George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 11

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"Volatile, unworthy, liberty—my dearest!" he bent to her when the man had appeased him by departing, "you are at liberty within the law, like all good women; I shall control and direct your volatility; and your sense of worthiness must be re-established when we are more intimate; it is timidity. The sense of unworthiness is a guarantee of worthiness ensuing. I believe I am in the vein of a sermon! Whose the fault? The sight of that man was annoying. Flitch was a stable-boy, groom, and coachman, like his father before him, at the Hall thirty years; his father died in our service. Mr. Flitch had not a single grievance here; only one day the demon seizes him with the notion of bettering himself he wants his independence, and he presents himself to me with a story of a shop in our county town.—Flitch! remember, if you go you go for good.—Oh, he quite comprehended.—Very well; good-bye, Flitch;—the man was respectful: he looked the fool he was very soon to turn out to be. Since then, within a period of several years, I have had him, against my express injunctions, ten times on my grounds. It's curious to calculate. Of course the shop failed, and Flitch's independence consists in walking about with his hands in his empty pockets, and looking at the Hall from some elevation near."

"Is he married? Has he children?" said Clara.

"Nine; and a wife that cannot cook or sew or wash linen."

"You could not give him employment?"

"After his having dismissed himself?"

"It might be overlooked."

"Here he was happy. He decided to go elsewhere, to be free—of course, of my yoke. He quitted my service against my warning. Flitch, we will say, emigrated with his wife and children, and the ship foundered. He returns, but his place is filled; he is a ghost here, and I object to ghosts."

"Some work might be found for him."

"It will be the same with old Vernon, my dear. If he goes, he goes for good. It is the vital principle of my authority to insist on that. A dead leaf might as reasonably demand to return to the tree. Once off, off for all eternity! I am sorry, but such was your decision, my friend. I have, you see, Clara, elements in me—"


"Exert your persuasive powers with Vernon. You can do well-nigh what you will with the old fellow. We have Miss Dale this evening for a week or two. Lead him to some ideas of her.—Elements in me, I was remarking, which will no more bear to be handled carelessly than gunpowder. At the same time, there is no reason why they should not be respected, managed with some degree of regard for me and attention to consequences. Those who have not done so have repented."

"You do not speak to others of the elements in you," said Clara.

"I certainly do not: I have but one bride," was his handsome reply.

"Is it fair to me that you should show me the worst of you?"

"All myself, my own?"

His ingratiating droop and familiar smile rendered "All myself" so affectionately meaningful in its happy reliance upon her excess of love, that at last she understood she was expected to worship him and uphold him for whatsoever he might be, without any estimation of qualities: as indeed love does, or young love does: as she perhaps did once, before he chilled her senses. That was before her "little brain" had become active and had turned her senses to revolt.

It was on the full river of love that Sir Willoughby supposed the whole floating bulk of his personality to be securely sustained; and therefore it was that, believing himself swimming at his ease, he discoursed of himself.

She went straight away from that idea with her mental exclamation: "Why does he not paint himself in brighter colours to me!" and the question: "Has he no ideal of generosity and chivalry?"