Odd's fish! but I am already beginning to wonder whether my visit to your modern world is going to be depressing or exhilarating. Lud love you, m'dears, think on it! To be compelled to be serious -- really serious, mind you -- through the whole length of a book; to say what I think of your modern culture; to make you see the romance of an era which you yourselves deem unbearably prosaic -- la! the task would be impossible were it not for the fact that after taking a preliminary look round I have found that these modern times of yours are quite as romantic as were those in which I lived: they are just as full of adventure, of love and of laughter as when I and Sir Andrew and Lord Tony wore rapiers and ruffles, and Lady Blakeney danced the minuet and sang 'Eldorado' to the accompaniment of the spinet.
It would in very truth be an impossible task were it not for the delight in store for me of scoring off all those demmed dull Chauvelins, or Chambertins, of your twentieth century and of proving to them that with all their Committees of Pussyfoots and Boards of Public Morals they cannot manacle a certain little blind god we all wot of, nor can they destroy that lure of adventure and of danger which beckons to you modern young people with just as much insistence as it did to us.
Therefore am I here now in your midst -- an eighteenth-century dandy, seemingly out of place amid your plus-fours and swallow-tailed coats, but nevertheless prepared to prove my argument up to the hilt. It is demmed embarassing, believe me, to speak to you in the pages of a book and to remain invisible and inaudible the while, even though in the days of my friends Robespierre, Fouquier-Tinville and their like my capacities in that direction were mightily embarassing to them. But even after the first page or two I already have scored off your arrant pessimists: one hundred and fifty years ago the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel was made up of nineteen gallant English gentlemen, but now, by contrast, I can enroll under my banner hundreds of thousands -- nay, millions -- of men and women of every nation; all those, in fact, who worship beauty, who dream romantic dreams, who love every kind of adventure, so be it that adventure is spiced with danger. Every soldier of fortune -- and your modern world counts these by the million -- is really a member of this new League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
You don't believe me? You smile? You scoff? You shrug your shoulders? By gad! if I do not succeed in proving my case within the space allotted to me in this book then I will take a ticket -- not a return ticket, mind you -- for old Charon's boat and never utter a word of complaint.
Now let me confess at once that yours is a strange world, even though it be not strange to me. I see changes -- a power of changes, from our wigs and ruffles and rapiers, our coaches and gigs, our leisurely ways, our inconsequent aristocracy and, for the most part, contented, easy-going working-classes. You live in a rush in this twentieth century; grim earnestness pervades your whole existence; you make and accept great and marvellous wonders -- miracles, I would call them -- as a matter of course, simply because in your impatience and your restlessness you are always eager to get on -- to get on, on, on, inventing and making things greater and more marvellous still.
But this is where the strangeness comes in: you -- or, rather, the pessimistic Chauvelins amongst you -- vow that romance is dead in this modern world; they speak regretfully of the good old days when Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney were the stars of London society, when a romantic love-affair or quixotic adventure met you at every turn. You find your century a dull one, and I marvelled at first whether I, too, would find it so, or would deem it necessary to tint my quizzing-glass with a roseate hue.
As a matter of fact, what do I find?
I find an age so racked with boredom, so surfeited with pleasure and novelty, that it cannot recognize the incomparable adventure of living in the midst of the most marvellous inventions devised by the ingenious brain of man; of living at a time when a man can speak to wife or friend across the width of the world; when he can put a girdle round the earth by flying through space, or listen to voices that speak hundreds of miles away.
It was the fashion in my day to cultivate an air of boredom that one did not feel, but, bless me! your detachment and boredom to-day in the midst of all your modern marvels are neither a fad nor a pose. I see that they are very real indeed.
Strange, did I say? La! it is astounding.
I reckon to have enjoyed a pretty turn now and again in France with those demmed dirty fellows of the Committee of Public Safety. But what a record of heroic deeds you established in France less than a score of years ago when you transformed a matter of blood and mud and hate and horror into an epic of nobility and self-sacrifice and splendid comradeship to which mere words cannot attempt to do justice! My League and I were ready to take our lives in our hands when it came to spiriting an aristo from under the guillotine, but there is not a man among us who would hesitate to take off his hat in sincere respect and boundless admiration for the greater courage of that band of miners who recently, in a pit disaster in Yorkshire, went down unhesitatingly into the bowels of the earth to risk flame and poison-gas, death by explosion or drowning, in order to try and save their comrades, even though these were, perhaps, already beyond the hope of human aid.
You declare that romance to-day is dead? What, then, but romance is the story of the young nurse who a few weeks ago saved the life of her lover by drawing with her own breath and through her mouth the diphtheria poison from his throat when nothing but this difficult and dangerous method could save him from death? What, indeed, is the whole life of the great Italian inventor, Signor Marconi, but a living romance?
Nay, 'tis not romance you lack in this twentieth century. Had but one quarter as much of it come our way in the days when I frequented Richmond and Vauxhall, my faith! we should have been staggered by it. We had to seek Romance; for you it flaunts its magic before your eyes every day and in a hundred different ways. By gad! when the last word of this book is written and the last tale told, I shall feel happy in the thought that I had a sight of all that is roseate and silver in the midst of the drab existence you complain of.
Cupid, my friends, is not dead. He will never die while eyes are bright and cheeks as fair as I see them to-day. Mars is in durance vile for the moment -- thank God for that! -- and I hope soon to see you devoting his courage, his audacity and defiance of danger to the service of humanity instead of to its destruction. The steep slopes of Parnassus are still there for those who dare to climb; the golden apples of the Hesperides still grow in the enchanted garden for those who have the spirit to gather them
Look wide, you moderns! your feet may be plodding in clay, but your eyes can be raised to the eternal hills, and let the memory of the Scarlet Pimpernel show you the way along the silvery paths of Romance which wind their way as deftly through your crowded city streets of to-day as ever they did when I followed them to Paris; for I can hear the clarion sound of high adventure as clearly now as when it called to me in the rattle of the tumbrils.
La! I find myself almost serious, and I see
myself in this small book becoming more serious still; but at
least, my friends, give me the credit of throwing off my cloak
of badinage for the sole purpose of making you see the world or
romance in which you live. For this I am ready for the time being
to sacrifice my reputation, which I may modestly assure you is
that of a lover of adventure, of joy and of laughter -- the immortal
spirit of the gay and gallant Scarlet Pimpernel.