LETTER TO THE AUTHOR FROM MR. SIDNEY TREFUSIS.
My Dear Sir: I find that my friends are not quite satisfied with the account you have given of them in your clever novel entitled " An Unsocial Socialist." You already understand that I consider it my duty to communicate my whole history, without reserve, to whoever may desire to be guided or warned by my experience, and that I have no sympathy whatever with the spirit in which one of the ladies concerned recently told you that her affairs were no business of yours or of the people who read your books. When you asked my permission some years ago to make use of my story, I at once said that you would be perfectly justified in giving it the fullest publicity whether I consented or not, provided only that you were careful not to falsify it for the sake of artistic effect. Now, whilst cheerfully admitting that you have done your best to fulfil that condition, I cannot help feeling that, in presenting the facts in the guise of fiction, you have, in spite of yourself, shown them in a false light. Actions described in novels are judged by a romantic system of morals as fictitious as the actions themselves. The traditional parts of this system are, as Cervantes tried to show, for the chief part, barbarous and obsolete; the modern additions are largely due to the novel readers and writers of our own century--most of them half-educated women,rebelliously slavish, superstitious, sentimental, full of the intense egotism fostered by their struggle for personal liberty, and, outside their families, with absolutely no social sentiment except love. Meanwhile, man, having fought and won his fight for this personal liberty, only to find himself a more abject slave than before, is turning with loathing from his egotist's dream of independence to the collective interests of society, with the welfare of which he now perceives his own happiness to be inextricably bound up. But man in this phase (would that all had reached it!) has not yet leisure to write or read novels. In noveldom woman still sets the moral standard, and to her the males, who are in full revolt against the acceptance of the infatuation of a pair of lovers as the highest manifestation of the social instinct, and against the restriction of the affections within the narrow circle of blood relationship, and of the political sympathies within frontiers, are to her what she calls heartless brutes. That is exactly what I have been called by readers of your novel; and that, indeed, is exactly what I am, judged by the fictitious and feminine standard of morality. Hence some critics have been able plausibly to pretend to take the book as a satire on Socialism. It may, for what I know, have been so intended by you. Whether or no, I am sorry you made a novel of my story, for the effect has been almost as if you had misrepresented me from beginning to end.
At the same time, I acknowledge that you have stated the facts, on the whole, with scrupulous fairness. You have, indeed, flattered me very strongly by representing me as constantly thinking of and for other people, whereas the rest think of themselves alone, but on the other hand you have contradictorily called me "unsocial," which is certainly the last adjective I should have expected to find in the neighborhood of my name. I deny, it is true, that what is now called "society " is society in any real sense, and my best wish for it is that it may dissolve too rapidly to make it worth the while of those who are " not in society "to facilitate its dissolution by violently pounding it into small pieces. But no reader of "An Unsocial Socialist " needs to be told how, by the exercise of a certain considerate tact (which on the outside, perhaps, seems the opposite of tact), I have contrived to maintain genial terms with men and women of all classes, even those whose opinions and political conduct seemed to me most dangerous.
However, I do not here propose to go fully into my own position, lest I should seem tedious, and be accused, not for the first time, of a propensity to lecture --a reproach which comes naturally enough from persons whose conceptions are never too wide to be expressed within the limits of a sixpenny telegram. I shall confine myself to correcting a few misapprehensions which have, I am told, arisen among readers who from inveterate habit cannot bring the persons and events of a novel into any relation with the actual conditions of life.
In the first place, then, I desire to say that Mrs. Erskine is not dead of a broken heart. Erskine and I and our wives are very much in and out at one another's houses; and I am therefore in a position to declare that Mrs. Erskine, having escaped by her marriage from the vile caste in which she was relatively poor and artificially unhappy and ill-conditioned, is now, as the pretty wife of an art-critic, relatively rich, as well as pleasant, active, and in sound health. Her chief trouble, as far as I can judge, is the impossibility of shaking off her distinguished relatives, who furtively quit their abject splendor to drop in upon her for dinner and a little genuine human society much oftener than is convenient to poor Erskine. She has taken a patronizing fancy to her father, the Admiral, who accepts her condescension gratefully as age brings more and more home to him the futility of his social position. She has also, as might have been expected, become an extreme advocate of socialism; and indeed, being in a great hurry for the new order of things, looks on me as a lukewarm disciple because I do not propose to interfere with the slowly grinding mill of Evolution, and effect the change by one tremendous stroke from the united and awakened people (for such she--vainly, alas!--believes the proletariat already to be. As to my own marriage, some have asked sarcastically whether I ran away again or not; others, whether it has been a success. These are foolish questions. My marriage has turned out much as I expected it would. I find that my wife's views on the subject vary with the circumstances under which they are expressed.
I have now to make one or two comments on the impressions conveyed by the style of your narrative. Sufficient prominence has not, in my opinion, been given to the extraordinary destiny of my father, the true hero of a nineteenth century romance. I, who have seen society reluctantly accepting works of genius for nothing from men of extraordinary gifts, and at the same time helplessly paying my father millions, and submitting to monstrous mortgages of its future production, for a few directions as to the most business-like way of manufacturing and selling cotton, cannot but wonder, as I prepare my income-tax returns, whether society was mad to sacrifice thus to him and to me. He was the man with power to buy, to build, to choose, to endow, to sit on committees and adjudicate upon designs, to make his own terms for placing anything on a sound business footing. He was hated, envied, sneered at for his low origin, reproached for his ignorance, yet nothing would pay unless he liked or pretended to like it. I look round at our buildings, our statues, our pictures, our newspapers, our domestic interiors, our books, our vehicles, our morals, our manners, our statutes, and our religion, and I see his hand everywhere, for they were all made or modified to please him. Those which did not please him failed commercially: he would not buy them, or sell them, or countenance them; and except through him, as "master of the industrial situation," nothing could be bought, or sold, or countenanced. The landlord could do nothing with his acres except let them to him; the capitalist's hoard rotted and dwindled until it was lent to him; the worker's muscles and brain were impotent until sold to him. What king's son would not exchange with me--the son of the Great Employer--the Merchant Prince? No wonder they proposed to imprison me for treason when, by applying my inherited business talent, I put forward a plan for securing his full services to society for a few hundred a year. But pending the adoption of my plan, do not describe him contemptuously as a vulgar tradesman. Industrial kingship, the only real kingship of our century, was his by divine right of his turn for business; and I, his son, bid you respect the crown whose revenues I inherit. If you don't, my friend, your book won't pay.
I hear, with some surprise, that the kindness of my conduct to Henrietta (my first wife, you recollect) has been called in question; why, I do not exactly know. Undoubtedly I should not have married her, but it is waste of time to criticise the judgment of a young man in love. Since I do not approve of the usual plan of neglecting and avoiding a spouse without ceasing to keep up appearances, I cannot for the life of me see what else I could have done than vanish when I found out my mistake. It is but a short-sighted policy to wait for the mending of matters that are bound to get worse. The notion that her death was my fault is sheer unreason on the face of it; and I need no exculpation on that score; but I must disclaim the credit of having borne her death like a philosopher. I ought to have done so, but the truth is that I was greatly affected at the moment, and the proof of it is that I and Jansenius (the only other person who cared) behaved in a most unbecoming fashion, as men invariably do when they are really upset. Perfect propriety at a death is seldom achieved except by the undertaker, who has the advantage of being free from emotion.
Your rigmarole (if you will excuse the word) about the tombstone gives quite a wrong idea of my attitude on that occasion. I stayed away from the funeral for reasons which are, I should think, sufficiently obvious and natural, but which you somehow seem to have missed. Granted that my fancy for Hetty was only a cloud of illusions, still I could not, within a few days of her sudden death, go in cold blood to take part in a grotesque and heathenish mummery over her coffin. I should have broken out and strangled somebody. But on every other point I--weakly enough--sacrificed my own feelings to those of Jansenius. I let him have his funeral, though I object to funerals and to the practice of sepulture. I consented to a monument, although there is, to me, no more bitterly ridiculous outcome of human vanity than the blocks raised to tell posterity that John Smith, or Jane Jackson, late of this parish, was born, lived, and died worth enough money to pay a mason to distinguish their bones from those of the unrecorded millions. To gratify Jansenius I waived this objection, and only interfered to save him from being fleeced and fooled by an unnecessary West End middleman, who, as likely as not, would have eventually employed the very man to whom I gave the job. Even the epitaph was not mine. If I had had my way I should have written: "HENRIETTA JANSENIUS WAS BORN ON SUCH A DATE, MARRIED A MAN NAMED TREFUSIS, AND DIED ON SUCH ANOTHER DATE; AND NOW WHAT DOES IT MATTER WHETHER SHE DID OR NOT?" The whole notion conveyed in the book that I rode rough-shod over everybody in the affair, and only consulted my own feelings, is the very reverse of the truth.
As to the tomfoolery down at Brandon's, which ended in Erskine and myself marrying the young lady visitors there, I can only congratulate you on the determination with which you have striven to make something like a romance out of such very thin material. I cannot say that I remember it all exactly as you have described it; my wife declares flatly there is not a word of truth in it as far as she is concerned, and Mrs. Erskine steadily refuses to read the book.
On one point I must acknowledge that you have proved yourself a master of the art of fiction. What Hetty and I said to one another that day when she came upon me in the shrubbery at Alton College was known only to us two. She never told it to anyone, and I soon forgot it. All due honor, therefore, to the ingenuity with which you have filled the hiatus, and shown the state of affairs between us by a discourse on " surplus value," cribbed from an imperfect report of one of my public lectures, and from the pages of Karl Marx! If you were an economist I should condemn you for confusing economic with ethical considerations, and for your uncertainty as to the function which my father got his start by performing. But as you are only a novelist, I compliment you heartily on your clever little pasticcio, adding, however, that as an account of what actually passed between myself and Hetty, it is the wildest romance ever penned. Wickens's boy was far nearer the mark.
In conclusion, allow me to express my regret that you can find no better employment for your talent than the writing of novels. The first literary result of the foundation of our industrial system upon the profits of piracy and slave-trading was Shakspere. It is our misfortune that the sordid misery and hopeless horror of his view of man's destiny is still so appropriate to English society that we even to-day regard him as not for an age, but for all time. But the poetry of despair will not outlive despair itself. Your nineteenth century novelists are only the tail of Shakspere. Don't tie yourself to it: it is fast wriggling into oblivion.
I am, dear sir, yours truly,