The Good Old Man by Jerome K Jerome

Story type: Essay

He has lost his wife. But he knows where she is–among the angels!

She isn’t all gone, because the heroine has her hair. “Ah, you’ve got your mother’s hair,” says the good old man, feeling the girl’s head all over as she kneels beside him. Then they all wipe away a tear.

The people on the stage think very highly of the good old man, but they don’t encourage him much after the first act. He generally dies in the first act.

If he does not seem likely to die they murder him.

He is a most unfortunate old gentleman. Anything he is mixed up in seems bound to go wrong. If he is manager or director of a bank, smash it goes before even one act is over. His particular firm is always on the verge of bankruptcy. We have only to be told that he has put all his savings into a company–no matter how sound and promising an affair it may always have been and may still seem–to know that that company is a “goner.”

No power on earth can save it after once the good old man has become a shareholder.

If we lived in stage-land and were asked to join any financial scheme, our first question would be:

“Is the good old man in it?” If so, that would decide us.

When the good old man is a trustee for any one he can battle against adversity much longer. He is a plucky old fellow, and while that trust money lasts he keeps a brave heart and fights on boldly. It is not until he has spent the last penny of it that he gives way.

It then flashes across the old man’s mind that his motives for having lived in luxury upon that trust money for years may possibly be misunderstood. The world–the hollow, heartless world–will call it a swindle and regard him generally as a precious old fraud.

This idea quite troubles the good old man.

But the world really ought not to blame him. No one, we are sure, could be more ready and willing to make amends (when found out); and to put matters right he will cheerfully sacrifice his daughter’s happiness and marry her to the villain.

The villain, by the way, has never a penny to bless himself with, and cannot even pay his own debts, let alone helping anybody else out of a scrape. But the good old man does not think of this.

Our own personal theory, based upon a careful comparison of similarities, is that the good old man is in reality the stage hero grown old. There is something about the good old man’s chuckle-headed simplicity, about his helpless imbecility, and his irritating damtom foolishness that is strangely suggestive of the hero.

He is just the sort of old man that we should imagine the hero would develop into.

We may, of course, be wrong; but that is our idea.

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