Read ADDRESSES of Ceres Runaway, free online book, by Alice Meynell, on ReadCentral.com.

Not free from some ignominious attendance upon the opinion of the world is he who too consciously withdraws his affairs from its judgements.  He is indebted to “the public.”  He is at least indebted to it for the fact that there is, yonder, without, a public.  Lacking this excluded multitude his fastidiousness would have no subject, and his singularity no contrast.  He would, in his grosser moods, have nothing to refuse, and nothing, in his finer, to ignore.

He, at any rate, is one, and the rest are numerous.  They minister to him popular errors.  But if they are nothing else in regard to himself, they are many.  If he must have distinction, it is there on easy terms — he is one.

Well for him if he does not contract the heavier debt shouldered by the man who owes to the unknown, un-named, and uncounted his pleasure in their conjectured or implicit envy; who conceives the jealousy they may have covertly to endure, enjoys it, and thus silently begins and ends within his own morosity the story of his base advantage.

Vanity has indignity as its underside.  And how shall even the pleasure in beauty be altogether without it?  For since beauty, like other human things, is comparative, how shall the praise, or the admiration, thereof be free from (at least) some reference to the unbeautiful?  Or from some allusion to the less beautiful?  Yet this, if inevitable, is little; it may be negligible.  The triumph of beauty is all but innocent.  It is where no beauty is in question that lurks the unconfessed appeal to envy.  That appeal is not an appeal to admiration — it lacks what is the genial part of egoism.  For who, except perhaps a recent writer of articles on society in America, really admires a man for living in the approved part of Boston?

The vanity of addresses is as frequent with us as on the western side of the Atlantic.  It is a vanity without that single apology for vanity — gaiety of heart.  The first things that are, in London, sacrificed to it are the beautiful day and the facing of the sky.  There are some amongst us whose wives have constrained them to dwell underground for love of an address.  Modern and foolish is that contempt for daylight.  To the simple, day is beautiful; and “beautiful as day” a happy proverb.

Over all colour, flesh, aspect, surface, manifestation of vitality, dwells one certain dominance.  And if One, vigilant for the dues of His vicegerent, should ask us whose is the image and superscription?  We reply, The Sun’s.

The London air shortens and clips those beams, and yet leaves daylight the finest thing we know.  Beauty of artificial lights is in our streets at night, but their chief beauty is when, just before night, they adorn the day.  The late daylight honours them when it so easily and sweetly subdues and overcomes them, giving to the electric lamp, to the taper, to the hearth fire, and to the spark, a loveliness not their own.

With the unpublished desire to be envied, whereto here and there amongst us is sacrificed the sky, abides the desire for an object of unconfessed contempt.  Both are contrary to that more authentic, that essential solitariness wherein a few men have the grace to live, and wherein all men are compelled to die.  Both are unpublished even now, even in our days, when it costs men so little to manifest the effrontery of their opinions.

The difference between our worldliness and the New-worldliness is chiefly that here we are apt to remove, by a little space, the distinction brought about by riches, to put it back, to interpose, between it and our actual life, a generation or two, an education or two.  Obviously, it was riches that made the class differences, if not now, then a little time ago.  Therefore the New England citizen should not be reproved by us for anything except his too great candour.  A social guide-book to some city of the Republic is in my hands.  I note how the very names of streets take a sound of veneration or of cheerful derision from the writer’s pen.  It is evident that the names are almost enough.  They have an expression.  He is like a naif teller of humorous anecdotes, who cannot keep his own smiles in order till he have done.

This social writer has scorn, as an author should, and he wreaks it upon parishes.  He turns me a phrase with the northern end of a town and makes an epigram of the southern.  He caps a sarcasm with an address.

In truth, we too might write social guide-books to the same effect, had we the same simplicity.  It is to be thought that we too hold an address, be it a good one, so closely that if Fortune should see fit to snatch it from us, she must needs do so with violence.  Such unseemly violence, in this as in other transactions, is ours in the clinging and not hers in the taking.  For equal is the force of Fortune, and steady is her grasp, whether she despoil the great of their noble things or strip the mean of things ignoble, whether she take from the clutching or the yielding hand.

Strange are the little traps laid by the Londoner so as to capture an address by the hem if he may.  You would think a good address to be of all blessings the most stationary, and one to be either gained or missed, and no two ways about it.  But not so.  You shall see it waylaid at the angles of squares, with no slight exercise of skill, delayed, entreated, detained, entangled, intricately caught, persuaded to round a corner, prolonged beyond all probability, pursued.

One address there will in the future be for us, and few will visit there.  It will bear the number of a narrow house.  May it avow its poverty and be poor; for the obscure inhabitant, in frigid humility, shall have no thought nor no eye askance upon the multitude.