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Chapter 1

I.

"All that sort of personification," said Wanhope, "is far less remarkable than the depersonification which has now taken place so thoroughly that we no longer think in the old terms at all. It was natural that the primitive peoples should figure the passions, conditions, virtues, vices, forces, qualities, in some sort of corporal shape, with each a propensity or impulse of its own, but it does not seem to me so natural that the derivative peoples should cease to do so. It is rational that they should do so, and I don't know that any stronger proof of our intellectual advance could be alleged than the fact that the old personifications survive in the parlance while they are quite extinct in the consciousness. We still talk of death at times as if it were an embodied force of some kind, and of love in the same way; but I don't believe that any man of the commonest common-school education thinks of them so. If you try to do it yourself, you are rather ashamed of the puerility, and when a painter or a sculptor puts them in an objective shape, you follow him with impatience, almost with contempt."

"How about the poets?" asked Minver, less with the notion, perhaps, of refuting the psychologist than of bringing the literary member of our little group under the disgrace that had fallen upon him as an artist.

"The poets," said I, "are as extinct as the personifications."

"That's very handsome of you, Acton," said the artist. "But go on,
Wanhope."

"Yes, get down to business," said Rulledge. Being of no employ whatever, and spending his whole life at the club in an extraordinary idleness, Rulledge was always using the most strenuous expressions, and requiring everybody to be practical. He leaned directly forward with the difficulty that a man of his girth has in such a movement, and vigorously broke off the ash of his cigar against the edge of his saucer. We had been dining together, and had been served with coffee in the Turkish room, as it was called from its cushions and hangings of Indian and Egyptian stuffs. "What is the instance you've got up your sleeve?" He smoked with great energy, and cast his eyes alertly about as if to make sure that there was no chance of Wanhope's physically escaping him, from the corner of the divan, where he sat pretty well hemmed in by the rest of us, spreading in an irregular circle before him.

"You unscientific people are always wanting an instance, as if an instance were convincing. An instance is only suggestive; a thousand instances, if you please, are convincing," said the psychologist. "But I don't know that I wish to be convincing. I would rather be enquiring. That is much more interesting, and, perhaps, profitable."

"All the same," Minver persisted, apparently in behalf of Rulledge, but with an after-grudge of his own, "you'll allow that you were thinking of something in particular when you began with that generalization about the lost art of personifying?"

"Oh, that is very curious," said the psychologist. "We talk of generalizing, but is there any such thing? Aren't we always striving from one concrete to another, and isn't what we call generalizing merely a process of finding our way?"

"I see what you mean," said the artist, expressing in that familiar formula the state of the man who hopes to know what the other man means.

"That's what I say," Rulledge put in. "You've got something up your sleeve. What is it?"

Wanhope struck the little bell on the table before him, but, without waiting for a response, he intercepted a waiter who was passing with a coffee-pot, and asked, "Oh, couldn't you give me some of that?"

The man filled his cup for him, and after Wanhope put in the sugar and lifted it to his lips, Rulledge said, with his impetuous business air, "It's easy to see what Wanhope does his high thinking on."

"Yes," the psychologist admitted, "coffee is an inspiration. But you can overdo an inspiration. It would be interesting to know whether there hasn't been a change in the quality of thought since the use of such stimulants came in—whether it hasn't been subtilized—"

"Was that what you were going to say?" demanded Rulledge, relentlessly.
"Come, we've got no time to throw away!"

Everybody laughed.

"You haven't, anyway," said I.

"Well, none of his own," Minver admitted for the idler.

"I suppose you mean I have thrown it all away. Well, I don't want to throw away other peoples'. Go on, Wanhope."

William Dean Howells

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