The London Season by Richard King

Story type: Essay

If only the people who repeat the words of wisdom uttered by philosophers lived as if they believed them, how much happier the world would be! It is, however, so much easier to give, or to repeat, advice, than to follow it, isn’t it? Conventionality is far stronger than common sense, and a fixed habit more powerful than a revolution. Besides, most people realise that to give advice is a much more impressive ceremony than merely to receive it. And I think that the majority of people would far sooner look impressive than be wise. The appearance of a thing sometimes pleases them far more than the thing itself. Besides, to give advice is a rather pleasant proceeding, and those who habitually indulge in it seem incapable of discouragement. They will inform the “rolling stone” that if he continues his unresisting methods he will gather no moss, but the rolling stone usually continues to roll merrily onward. They will protest to the ignorant that “to be good is to be happy,” but very few of them will go out of their way to do good, if, by being “bad,” they can snatch a personal advantage without anybody being any the wiser. “Life would be endurable if it were not for its pleasures,” they declare in the face of a pile of social invitations. Yet they still endure that treadmill of entertainments which makes up a London season, only showing their real feelings by moaning to themselves in the process. They freely acknowledge that very few of these entertainments really entertain, but to miss being seen at them would be to risk a disaster which they would not dare to take. So they go wearily smiling to amusements which don’t amuse, to dances which are too crowded to dance at, to dinner parties at which they pay in boredom for the food they eat; to “at homes” which are the most “homeless” things imaginable–travelling here and there, from one entertainment to another which proves as unutterably dull as the first one. Not content with these things, they must perforce be seen at the Opera–although they hate music; visit all the exhibitions of art–when Maude Goodeman is their favourite painter; talk cleverly of books which they would never read did not people talk about them, and generally follow for three long months a time-table of “enjoyment” which very few of them really enjoy. In the meanwhile, the only affairs which give them pleasure are the little impromptu ones arranged on the spur of the moment between friends.

Of course I am not speaking of the debutante. She, “sweet young thing,” always enjoys any entertainment at which there are plenty of young men and ices. Nor, judging from observation, do I include among those who willingly go through the three months’ hard labour of a London season those henna haired ladies–thickening from anno domini–who seem perfectly happy in the delusion that their juvenile antics are still deliciously girlish, and whose decollete dresses would seem to declare to the world that, though their faces may begin to show the wear and tear of life, their plump backs don’t look a day over twenty-five. The one is so young that she will enjoy anything which requires the endurance of youth. The other is of that age which is happy hugging to its bosom the adage that a woman can’t possibly look a day older than champagne makes her feel.

No, the person whose life of amusement I pity is the person who accepts invitations because she daren’t refuse them. If the world doesn’t see her in all places where she should be seen, the world always presumes her to be dead–and people would rather die in reality than live to be forgotten. But what a price they have to pay to keep their memories green.

No, as I said before, the only entertainments which people really enjoy are those at which they can be perfectly natural–natural, because they are perfectly happy. Rarely are they fixed affairs, advertised weeks beforehand. Mostly are they unpremeditated—delightful little impromptu amusements made up of people who really desire to meet each other. Large entertainments are almost invariably dull. Upon them hangs the heavy atmosphere or a hostess “paying off old debts in one.” The only really amusing part of them is to watch the amazement on the faces of one half of the guests that the other half is there at all! That is invariably funny. In the big affairs the chef and the champagne are the real hosts of the evening. If England went “dry,” I think the London season would join the dodo–people couldn’t possibly endure it on ginger “pop” and cider. But champagne and a good chef could, I believe, make even a Church Congress seem jolly. They only bring an illusion of happiness–but what’s the odds? A London season is but an illusion of joy after all.

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