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Demagogues And Mystagogues
by [?]

The primary point I meant to emphasise is that this sort of aristocracy is essentially a new sort. All the old despots were demagogues; at least, they were demagogues whenever they were really trying to please or impress the demos. If they poured out beer for their vassals it was because both they and their vassals had a taste for beer. If (in some slightly different mood) they poured melted lead on their vassals, it was because both they and their vassals had a strong distaste for melted lead. But they did not make any mystery about either of the two substances. They did not say, “You don’t like melted lead?…. Ah! no, of course, you wouldn’t; you are probably the kind of person who would prefer beer…. It is no good asking you even to imagine the curious undercurrent of psychological pleasure felt by a refined person under the seeming shock of melted lead.” Even tyrants when they tried to be popular, tried to give the people pleasure; they did not try to overawe the people by giving them something which they ought to regard as pleasure. It was the same with the popular presentment of aristocracy. Aristocrats tried to impress humanity by the exhibition of qualities which humanity admires, such as courage, gaiety, or even mere splendour. The aristocracy might have more possession in these things, but the democracy had quite equal delight in them. It was much more sensible to offer yourself for admiration because you had drunk three bottles of port at a sitting, than to offer yourself for admiration (as Lady Grove does) because you think it right to say “port wine” while other people think it right to say “port.” Whether Lady Grove’s preference for port wine (I mean for the phrase port wine) is a piece of mere nonsense I do not know; but at least it is a very good example of the futility of such tests in the matter even of mere breeding. “Port wine” may happen to be the phrase used n certain good families; but numberless aristocrats say “port,” and all barmaids say “port wine.” The whole thing is rather more trivial than collecting tram-tickets; and I will not pursue Lady Grove’s further distinctions. I pass over the interesting theory that I ought to say to Jones (even apparently if he is my dearest friend), “How is Mrs. Jones?” instead of “How is your wife?” and I pass over an impassioned declamation about bedspreads (I think) which has failed to fire my blood.

The truth of the matter is really quite simple. An aristocracy is a secret society; and this is especially so when, as in the modern world, it is practically a plutocracy. The one idea of a secret society is to change the password. Lady Grove falls naturally into a pure perversity because she feels subconsciously that the people of England can be more effectively kept at a distance by a perpetual torrent of new tests than by the persistence of a few old ones. She knows that in the educated “middle class” there is an idea that it is vulgar to say port wine; therefore she reverses the idea–she says that the man who would say “port” is a man who would say, “How is your wife?” She says it because she knows both these remarks to be quite obvious and reasonable.

The only thing to be done or said in reply, I suppose, would be to apply the same principle of bold mystification on our own part. I do not see why I should not write a book called “Etiquette in Fleet Street,” and terrify every one else out of that thoroughfare by mysterious allusions to the mistakes that they generally make. I might say: “This is the kind of man who would wear a green tie when he went into a tobacconist’s,” or “You don’t see anything wrong in drinking a Benedictine on Thursday?…. No, of course you wouldn’t.” I might asseverate with passionate disgust and disdain: “The man who is capable of writing sonnets as well as triolets is capable of climbing an omnibus while holding an umbrella.” It seems a simple method; if ever I should master it perhaps I may govern England.