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AMONG FRIENDS

IT

66

T is not so much what is said, as the person

who says it, that makes an impression. One whom we distrust makes a remark, and it is at once invested with a sinister meaning. We are sure there is harm in it. Another person utters the same sentiment, and it is accepted as the suggestion of ripe wisdom.

Thus we are shocked at the inquiry of a certain New York politician whose reputation was not that of an idealist: “What's the Constitution among friends ? ” We scent treason. The civic conscience is aroused and bristles with fine moral indignation. We would have this gentleman and his friends know that we set great store by the Constitution. This venerable document is not to be treated lightly by persons who are no better than they should be. It is to be interpreted by the Supreme Court, and is not to be meddled with by political tricksters.

But we turn to the seventeenth century and

1

dip into Selden's “ Table-Talk.” Selden is good company. He is the friend of Hampden and Pym and Sir John Eliot and all the leaders in the movement for constitutional freedom. He is a profound jurist and a pleasant companion, and the men most worth knowing meet at his table, where they informally discuss the great affairs of state. One day the question arises as to the place of the House of Commons in the scheme of government. Appeal is made to certain acts of Parliament as if they settled the question once for all. To this Selden replies: “ The House of Commons is called the Lower House in twenty acts of Parliament; but what are twenty acts of Parliament

among

friends ?” At once we answer: what indeed! Acts of Parliament are very well in their way, but we want to get at something more fundamental. An act of Parliament is what these gentlemen and their friends see fit to proclaim to the world. But now that we are privileged to enter the inner circle, we should like to know what they really think. Since they took formal action it is possible that they may have changed their minds.

We are among men who are dealing freely

with matters which to the commonalty are invested in mystery. These law-makers are too sensible to bow down and worship the work of their own hands. They are rather inclined to tinker with their political contrivances, to see if they may not be made to work better. There is more than one way of doing a good thing, and they are ready for experiments. In such company great affairs take on a homely aspect. We begin to see that Parliament is made up of folks. These folks have all the ordinary aptitudes for making mistakes. They are subject to prejudice, and they are often compelled to act, as do the rest of us, from imperfect knowledge. Their pompous language at first imposes upon us and obscures the plain meaning. But when we get used to it we see that it is only a mannerism. These honest gentlemen are trying to do their duty, though often with considerable bungling.

All this is taken for granted among friends. Freed from any hampering assumptions of impeccability or infallibility they can cheerfully discuss not only what they have done but also what they have tried to do. They are not ashamed to talk about their failures as well as about their successes. It is all a part of their common experi

ence.

This free movement of the mind among its own works, with its frank criticism of its incidental shortcomings, is one of the pleasures of really good society. We are delighted when we fall in with people who are doing things and who are kind enough to take us into their confidence and chat with us while they work. When we catch them in the very act, they are so much more interesting than anything which they actually accomplish. There are a hundred little self-revelations that would never have a place in a dignified history.

Yet curiously enough there is nothing which the ordinary mortal is so ashamed of as being surprised in the midst of unfinished work. The good woman shelling peas on the back porch makes a pleasant picture. She is looking her best, if she only knew it. But when a caller from outside her own circle appears, she bustles about, removes her gingham apron, the badge of her interesting domestic avocations, and receives her guest in the characterless best room.

Only among her friends will she continue to

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