Story type: Essay
It has been suggested that the Three Hours for Lunch Club is an immoral institution; that it is founded upon an insufficient respect for the devotions of industry; that it runs counter to the form and pressure of the age; that it encourages a greedy and rambling humour in the young of both sexes; that it even punctures, in the bosoms of settled merchants and rotarians, that capsule of efficiency and determination by which Great Matters are Put Over. It has been said, in short, that the Three Hours for Lunch Club should be more clandestine and reticent about its truancies.
Accordingly, it seems good to us to testify concerning Lunches and the philosophy of Lunching.
There are Lunches of many kinds. The Club has been privileged to attend gatherings of considerable lustre; occasions when dishes of richness and curiosity were dissected; when the surroundings were not devoid of glamour and surreptitious pomp. The Club has been convened in many different places: in resorts of pride and in low-ceiled reeky taphouses; in hotels where those clear cubes of unprofitable ice knock tinklingly in the goblets; in the brightly tinted cellars of Greenwich Village; in the saloons of ships. But the Club would give a false impression of its mind and heart if it allowed any one to suppose that Food is the chief object of its quest. It is true that Man, bitterly examined, is merely a vehicle for units of nourishing combustion; but on those occasions when the Club feels most truly Itself it rises above such considerations.
The form and pressure of the time (to repeat Hamlet’s phrase) is such that thoughtful men–and of such the Club is exclusively composed: men of great heart, men of nice susceptibility–are continually oppressed by the fumbling, hasty, and insignificant manner in which human contacts are accomplished. Let us even say, masculine contacts: for the first task of any philosopher being to simplify his problem so that he can examine it clearly and with less distraction, the Club makes a great and drastic purge by sweeping away altogether the enigmatic and frivolous sex and disregarding it, at any rate during the hours of convivial session. The Club is troubled to note that in the intolerable rabies and confusion of this business life men meet merely in a kind of convulsion or horrid passion of haste and perplexity. We see, ever and often, those in whose faces we discern delightful and considerable secrets, messages of just import, grotesque mirth, or improving sadness. In their bearing and gesture, even in hours of haste and irritation, the Club (with its trained and observant eye) notes the secret and rare sign of Thought. Such men are marked by an inexorable follow-up system. Sooner or later their telephones ring; secretaries and go-betweens are brushed aside; they are bidden to appear at such and such a time and place; no excuses are accepted. Then follow the Consolations of Intercourse. Conducted with “shattering candour” (as one has said who is in spirit a member of this Club, though not yet, alas, inducted), the meetings may sometimes resolve themselves into a ribaldry, sometimes into a truthful pursuit of Beauty, sometimes into a mere logomachy. But in these symposiums, unmarred by the crude claim of duty, the Club does with single-minded resolve pursue the only lasting satisfaction allowed to humanity, to wit, the sympathetic study of other men’s minds.
This is clumsily said: but we have seen moments when eager and honourable faces round the board explained to us what we mean. There is but one indefeasible duty of man, to say out the truth that is in his heart. The way of life engendered by a great city and a modern civilization makes it hard to do so. It is the function of the Club to say to the City and to Life Itself: “Stand back! Fair play! We see a goodly matter inditing in our friend’s spirit. We will take our ease and find out what it is.”
For this life of ours (asserts the Club) is curiously compounded of Beauty and Dross. You ascend the Woolworth Building, let us say–one of man’s noblest and most poetic achievements. And at the top, what do you find, just before going out upon that gallery to spread your eye upon man’s reticulated concerns? Do you find a little temple or cloister for meditation, or any way of marking in your mind the beauty and significance of the place? No, a man in uniform will thrust into your hand a booklet of well-intentioned description (but of unapproachable typographic ugliness) and you will find before you a stall for the sale of cheap souvenirs, ash trays, and hideous postcards. In such ways do things of Beauty pass into the custody of those unequipped to understand them.
The Club thinks that the life of this city, brutally intense and bewildering, has yet a beauty and glamour and a secret word to the mind, so subtle that it cannot be closely phrased, but so important that to miss it is to miss life itself. And to forfeit an attempt to see, understand, and mutually communicate this loveliness is to forfeit that burning spark that makes men’s spirits worth while. To such halting meditations the Club devotes its aspirations undistressed by humorous protest. If this be treason…!
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