Of all the human species–preserve, oh! preserve me from the monstrous family of the Goats. I don’t mean the people who go off mountain climbing, nor those old gentlemen who allow the hair round their lower jaw to grow so long that it resembles a dirty halo which has somehow slipped down over their noses; nor do I mean the sheepish individuals, nor those whom, in our more vulgar moments, we crossly designate as “Goats.” No; the people I really mean are the people who can never utter a favourable opinion without butting a “but” into the middle of it; people who, as it were, give you a bunch of flowers with one hand and throw a bucket of cabbage-water over you with the other. People, in fact, who talk like this: “Yes, she’s a very nice woman, but what a pity she’s so fat!” or, “Yes, she’s pretty, but, of course, she’s not so young as she was!” Nothing is ever perfect in the minds of these people, nor any person either. For one nice thing they have to say concerning men, women, and affairs, they have a hundred nasty things to utter. They are never completely satisfied by anything nor anybody, and they cannot bear that the world should remain in ignorance of the causes of their dissatisfaction.
It isn’t that they know there is often a fly in the amber so much as that they perceive the fly too clearly, and that amber, even at its best, always looks to them like a piece of toffee after all. How anybody ever manages to live with these kind of people perpetually about the house I do not know. And the worst of it is there seems no cure for the “Goats,” and, unlike real Goats, nothing will ever drive them into the wilderness for ever. Even if you do occasionally drive them forth, they will return to you anon to inform you that the wilderness, to which you have never been, is a hundred times nicer than the cultivated garden which it is your fate to inhabit. The most beautiful places on this earth are, according to them, just those places which you have never visited, nor is there any likelihood of you ever being fortunate enough to do so. If you tell them that the most lovely spot you have ever seen is Beaulieu in May, when the visitors have gone, they will immediately tell you that it isn’t half so lovely as Timbuctoo–even when the visitors are there. Should you talk to them of charming people, they will describe to you the people they know, people whom you really would fall violently in love with–only there is no chance of you ever meeting them, because they have just gone to Jamaica. They “butt” their “but” into all your little pleasures, and even when you really are enjoying yourself, and the “but” would have to be a bomb to upset your equanimity, they will throw cold water upon your ardour by gently hinting that you had better enjoy yourself while you can, because you won’t be young much longer. Ough! Even when one is dead, I suppose, these “Goats” will stand round you and say: “It’s very sad . . . But we all have to die some time.” And if they do, I hope I shall come back suddenly to life to butt in with my own “but” . . . “But I hope I shan’t meet YOU in Heaven.”
But I suppose these “butters” enjoy themselves, even though other people don’t enjoy them. They love to take you by the hand, as it were, and lead you from the sunshine into the shady side of every garden. Not their delight is it to work the limelight. Rather they prefer to cast a shadow–when they can’t turn out the lights altogether. And, strangely enough, these people are the very people whose life is passed in the pleasantest places. It may be that, metaphorically speaking, they have been so long used to the Powers of existence that they delight in treasuring the weeds. Well, I, for one, wish that they could live among these weeds for just so long a time as to become quite sick of them–when, doubtless, they would return to us only too anxious to see nothing but the simple flowers, and each simple flower an exquisite joy in itself–although it fades!