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THE SENIOR WRANGLER
1-HIGH-BROW ANXIETIES What with the tango and the slit skirt, eugenics and the pest of women's thinking, the growing impudence of the poor and the incorrect conversion of certain negro tribes, and the sudden appearance of a rather strong article on feminism, civilization in this country, and perhaps everywhere, is drawing to its close in many a serious magazine article. Down goes the dike, said one; and it seems to have been the only dike that could have prevented “our civilization from being engulfed in an overwhelming flood of riches, and from sinking in an orgy of brutality.” Now that religion has gone, said another, " the old-fashioned principles of right and wrong have also largely disappeared.” Turn a few pages, and one will find the “ulcer in our new morality”; a few more, and one will see the “canker at the root of education.” Then, if one likes, he may learn how low this nation is rated by a connoisseur of all the nations on the globe. “Of all the countries I have ever met,” says he, as his mind reverts along the parallels of latitude to the thirty-seven populations he has intimately known, “this country, to speak candidly, is the least desirable”; and so he casts off our wretched country as one who throws away a very bad cigar.
And consider society's danger from astrologers. Abolish astrologers at once, says another contributor, and also spiritualists and quacks and prophets; for if we do not, all clean culture will soon rot and vanish, killed by the germs from this "cultural underworld."
I have chanced on these without looking for them, and I could no doubt find a dozen darker bodings in the Christmas numbers alone; but I do not wish to frighten people. I desire, rather, to soothe.
When perils come out in the new numbers, it quiets one to turn to the old perils in the file-yellow perils, black, white, brown, and red ones, horrors of house-fies and suffragettes, and all the evil kinds of micrococcus, back to imperialism and the bicycle skirt of fifteen years ago, and to read, say, of Carrie Nation ravaging Kansas, and the California lady who hurled college professors through the window, thus destroying academic liberty, and McKinley "blood-guilty" and sitting on a “throne," and Thanksgiving day changed to Shame day or the Devil's own day by some Boston contributors, and the Stars and Stripes painted black and “replaced by the skull and cross-bones," and bloodshed in fiction, and hazing at West Point, and the United States Government "shaking Porto Rico over hell.” And every time saved by a miracle—the same old family miracle!
We do not deny that civilization is now in danger, but merely suggest that in any serious magazine it always must be in danger.
The contributor of a great peril to a magazine is not, as a rule, an unhappy person. On the contrary, he is often a large, calm man, with a good appetite, and more cheerful in his mind than we. If one could feel toward any menace to humanity as one used to feel toward tales of Jack the Giant Killer, just believing enough for a little goose-flesh, there would be more fun in it. Any man who is about half convinced that he and a few others are the sole remaining friends of civilization finds some dramatic zest in life.
II-A RECEIPT FOR VILLAINS We dislike people for their limitations more than for their vices, and it is the novelist who remembers this unamical propensity who makes the most exquisitely detestable characters. The assassins, blackguards, and shrewd scoundrels who seem to go to the devil with their eyes open rouse us very little. The people who stir the deepest anger are really not bad at all. The impunity of a man with a closed mind is the worst thing about him. Hatred is never complete without a touch of impotence. These are the real villains, and should be used by all novelists who wish to harrow and inflame. Your cut-throats and abductors and clever swindlers do not permanently rankle. When the jail or the gallows do for them, one relents at once.