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THE THIRD NIGHT
ALCIBIADES ON WOMEN IN ENGLAND

In the third night the gods and heroes assembled at Venice. Where the Canal Grande almost disappears in the sea, there on mystic gondolas the divine Assembly met in the town of Love and Passion, at the whilom centre of Power wedded to Beauty. It was a starlit night of incomparable charm. The Canal Grande, with its majestic silence; the dark yet clearly outlined Palaces surrounding the Canal like beautiful women forming a procession in honour of a triumphant hero; the grave spires of hundreds of churches standing like huge sentinels of the town of millions of secrets never revealed, and vainly searched for in her vast archives; and last not least the invisible Past hovering sensibly over every stone of the unique city; all this contributed ever new charms to the meeting of the gods and heroes at Venice.

Zeus, not unforgetful of the Eternal Feminine, asked Alcibiades to entertain the Assembly with his adventures amongst the women of England. Alcibiades thereupon rose and spake as follows: "O Zeus and the other gods and heroes, I am still too much under the fascination of the women with whom I have spent the last twelve months, to be in a position to tell you with becoming calmness what kind of beings they are. In my time I knew[Pg 66] the women of over a dozen Greek states, and many a woman of the Barbarians. Yet not one of them was remotely similar to the women of England. I will presently relate what I observed of the beauty of these northern women.

"But first of all, it seems to me, I had better dwell upon one particular type of womanhood which I have never met before except when once, eight hundred years ago, I travelled in company with Abelard through a few towns of Medi?val France. That type is what in England they call the middle-class woman. She is not always beautiful, and yet might be so frequently, were her features not spoilt by her soul. She is the most bigoted, the most prejudiced, and most intolerant piece of perverted humanity that can be imagined.

"The first time I met her I asked her how she felt that day. To this she replied, 'Sir-r-r!' with flashing eyes and sinking cheeks. When I then added: 'I hope, madame, you are well?'—she looked at me even more fiercely and uttered: 'Sir-r-r!' Being quite unaware of the reason of her indignation, I begged to assure her that it gave me great pleasure to meet her. Thereupon she got up from her seat and exclaimed in a most tragic manner: 'Si-r-r-r, you are no gentleman!!'

"Now, I have been shown out, in my time, from more than one lady's room; but there always was some acceptable reason for it. In this case I could not so much as surmise what crime I had committed. On asking one of my English friends, I learnt that I ought to have commenced the conversation with remarks on the weather. Unless conversation is commenced in that way it will never commend itself[Pg 67] to that class of women in England. It is undoubtedly for that reason, Zeus, that you have given England four different seasons indeed, but all in the course of one and the same day. But for this meteorological fact, conversation with middle-class people would have become impossible.

"The women of that class have an incessant itch for indignation; unless they feel shocked at least ten times a day, they cannot live. Accordingly, everything shocks them; they are afflicted with permanent shockingitis.

"Tell her that it is two o'clock P.M., and she will be shocked. Tell her you made a mistake, and that it was only half-past one o'clock, and she will be even more shocked. Tell her Adam was the first man, and she will scream with indignation; tell her she had only one mother, and she will send for the police. The experience of over two thousand years amongst all the nations in and out of Europe has not enabled me to find a topic, nor the manner of conversation agreeable or acceptable to an English middle-class woman.

"At first I thought that she was as puritanic in her virtue as she was rigid and forbidding in appearance. One of them was unusually pretty and I attempted to please her. My efforts were in vain, until I found out that she took me for a Greek from Soho Square, which in London is something like the poor quarters of our Pir?us. She had never heard of Athens or of ancient history, and she believed that Joan of Arc was the daughter of Noah.

"When I saw that, I dropped occasionally the remark that my uncle was Lord Pericles, and that the King of Sparta had reasons to hide from me[Pg 68] his wife. This did it at once. She changed completely. Everything I said was 'interesting.' When I said, 'Wet to-day,' she swore that it was a capital joke. She admired my very gloves. She never tired asking me questions about the 'swell set.' I told her all that I did not know. The least man of my acquaintance was a lord; my friends were all viscounts and marquesses; my dog was the son of a dog in the King's kennels; my motor was one in which three earls and their wives had broken eleven legs of theirs.

"These broken legs brought me very much nearer to my goal; and when finally I apprised her that I had hopelessly spoilt my digestion at the wedding meal of the Duke of D'Ontexist, she implored me not to trifle any longer with her feelings. I stopped trifling.

"This experience," Alcibiades continued, "did much to enlighten me about what was behind all that forbidding exterior of the middle-class woman. I discovered Eve in the Medi?val form of womanhood. I was reminded of the Spartan women who, at the first meeting, seemed so proud, unapproachable and Amazonian; at the second meeting they had lost some of their prohibitive temper; and at the third meeting they proved to be women, and nothing but women after all.

"Honestly, I preferred the English middle-class woman in her first stage. It suited the somewhat rigid style of her beauty much better. In the last or sentimental stage she was much less interesting. Her tenderness was flabby or childish. Then she cried after every rendez-vous. That annoyed me considerably. One evening I could not help ask[Pg 69]ing her whether she did not feel like sending five pounds of conscience-money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. She drew the line on that, and cried more profusely. Whereupon I proposed to send fifty pounds of conscience-money and to be released of any further tears. This seemed to pacify and to console her; and thus we parted.

"A few days after I had been relieved of my first lady friend in England," Alcibiades continued, "I made the acquaintance of a girl whose age I was unable to determine. She said she was twenty-nine years old. However, I soon found that all unmarried girls d'un certain age in England are exactly twenty-nine years old.

"She was not without certain attractions. She had read much, spoke fluently, had beautiful auburn hair and white arms. In her technical terms, which she used very frequently, she was not very felicitous. She repeatedly mixed up bigotry with bigamy, or with trigonometry. My presence did not seem to affect her very much, and after two or three calls I discovered that she was in a chronic state of rebellion against society and law at large.

"She held that women were in absolute serfdom to men, and that unless women were given the most valuable of rights, that is, the suffrage, neither women nor men could render the commonwealth what it ought to be. I told her that shortly after my disappearance from the political stage of Athens,[Pg 70] about twenty-three centuries ago, the women of that town, together with those of other towns, clamoured for the same object. 'What?' she exclaimed. 'Do you mean to say that suffragettes were already known in those olden times?' I assured her that all that she had told me about the aims and arguments of herself and her friends was as old as the comedies of Aristophanes. That seemed to have a strange effect upon her. I noticed that what she believed to be the novelty of the movement constituted really its greatest charm for her. She had thought that suffragettism was the very latest fashion, in every way brand new.

"But after a time she recovered and said: 'Very well; if our objects and aims are as old as all that, they are sure to be even more solidly founded in reason than I thought they were.'

"Reason, Right, Equity, and Fairness were her stock-in-trade. She was the daughter of Reason; the wife of Right; the mother of Equity; and the mother-in-law of Fairness. It was in vain that I told her that this world was not held together by Reason or Right alone, but also by Unreason and Wrongs. She scoffed at my remarks, and asked me to come to one of her speeches in Hyde Park on one of the next Sundays. I came. There was a huge crowd, counting by the hundreds of thousands. My lady friend stood on a waggon in the midst of about half-a-dozen other women, who all had preferred single blessedness to coupled bliss. They were, of course, each of them twenty-nine years old; and yet their accumulated ages brought one comfortably back to the times of Queen Elizabeth. When my friend's turn came, she addressed the crowd as follows:

[Pg 71]

"'Men and women. Excuse me, ladies, beginning my speech in that way. It is mere custom, the behests of which I obey. In my opinion there are no men in this country. There are only cowards and their wives. Who but a coward would refuse a woman the most elementary right of citizenship? Who but a wretch and a dastardly runaway would deny women a right which is given to the scum of men, provided they pay a ridiculous sum in yearly taxes? There are no men in this country.' (A voice from the people: 'None for you, m'um, evidently!')

"'I repeat it to you: there are no men. I will repeat it again. I can never repeat it too frequently. Or, do you call a person a man who is none? The first and chief characteristic of a true man is his love of justice. It is so completely and exclusively his, that we women do not in the least pretend to share in this his principal privilege.

"'But can the present so-called men be called just? Is it justice to deny justice to more than one half of the nation, to the women? Let us women have the suffrage, so that men, by thus doing justice, shall become true men worthy of their suffrage. For are not all their reasonings against our wishes void of any force?

"'They say that the suffrage of women, by dragging them too much into the political arena, would defeminise them. Pray look at us here assembled. Are we unwomanly? Do we look as if we had lost any of that down which hovers over the soul of domesticated women as does the nap on a peach?' (Stormy applause.) 'Thanks, many thanks. I knew you would not think so.

[Pg 72]

"'No, it is indeed absurd to assume that a waggon can change a woman into a dragon. Am I changed by entering a 'bus? Or by mounting a taxi? Why, then, should I be changed by standing on a waggon? I am no more changed by it, than the waggon is changed by me.' (A voice: 'Good old waggon!')

"'We want to have a share in legislation. There are a hundred subjects regarding which we are better informed than are men. Take food-adulteration—who knows more about it than we do? Take intemperance—who drinks more in secret than we do? Take the law of libel and slander—who libels and slanders more than we do? Who can possibly possess more experience about it?

"'Look at history. Repeatedly there have been periods when a number of queens and empresses proved to be more efficient than men. Politics, especially foreign policy, spells simply lies and dissimulation. Who can do that better than ourselves? People say that if we women get the suffrage, the House of Commons would soon be filled with mere women. Let us grant that, for argument's sake. Would the difference be really so great? Are there not women in trousers? And are there not more trousers than men?

"'Nowadays most men cry themselves hoarse over Peace, Arbitration, International Good Will, and similar nostrums. Could we women not do that too? I ask you men present, could we not do that as well? The men of this country think that they will bring about the millennium by preaching and spreading teetotalism, Christian Science, vegetarianism, or simple lifeism. How ridiculous and petty.

[Pg 73]

"'Look at the "isms" we propose to preach and spread: (1) Anti-corsetism; (2) Anti-skirtism; (3) Anti-bonnetism; (4) Anti-gloveism; (5) Anti-necktieism; (6) Anti-cigarettism; and finally (7) Anti-antiism.

"'On these seven hills of antis, or if you prefer it, on these seven ant-hills, which are in reality anti-ills, we shall build our New Rome, the rummiest Rome that ever was, and more eternal than the town of the C?sars and the Popes. Give us the suffrage! Do you not see how serious we are about it? We know very well that the various classes of men obtained the suffrage only by means of great fights in which, in some countries, untold thousands of men were killed. But can you seriously think of putting us women to similar straits?

"'Evidently, what men had to fight for in bitter earnest, ought to be given to women in jest as a mere gift. Do give us the suffrage! Do not be pedantic nor naughty. We mean it very seriously; therefore give it to us as a joke, by sheer politeness, and as a matter of good manners.

"'Come, my male friends, be good boys; let me brush your coat, fix the necktie in the proper shape and pour a little brilliantine on your moustaches. There! That's a nice little boy. And now open the safe of the nation and give us quick the right of rights, the might of mights, the very thing that you men have been fighting for ever since Magna Charta in 1215, give us the suffrage as an incidental free gift.

"'If you do so, we will pass a law that all barbers' shops shall be in the soft, pleasant hands of young she-barbers. Think of the downy satisfaction that this will give you! Think of the placid snoozes in[Pg 74] a barber's chair when your face is soaped, shaven and sponged by mellow hands! Is it not a dear little enjoyment? Now, look here my male friends, this and similar boons we shall shower upon you, provided you give us the suffrage.

"'Nay, we shall before everything else (provided we have the suffrage!) pass a law abolishing breach-of-promise cases.'

"(Endless hurrahs from all sides—Band—Fire-works—St Vitus' Dances, until the whole immense crowd breaks out in a song 'She is a jolly good maiden, etc.')

"'Thanks, you are very kind. Yes, we mean to abolish breach-of-promise cases. Consider what advantages that would imply for you. A man will be able to flirt round five different corners at a time, without risking anything. He will be able to practise letter-writing in all the colours of the rainbow, without in the least jeopardising his situation, purse or expectations. He will be in a position to amuse himself thoroughly, freely, everywhere, and at any time. What makes you men so stiff, so tongue-tied, so pokery, but the dread of a breach-of-promise case. Once that dread is removed by the abolition of such cases, you will be amiable, great orators, full of charming abandon, and too lovely for words. As a natural consequence, women will be more in love with you than ever before. Your conquests in Sexland will be countless. You will be like Alcibiades,—irresistible, universally victorious. Now, could we offer you anything more tempting?

"'I know, of course, that outwardly you affect to be no ladies' men. But pray, entre nous, are you not[Pg 75] in reality just the reverse? Man is polygamous. We women do not in the least care for men, and if all my female contemporaries should die out, leaving me alone in the world with 600,000,000 men, I should myself speedily die with boredom. What are men here for but as mere cards in our game of one woman against the other? If I cannot martyrise a little the heart of my female friend by alienating her man from her, what earthly use has her man for me?

"'But you men, you are quite different. You do wish that all the women, at any rate all the young and beautiful women, shall be at your order. This of course we cannot legislate for you. But we can do the next best thing: we can abolish the chief obstacle in your way: the breach-of-promise cases. This we promise to do, provided you give us the suffrage. You are, however, much mistaken if you think that that is all we have in store for you. Far from it.

"'If you give us the franchise, we pledge ourselves never to publish a novel or a drama.'

"(Applause like an earthquake—men embrace one another—elderly gentlemen cry with joy—a clergyman calls upon people to pray—in the skies a rainbow appears.)

"'Yes, although with a breaking heart, yet we will make this immense sacrifice on the altar of our patriotism: we will henceforth not publish any novels. I cannot say that we will not write any. This would be more than I or any other woman could promise. We must write novels. We are subject to a writing itch that is quite beyond our control. The less a woman has to say the more[Pg 76] she will write. She must write; she must write novels.

"'We write, we publish at present about five novels a day. If you give us the suffrage, we pledge ourselves not to publish a single novel.'

"(Universal cry: 'Give them the suffrage, for God's sake!')

"'And if you do not give us the suffrage, we shall publish ten novels a day.'

"(Fearful uproar—fierce cries for the police—twenty publishers present are mobbed—Miss Cora Morelli present is in imminent danger of life.)

"'Did I say, ten? What I meant to say is, that if you do not give us the franchise, we shall publish fifteen novels a day.'

"(Revolution—pistol shots—the fire-brigade comes.)

"'Twenty—thirty—forty novels a day.'

"(The Big Ben is howling—the Thames river floods Middlesex—the House of Commons suspends the Habeas Corpus Act.)

"'Or even ten novels every hour.'

"(The Albert Memorial leaves its place and takes refuge in the Imperial Institute—the crowd, in despair, falls on their knees and implores the speaker to have mercy on them—they promise the suffrage, at once, or somewhat before that.)

"'There! I told you, we do mean what we mean, and we have all sorts of means of making you mean what we mean. It is therefore understood that you will give us the franchise, and we shall stop publishing novels. But should you change your mind and go back on your present promises, then I must warn you that we have in store even more drastic means[Pg 77] of forcing your hands. You must not in the least believe that the pressure we can bring to bear upon you is exhausted with the devices just enumerated. There are other devices. But for evident reasons of modesty I prefer calling upon my motherly guide, Mrs Pancake, to tell you more about them.'

"With that my tender friend retired, and up got a middle-aged woman with hard features and much flabby flesh. She was received with mournful silence. She began in a strident voice, which she accentuated by angular gestures cutting segments out of the air. She said:

"'You have, ladies and gentlemen, heard some of the disadvantages that will inevitably be entailed upon you by not granting us what Justice, Equity and our Costume render a demand that none but barbarians can refuse. I am now going to give you just an inkling of what will befall you should you pertinaciously persist in your obdurate refusal of the franchise to women. We women have made up our minds to the exclusion of any imaginable hesitation, change, or vacillation. We shall be firm and unshakable.

"'We have done everything that could be done by way of persuading you. We have published innumerable pamphlets; we have trodden countless streets in countless processions; we have been wearing innumerable badges and carrying thousands of flags and standards; we have screamed, pushed, rowdied, boxed, scuffled, gnashed our teeth (even[Pg 78] such as were not originally made for that purpose), and suffered our skirts to be torn to shreds; we have petitioned, waylaid, interpellated, ambushed, bullied and memorialised all the ministers, all the editors, all the clergymen, all the press-men; we have suffered imprisonment, fines, scorn, ridicule; we have done, with the exception of actual fighting, everything that men have done for the conquest of the suffrage.

"'Should all these immense sacrifices not avail us any; should it all be in vain; then we the women of this country, and I doubt not those of the other countries too, will, as a last resort, take refuge in the oldest and most powerful ally of our sex. Eternal Time has two constituents: Day and Night. The Day is man's. The Night is ours.'

"(Deadly silence—men begin looking very serious.)

"'The Night, I repeat it in the sternest manner possible, the Night is ours. We grant, indeed, that sixteen hours are man's; but the remaining eight are ours. The stars and the moon; the darkness and the dream—they are all ours. Should you men persist in refusing us the franchise, you will wake in vain for the moon and the stars and the dream. You will see stars indeed, but other ones than you expect. We shall be inexorable. No moon any more for you; neither crescent, half nor full moon; neither stars nor milky-way; neither galaxy nor gallantry.'

"(A salvationist: 'Let us pray!'—A soldier: 'Hope, m'um, that Saturdays will be off-days?'—Solicitors, teetotallers, and three editors of Zola's collected works: 'Disgraceful! shocking!'—A scholar: 'Madame, that's a chestnut, Aristophanes[Pg 79] has long proposed that!'—General uproar—a band of nuns from Piccadilly hurrah the proposal and raise prices of tickets—Scotland Yard smiles—the Daily Nail kodaks everybody and interviews Mrs Pancake on the spot—Mrs Guard, the famous writer, at once founds a counter-League, with the motto 'Astronomy for the people—Stars and Stripes free—the United Gates of Love'—the Daily Crony has an attack of moral appendicitis.)

"I wish," continued Alcibiades, amidst the laughter of the immortals, "Aristophanes had been present. I assure you that all that he said in his comedies called Ecclesiazusae and Lysistrata pale beside the tumultuous scenes caused by the peroration of Mrs Pancake. Her threat was in such drastic contrast to the stars and moon she personally could exhibit to the desires of men, that the comic effect of it became at times almost unbearable.

"While the pandemonium was at its height a stentorian voice invited all present to another platform where another woman was holding forth on Free Love and Free Marriage. I forthwith repaired to the place, and heard what was in every way a most interesting speech delivered by a woman who consisted of a ton of bones and an ounce of flesh. She was between forty and seventy-nine. She talked in a tone of conviction which seemed to come from every corner of her personal masonry. Her gestures were, if I may say so, as strident as her voice, which came[Pg 80] out with a peculiar gust of pectoral wind, unimpeded, as it was, by the fence of too numerous teeth. She said:

"'Gentlemen, all that you have heard over there from the platforms of the suffragettes is, to put it mildly, the merest rubbish. We women do not want the suffrage. What we want is quite another thing. All our misery since the days of Eve comes from one silly, absurd, and criminal institution, and from that alone. Abolish that cesspool of depravity; that hotbed of social gangrene; that degradation of men and women; and we shall be all happy and contented for ever.

"'That institution; that cancerous hotbed; that degradation is: Marriage. As long as we shall endure this scandalous bondage and prostitution of the most sacred sentiments and desires of human beings, even so long will our social wretchedness last.

"'Abolish marriage.

"'It has neither sense, nor object, nor right; it is the most hapless aberration of humanity. How can you uphold such a monstrous thing?

"'Just consider: I do not know, and do not care to know what other nations are like; I only care for my great nation, for England, for Englishmen. Now, can anyone here present (or here absent, for the matter of that), seriously contend that an Englishman is by nature or education fit for marriage? Why, not one in ten thousand has the slightest aptitude for it.

"'An Englishman is an island, a solitary worm, morally a hermit, socially a bear, humanly a Cyclop. He hates company, including his own. The idea[Pg 81] that any person should intrude upon his hallowed circles for more than a few minutes is revolting to him. When he is ill he suffers most from the inquiries of friends about his condition. When he is successful he is too proud to stoop to talking with anyone under the rank of a lord. When he is unsuccessful, he takes it for granted that nobody desires to speak to him. He builds his house after his own character: rooms do not communicate. He chooses his friends among people that talk as little as possible and call on him once a year. Any remark about his person he resents most bitterly. Tell him, ever so mildly, that the colour of his necktie is cryingly out of harmony with the colour of his waistcoat, and he will hate you for three years.

"'And you mean to tell me, gentlemen, that such a creature is fit for marriage? That is, fit for a condition of things in which a person, other than himself, claims the right to be in the same room with him at any given hour of the day or the night; to pass remarks on his necktie, or his cuffs, or even on his tobacco; to talk, ay, to talk to him for an hour, to twit him, or chaff him—good heavens, one might just as well think of asking the Archbishop of Canterbury by telephone whether he would not come to the next bar round the corner for a glass of Bass.

"'And as to other still more personal claims of tenderness and intimacy on the part of the wife, such as embraces and kisses, one shudders to think how any woman may ever hope to attempt doing them without imminent risk to her life.

"'Fancy a wife trying to kiss her legal husband! He, prouder of his collar and cuffs than of his banking account, to stand calmly and willingly an assault[Pg 82] on the immaculate correctness of the said collar and cuffs!

"'It passes human comprehension. The mere idea thereof is unthinkable.

"'Perhaps in the first few weeks of married life. But after six months; after a year, or two—by what stretch of imagination shall one reach the possibility of such an event? After six months, he is indifferent to the entire astronomy of his wife; after a year or so, he hates her. It is not so much that he wants another woman, or another man's wife, or another wife's man; what he wants is to be left alone.

"'He has long since shaken off the State, the Church, the Army, and, politically, the Nobility. Nothing can be more evident than that he wants to shake off the last of the old shackles: Marriage. His motive is: shekels, but no shackles.

"'Some incomprehensibly modest people have proposed marriage to last ten years only. It appears, they contend, that the critical period of the modern marriage shows itself at the end of ten years. The scandals that are usually cropping up at the end of that period, they say, might very well be avoided by terminating marriage legally at the end of the tenth year. People proposing such stuff clearly manifest their utter inability to see through the true character of modern marriage.

"'If marriages were to last only ten years, then be sure that the said critical period with its inev............
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