farmers’ dress—more unnatural in their constrained attitudes and
gestures–most unnatural in their attempts at ease and geniality in
their talk. Go instead and take a seat in a third-class
railway-carriage, and you’ll get the same dialogue done to the life!
Front-seats–no orchestra to block the view–and nothing to pay!”
“Which reminds me,” said Eric. “There is nothing to pay on receiving a
telegram! Shall we enquire for one?” And he and Lady Muriel strolled
off in the direction of the Telegraph-Office.
“I wonder if Shakespeare had that thought in his mind,” I said,
“when he wrote ‘All the world’s a stage’?”
The old man sighed. “And so it is, “he said, “look at it as you will.
Life is indeed a drama; a drama with but few encores–and no bouquets!”
he added dreamily. “We spend one half of it in regretting the things
we did in the other half!”
“And the secret of enjoying it,” he continued, resuming his cheerful
tone, “is intensity!”
“But not in the modern aesthetic sense, I presume? Like the young lady,
in Punch, who begins a conversation with ‘Are you intense?'”
“By no means!” replied the Earl.
“What I mean is intensity of thought–a concentrated attention.
We lose half the pleasure we might have in Life, by not really attending.
Take any instance you like: it doesn’t matter how trivial the pleasure
may be–the principle is the same. Suppose A and B are reading the same
second-rate circulating-library novel. A never troubles himself to
master the relationships of the characters, on which perhaps all the
interest of the story depends: he ‘skips’ over all the descriptions of
scenery, and every passage that looks rather dull: he doesn’t half attend
to the passages he does read: he goes on reading merely from want of
resolution to find another occupation–for hours after he ought to have
put the book aside: and reaches the ‘FINIS’ in a state of utter
weariness and depression! B puts his whole soul into the thing–on the
principle that ‘whatever is worth doing is worth doing well’:
he masters the genealogies: he calls up pictures before his ‘mind’s eye’
as he reads about the scenery: best of all, he resolutely shuts the
book at the end of some chapter, while his interest is yet at its
keenest, and turns to other subjects; so that, when next he allows
himself an hour at it, it is like a hungry man sitting down to dinner:
and, when the book is finished, he returns to the work of his daily
life like ‘a giant refreshed’!”
“But suppose the book were really rubbish–nothing to repay attention?”
“Well, suppose it,” said the Earl. “My theory meets that case,
I assure you! A never finds out that it is rubbish, but maunders on to
the end, trying to believe he’s enjoying himself. B quietly shuts the
book, when he’s read a dozen pages, walks off to the Library, and
changes it for a better! I have yet another theory for adding to the
enjoyment of Life–that is, if I have not exhausted your patience?
I’m afraid you find me a very garrulous old man.”
“No indeed!” I exclaimed earnestly. And indeed I felt as if one could
not easily tire of the sweet sadness of that gentle voice.
“It is, that we should learn to take our pleasures quickly, and our
“But why? I should have put it the other way, myself.”
“By taking artificial pain–which can be as trivial as you
please–slowly, the result is that, when real pain comes, however
severe, all you need do is to let it go at its ordinary pace, and it’s
over in a moment!”
“Very true,” I said, “but how about the pleasure?”
“Why, by taking it quick, you can get so much more into life. It takes
you three hours and a half to hear and enjoy an opera. Suppose I can
take it in, and enjoy it, in half-an-hour. Why, I can enjoy seven
operas, while you are listening; to one!”
“Always supposing you have an orchestra capable of playing them,”
I said. “And that orchestra has yet to be found!”
The old man smiled. “I have heard an ‘air played,” he said, “and by no