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Good Company
by [?]

Let it be understood that I do not intend to speak very much about the excellent people who are kind enough to label themselves as “Society,” for I have had quite enough experience of them at one time and another, and my impressions are not of a peculiarly reverential kind. “Company” among the set who regard themselves as the cream of England’s–and consequently of the world’s–population is something so laborious, so useless, so exhausting that I cannot imagine any really rational person attending a “function” (that is the proper name) if Providence had left open the remotest chance of running away; at any rate, the rational person would not endure more than one experience. For, when the clear-seeing outsider looks into “Society,” and studies the members who make up the little clique, he is smitten with thoughts that lie too deep for tears–or laughter. A perfectly fresh mind, when brought to bear on the “Society” phenomenon, asks, “What are these people? What have they done? What are they particularly fitted for? Is there anything noble about them? Is their conversation at all charming? Are any of them really happy?” And to all of these queries the most disappointing answers must be returned. Take the men. Here is a marquis who is a Knight of the Garter. He has held offices in several Cabinets; he can control the votes spread over a very large slice of a county, and his income amounts to some trifle like one hundred and eighty thousand pounds per year. We may surely expect something of the superb aristocratic grace here, and surely a chance word of wit may drop from a man who has been in the most influential of European assemblies! Alas! The potentate crosses his hand over his comfortable stomach, and his contributions to the entertainment of the evening amount to occasional ejaculations of “Ugh! Ugh!” “Hah!” “Hey!” “Exactly!” “Ugh! Ugh!” In the higher spheres of intellect and breeding I have no doubt but that “Ugh! Ugh!” “Hah!” “Hey!” may have some profound significance; but, to say the least, it is not obviously weighty. The marchioness is sweet in manner, grave, reposeful, and with a flash of wit at disposal–not too obvious wit–that would offend against the canon which ordains restraint; but she might, one thinks, become tiresome in an hour. No one could say that her manners were anything but absolutely simple, yet the very simplicity is so obviously maintained as a sort of gymnastic effort that it tires us only to study it. Then here is a viscount, graceful, well-set, easy in his pose, talking with a deep voice, and lisping to the faintest degree. He has owned some horses, caused some scandals, waltzed some waltzes, and eaten a very large number of good dinners: he has been admired by many, hated by many, threatened by many, and he would not be admitted to any refined middle-class home; yet here he is in his element, and no one would think of questioning his presence. He never uttered a really wise or helpful word in his life, he never did anything save pamper himself–his precious self–and yet he is in “Society,” and reckoned as rather an authority too! These are only types, but, if you run through them all, you must discover that only the sweet and splendid girls who have not had time to be spoilt and soured are worth thinking about. If there is dancing, it is of course carried out with perfect grace and composure; if there is merely an assembly, every one looks as well as possible, and every one stares at every one else with an air as indifferent as possible. But the child of nature asks in wild bewilderment, “Where on earth does the human companionship come in?” Young girls are nowadays beginning to expect bright talk from their partners, and the ladies have a singularly pretty way of saying the most biting things in a smooth and unconcerned fashion when they find a dunce beginning to talk platitudes or to patronize his partner; but the middle generation are unspeakably inane; and the worst is that they regard their inanity as a decided sign of distinction. A grave man who adds a sense of humour to his gravity may find a sort of melancholy entertainment if he listens to a pair of thorough-paced “Society” gentry. He will learn that you do not go to a “function” to please others or to be pleased yourself; you must not be witty–that is bad form; you must not be quietly in earnest–that is left to literary people; you must not speak plain, direct truth even in the most restrained fashion–that is to render yourself liable to be classified as a savage. No. You go to a “function” in order, firstly, to see who else is there; secondly, to let others see you; thirdly, to be able to say to absentees that you saw they were not there; fourthly, to say, with a liquid roll on the “ll,” “She’s looking remarkably wellll.” These are the great and glorious duties of the Society person. A little funny creature was once talking to a writer of some distinction. The little funny man would have been like a footman if he had been eight inches taller, for his manners savoured of the pantry. As it was, he succeeded in resembling a somewhat diminutive valet who had learnt his style and accent from a cook. The writer, out of common politeness, spoke of some ordinary topic, and the valet observed with honest pride, “We don’t talk about that sort of thing.” The writer smiled grimly from under his jutting brows, and he repeated that valet’s terrific repartee for many days. The actual talk which goes on runs in this way, “Quite charming weather!” “Yes, very.” “I didn’t see you at Lady Blank’s on Tuesday?” “No; we could hardly arrange to suit times at all.” “She was looking uncommonly well. The new North-Country girl has come out.” “So I’ve heard.” “Going to Goodwood?” “Yes. We take Brighton this time with the Sendalls.” And so on. It dribbles for the regulation time, and, after a sufficient period of mortal endurance, the crowd disperse, and proceed to scandalize each other or to carry news elsewhere about the ladies who were looking “remarkably well-l-l.”