Page:Studies of a Biographer 2.djvu/186

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174
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

argument; and the imaginary behaviour of an impossible being cannot possibly lead to any conclusion. When we meet a being who is half woman and half a snake it will be time to settle the moral code for judging her. Holmes, in fact, says in his preface that he only took an imaginary case in order to call attention to the same difficulty in the common course of things. To that I can see no objection. Clearly, every great tragedy involves some interesting question of casuistry; and casuistry may repay the debt by suggesting a good plot for a novel. The only question is, whether the extravagant hypothesis, be it purely fantastic or contrived to illustrate a point in ethics, has really been turned to good account. I confess to a conflict of feeling which, I suspect, is shared by others. The book makes me read it whenever I take it up, and yet I am never satisfied. Perhaps it is that I want more rattlesnake; I want to have the thrill which my ancestors felt when they told legends of were-wolves; I wish the snake-woman to be as poetical as Coleridge's Geraldine, to tremble while I read, and to be encouraged in my belief by such an infusion of science as will reconcile me to the surroundings of the nineteenth century in England. That is, no doubt, to wish