After a long hiatus my wife and I have decided to return to a pleasant custom of our early married years—the setting aside on a regular basis of some time dedicated to reading aloud. We are returning as well to the most audible of novelists—Dickens, of course. We have begun with Oliver Twist. The choice, though not inexorable, was not entirely arbitrary either. We own no fewer than two complete sets of Dickens’s novels, but Joan possesses as well a prize volume in the “Macdonald Illustrated Classics” series, with a bookplate commending its recipient for meritorious “General Work” in the Lower Third Form in 1949. Its cover bears in gold stamp the emblem of The Girls Public Day School Trust—the head of Minerva encircled by its early feminist motto “Knowledge is now no more a fountain sealed.”
With regard to the irascible passions we get the “warrior codes” that are a feature of many early societies and often enough of their oldest surviving textual legislation. Only religious dreamers could propose the abolition of violence itself. Realists invented medieval European chivalry, which is still alive in slightly more modern garb in the Geneva Conventions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such devices by no means achieved social perfection, but they did make things better.