhat the
devilneck hurts, darned uncomfortable seat. No desire to sleep
with Jill, what could Alec see in her? Alec had a coarse taste in
women. Own taste the best; Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind, Eleanor,
were all-American. Eleanor would pitch, probably southpaw.
Rosalind was outfield, wonderful hitter, Clara first base, maybe.
Wonder what Humbird's body looked like now. If he himself hadn't
been bayonet instructor he'd have gone up to line three months
sooner, probably been killed. Where's the darned bell
The street numbers of Riverside Drive were obscured by the mist
and dripping trees from anything but the swiftest scrutiny, but
Amory had finally caught sight of One One Hundred and
Twenty-seventh Street. He got off and with no distinct
destination followed a winding, descending sidewalk and came out
facing the river, in particular a long pier and a partitioned
litter of shipyards for miniature craft: small launches, canoes,
rowboats, and catboats. He turned northward and followed the
shore, jumped a small wire fence and found himself in a great
disorderly yard adjoining a dock. The hulls of many boats in
various stages of repair were around him; he smelled sawdust and
paint and the scarcely distinguishable fiat odor of the Hudson. A
man approached through the heavy gloom.
"Hello," said Amory.
"Got a pass?"
"No. Is this private?"
"This is the Hudson River Sporting and Yacht Club."
"Oh! I didn't know. I'm just resting."
"Well" began the man dubiously.
"I'll go if you want me to."
The man made non-committal noises in his throat and passed on.
Amory seated himself on an overturned boat and leaned forward
thoughtfully until his chin rested in his hand.
"Misfortune is liable to make me a damn bad man," he said slowly.
IN THE DROOPING HOURS
While the rain drizzled on Amory looked futilely back at the
stream of his life, all its glitterings and dirty shallows. To
begin with, he was still afraidnot physically afraid any more,
but afraid of people and prejudice and misery and monotony. Yet,
deep in his bitter heart, he wondered if he was after all worse
than this man or the next. He knew that he could sophisticate
himself finally into saying that his own weakness was just the
result of circumstances and environment; that often when he raged
at himself as an egotist something would whisper ingratiatingly:
"No. Genius!" That was one manifestation of fear, that voice
which whispered that he could not be both great and good, that
genius was the exact combination of those inexplicable grooves
and twists in his mind, that any discipline would curb it to
mediocrity. Probably more than any concrete vice or failing Amory
despised his own personalityhe loathed knowing that to-morrow and
the thousand days after he would swell pompously at a compliment
and sulk at an ill word like a third-rate musician or a
first-class actor. He was ashamed of the fact that very simple
and honest people usually distrusted him; that he had been cruel,
often, to those who had sunk their personalities in himseveral
girls, and a man here and there through college, that he had been
an evil influence on; people who had followed him here and there
into mental adventures from which he alone rebounded unscathed.
Usually, on nights like this, for there had been many lately, he
could escape from this consuming introspection by thinking of
children and the infinite possibilities of childrenhe leaned and
listened and he heard a startled baby awake in a house across the
street and lend a tiny whimper to the still night. Quick as a
flash he turned away, wondering with a touch of panic whether
something in the brooding despair of his mood had made a darkness
in its tiny soul. He shivered. What if some day the balance was
overturned, and he became a thing that frightened children and
crept into rooms in the dark, approached dim communion with those
phantoms who whispered shadowy secrets to the mad of that dark
continent upon the moon....
Amory smiled a bit.
"You're too much wrapped up in yourself," he heard some one say.
"Get out and do some real work"
He fancied a possible future comment of his own.
"YesI was perhaps an egotist in youth, but I soon found it made
me morbid to think too much about myself."
Suddenly he felt an overwhelming desire to let himself go to the
devilnot to go violently as a gentleman should, but to sink
safely and sensuously out of sight. He pictured himself in an
adobe house in Mexico, half-reclining on a rug-covered couch, his
slender, artistic fingers closed on a cigarette while he listened
to guitars strumming melancholy undertones to an age-old dirge of
Castile and an olive-skinned, carmine-lipped girl caressed his
hair. Here he might live a strange litany, delivered from right
and wrong and from the hound of heaven and from every God (except
the exotic Mexican one who was pretty slack himself and rather
addicted to Oriental scents)delivered from success and hope and
poverty into that long chute of indulgence which led, after all,
only to the artificial lake of death.
There were so many places where one might deteriorate pleasantly:
Port Said, Shanghai, parts of Turkestan, Constantinople, the
South Seasall lands of sad, haunting music and many odors, where
lust could be a mode and expression of life, where the shades of
night skies and sunsets would seem to reflect only moods of
passion: the colors of lips and poppies.
Once he had been miraculously able to scent evil as a horse
detects a broken bridge at night, but the man with the queer feet
in Phoebe's room had diminished to the aura over Jill. His
instinct perceived the fetidness of poverty, but no longer
ferreted out the deeper evils in pride and sensuality.
There were no more wise men; there were no more heroes; Burne
Holiday was sunk from sight as though he had never lived;
Monsignor was dead. Amory had grown up to a thousand books, a
thousand lies; he had listened eagerly to people who pretended to
know, who knew nothing. The mystical reveries of saints that had
once filled him with awe in the still hours of night, now vaguely
repelled him. The Byrons and Brookes who had defied life from
mountain tops were in the end but flaneurs and poseurs, at best
mistaking the shadow of courage for the substance of wisdom. The
pageantry of his disillusion took shape in a world-old procession
of Prophets, Athenians, Martyrs, Saints, Scientists, Don Juans,
Jesuits, Puritans, Fausts, Poets, Pacifists; like costumed alumni
at a college reunion they streamed before him as their dreams,
personalities, and creeds had in turn thrown colored lights on
his soul; each had tried to express the glory of life and the
tremendous significance of man; each had boasted of synchronizing
what had gone before into his own rickety generalities; each had
depended after all on the set stage and the convention of the
theatre, which is that man in his hunger for faith will feed his
mind with the nearest and most convenient food.
Womenof whom he had expected so much; whose beauty he had hoped
to transmute into modes of art; whose unfathomable instincts,
marvellously incoherent and inarticulate, he had thought to
perpetuate in terms of experiencehad become merely consecrations
to their own posterity. Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind, Eleanor, were
all removed by their very beauty, around which men had swarmed,
from the possibility of contributing anything but a sick heart
and a page of puzzled words to write.
Amory based his loss of faith in help from others on several
sweeping syllogisms. Granted that his generation, however bruised
and decimated from this Victorian war, were the heirs of
progress. Waving aside petty differences of conclusions which,
although they might occasionally cause the deaths of several
millions of young men, might be explained awaysupposing that
after all Bernard Shaw and Bernhardi, Bonar Law and
Bethmann-Hollweg were mutual heirs of progress if only in
agreeing against the ducking of witcheswaiving the antitheses and
approaching individually these men who seemed to be the leaders,
he was repelled by the discrepancies and contradictions in the
There was, for example, Thornton Hancock, respected by half the
intellectual world as an authority on life, a man who had
verified and believed the code he lived by, an educator of
educators, an adviser to Presidentsyet Amory knew that this man
had, in his heart, leaned on the priest of another religion.
And Monsignor, upon whom a cardinal rested, had moments of
strange and horrible insecurityinexplicable in a religion that
explained even disbelief in terms of its own faith: if you
doubted the devil it was the devil that made you doubt him. Amory
had seen Monsignor go to the houses of stolid philistines, read
popular novels furiously, saturate himself in routine, to escape
from that horror.
And this priest, a little wiser, somewhat purer, had been, Amory
knew, not essentially older than he.
Amory was alonehe had escaped from a small enclosure into a great
labyrinth. He was where Goethe was when he began "Faust"; he was
where Conrad was when he wrote "Almayer's Folly."
Amory said to himself that there were essentially two sorts of
people who through natural clarity or disillusion left the
enclosure and sought the labyrinth. There were men like Wells and
Plato, who had, half unconsciously, a strange, hidden orthodoxy,
who would accept for themselves only what could be accepted for
all menincurable romanticists who never, for all their efforts,
could enter the labyrinth as stark souls; there were on the other
hand sword-like pioneering personalities, Samuel Butler, Renan,
Voltaire, who progressed much slower, yet eventually much
further, not in the direct pessimistic line of speculative
philosophy but concerned in the eternal attempt to attach a
positive value to life....
Amory stopped. He began for the first time in his life to have a
strong distrust of all generalities and epigrams. They were too
easy, too dangerous to the public mind. Yet all thought usually
reached the public after thirty years in some such form: Benson
and Chesterton had popularized Huysmans and Newman; Shaw had
sugar-coated Nietzsche and Ibsen and Schopenhauer. The man in the
street heard the conclusions of dead genius through some one
else's clever paradoxes and didactic epigrams.
Life was a damned muddle ... a football game with every one
off-side and the referee gotten rid ofevery one claiming the
referee would have been on his side....
Progress was a labyrinth ... people plunging blindly in and then
rushing wildly back, shouting that they had found it ... the
invisible kingthe ilan vitalthe principle of evolution ...
writing a book, starting a war, founding a school....
Amory, even had he not been a selfish man, would have started all
inquiries with himself. He was his own best examplesitting in the
rain, a human creature of sex and pride, foiled by chance and his
own temperament of the balm of love and children, preserved to
help in building up the living consciousness of the race.
In self-reproach and loneliness and disillusion he came to the
entrance of the labyrinth.
Another dawn flung itself across the river, a belated taxi
hurried along the street, its lamps still shining like burning
eyes in a face white from a night's carouse. A melancholy siren
sounded far down the river.
Amory kept thinking how Monsignor would have enjoyed his own
funeral. It was magnificently Catholic and liturgical. Bishop
O'Neill sang solemn high mass and the cardinal gave the final
absolutions. Thornton Hancock, Mrs. Lawrence, the British and
Italian ambassadors, the papal delegate, and a host of friends
and priests were thereyet the inexorable shears had cut through
all these threads that Monsignor had gathered into his hands. To
Amory it was a haunting grief to see him lying in his coffin,
with closed hands upon his purple vestments. His face had not
changed, and, as he never knew he was dying, it showed no pain or
fear. It was Amory's dear old friend, his and the others'for the
church was full of people with daft, staring faces, the most
exalted seeming the most stricken.
The cardinal, like an archangel in cope and mitre, sprinkled the
holy water; the organ broke into sound; the choir began to sing
the Requiem Eternam.
All these people grieved because they had to some extent depended
upon Monsignor. Their grief was more than sentiment for the
"crack in his voice or a certain break in his walk," as Wells put
it. These people had leaned on Monsignor's faith, his way of
finding cheer, of making religion a thing of lights and shadows,
making all light and shadow merely aspects of God. People felt
safe when he was near.
Of Amory's attempted sacrifice had been born merely the full
realization of his disillusion, but of Monsignor's funeral was
born the romantic elf who was to enter the labyrinth with him. He
found something that he wanted, had always wanted and always
would wantnot to be admired, as he had feared; not to be loved,
as he had made himself believe; but to be necessary to people, to
be indispensable; he remembered the sense of security he had
found in Burne.
Life opened up in one of its amazing bursts of radiance and Amory
suddenly and permanently rejected an old epigram that had been
playing listlessly in his mind: "Very few things matter and
nothing matters very much."
On the contrary, Amory felt an immense desire to give people a
sense of security.
THE BIG MAN WITH GOGGLES
On the day that Amory started on his walk to Princeton the sky
was a colorless vault, cool, high and barren of the threat of
rain. It was a gray day, that least fleshly of all weathers; a
day of dreams and far hopes and clear visions. It was a day
easily associated with those abstract truths and purities that
dissolve in the sunshine or fade out in mocking laughter by the
light of the moon. The trees and clouds were carved in classical
severity; the sounds of the countryside had harmonized to a
monotone, metallic as a trumpet, breathless as the Grecian urn.
The day had put Amory in such a contemplative mood that he caused
much annoyance to several motorists who were forced to slow up
considerably or else run him down. So engrossed in his thoughts
was he that he was scarcely surprised at that strange
phenomenoncordiality manifested within fifty miles of
Manhattanwhen a passing car slowed down beside him and a voice
hailed him. He looked up and saw a magnificent Locomobile in
which sat two middle-aged men, one of them small and anxious
looking, apparently an artificial growth on the other who was
large and begoggled and imposing.
"Do you want a lift?" asked the apparently artificial growth,
glancing from the corner of his eye at the imposing man as if for
some habitual, silent corroboration.
"You bet I do. Thanks."
The chauffeur swung open the door, and, climbing in, Amory
settled himself in the middle of the back seat. He took in his
companions curiously. The chief characteristic of the big man
seemed to be a great confidence in himself set off against a
tremendous boredom with everything around him. That part of his
face which protruded under the goggles was what is generally
termed "strong"; rolls of not undignified fat had collected near
his chin; somewhere above was a wide thin mouth and the rough
model for a Roman nose, and, below, his shoulders collapsed
without a struggle into the powerful bulk of his chest and belly.
He was excellently and quietly dressed. Amory noticed that he was
inclined to stare straight at the back of the chauffeur's head as
if speculating steadily but hopelessly some baffling hirsute
The smaller man was remarkable only for his complete submersion
in the personality of the other. He was of that lower secretarial
type who at forty have engraved upon their business cards:
"Assistant to the President," and without a sigh consecrate the
rest of their lives to second-hand mannerisms.
"Going far?" asked the smaller man in a pleasant disinterested
"Quite a stretch."
"Hiking for exercise?"
"No," responded Amory succinctly, "I'm walking because I can't
afford to ride."
"Are you looking for work? Because there's lots of work," he
continued rather testily. "All this talk of lack of work. The
West is especially short of labor." He expressed the West with a
sweeping, lateral gesture. Amory nodded politely.
"Have you a trade?"
NoAmory had no trade.
NoAmory was not a clerk.
"Whatever your line is," said the little man, seeming to agree
wisely with something Amory had said, "now is the time of
opportunity and business openings." He glanced again toward the
big man, as a lawyer grilling a witness glances involuntarily at
Amory decided that he must say something and for the life of him
could think of only one thing to say.
"Of course I want a great lot of money"
The little man laughed mirthlessly but conscientiously.
"That's what every one wants nowadays, but they don't want to
work for it."
"A very natural, healthy desire. Almost all normal people want to
be rich without great effortexcept the financiers in problem
plays, who want to 'crash their way through.' Don't you want easy
"Of course not," said the secretary indignantly.
"But," continued Amory disregarding him, "being very poor at
present I am contemplating socialism as possibly my forte."
Both men glanced at him curiously.
"These bomb throwers" The little man ceased as words lurched
ponderously from the big man's chest.
"If I thought you were a bomb thrower I'd run you over to the
Newark jail. That's what I think of Socialists."
"What are you," asked the big man, "one of these parlor
Bolsheviks, one of these idealists? I must say I fail to see the
difference. The idealists loaf around and write the stuff that
stirs up the poor immigrants."
"Well," said Amory, "if being an idealist is both safe and
lucrative, I might try it."
"What's your difficulty? Lost your job?"
"Not exactly, butwell, call it that."
"What was it?"
"Writing copy for an advertising agency."
"Lots of money in advertising."
Amory smiled discreetly.
"Oh, I'll admit there's money in it eventually. Talent doesn't
starve any more. Even art gets enough to eat these days. Artists
draw your magazine covers, write your advertisements, hash out
rag-time for your theatres. By the great commercializing of
printing you've found a harmless, polite occupation for every
genius who might have carved his own niche. But beware the artist
who's an intellectual also. The artist who doesn't fit the
Rousseau, the Tolstoi, the Samuel Butler, the Amory Blaine"
"Who's he?" demanded the little man suspiciously.
"Well," said Amory, "he's ahe's an intellectual personage not
very well known at present."
The little man laughed his conscientious laugh, and stopped
rather suddenly as Amory's burning eyes turned on him.
"What are you laughing at?"
"These intellectual people"
"Do you know what it means?"
The little man's eyes twitched nervously.
"Why, it usually means"
"It always means brainy and well-educated," interrupted Amory.
"It means having an active knowledge of the race's experience."
Amory decided to be very rude. He turned to the big man. "The
young man," he indicated the secretary with his thumb, and said
young man as one says bell-boy, with no implication of youth,
"has the usual muddled connotation of all popular words."
"You object to the fact that capital controls printing?" said the
big man, fixing him with his goggles.
"Yesand I object to doing their mental work for them. It seemed
to me that the root of all the business I saw around me consisted
in overworking and underpaying a bunch of dubs who submitted to
"Here now," said the big man, "you'll have to admit that the
laboring man is certainly highly paidfive and six hour daysit's
ridiculous. You can't buy an honest day's work from a man in the
"You've brought it on yourselves," insisted Amory. "You people
never make concessions until they're wrung out of you."
"Your class; the class I belonged to until recently; those who by
inheritance or industry or brains or dishonesty have become the
"Do you imagine that if that road-mender over there had the money
he'd be any more willing to give it up?"
"No, but what's that got to do with it?"
The older man considered.
"No, I'll admit it hasn't. It rather sounds as if it had though."
"In fact," continued Amory, "he'd be worse. The lower classes are
narrower, less pleasant and personally more selfishcertainly more
stupid. But all that has nothing to do with the question."
"Just exactly what is the question?"
Here Amory had to pause to consider exactly what the question
AMORY COINS A PHRASE
"When life gets hold of a brainy man of fair education," began
Amory slowly, "that is, when he marries he becomes, nine times
out of ten, a conservative as far as existing social conditions
are concerned. He may be unselfish, kind-hearted, even just in
his own way, but his first job is to provide and to hold fast.
His wife shoos him on, from ten thousand a year to twenty
thousand a year, on and on, in an enclosed treadmill that hasn't
any windows. He's done! Life's got him! He's no help! He's a
spiritually married man."
Amory paused and decided that it wasn't such a bad phrase.
"Some men," he continued, "escape the grip. Maybe their wives
have no social ambitions; maybe they've hit a sentence or two in
a 'dangerous book' that pleased them; maybe they started on the
treadmill as I did and were knocked off. Anyway, they're the
congressmen you can't bribe, the Presidents who aren't
politicians, the writers, speakers, scientists, statesmen who
aren't just popular grab-bags for a half-dozen women and
"He's the natural radical?"
"Yes," said Amory. "He may vary from the disillusioned critic
like old Thornton Hancock, all the way to Trotsky. Now this
spiritually unmarried man hasn't direct power, for unfortunately
the spiritually married man, as a by-product of his money chase,
has garnered in the great newspaper, the popular magazine, the
influential weeklyso that Mrs. Newspaper, Mrs. Magazine, Mrs.
Weekly can have a better limousine than those oil people across
the street or those cement people 'round the corner."
"It makes wealthy men the keepers of the world's intellectual
conscience and, of course, a man who has money under one set of
social institutions quite naturally can't risk his family's
happiness by letting the clamor for another appear in his
"But it appears," said the big man.
"Where?in the discredited mediums. Rotten cheap-papered
"All rightgo on."
"Well, my first point is that through a mixture of conditions of
which the family is the first, there are these two sorts of
brains. One sort takes human nature as it finds it, uses its
timidity, its weakness, and its strength for its own ends.
Opposed is the man who, being spiritually unmarried, continually
seeks for new systems that will control or counteract human
nature. His problem is harder. It is not life that's complicated,
it's the struggle to guide and control life. That is his
struggle. He is a part of progressthe spiritually married man is
The big man produced three big cigars, and proffered them on his
huge palm. The little man took one, Amory shook his head and
reached for a cigarette.
"Go on talking," said the big man. "I've been wanting to hear one
of you fellows."
"Modern life," began Amory again, "changes no longer century by
century, but year by year, ten times faster than it ever has
beforepopulations doubling, civilizations unified more closely
with other civilizations, economic interdependence, racial
questions, andwe're dawdling along. My idea is that we've got to
go very much faster." He slightly emphasized the last words and
the chauffeur unconsciously increased the speed of the car. Amory
and the big man laughed; the little man laughed, too, after a
"Every child," said Amory, "should have an equal start. If his
father can endow him with a good physique and his mother with
some common sense in his early education, that should be his
heritage. If the father can't give him a good physique, if the
mother has spent in chasing men the years in which she should
have been preparing herself to educate her children, so much the
worse for the child. He shouldn't be artificially bolstered up
with money, sent to these horrible tutoring schools, dragged
through college ... Every boy ought to have an equal start."
"All right," said the big man, his goggles indicating neither
approval nor objection.
"Next I'd have a fair trial of government ownership of all
"That's been proven a failure."
"Noit merely failed. If we had government ownership we'd have the
best analytical business minds in the government working for
something besides themselves. We'd have Mackays instead of
Burlesons; we'd have Morgans in the Treasury Department; we'd
have Hills running interstate commerce. We'd have the best
lawyers in the Senate."
"They wouldn't give their best efforts for nothing. McAdoo"
"No," said Amory, shaking his head. "Money isn't the only
stimulus that brings out the best that's in a man, even in
"You said a while ago that it was."
"It is, right now. But if it were made illegal to have more than
a certain amount the best men would all flock for the one other
reward which attracts humanityhonor."
The big man made a sound that was very like boo.
"That's the silliest thing you've said yet."
"No, it isn't silly. It's quite plausible. If you'd gone to
college you'd have been struck by the fact that the men there
would work twice as hard for any one of a hundred petty honors as
those other men did who were earning their way through."
"Kidschild's play!" scoffed his antagonist.
"Not by a darned sightunless we're all children. Did you ever see
a grown man when he's trying for a secret societyor a rising
family whose name is up at some club? They'll jump when they hear
the sound of the word. The idea that to make a man work you've
got to hold gold in front of his eyes is a growth, not an axiom.
We've done that for so long that we've forgotten there's any
other way. We've made a world where that's necessary. Let me tell
you"Amory became emphatic"if there were ten men insured against
either wealth or starvation, and offered a green ribbon for five
hours' work a day and a blue ribbon for ten hours' work a day,
nine out of ten of them would be trying for the blue ribbon. That
competitive instinct only wants a badge. If the size of their
house is the badge they'll sweat their heads off for that. If
it's only a blue ribbon, I damn near believe they'll work just as
hard. They have in other ages."
"I don't agree with you."
"I know it," said Amory nodding sadly. "It doesn't matter any
more though. I think these people are going to come and take what
they want pretty soon."
A fierce hiss came from the little man.
"Ah, but you've taught them their use."
The big man shook his head.
"In this country there are enough property owners not to permit
that sort of thing."
Amory wished he knew the statistics of property owners and
non-property owners; he decided to change the subject.
But the big man was aroused.
"When you talk of 'taking things away,' you're on dangerous
"How can they get it without taking it? For years people have
been stalled off with promises. Socialism may not be progress,
but the threat of the red flag is certainly the inspiring force
of all reform. You've got to be sensational to get attention."
"Russia is your example of a beneficent violence, I suppose?"
"Quite possibly," admitted Amory. "Of course, it's overflowing
just as the French Revolution did, but I've no doubt that it's
really a great experiment and well worth while."
"Don't you believe in moderation?"
"You won't listen to the moderates, and it's almost too late. The
truth is that the public has done one of those startling and
amazing things that they do about once in a hundred years.
They've seized an idea."
"What is it?"
"That however the brains and abilities of men may differ, their
stomachs are essentially the same."
THE LITTLE MAN GETS HIS
"If you took all the money in the world," said the little man
with much profundity, "and divided it up in equ"
"Oh, shut up!" said Amory briskly and, paying no attention to the
little man's enraged stare, he went on with his argument.
"The human stomach" he began; but the big man interrupted rather
"I'm letting you talk, you know," he said, "but please avoid
stomachs. I've been feeling mine all day. Anyway, I don't agree
with one-half you've said. Government ownership is the basis of
your whole argument, and it's invariably a beehive of corruption.
Men won't work for blue ribbons, that's all rot."
When he ceased the little man spoke up with a determined nod, as
if resolved this time to have his say out.
"There are certain things which are human nature," he asserted
with an owl-like look, "which always have been and always will
be, which can't be changed."
Amory looked from the small man to the big man helplessly.
"Listen to that! That's what makes me discouraged with progress.
Listen to that! I can name offhand over one hundred natural
phenomena that have been changed by the will of mana hundred
instincts in man that have been wiped out or are now held in
check by civilization. What this man here just said has been for
thousands of years the last refuge of the associated mutton-heads
of the world. It negates the efforts of every scientist,
statesman, moralist, reformer, doctor, and philosopher that ever
gave his life to humanity's service. It's a flat impeachment of
all that's worth while in human nature. Every person over
twenty-five years old who makes that statement in cold blood
ought to be deprived of the franchise."
The little man leaned back against the seat, his face purple with
rage. Amory continued, addressing his remarks to the big man.
"These quarter-educated, stale-minded men such as your friend
here, who think they think, every question that comes up, you'll
find his type in the usual ghastly muddle. One minute it's 'the
brutality and inhumanity of these Prussians'the next it's 'we
ought to exterminate the whole German people.' They always
believe that 'things are in a bad way now,' but they 'haven't any
faith in these idealists.' One minute they call Wilson 'just a
dreamer, not practical'a year later they rail at him for making
his dreams realities. They haven't clear logical ideas on one
single subject except a sturdy, stolid opposition to all change.
They don't think uneducated people should be highly paid, but
they won't see that if they don't pay the uneducated people their
children are going to be uneducated too, and we're going round
and round in a circle. Thatis the great middle class!"
The big man with a broad grin on his face leaned over and smiled
at the little man.
"You're catching it pretty heavy, Garvin; how do you feel?"
The little man made an attempt to smile and act as if the whole
matter were so ridiculous as to be beneath notice. But Amory was
"The theory that people are fit to govern themselves rests on
this man. If he can be educated to think clearly, concisely, and
logically, freed of his habit of taking refuge in platitudes and
prejudices and sentimentalisms, then I'm a militant Socialist. If
he can't, then I don't think it matters much what happens to man
or his systems, now or hereafter."
"I am both interested and amused," said the big man. "You are
"Which may only mean that I have neither been corrupted nor made
timid by contemporary experience. I possess the most valuable
experience, the experience of the race, for in spite of going to
college I've managed to pick up a good education."
"You talk glibly."
"It's not all rubbish," cried Amory passionately. "This is the
first time in my life I've argued Socialism. It's the only
panacea I know. I'm restless. My whole generation is restless.
I'm sick of a system where the richest man gets the most
beautiful girl if he wants her, where the artist without an
income has to sell his talents to a button manufacturer. Even if
I had no talents I'd not be content to work ten years, condemned
either to celibacy or a furtive indulgence, to give some man's
son an automobile."
"But, if you're not sure"
"That doesn't matter," exclaimed Amory. "My position couldn't be
worse. A social revolution might land me on top. Of course I'm
selfish. It seems to me I've been a fish out of water in too many
outworn systems. I was probably one of the two dozen men in my
class at college who got a decent education; still they'd let any
well-tutored flathead play football and I was ineligible, because
some silly old men thought we should all profit by conic
sections. I loathed the army. I loathed business. I'm in love
with change and I've killed my conscience"
"So you'll go along crying that we must go faster."
"That, at least, is true," Amory insisted. "Reform won't catch up
to the needs of civilization unless it's made to. A laissez-faire
policy is like spoiling a child by saying he'll turn out all
right in the end. He will if he's made to."
"But you don't believe all this Socialist patter you talk."
"I don't know. Until I talked to you I hadn't thought seriously
about it. I wasn't sure of half of what I said."
"You puzzle me," said the big man, "but you're all alike. They
say Bernard Shaw, in spite of his doctrines, is the most exacting
of all dramatists about his royalties. To the last farthing."
"Well," said Amory, "I simply state that I'm a product of a
versatile mind in a restless generationwith every reason to throw
my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart,
I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a
stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against
tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones.
I've thought I was right about life at various times, but faith
is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn't a seeking for the
grail it may be a damned amusing game."
For a minute neither spoke and then the big man asked:
"What was your university?"
The big man became suddenly interested; the expression of his
goggles altered slightly.
"I sent my son to Princeton."
"Perhaps you knew him. His name was Jesse Ferrenby. He was killed
last year in France."
"I knew him very well. In fact, he was one of my particular
"He wasaquite a fine boy. We were very close."
Amory began to perceive a resemblance between the father and the
dead son and he told himself that there had been all along a
sense of familiarity. Jesse Ferrenby, the man who in college had
borne off the crown that he had aspired to. It was all so far
away. What little boys they had been, working for blue ribbons
The car slowed up at the entrance to a great estate, ringed
around by a huge hedge and a tall iron fence.
"Won't you come in for lunch?"
Amory shook his head.
"Thank you, Mr. Ferrenby, but I've got to get on."
The big man held out his hand. Amory saw that the fact that he
had known Jesse more than outweighed any disfavor he had created
by his opinions. What ghosts were people with which to work! Even
the little man insisted on shaking hands.
"Good-by!" shouted Mr. Ferrenby, as the car turned the corner and
started up the drive. "Good luck to you and bad luck to your
"Same to you, sir," cried Amory, smiling and waving his hand.
"OUT OF THE FIRE, OUT OF THE LITTLE ROOM"
Eight hours from Princeton Amory sat down by the Jersey roadside
and looked at the frost-bitten country. Nature as a rather coarse
phenomenon composed largely of flowers that, when closely
inspected, appeared moth-eaten, and of ants that endlessly
traversed blades of grass, was always disillusioning; nature
represented by skies and waters and far horizons was more
likable. Frost and the promise of winter thrilled him now, made
him think of a wild battle between St. Regis and Groton, ages
ago, seven years agoand of an autumn day in France twelve months
before when he had lain in tall grass, his platoon flattened down
close around him, waiting to tap the shoulders of a Lewis gunner.
He saw the two pictures together with somewhat the same primitive
exaltationtwo games he had played, differing in quality of
acerbity, linked in a way that differed them from Rosalind or the
subject of labyrinths which were, after all, the business of
"I am selfish," he thought.
"This is not a quality that will change when I 'see human
suffering' or 'lose my parents' or 'help others.'
"This selfishness is not only part of me. It is the most living
"It is by somehow transcending rather than by avoiding that
selfishness that I can bring poise and balance into my life.
"There is no virtue of unselfishness that I cannot use. I can
make sacrifices, be charitable, give to a friend, endure for a
friend, lay down my life for a friendall because these things may
be the best possible expression of myself; yet I have not one
drop of the milk of human kindness."
The problem of evil had solidified for Amory into the problem of
sex. He was beginning to identify evil with the strong phallic
worship in Brooke and the early Wells. Inseparably linked with
evil was beautybeauty, still a constant rising tumult; soft in
Eleanor's voice, in an old song at night, rioting deliriously
through life like superimposed waterfalls, half rhythm, half
darkness. Amory knew that every time he had reached toward it
longingly it had leered out at him with the grotesque face of
evil. Beauty of great art, beauty of all joy, most of all the
beauty of women.
After all, it had too many associations with license and
indulgence. Weak things were often beautiful, weak things were
never good. And in this new loneness of his that had been
selected for what greatness he might achieve, beauty must be
relative or, itself a harmony, it would make only a discord.
In a sense this gradual renunciation of beauty was the second
step after his disillusion had been made complete. He felt that
he was leaving behind him his chance of being a certain type of
artist. It seemed so much more important to be a certain sort of
His mind turned a corner suddenly and he found himself thinking
of the Catholic Church. The idea was strong in him that there was
a certain intrinsic lack in those to whom orthodox religion was
necessary, and religion to Amory meant the Church of Rome. Quite
conceivably it was an empty ritual but it was seemingly the only
assimilative, traditionary bulwark against the decay of morals.
Until the great mobs could be educated into a moral sense some
one must cry: "Thou shalt not!" Yet any acceptance was, for the
present, impossible. He wanted time and the absence of ulterior
pressure. He wanted to keep the tree without ornaments, realize
fully the direction and momentum of this new start.
The afternoon waned from the purging good of three o'clock to the
golden beauty of four. Afterward he walked through the dull ache
of a setting sun when even the clouds seemed bleeding and at
twilight he came to a graveyard. There was a dusky, dreamy smell
of flowers and the ghost of a new moon in the sky and shadows
everywhere. On an impulse he considered trying to open the door
of a rusty iron vault built into the side of a hill; a vault
washed clean and covered with late-blooming, weepy watery-blue
flowers that might have grown from dead eyes, sticky to the touch
with a sickening odor.
Amory wanted to feel "William Dayfield, 1864."
He wondered that graves ever made people consider life in vain.
Somehow he could find nothing hopeless in having lived. All the
broken columns and clasped hands and doves and angels meant
romances. He fancied that in a hundred years he would like having
young people speculate as to whether his eyes were brown or blue,
and he hoped quite passionately that his grave would have about
it an air of many, many years ago. It seemed strange that out of
a row of Union soldiers two or three made him think of dead loves
and dead lovers, when they were exactly like the rest, even to
the yellowish moss.
Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were
visible, with here and there a late-burning lightand suddenly out
of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it
went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation,
the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed
romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead
statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old
cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and
nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil
to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than
the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown
up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man
Amory, sorry for them, was still not sorry for himselfart,
politics, religion, whatever his medium should be, he knew he was
safe now, free from all hysteriahe could accept what was
acceptable, roam, grow, rebel, sleep deep through many nights....
There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in
riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost
youthyet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his
soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of
old ambitions and unrealized dreams. Butoh, Rosalind!
"It's all a poor substitute at best," he said sadly.
And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he
had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from
the personalities he had passed....
He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky.
"I know myself," he cried, "but that is all."