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Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI.

The ladies had left the room and the port was circulating. Mr.
Scogan filled his glass, passed on the decanter, and, leaning
back in his chair, looked about him for a moment in silence. The
conversation rippled idly round him, but he disregarded it; he
was smiling at some private joke. Gombauld noticed his smile.

"What's amusing you?" he asked.

"I was just looking at you all, sitting round this table," said
Mr. Scogan.

"Are we as comic as all that?"

"Not at all," Mr. Scogan answered politely. "I was merely amused
by my own speculations."

"And what were they?"

"The idlest, the most academic of speculations. I was looking at
you one by one and trying to imagine which of the first six
Caesars you would each resemble, if you were given the
opportunity of behaving like a Caesar. The Caesars are one of my
touchstones," Mr. Scogan explained. "They are characters
functioning, so to speak, in the void. They are human beings
developed to their logical conclusions. Hence their unequalled
value as a touchstone, a standard. When I meet someone for the
first time, I ask myself this question: Given the Caesarean
environment, which of the Caesars would this person resemble--
Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero? I take
each trait of character, each mental and emotional bias, each
little oddity, and magnify them a thousand times. The resulting
image gives me his Caesarean formula."

"And which of the Caesars do you resemble?" asked Gombauld.

"I am potentially all of them," Mr. Scogan replied, "all--with
the possible exception of Claudius, who was much too stupid to be
a development of anything in my character. The seeds of Julius's
courage and compelling energy, of Augustus's prudence, of the
libidinousness and cruelty of Tiberius, of Caligula's folly, of
Nero's artistic genius and enormous vanity, are all within me.
Given the opportunities, I might have been something fabulous.
But circumstances were against me. I was born and brought up in
a country rectory; I passed my youth doing a great deal of
utterly senseless hard work for a very little money. The result
is that now, in middle age, I am the poor thing that I am. But
perhaps it is as well. Perhaps, too, it's as well that Denis
hasn't been permitted to flower into a little Nero, and that Ivor
remains only potentially a Caligula. Yes, it's better so, no
doubt. But it would have been more amusing, as a spectacle, if
they had had the chance to develop, untrammelled, the full horror
of their potentialities. It would have been pleasant and
interesting to watch their tics and foibles and little vices
swelling and burgeoning and blossoming into enormous and
fantastic flowers of cruelty and pride and lewdness and avarice.
The Caesarean environment makes the Caesar, as the special food
and the queenly cell make the queen bee. We differ from the bees
in so far that, given the proper food, they can be sure of making
a queen every time. With us there is no such certainty; out of
every ten men placed in the Caesarean environment one will be
temperamentally good, or intelligent, or great. The rest will
blossom into Caesars; he will not. Seventy and eighty years ago
simple-minded people, reading of the exploits of the Bourbons in
South Italy, cried out in amazement: To think that such things
should be happening in the nineteenth century! And a few years
since we too were astonished to find that in our still more
astonishing twentieth century, unhappy blackamoors on the Congo
and the Amazon were being treated as English serfs were treated
in the time of Stephen. To-day we are no longer surprised at
these things. The Black and Tans harry Ireland, the Poles
maltreat the Silesians, the bold Fascisti slaughter their poorer
countrymen: we take it all for granted. Since the war we wonder
at nothing. We have created a Caesarean environment and a host
of little Caesars has sprung up. What could be more natural?"

Mr. Scogan drank off what was left of his port and refilled the
glass.

At this very moment," he went on, "the most frightful horrors are
taking place in every corner of the world. People are being
crushed, slashed, disembowelled, mangled; their dead bodies rot
and their eyes decay with the rest. Screams of pain and fear go
pulsing through the air at the rate of eleven hundred feet per
second. After travelling for three seconds they are perfectly
inaudible. These are distressing facts; but do we enjoy life any
the less because of them? Most certainly we do not. We feel
sympathy, no doubt; we represent to ourselves imaginatively the
sufferings of nations and individuals and we deplore them. But,
after all, what are sympathy and imagination? Precious little,
unless the person for whom we feel sympathy happens to be closely
involved in our affections; and even then they don't go very far.
And a good thing too; for if one had an imagination vivid enough
and a sympathy sufficiently sensitive really to comprehend and to
feel the sufferings of other people, one would never have a
moment's peace of mind. A really sympathetic race would not so
much as know the meaning of happiness. But luckily, as I've
already said, we aren't a sympathetic race. At the beginning of
the war I used to think I really suffered, through imagination
and sympathy, with those who physically suffered. But after a
month or two I had to admit that, honestly, I didn't. And yet I
think I have a more vivid imagination than most. One is always
alone in suffering; the fact is depressing when one happens to be
the sufferer, but it makes pleasure possible for the rest of the
world."

There was a pause. Henry Wimbush pushed back his chair.

"I think perhaps we ought to go and join the ladies," he said.

"So do I," said Ivor, jumping up with alacrity. He turned to Mr.
Scogan. "Fortunately," he said, "we can share our pleasures. We
are not always condemned to be happy alone."

Aldous Huxley

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