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FOURTH NIGHT
ALCIBIADES—CONTINUED

Hestia now interrupted Alcibiades with the question whether all the women in nebulous Britannia were as grotesque as those that he had described.

Alcibiades smiled and said:

"Not all of them, but all at times. Women must necessarily adapt themselves to the nature of their men, as clerks do to that of their patrons, or soldiers to that of their generals and officers. The Englishman buys his liberty at the expense of much human capital; which cannot but make him eccentric and grotesque. The women attune themselves to him, although no foreigner has a clearer nor a more depreciative idea of Englishmen's angularity than have English women. As women they do not, as a rule, care for liberty at all, and hence consider the sacrifices made by men for liberty as superfluous and uncalled-for. A woman wants in all things the human note, which the average Englishman hates. Hence the surprising power of Continental men over English women. A hundred picked Greeks from Athens, Sicyon and Syracuse could bring half of all English women to book—for Cytherea. How could it be otherwise? The animated, passionate, direct talk of a Greek is something so novel to an English woman that she is as it were hypnotised by it. She[Pg 102] thinks it is she and her personality that has given her Continental admirer that verve of expression which she has never before experienced in the men of her circle. This alone is such flattery to her that she loses her head.

"If one resolutely goes on scraping off the man-made chalk from the manners and actions of English women, one is frequently rewarded with the pleasure of arriving at last at the woman behind the chalk. This is more especially the case in women of the higher classes. The only time in England I felt something of that painful bliss that mortals call love, was in the case of a lady friend of mine who, under mountains of London clay, hid away a passionate, loving woman. She was tall and luxuriously built. Her hands were of perfect shape and condignly continued by lovely arms, that attached themselves into majestic shoulders with the ease of a rivulet entering a lake by a graceful curve. Over her shoulders the minaret of her neck stood watch. In charming contrast to the legato cantabile of her body was the staccato of her mind. Her words pecked at things like birds. Sometimes there appeared amongst the latter an ugly vulture or two; but there were more colibris and magpies. I had met her for months before I surmised that there was something behind that London clay. But when the moment came and the bells began sobbing in her minaret, then I knew that here was a heart aglow with true passion and with the dawn of hope divine. Like all women that do truly love, she would not believe me that I sincerely felt what I said. Doubt is to women what danger is to men: it sharpens the delight of love. She never became really tender; ay, she was[Pg 103] amazed and moved to tears at my being so. Her heart was uneducated; it was gauche at the game of love.

"Amongst the persons dressed in female attire I also met a number of beings whom, but for my long stay at Sparta, I should hardly have recognised as women. A French friend of mine remarked of them: 'Ce ne sont pas des femmes, ce sont des Américaines.' The species is very much in evidence in London. They reminded me violently of the Spartan women. They are handsome, if more striking than beautiful. I noticed that in contrast to European women, American females gain in years what they lose in dress at night. They look older when undressed. They have excellent teeth, and execrable hands; they jump well, but walk badly. Their great speciality is their voice, which is strident, top-nasal, falsetto, disheartening. The most beautiful amongst them is murdered by her voice. It is as if out of the most perfect mouth, set in the most charming face, an ugly rat would jump at one. That voice, the English say, comes from the climate of America. (This I do not believe at all; for I have noticed that in England everything is ascribed to the climate, as to the thing most talked about by the people. Climate and weather are the most popular subjects in England; the one that is never out of fashion.) As a matter of fact it comes from the total lack of emotionality in the Americans;[Pg 104] just as amongst musical instruments the more emotional ones, like the 'cello, have more pectoral tonality, whereas the fife, for instance, having no deep emotions at all to express, is high and thin toned.

"Nothing seemed to me more interesting than the way in which the American female reminded me of the Spartans and the Amazons. Could anything be more striking than the coincidence between two conversations, one of which I had, far over two thousand years ago, with the Queen of an Amazonian tribe in Thracia, and the other with the wife of an American flour dealer settled in London? When I called on Thamyris in her tent, one of her first questions was as to the latest dramatic piece by Sophocles. I at once saw that the Queen wanted to impress her entourage with her great literary abilities. I gave her some news about Sophocles, whereupon she turned round to her one-breasted she-warriors and said with a superior smile:

"'You must know that Sophocles is the latest star in Athenian comedy.'

"She mixed you up, O Sophocles, with Aristophanes. With the American flour dealer's wife my experience was as follows: He had made my acquaintance in a bar-room, and invited me to his house. On the way there he said to me:

"'My missus is quite a linguist. She talks French like two natives. Do talk to her French.'

"When we arrived at the house and entered the drawing-room, a rather handsome woman rose from an arm-chair, and stepping up to me said something that sounded like 'Monsieur, je suis ravie de faire votre connaissance'; I thanked her, also in[Pg 105] French, when suddenly she bowed over me and whispered in American fifes:

"'Don't continue, that's all I know.'

"When I left, the husband accompanied me to the door. Before I took leave, he twinkled with his right eye, and asked me with a knowing look, 'Well, sir, what do you think of the linguistic range of my madame?'

"I did not quite know what to reply. At last I said: 'Like a true soldier she fights on the borderland.'

"One of the strangest things to note in London society is the fascination exercised by American women on Englishmen. Many of the really intelligent men among the English are practically lost as soon as the American woman begins playing with the little lasso of thin ropes which she carries about her in the shape of an acquired brightness and a studied vivacity. The most glaring defects of those women do not seem to exist for the average Englishman. He takes her loud brightness for French esprit dished up to him in intelligible English. Her total lack of self-restraint and modesty he takes for a charming abandon. The real fact is that he is afraid of her. She may have many a bump: she certainly has not that of reverence. Her irreverent mind makes light of the grandezza of Englishmen, and thus cows him by his fear of making himself ridiculous.

"The first American woman (—sit venia verbo, as you would say, O Cicero—) I met in London was one married to an English lord. She was tall, well-built, with rich arms and hips, an expressive head, very fond of the arts, more especially of[Pg 106] music. Even her head, which was a trifle square, indicated that. When she learnt that I really was the famous Alcibiades, her excitement knew no bounds. She was good enough to explain it to me:

"'Just fancy that! Alcibiades! (They pronounce my name Elkibidees.) I am simply charmed! I have so far every year introduced some new and striking personage into drawing-rooms, in order to stun the natives of this obsolete island. I have brought into fashion one-legged dancers; three-legged calves; single-minded thought-readers; illusionists; disillusionists; disemotionists; dancers classical, medi?val, and hyper-modern; French lectures on the isle of Lesbos, after a series of discourses on the calves of the legs of Greek goddesses in marble; not to forget my unique course of lectures given at the drawing-room of the dearest of all duchesses, on the history of décolletage.

"'This year, to be quite frank with you, Mr Elkibidees, I meant to arrange in the magnificent drawing-room of an Oriental English lady, the uniquest and at the same time the boldest exhibition ever offered to the dear nerves of any class of women. I cannot quite tell you what it was going to be. I can only faintly indicate that it was to be a collection of all the oldest as well as latest inventions securing the tranquillity of enjoying just one child in the family. This, I have no doubt, would have been the greatest sensation of the season.

"'The city of Manchester and the town of Leeds would have publicly protested against so "immoral" an exhibition. Of course their councillors would[Pg 107] have done so after careful study of the things exhibited. Three bishops would have threatened to preach publicly in Hyde Park; while five archdeacons would have volunteered to be the honorary secretaries of so interesting an exhibition.

"'I communicated the idea to Father Bowan, a virulent Jesuit, who in the creepiest of capucinades, delivered on most Sundays during the season, gives us the most delightful shivers of repentance, and likewise many an inkling of charming vice of which we did not know anything before we learned it from his pure lips. He was delighted. "Do, my lady, do do it. I am just a little short of horrors, and your exhibition will give me excellent material for at least four Sundays. I hope you have not forgotten to illustrate by wax figures certain methods, far more efficient than any instrument can be, and most completely enumerated and described in the works of members of our holy Order, such as Suarez, Sanchez, Escobar, and others. Should you not have these works, I will send you an accurate abridgment of their principal statements of facts."

"'When I heard the Rev. Father talk like that, I could scarcely control myself with enthusiasm in anticipating the huge sensation my exhibition was sure to make. It would have been the best fed, the best clad, and the most enlightened sensation ever made in England since the battle of Hastings. I really thought that nothing greater could be imagined.

"'And yet, when I now come to think what a draw you will be, Mr Elki, if properly taken in hand, duly advertised, adroitly paragraphed, con[Pg 108]stantly interviewed, and occasionally leadered,—when I think of all that, I cannot but think that I shall have in you the greatest catch that has ever been in any country under any sun. In fact, I have my plan quite ready.

"'I will announce a big reception, "to meet" you. Some ladies will, by request, arrive in Greek dress. The public orator of one of the great Universities will address you in Greek, and you will reply in the same language. Then three of the prettiest daughters of earls and marquesses will dance the dance of the Graces, after which there will be a dramatic piece made by Hall Caine and Shaw, each of them writing alternate pages, the subject of which will be the Thirty Years' War, in which you excelled so much.'

"I interrupted her," said Alcibiades, "remarking that the Thirty Years' War was two thousand years after my time; my war was the Peloponnesian War.

"'Very well,' she exclaimed, 'the Peloponnesian War. I do not care which. Hall Caine will praise everything in connection with war, in his best Daily Nail style. He is, you know, our leading light. He always wants to indulge in great thoughts, and would do so too, but for the awkward fact that he cannot find any.

"'Shaw, on the other hand, will cry down in choicest Gaelic all the glories of war. It will be the biggest fun out.

"'And then, entre nous, could you not bring with you a Lais, a Phryne or two, in their original costumes as they allured all you naughty Greeks in times bygone? It would be charmingly revolting.[Pg 109] When I dimly represent to myself how the young eagles of society will tremble with pleasure at the thought of adding to their lists of conquests, in pink and white, a Corinthian or Athenian demi-mondaine of two thousand years ago, I feel that I am a Personality.

"'If I could offer such an unheard-of opportunity I should get first leaders in the Manchester Guardian and mild rebukes, full of secret zest, in the godly Guardian; let alone other noble papers read by the goody-goody ones. The Record would send me a testimonial signed by the leading higher critics. I should be the heroine of the day and of the night.'"

The gods and heroes encouraged Alcibiades by their gay laughter to tell them all that happened at the "At Home" of his American lady friend, and he continued as follows:

"When the evening of the Greek soirée came, I went to the drawing-room in company with Phryne and Lais, who were most charmingly dressed as flute-girls. When we entered the large room we saw a vast assembly of women and men, mostly dressed in the preposterous fashion of the little ones. The women looked like zoological specimens, some resembling Brazilian butterflies, others reptiles, others again snakes or birds of prey. The upper part of their bodies was uncovered, no matter whether the rest of the body had gone through countless campaigns enlivened by numerous capitulations, or whether it had just expanded into the buds of rosy spring. The men looked like the clowns in our farces. They wore a costume that no Greek slave would have donned. It was all black and all of the same cut. Instead of looking enterprising, they all looked like[Pg 110] undertakers. Each of them made a nervous attempt to appear as inoffensive, and as self-effacing as possible; just like undertakers entering the house where a person had died.

"When we entered the room the whole assembly rose and cried: 'Cairo—Cairo!' (they were told to cry Chaire—but in vain). I could distinctly hear remarks such as these: 'How weird!'—'Is it not uncanny?'—'It makes me feel creepy!' After a few minutes there was a deep silence, and an elderly gentleman came up through the middle of the room and, bowing first to us and then to the people assembled, stepped up to the platform and began a speech in a strange language, which I vaguely remembered having heard before.

"Phryne suddenly began to giggle, and so irresistible was her laughter that both Lais and I could not but join her, especially when in words broken by continuous laughter she told us:

"'The old gent pretends to speak Athenian Greek!'

"It was indeed too absurd for words. There was especially that vulgar sound i constantly recurring where we never dreamt of using such a sound; and our beautiful ypsilon (γ) he pronounced like the English u, which is like serving champagne in soup-plates. When he stumbled over an ou, he pronounced it with a sound to which dentists are better accustomed than any Athenian ever was, and our deep and manly ch (χ) he castrated down to a lisping k. I remember Carians in Asia Minor who talked like that. Our noble and incomparable language, orchestral, picturesque, sculptural, became like the Palace of Minos which they are excavating at[Pg 111] present: in its magnificent halls, eaten by weather and worm, one sees only poor labourers and here and there a directing mind.

"I imagined that the good man meant by his speech to welcome me back into the world, and so when my turn to answer him came, I got up and, leaning partly on Phryne and partly on Lais, who stood near me, I replied as follows, after speaking for a little while in Attic, in the language of the country:

"'It is indeed with no ordinary satisfaction that I beg to thank you, O Sophist, and you here present for the pleasant reception that you have given us. My lot has on the whole not been altogether bad. Your studious men, it is true, affect to condemn me, my policy, and my private life. Perhaps they will allow me to remark that the irregularity of my past morals is a matter of temptations. Diogenes used to tell us that one of my sternest historian-critics in Syracuse left his wife, children and house on being for once tempted by the chamber-maid of one of my passing caprices; and the historians of your race who so gravely decry a Madame de Montespan would, did Madame only smile at them, incontinently fall into a fit of hopeless moral collapse.

"'But if your men write against me, irrespective of what they really feel about me, I am sure your women take a much more lenient view of the case.'

"(Discreet applause.)

"'They feel that ambition did not eat up all the forces of my soul, and that in worshipping Ares (Mars), I never forgot the cult of Aphrodite (Venus) either. We Hellenes ventured to be humans, and that is why now we have become demi-gods. You,[Pg 112] my friends, do not even venture to be humans, and that is why you remain the little ones.

"'I notice in the northern countries of Europe men do not, or to a very small degree care for women. Perhaps that is the reason why the Roman Catholic idea of the Holy Virgin has had no lasting hold on these nations.

"'I have seen,' continued Alcibiades, 'too many faces, masks, and pretences to be much impressed by the apparent indifference of the northerner to the charms of women. It never meant more than either an unavowed inclination towards his own sex, or sheer boorishness. Even we Hellenes had very much to suffer from our political and social neglect of women outside emancipated ones. The Romans acted much more wisely in that respect; while the nation of our hostess has practically become what we called a gyn?cocracy or women's rule, where man is socially what our Greek women used to be: relegated to the background. I hear, this is the privilege of Englishmen. I understand. When I was young I learnt but too much about that privilege.

"'But if I should be asked for advice I would tell your men to take your women much more seriously. I know that Englishmen are much more grave than serious; yet with regard to women they ought to be much more intent on considering them in everything their mates, and in several things their superiors. Of course, this is an unmilitary nation; and such nations will always remain boors in Sunday dress.

"'One of your great writers who, being outside the academic clique, has always been maligned by the officials, has written a beautiful essay on the[Pg 113] influence of women. Poor Buckle—he treated the problem as a schoolroom paper. He came to the result that women encourage the deductive mode of thinking. However, women are more seductive than deductive, and their real influence is to charm the young, to warm the mature, and not to alarm the old.

"'I, being now above the changes of time, I only, contemplate their charm. And what greater potentialities of charm could one wish for than those that your women possess? If those magnificently cut and superbly coloured eyes learned to be expressive; if the muscles of those fine cheeks knew how to move with speedier grace; if that purely outlined mouth were more animated—what possibilities of fascination, like so many fairies, might rise over the dispassionate surface of those silent lakes! As they are, their several organs are positively hostile, or coldly indifferent to one another. The forehead, instead of being the ever-changing capital of the human column, setting off their beautiful hair, as ivory sets off gold; the shoulders, the seat of human grace, instead of giving to the head the pedestal of the Charites; and the arms and hands, instead of giving by their movements the proper lilt and cadence to everything said or done;—all these hate one another respectively. The arms do not converse with the face; theirs is like other conversations: after a few remarks on the weather all communication stops. So sullen is the antipathy of the arms, that as a rule they hide on the back, as if begrudging the face or the bust their company. It is in that way that English women who might be as beautiful and charming as the maidens of Thebes or of[Pg 114] Tanagra, have made themselves into walking Caryatides, whom we invariably represented as doing a slavish labour, with their arms on their backs, and with a heavy load on their heads.

"'Remove the arms, O women of England, from your badly swung back and bring them into play in front of your well-shaped bust and your beautiful faces! Let the consciousness of your power electrify your looks, your dimples, and your gait; and when from musing Graces you will have changed into graceful Muses, your men too will be much superior to what they used to be.

"'See how little your influence is, as your language clearly indicates. Is not your language the only idiom in Europe that has completely dropped that fine shade of sweet intimacy which the use of thou and thy is giving to the other languages? Is not a new world of tenderest internal joy permeating the French, German or Italian woman who for the first time dares to tutoyer her lover? You women of England, the natural priestesses of all warmth and intimacy, you have suffered all that to decay.

"'To your men we Hellenes say: "Imitate us!" To you women, we do not say so. We ask you to exceed us, to go beyond us, and then alone when women will be what we Hellenic men were, that is, specimens of all-round humanity, then indeed you too will rise to the higher status, and the golden age will again fill the world with light and happiness!'

"After that speech of mine," continued Alcibiades, "there was much applause. I mingled with the public, and was at once interpellated by one of the American ladies present:

"'Most interesting speech,' she said. 'What I[Pg 115] especially liked were your remarks about thou-ing. And what I want to know most is whether Caryatides were thou-ing one another?'

"I was a little perplexed, and all that I could answer was: 'Their dimples did,' and this seemed to satisfy my American lady marvellously well.

"Another lady asked me how many Muses we had, and on hearing that their number was nine, she was highly astonished. 'Only nine? Why in London there are mews in every second street. How strange!'

"A third lady asked me what I meant by shoulders being a pedestal. Her shoulders, she was sure, were no pedestals, and she would not allow anyone to stand on them. She added, that she was aware of my having said that the shoulders were the pedestal of the Charites, but with her best intention she could not allow even charity to be extended to her shoulders. I smiled consent.

"A fourth lady, whose name was Valley, but who was a mountain of otherwise rosy flesh, asked me what I had meant by maidens of Podagra? She was sure that young maids never suffered from that ugly disease. I told her that I really meant Chiragra. This satisfied her marvellously well.

"During that time Phryne and Lais were the heroines of the evening, lionised by women, and courted by men. The women asked them all sorts of questions and seemed extraordinarily eager to be instructed. One of them, a brilliant duchess—(who had three secretaries providing her with the latest information about everything, the first preparing all the catch-words from A to G, the second from H to N, and the third from O to Z)—asked Phryne[Pg 116] whether she would not permit her to convince herself of the accuracy of the estimate in which Hyperides held the exquisite form of Phryne's bosom. (A middle-class woman thereupon asked Mr Gox, M.P., what Hyperides meant. Mr Gox told her it was the Greek for Rufus, son of Abraham.) Phryne volunteered to do so at once, and the women disappeared in a special room, from where very soon cries of amazement could be heard. The pure beauty of Phryne enchanted the women. The sensation was immense, ay immensest.

"The representative of the Daily Nail offered first £2000, then £3000, finally £5000 for permission to kodak Phryne.

"The Bad Times at once prepared a folio edition of The Engravers' Engravings, payable in 263 instalments, or preferably at once.

"The Daily Marconigraph started a public discussion in its columns: 'Shall the lower part of the upper anatomy of the female trunk be unveiled?'

"The excitement became so universal that Mr Gigerl See at once convened a national meeting for the erection of ten new statues to Shakespeare; and General Booth ordered an absolute fast of 105 hours' duration.

"All the directors of music halls, the next day, stormed Hotel Ritz where Phryne had a suite of six lovely rooms, and offered impossible prices for a performance of five minutes. Phryne, after consulting me, consented to appear at the Palace Theatre, in the immortal scene when, in presence of the entire population of Athens, she descended into the sea. Half of the proceeds were to be given to a fund for poor women in childbed. Endless advertisements[Pg 117] soon filled every available space on London's walls, parks, newspapers, 'buses, railways, and shops. Tickets sold at tenfold their original prices.

"At last the evening came. In the first two rows there were practically nothing but clergymen. The following rows were filled with lawyers, M.P.'s and University professors. In the boxes one could see all the aristocracy of the country. When Phryne's turn came, the orchestra played Wagner's 'Pilgrim's Chorus,' toward the end of which the curtain rolled up, and the scene represented the Pir?us with apparently countless people, all in Greek dress. When the expectation was at its height, Phryne appeared clad only with the veil of her perfect beauty, and descended into the sea. Before she entered the water she said her prayers to Aphrodite, and then slowly went into the waves.

"Everyone in the audience had come to the theatre expecting to be badly shoc............
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