George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 14

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"As I said, I lose my right hand in Vernon," he resumed, "and I am, it seems, inevitably to lose him, unless we contrive to fasten him down here. I think, my dear Miss Dale, you have my character. At least, I should recommend my future biographer to you—with a caution, of course. You would have to write selfishness with a dash under it. I cannot endure to lose a member of my household—not under any circumstances; and a change of feeling toward me on the part of any of my friends because of marriage, I think hard. I would ask you, how can it be for Vernon's good to quit an easy pleasant home for the wretched profession of Literature?—wretchedly paying, I mean," he bowed to the authoress. "Let him leave the house, if he imagines he will not harmonize with its young mistress. He is queer, though a good fellow. But he ought, in that event, to have an establishment. And my scheme for Vernon—men, Miss Dale, do not change to their old friends when they marry—my scheme, which would cause the alteration in his system of life to be barely perceptible, is to build him a poetical little cottage, large enough for a couple, on the borders of my park. I have the spot in my eye. The point is, can he live alone there? Men, I say, do not change. How is it that we cannot say the same of women?"

Laetitia remarked: "The generic woman appears to have an extraordinary faculty for swallowing the individual."

"As to the individual, as to a particular person, I may be wrong. Precisely because it is her case I think of, my strong friendship inspires the fear: unworthy of both, no doubt, but trace it to the source. Even pure friendship, such is the taint in us, knows a kind of jealousy; though I would gladly see her established, and near me, happy and contributing to my happiness with her incomparable social charm. Her I do not estimate generically, be sure."

"If you do me the honour to allude to me, Sir Willoughby," said
Laetitia, "I am my father's housemate."

"What wooer would take that for a refusal? He would beg to be a third in the house and sharer of your affectionate burden. Honestly, why not? And I may be arguing against my own happiness; it may be the end of me!"

"The end?"

"Old friends are captious, exacting. No, not the end. Yet if my friend is not the same to me, it is the end to that form of friendship: not to the degree possibly. But when one is used to the form! And do you, in its application to friendship, scorn the word 'use'? We are creatures of custom. I am, I confess, a poltroon in my affections; I dread changes. The shadow of the tenth of an inch in the customary elevation of an eyelid!—to give you an idea of my susceptibility. And, my dear Miss Dale, I throw myself on your charity, with all my weakness bare, let me add, as I could do to none but you. Consider, then, if I lose you! The fear is due to my pusillanimity entirely. High-souled women may be wives, mothers, and still reserve that home for their friend. They can and will conquer the viler conditions of human life. Our states, I have always contended, our various phases have to be passed through, and there is no disgrace in it so long as they do not levy toll on the quintessential, the spiritual element. You understand me? I am no adept in these abstract elucidations."

"You explain yourself clearly," said Laetitia.

"I have never pretended that psychology was my forte," said he, feeling overshadowed by her cold commendation: he was not less acutely sensitive to the fractional divisions of tones than of eyelids, being, as it were, a melody with which everything was out of tune that did not modestly or mutely accord; and to bear about a melody in your person is incomparably more searching than the best of touchstones and talismans ever invented. "Your father's health has improved latterly?"

"He did not complain of his health when I saw him this morning. My cousin Amelia is with him, and she is an excellent nurse."

"He has a liking for Vernon."