keep awing in this region of high culture. I am like Icarus. My waxen pinions are melting, and I shall go down suddenly.’
‘Surely you do not object to culture.’
‘Not at all. I like culture as it affects creature comforts. I would not go back a hundred years and be bereft of my bath, my daily paper, lucifer-matches, and having my hair brushed by machinery. Culture is excellent till it meddles with the inner man. When it begins to scrape, and reduce, and polish natural proclivities and robust individualities, why then, Lucy, I fancy it not.’
‘You would like a luxurious savagery.’
‘No, not that. Outer culture will relax and soften the inner brute. You begin by stifling nature and then mummifying it magnificently. Your highly crystallised culture resembles a Rupert’s drop. Do you know it? It is a frozen tear of glass, so hard that you cannot break it with a hammer, and yet so fragile that it will crumble into dust between your fingers if you snip the hair-like end. Refine as you will, there is always a vulnerable point in your civilisation, and when that is touched the whole collapses. I like your culture well enough; a little of it is a wondrous thing; a great deal is overpowering. I have known a whole family suffocated by the breaking of a jar of otto of roses. You are passing human nature through retorts and sublimating it to an essence. There will be a reaction. The reaction is begun. It was the same in old Rome. Their culture was carried to an extremity, and the barbarian burst over it and trampled it out. Now your high refinement of mind and manner and spirit has reached its limit, and the great mass of barbarous, vulgar life beneath is lifting itself up, to smite you down and destroy you.’
‘The northern barbarians came down on Rome because the old Roman civilisation was selfish. The northern races were full of heroic virtues, self-restraint, submission to authority, and religion. Are these qualities to be found in the coming barbarians?’
‘Oh dear, no,’ said Charles. ‘What we are coming to is the revolt against these very virtues which characterise your Christian aristocratic culture. What is coming is the emancipation of individualism, which has been distorted and suppressed by self-restraint, submission, and religion. You, brought up under the old system, are parts of a whole, and think and act and breathe and move as portions of the social machine. You are bound with responsibilities, hedged about with duties.