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A Grumble
by [?]

I wonder is the world as pleasant as it used to be? Not to myself, of course–I neither ask nor expect it; but I mean to those who are in the same position to enjoy it as I was–years ago. I am delicate about the figures, for Mrs O’D. occasionally reads these sketches, and might feel a wifelike antipathy to a record of this nature. I repeat–I wonder is life as good fun as it was when I made my first acquaintance with it? My impression is that it is not. I do not presume to say that all the same elements are not as abundant as heretofore. There are young people, and witty people, and, better, there are beautiful people, in abundance. There are great houses as of yore, maintained, perhaps, with even more than bygone splendour: the horses are as good–the dogs as good–the trout-streams as well stocked–the grouse as abundant–foreign travel is more easy–all travel is more facile–there are more books and more illustrated newspapers; and yet, with all these advantages–very tangible advantages too–I do not think the present occupants make the house as pleasant as their fathers did, and for the very simple reason, that they never try.

Indifferentism is the tone of the day. No one must be eager, pleased, displeased, interested, or anxious about anything. Life is to be treated as a tiresome sort of thing, but which is far too much beneath one to be thought of seriously–a wearisome performance, which good manners require you should sit out, though nothing obliges you to applaud or even approve of it. This is the theory, and we have been most successful in reducing it to practice. We are immensely bored, and we take good care so shall be our neighbour. Just as we have voted that there is nothing new, nothing strange, nothing amusing, we defy any one to differ with us, on pain of pronouncing him vulgar. North American Indians are not more case-hardened against any show of suffering under torture than are our well-bred people against any manifestation of showing pleasure in anything. “It wasn’t bad,” is about the highest expression of our praise; and I doubt if we would accord more to heaven–if we got there. The grand test of your modern Englishman is, to bear any amount of amusement without wincing: no pleasure is to wring a smile from him, nor is any expectancy to interest, or any unlooked-for event to astonish. He would admit that “the Governor”–meaning his father–was surprised; he would concede the fact, as recording some prejudice of a bygone age. As the tone of manners and observance has grown universal, so has the very expression of the features. They are intensely like each other. We are told that a shepherd will know the actual faces of all the sheep in his flock, distinguishing each from each at a glance. I am curious to know if the Bishop of London knows even the few lost sheep that browse about Rotten Eow of an afternoon, and who are so familiar to us in Leech’s sketches. There they are–whiskered, bearded, and bored; fine-looking animals in their way, but just as much living creatures in ‘Punch’ as they are yonder. It is said that they only want the stimulus of a necessity, something of daring to tempt, or something of difficulty to provoke them, to be just as bold and energetic as ever their fathers were. I don’t deny it. I am only complaining of the system which makes sheep of them, reduces life to a dreary table-land, making the stupid fellows the standard, and coming down to their level for the sake of uniformity. Formerly they who had more wit, more smartness, more worldly knowledge than their neighbours, enjoyed a certain pre-eminence; the flash of their agreeability lighted up the group they talked in, and they were valued and sought after. Now the very homage rendered, even in this small way, was at least a testimony that superiority was recognised and its claims admitted. What is the case now? Apathy is excellence, and the nearest approach to insensibility is the greatest eminence attainable.