Is it genuine or merely a pose, this attitude adopted by you moderns whenever the word 'love' occurs in real life or in fiction? You will have it that love, as apart from what you are pleased nowadays to call 'sex-appeal', either never existed save in the imagination of medieval romanticists, or if it ever did that it is long since dead, bereft of any savour or thrill.
Frankly, you would make me laugh, all of you young things of this amazing country, if this attitude of yours were not so demmed tragic. Do you mean to tell me, m'dears, that amongst your charming, sleek-headed, bright-eyed girls of to-day there are no Juliets, or Francescas or Heloïses, and that you have disarmed Don Cupid, broken his golden arrows and tied him down, like some dry-as-dust old clerk, to a desk in a City office? Faith! that would be a daring thing to do, for there is more power in the little god's arrows, even though they be broken, than in your most up-to-date, most deadly shrapnel. And, as I told you once before, he will have his revenge.
Only the other day at one of your smart cock-and-hen clubs I overheard a general discussion between a bevy of those same sleek-headed, carefully lip-sticked young Dianas on the respective merits of the men who had been foolish enough to make love to them. They were appraising the methods these unfortunates had used in order to pierce their armour of feminine scepticism, and one and all found these methods wanting--wanting in what? I asked myself, and tried to disentangle the truth out of this medley of disappointments and discontent, which lent to those bright eyes a look of boredom--aye! and of age. Anyway, they all decided, over clouds of cigarette smoke, that 'love' as spoken of by the great writers of the past was only 'gammon'--I believe they called it 'rot'; and that the roseate thing of fiction was only a dry business after all.
And presently when these lovely young creatures had all fluttered away like so many butterflies, in order to alight on the high stools of the nearest American Bar, I fell to wondering whether there was not something of truth in what they said, and whether they themselves were not allowing something of the glamour of love to face into the smoke of their cigarettes, or lie dim and savourless at the bottom of their cocktail-glasses.
Thus musing I bethought me of the caveman. His manners were somewhat unpolished, shall we say, but nevertheless he had that certain dominating quality which the terse language of to-day has designated as 'It'. I am sure, though we have no records of his home life, that he knew how to make love--rather fiercely I should say--to his unsophisticated womankind.
Nor were the sybaritic or athletic Greeks and Romans backward in such words and deeds as would flutter any maiden's heart. And so one might go on throughout the ages extolling the times of chivalry, when poets wrote sonnets to a lady's eyebrow, and gallant knights rode forth in armour to break a lance, or lose their life in honour of the woman of their choice. Or I might remind you that in my day gentlemen crossed swords or fired at one another with pistols to settle some quarrel over a woman's favour. It was not an uncommon thing for a man to be shot dead by another--who had perhaps been his intimate friend--for no other reason than that Lady A or Mistress X had smiled equally on both.
Of course, you gay, shingled, pert young things smile at all that and shrug your thin shoulders. You call it 'tommy-rot', don't you? You sneer at your grandmothers and your grandfathers, and ask how on the jolly old earth there could have been anything romantic in their bowings and scrapings, their slow-moving quadrilles or whirling polkas, with mamma or Aunt Priscilla sitting in the offing watchful lest her giddy young charge threw too many soft glances on her 'beau'.
Faith! you may sneer at it, but believe me, m'dears, stolen fruit is passing sweet. There was something peculiarly delicious in those stolen moments in the conservatory when Aunt Priscilla wasn't looking, or in waylaying the postman for a letter which contained a few impassioned words, a discreet homage written in verse, probably.
And there was rapture in a kiss in those days of long ago, a thrill of which you cynical moderns know nothing. What is a kiss to you? You bestow and receive so many. Your mouth to-day is more accessible than was your grandmother's hand in the past. And that is why, m'dears, some of you--not by any means all--find love a dry business these days. There can be no romance in the love-making of an anaemic 'intellectual' to a boyish, freakish Amazon. I am talking of extreme cases, but unfortunately they are on the increase year after year, while young people in order to be in fashion look on the love between man and maid through the muddy, horn-rimmed spectacles of modern cynicism. To them it does seem dull and dry, but only because they are too much engrossed by this selfish business called self-expression, to appreciate the subtle beauty of love. They are the people who call Beethoven's Ninth Symphony 'too horribly old-fashioned', and prefer Mr. Epstein's 'Genesis' to the soulful beauty of the Venus de Milo.
Nevertheless, m'dears, you can take it from me that love is no more a dry business to-day than it was in the past and thank Heaven, there are still a number of you in this go-ahead twentieth century who have experienced the thrill of a first kiss and not been ashamed to exchange love-tokens with the one destined to be your companion and helpmate throughout life.
Those of you who are so blessed will see their path strewn with the happy memories of those golden moments which alone make for contentment and happiness--fragrant rosemary treasured for remembrance in the pages of your book of life.