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LECTURE XII.
TEMPER.
——
“O tempora! O mores!”
“To seek to extinguish anger utterly is but a bravery of the Stoics.”—Bacon.

I am afraid that you will hear at the whist table a good deal about temper, unless you are particularly fortunate; that so-and-so is good-tempered, or the reverse; that if we were all better tempered, something or other might be different, and similar platitudes. Now these mostly start on the utterly false assumption that everybody is equally subject to the same annoyances.

“Tender and delicate persons must needs be oft angry; they have so many things to trouble them, which more robust natures have little sense of.”—Ibid.

That the greatest exponent of Bumblepuppy has necessarily the longest temper goes without saying—of course he has! He has nothing to ruffle him, for he has everything his own way; he plays as he thinks fit (supposing him to think at all, or ever to be fit); if his partner makes a mistake it is any odds he[100] never sees it; de non existentibus et non apparentibus eadem est ratio; here is one cause of equanimity.

If it is any amusement to him—and I presume it is, otherwise he would not do it—from his cradle to his grave to play a game of which he knows absolutely nothing, and if in pursuit of that amusement he thinks it worth his while to take a certain amount of his own and his partner’s capital, and to throw it in the street, why should he lose his temper? Although he has paid his money, he has had his choice—another cause of equanimity.

Ah Sin played a game he did not understand, and remained quite calm and unperturbed, though he was a heathen and an Asiatic; while his antagonist disgraced our common Christianity by letting his angry passions rise because things were going against him.

If both partners, then, are of the same mind and the same calibre—either bad or good—to quote an American author, “all is peas,” and like the place
“Where brothers dwell and sisters meet
Quarrels should never come.”

The difficulty begins to arise when one of the partners fails to see things altogether in the same light as the other. He may be so unfortunately constituted (cross-grained the other would say) that he is unable to derive any amusement from the game unless it is played with a modicum of intelligence; it is just possible that instead of considering gold as dross, as an accursed thing to be got rid of at the earliest[101] opportunity, he may be actuated by a depraved love of filthy lucre, and a sordid desire for gain; such conditions are to be deplored, but they exist and must be reckoned with.

When his partner proceeds to run amuck, he misses the point of the joke; his perverted moral sense revolts against paying half the money, and the other man having all the choice; probably, for a time, he keeps his mouth tightly shut, but his collaborateur is not to be eluded in that way; he demands not merely the passive, but the active assent of his victim, and sooner or later, after the perpetration of some particularly atrocious coup, inquires with the bland and childlike smile of the heathen already referred to, “Partner, I think we could not have done better there?” What is to be done now? Silence is not an answer; it used to be, but has been disestablished. Are you to agree with him? Are you to state what is false? Are you to dissent and be informed you are always finding fault? (Shakespeare’s retort is neat and worthy of him: “You have always been called a merciful man, partner;” but we are not all Shakespeares.) Or is it the best course at once to resort to active measures, and throw at him the first thing that comes to hand?

The worm must turn some time or other; it may turn the other cheek, but that is only temporising; no worm has more than two cheeks, and when it has[102] had them both slapped, what is it to do then? We come to an impasse.

The copy-books used to tell us—for anything I know they may do so yet—copy-book aphorisms have a marvellous vitality, and you have seen them since I have—that “patience is a virtue” (I think virtue ought to have a capital V), and, as an abstract proposition, the statement is probably as true and more grammatical than “There’s milestones on the Dover Road”; but what is the use of it? The question is, will it wash? The two best known examples of this virtue are the Patriarch Job and the patient ass. Whether the Patriarch was well advised in enduring his friends so long, and whether he endured them on account of his patience, or whether the bodily affliction from which he was notoriously suffering at the time, incapacitated him from taking energetic steps to expel them from his bed-room, are questions difficult to decide so long after the event. I express no opinion of my own; let the dead past bury its dead: de mortuis nil nisi bonum; but the donkey is a different matter; he lives in our own times, and I know him well; he touches me nearly; and I unhesitatingly affirm that the only benefit—if benefit is the proper term—he has ever derived from his long-suffering, has been to be invariably imposed upon in consequence. Casa Bianca on the burning deck is another case in point; he did score to a certain extent, for owing to his[103] patience his widowed mother escaped an undertaker’s bill, while he himself is known to this day in the nursery as “the noble boy”; but to the more mature observer, in whom the ambition to be called names is dead, the game is hardly worth the candle; while you yourselves will be called quite enough names at the whist table without being cremated; not to mention that the majority of you probably prefer pudding to praise.

Some irritable people go so far as to apply language of a condemnatory character to the inanimate cards; as it is impossible to arouse any emotion either of pleasure or anger in their breasts, this seems absurd and a waste of energy. It must be bad form to excite yourself without causing annoyance to others, and should certainly be avoided.

Believing luck to be strictly personal, it appears to me that calling for new cards is an unnecessary display of temper and throwing good money after bad.

We may take it, speaking generally—for it is not always the case—that the worse a man plays, the less visible is his bad temper; the converse fortunately does not hold good, for many good players have really wonderful tempers.

One curious circumstance is that want of perception and thickness of mental cuticle are usually looked upon by the unfortunate possessors as proofs of good temper, and boasted of as such. This is not the case in other afflictions. I once knew a man with[104] a Barbadoes leg, and though its circumference much exceeded that of mine, he never made any offensive comparisons.

In Bath I have seen scores of invalids—mostly naval and military men, naturally warlike—they were all seated decorously in the local chairs; and when they dismounted and hobbled into the club, they did not go about brandishing their crutches and bragging that they had refrained from assaulting us innocent civilians; on the contrary, I always found them most courteous and friendly.

To sum up the matter; we are all worms of some kind, and we all turn more or less when we are trodden upon, if we perceive it. The denser the worm, the more slowly he turns. While some ill-conditioned ones turn under all circumstances, some of the most highly-organised are scarcely ever known even to wriggle. Apparently harmless ones sometimes turn most suddenly and ferociously. Those most trodden upon—unless quite hors de combat—turn most.

Finally, many congenitally mal-formed worms, and worms suffering from amaurosis, cerebral ramollissement, myx?dema, and other dreadful diseases, are not only unaware of their critical state, but are actually proud of it, and look upon it as a proof of their amiable disposition.


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