Hon. Lemuel Hooper, J. P., on Matrimony
by Ellis Parker Butler
Our eminent jurist, Justice of the Peace Hooper, had been reading one of the recent realistic novels, but he put down the book and swung his swivel chair to give ear to Court-officer Durfey.
"If it please your honor," said Durfey, grinning as he indicated the young man and woman standing just inside the courtroom door, "them kids would like to be joined together by the holy bonds of matrimony."
"By the what?" asked Judge Hooper.
"By the holy bonds of matrimony," repeated Durfey.
"Durfey," said Judge Hooper severely, "you disgrace this court by coming to me with such a request. You are a hopeless back-number, Durfey. I have been reading this book and others of the same breed and I am educated. The petition is rejected until it is amended by the elimination of 'holy' and 'bonds.' And while you are about it, Durfey, you might as well eliminate the 'matrimony.' According to the best realists there is no such thing. What these young folks want is a license to commit divorce."
"Well, I dunno," said Durfey. "They said they wanted to be married."
"Married!" exclaimed Judge Hooper. "And have they properly prepared for the muss? Have they read the guidebooks? Have they perused the volumes produced by the bright young minds of the day -- some of them almost through cutting their eyeteeth -- on the lives and crimes of two hearts that beat as one? Do they know how modern married life is conducted in the best realistic novels?
"They do not, Durfey! I can see by the look of them that they are no worse than they should be. Their married life would be a mid-Victorian disgrace. The poor untutored things are liable to live together in helpful amity and decency for the rest of their lives. They don't know what's what in the best realistic circles.
"And you are no better than they are, Durfey. You don't conduct yourself with the opprobrium and shamelessness due from a husband having easy access to the fiction shelves of the Riverbank Public Library. Not once have you asked me for time off to elope with your neighbor's wife. How can you expect to brighten your home with the proper grade of bigamy and adultery if you don't read the instruction books our younger set of literati are sitting up nights to write for you? I'll bet the moral atmosphere of your home wouldn't so much as poison a canary, let alone qualify the goldfish to be interesting witnesses in a divorce court. You're a dead one, Durfey!
"The trouble with you, Durfey, is that you are bone-headed and can't take in the truth when it is spilled on you. You go here and you go there and you see ninety-nine one-hundredths of your friends and neighbors living in married love and content and, in your poor untutored way, you think it is real. Because they have children and love them, and homes and are happy in them, you think that is real and exists. You're wrong! Because you can see for yourself that nearly everyone is still decent you think nearly everyone is still decent. You're wrong, Durfey! There's nothing real but what is set down in the realists' novel books. The novel writers say so and they ought to know; they wrote the books. And they get the royalties on them, Durfey.
"It is time you learned, Durfey, that all marriage is of two sorts, the real and the unreal. There's the real kind, that is told about in the books I'd be ashamed to read aloud to my wife, and there's the kind everybody outside of those books is living day by day in the strange misapprehension that it exists. It does not; those bonny boys, the realists, could tell you so. It never did. It is nothing but cheap romantic fiction nonsense of the old and forgotten school. You can't be real unless you are drunk, disorderly, or indecent.
"I bet you don't know whether Freud is a cloak-and-suit maker or one of the men let out of jail when Debs was. I bet you don't know that if you eat the three pieces of mince pie you find in the ice-box before going to bed and dream of an elephant sitting on your stomach the only hope for you is to cart your repressed emotion next door and get rid of it by eloping with the lady of the house or anyone else that uses a lip-stick.
"I honor these young realists, Durfey. They are sworn to tell the truth and they'll do it, whether it is the truth or not, so long as it smells strong enough to penetrate their nostrils, but most of them can't smell anything weaker than a dead cabbage. Not one of them but will fearlessly call a spade a manure fork. Not one but is ready, at whatever cost to the publisher, to describe life as he sees it from the bottom of his own garbage can. Shoulder to shoulder they march dauntlessly across any intervening flowerbeds to unlimber their typewriters on top of the garbage dump.
"Their imperishable works, Durfey, will last forever. I would mention the names of a few of them but unfortunately they have slipped my memory. They have established a school of literature that will never decay, or not until five o'clock tomorrow -- or was it eight o'clock yesterday? They carry the glad tidings that 'tis only interesting to be vile and that if the husband is not a bad egg the wife is sure to be, if not both. If you're not, your wife is."
"That's not so, your honor," he said.
"What! What!" exclaimed Judge Hooper. "You don't believe me?"
"No, sir; I know better," said Durfey.
"Well, maybe that's why we don't take much stock in these realists, Durfey; maybe we know better," said the judge.