My correspondent, referring to my complaint that no matron nor maid of England had yet joined the St. George’s Company, answers, for her own part, first, that her husband and family prevent her from doing it; secondly, that she has done it already; thirdly, that she will do it when I do it myself. It is only to the third of these pleas that I at present reply.
She tells me, first, that I have not joined the St. George’s Company because I have no home. It is too true. But that is because my father, and mother, and nurse, are dead; because the woman I hoped would have been my wife is dying; and because the place where I would fain have stayed to remember all of them, was rendered physically uninhabitable to me by the violence of my neighbours;— that is to say, by their destroying the fields I needed to think in, and the light I needed to work by. Nevertheless, I have, under these conditions, done the best thing possible to me — bought a piece of land on which I could live in peace; and on that land, wild when I bought it, have already made, not only one garden, but two, to match against my correspondent’s; nor that without help from children who, though not mine, have been cared for as if they were.
Secondly; my correspondent tells me that my duty is to stay at home, instead of dating from places which are a dream of delight to her, and which, therefore, she concludes, must be a reality of delight to me.
She will know better after reading this extract from my last year’s diary; (worth copying, at any rate, for other persons interested in republican Italy). “Florence, 20th September, 1874. — Tour virtually ended for this year. I leave Florence to-day, thankfully, it being now a place of torment day and night for all loving, decent, or industrious people; for every face one meets is full of hatred and cruelty; and the corner of every house is foul; and no thoughts can be thought in it, peacefully, in street, or cloister, or house, any more. And the last verses I read, of my morning’s readings, are Esdras II., xv. 16, 17: ‘For there shall be sedition among men, and invading one another; they shall not regard their kings nor princes, and the course of their actions shall stand in their power. A man shall desire to go into a city, and shall not be able.’”
What is said here of Florence is now equally true of every great city of France or Italy: and my correspondent will be perhaps contented with me when she knows that only last Sunday I was debating with a very dear friend whether I might now be justified in indulging my indolence and cowardice by staying at home among my plants and minerals, and forsaking the study of Italian art for ever. My friend would fain have it so; and my correspondent shall tell me her opinion, after she knows — and I will see that she has an opportunity of knowing — what work I have done in Florence, and propose to do, if I can be brave enough.
Thirdly; my correspondent doubts the sincerity of my abuse of railroads because she suspects I use them. I do so constantly, my dear lady; few men more. I use everything that comes within reach of me. If the devil were standing at my side at this moment, I should endeavour to make some use of him as a local black. The wisdom of life is in preventing all the evil we can; and using what is inevitable, to the best purpose. I use my sicknesses, for the work I despise in health; my enemies, for study of the philosophy of benediction and malediction; and railroads, for whatever I find of help in them — looking always hopefully forward to the day when their embankments will be ploughed down again, like the camps of Rome, into our English fields. But I am perfectly ready even to construct a railroad, when I think one necessary; and in the opening chapter of ‘Munera Pulveris’ my correspondent will find many proper uses for steam-machinery specified. What is required of the members of St. George’s Company is, not that they should never travel by railroads, nor that they should abjure machinery; but that they should never travel unnecessarily, or in wanton haste; and that they should never do with a machine what can be done with hands and arms, while hands and arms are idle.
Lastly, my correspondent feels it unjust to be required to make clothes, while she is occupied in the rearing of those who will require them.
Admitting (though the admission is one for which I do not say that I am prepared) that it is the patriotic duty of every married couple to have as large a family as possible, it is not from the happy Penelopes of such households that I ask — or should think of asking — the labour of the loom. I simply require that when women belong to the St. George’s Company they should do a certain portion of useful work with their hands, if otherwise their said fair hands would be idle; and if on those terms I find sufficient clothing cannot be produced, I will use factories for them,— only moved by water, not steam.
My answer, as thus given, is, it seems to me, sufficient; and I can farther add to its force by assuring my correspondent that I shall never ask any member of St. George’s Company to do more, in relation to his fortune and condition, than I have already done myself. Nevertheless, it will be found by any reader who will take the trouble of reference, that in recent letters I have again and again intimated the probable necessity, before the movement could be fairly set on foot, of more energetic action and example, towards which both my thoughts and circumstances seem gradually leading me; and, in that case, I shall trustfully look to the friends who accuse me of cowardice in doing too little, for defence against the, I believe, too probable imputations impending from others, of folly in doing too much.