One of the most amazingly romantic things about your twentieth century is the way in which the women of to-day have dared to proclaim their independence. I don't say that every manifestation of it is altogether good--faith! there will always be hotheads who go too far in any new venture, so long as women are the demmed delightful creatures they insist on being--but I do feel that the general trend is in the right direction.
Well I remember how urgently Lady Blakeney used to plead that what a man could do a woman would dare, and how hard I found it to keep her from joining my League whether I would or no! And I shall never forget the trouble we had in spiriting the grandes dames out of France because their voluminous petticoats made it so hard to hide them under a cartload of potatoes. But, by my faith! those were happy days.
To be serious, though, modern dress for women is certainly more fitting to this era of feminine courage and enterprise than were the hoops and crinolines of old; and it certainly is more suitable for the female adventurers who range themselves in comradeship or competition with men. And it contrives to be amazingly pretty, too. To my old-fashioned mind perhaps a little more softness and femininity would add eighteenth-century charm to twentieth-century efficiency, but it isn't for an ardent admirer of the sex to grumble!
The curious thing to me is that it is women who chiefly complain that this new age is unromantic. Gadzooks! they should have sampled French Revolution times in England, when a woman dared hardly look at a man lest heads and tongues started wagging over her name in all the clubs of London. This age unromantic for women? When women can go out into the wide world as freely as did the members of my League in the olden days!
A couple of days ago I ventured--invisibly, of course--to take a chair in the lounge of a women's club in London, where a number of the pretty creatures sat drinking tea and gossiping. You must forgive the liberty, but 'twas mine own name on their lips that first aroused my curiosity.
'What a humdrum world it is nowadays!' pouted one of the speakers -- a sleek-headed girl still in her twenties but who had already won for herself an important position in the world of business. 'There's no adventure, no colour left in this rotten civilization of ours. It's just an age of standardization; personal enterprise never has a chance. If a man so much as flicks another in the face forty policemen spring up out of the ground; if one gets a scratch, it's forty doctors; if one dares to be candid one is rushed off to the Law Courts to answer a charge of slander. All civilization is in league to rob us of our emotions.'
'Quite right, my dear!' replied her companion. 'If the Scarlet Pimpernel were alive to-day, poor man, he would probably be clapped into lunatic asylum. That's how it is now, if one shows a hunger for adventure or a mere wanderlust one is no longer hailed as a pioneer or a leader of men. No--one is just bundled off to the nearest psycho-analyst!'
How mistaken they were, those two very youthful critics! And how bitter in their complaints that the world had grown drearier since my time and that the modern man and woman aimed at nothing but the commonplace, rejoicing in the fact that millions and millions more of them were cut after the same pattern as themselves, with no greater ambition than to earn a 'lived respected, died lamented' epitaph from the other pigmies around! And, la! how blind must their bright eyes have been not to see that the restful, picturesque divinity we called 'Romance' yesterday is not dead but just transformed into a shingled, matter-of-fact, but rather startling young thing, whose claim to be thought prosaic and blasé has almost made us forget her divine unexpectedness!
Surely even the most sophisticated of all you moderns could not fail to be thrilled by Miss Amy Johnson's adventure, when that young woman calmly climbed into the cockpit of her aeroplane in England and set out, a young girl alone, in a flimsy affair of wood and metal and canvas, to fly half-round the world to Australia?
Were you blind to the tragic romance in the world such as a little while ago, when the youth of a dozen nations marched, laughing and singing, towards the inferno of the world's greatest battlefield--yea, and returned to it again when its wounds had been patched up, not quite laughing, perhaps, after having seen Hell and lived, but still with a smile and a song and an unfailing readiness to help a comrade?
No, m'dears, I am not talking nationally now; the same spirit was evident in all the belligerent countries--the spirit of eternal youth and romance facing the most terrible Spectre that has ever sought to bring disillusionment and hopelessness upon earth. My League was gallant, but that immortal league of the adventurers of the War years, with its just as gallant sisterhood who carried on at home, makes our brilliance seem no more than that of a candle compared to the sun.
You may not find a Drake or a Columbus nowadays, or a Clive or a Brooke, because all the seas are charted and there are no fresh worlds to conquer. But I read lately of an unknown postman saving enough in his life-time from his weekly wage to found a leper hospital in India. Is that the task of a pigmy? And I see rusty tramp-steamers lying in a dozen ports around our coast, waiting their turn to venture out across the ocean, ready to sail from continent to continent whilst facing storms and gales which seem beyond the bounds of possibility for men to live through and conquer.
More can be done still, no doubt, to foster the spirit of chivalry and adventure, for only a day or two ago I read a published extract from the diary of the late Tsar of Russia, concerning myself, too. La! how famous one becomes through a slight appetite for amusement. 'I have been reading,' so ran the extract, 'an interesting new book--The Elusive Pimpernel,' and one became conscious of a wave of pity that there was no young gallant of to-day ready to attempt the rescue of that unfortunate man.
Be that as it may, I am still determined to
champion the vital romance of your twentieth century. The colour
of the picturesqueness are there; adventure calls insistently
to you all; the trouble is that you will not open your eyes and
see; you will not step aside from the straight and narrow road
which you have traced for yourselves. But do not count me boastful,
I pray, when I say that I could find just as much excitement,
joy and zest in life in 1933 as ever I did in the days when I
sat on a window-sill in Boulogne and scared my friend Chauvelin
out of his wits.